We talk often about glorifying God when things are hard, glorifying God in suffering and loss and even in death. Philippians 1:20 is a key text for us, one we’ve addressed now over thirty times on the podcast, for good reason.
But what about glorifying God when things in life are good — and especially when your business is flourishing? That’s our question today from a listener named Matt. “Hello, Pastor John. Thank you for this podcast! How should a Christian Hedonist who is successful in business and a prominent leader speak in front of others about their story? It seems like many ‘Christian business leaders’ make their success story all about themselves and then mask it all in a thin Christian wrapper. So what is the best way to authentically and humbly recognize a position of leadership and success, but to speak of it in a way that makes God look great?”
I really appreciate this question, especially the way it’s phrased there at the end, because I think that is the goal of everything in life: to make God, Christ, look great. But I am going to push it back one step. Matt asks about how a successful person in a leadership position may speak so as to make God look great. I’m going to push it back and say that almost everything hangs on how a successful person in a leadership position thinks and feels about his success and leadership. I really do believe that if a person’s thinking and feeling about his success and his work and his relationships and his leadership are deeply biblical and spiritual, then the speaking and all the more or less subtle forms of communication will take care of themselves.
Let me try to explain what I mean by right thinking and right feeling when it comes to one’s success and leadership. There are five ways to think and, I think, five ways to feel about our life’s achievements, if God has given us success and given us (therefore) leadership.
Patterns of Right Thinking
First, you will think rightly about the nature of what success is. You will not assume the world’s definition of success, though there will be overlaps. Essential to your definition of success will be your goals in life. These will not be identical with the world’s goals. Success is reaching goals; that’s what success is. And so, choosing life goals is prior to seeking success. Yours will include pleasing your Creator and the Lord of your life, getting in sync with his goals in the world. This will involve doing good for people in the hope of showing Christ’s supreme worth. This will imply pervasive integrity, honesty, justice, generosity, the true good of clients and customers and employees and community.
“Absolutely everything that makes this business flourish is a free and undeserved gift of God.”
Second, you will think rightly about the fact that absolutely everything that makes this business flourish is a free and undeserved gift of God, including the raw materials, the skill of employees, the social conditions, the weather, the managerial successes and processes, and your own life abilities, disciplines. Acts 17:25 says, “[God is not] served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Life and breath and everything are a gift of God. You will think rightly about that.
Third, you will think rightly about the relationship between hard work and divine blessing. You will know God is decisive in all blessing, but you will not make the mistake of thinking that he does not use human means and human giftedness. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). Both. Your preparations are essential, but God is decisive. Or 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” So yes, you worked. Yes, you are gifted. Yes, that’s crucial. But all of it — all of it — is owing to grace.
Fourth, you will remember that God is sovereign and governs the world for his wise purposes. The smallest turn of affairs is ordered by God. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). Every sparrow dies, and it dies by God’s will. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). This conviction is essential to right thinking about success.
Fifth, you will think rightly about the fact that as an undeserving sinner, not only is every good thing that comes to you a gift of God, but it comes to you, as his child, undeserved, and owing to the purchase he made by the blood of Christ. Most Christians don’t make this connection between the death of Christ and the blessings they receive in this life. They think only in terms of forgiveness. But consider Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” In other words, everything that comes to God’s undeserving children is owing to God’s not sparing his Son but giving him up for us. Every gift that we have from God in our business life, in our leadership, comes with a price tag: the blood of Jesus. We need to think rightly about that.
Patterns of Right Feeling
Now, what about feeling? If you’re going to speak about your successful business and your leadership in a way that makes Christ look great, you will need to be transformed into the kind of person, from the inside out, who actually feels the greatness of Christ — not just knows it, but thinks it and feels it, and all the things that go with it.
First, you will feel thankful for everything. Ephesians 5:20: “[Give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” If you take those two texts together, it says “for all things” and “in all things.” Few feelings are more winsome, humbling, others-oriented than thankfulness. This cannot be pretended; it is a feeling. It is a feeling before it is words. Do you really feel thankful? That will make a huge difference in how you talk.
“Do you really feel thankful? That will make a huge difference in how you talk.”
Second, you will feel not just thankful for all good things; you will feel undeserving — really undeserving. This is huge. Do you? Your understanding of sin will be existential in your business life. You will know that every morning that you wake up, and you don’t wake up in hell, is a good morning, an undeserved morning. If your doctrine of sin does not bring you to this point, you need to return to thinking rightly about the issue of sin and go deeper into Scripture. We must pray. This doesn’t come naturally. We must plead with God that the truth of our own fall and nature as children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) will cause us to feel undeserving of every single good that comes to us.
Third, you will feel amazed. This is the upside of undeserving when grace rises to meet every degree of guilt we feel. The feelings of thankfulness and being undeserving now overflow with amazement, as if a million-dollar check landed in your mailbox every single morning — only better. The grace of God is amazing.
Fourth, you will not feel proud but humble — not just think it but feel it. This makes all the difference. First Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Or here’s James 4:13–16. This is spoken directly to businessmen and women:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.” . . . Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
In other words, it’s arrogant to say, “I’m going downtown today to do some business.” You don’t know if you’re going to make it downtown. The sovereignty of God and the grace of God over every detail of our lives, James says, cancels boasting and causes us to feel humble.
Fifth, you will feel an overflowing joy that inclines you to love other people and be generous with them. Second Corinthians 8:2: “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy . . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”
If you have these five aspects of right thinking and these five aspects of right feeling about your success and leadership, there will be an overflow of right speaking to make Christ look great.