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Four Keys to Success, Honor and Praise

September 23, 2012


Proverbs 31:10-31 James 3:13 - 4:3 Mark 9:30-37

In 1989 Stephen Covey first published his groundbreaking book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This book has since sold over 25 million copies in 38 languages and has been a sensation in the book publishing world both in numbers and in longevity. Since Seven Habits was released, authors and publishers of all kinds have released dozens of books that attempted to piggyback on Coveys success by mimicking his title and promising six easy ways to this or five elements of that. I am certain that my message today is no threat to Stephen Coveys success, but in studying the scriptures for today I found that they did indeed lend themselves to this sort of description. We all want to be successful dont we? We all want to be honored and praised, especially in the eyes of God. So what is it that we need to do? What sorts of things do we need to add to our To Do list, what action items should we add to our Day Planner if we want to be successful? As we read scripture we find, as we often do, that the steps that we must take on the path to success, honor and praise are few, but often difficult. We begin with what is often referred to as the Proverbs 31 woman. Proverbs 31 is, incidentally, the one chapter of scripture that is known to be written by a woman. The words are recorded as a saying of King Lemuel, but are also said to have been taught to him by his mother. (Proverbs 31:10-31)
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A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. 18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 1

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She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. Being a woman, King Lemuels mother knew what it took to earn respect in a society dominated by men but in the culture of today I think that many of these principles apply equally to both men and women. Look at what the Proverbs 31 woman does to earn respect and praise for herself, for her husband and for her family. First of all, just reading this list makes me tired. This woman works HARD. She is up before the sun and still working after the sun has set but in all that she does, she maintains a strong faith in God. This woman is respected and admired by the elders and leaders of the city but not because of her charm or beauty. Clearly from this example, the first two keys to success, respect, honor and praise are faith and hard work (and quite possibly compassion). I know that I am blessed by my wife and I freely admit that in addition to being better looking than I am, she works a lot harder than I do and often has a deeper faith than I do. I doubt very much that I would have heard or considered a call to ministry if it had not been for the faith of my wife who encouraged me to discover a deeper faith for myself. So far we have found that hard work and faith are essential to our success but what else? In James (James 3:13 4:3, 7-8a), the apostle writes Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
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But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Dont they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James summarizes much of what we are looking for in the first two sentences. 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. Essentially, James says that if you think you are wise and intelligent, then show us by what you have done (which is hard work), by your humility, and humility in-turn comes from wisdom. James also notes that there is more than one kind of wisdom and that wisdom that comes from heaven is what is required. Wisdom from heaven would seem, once again, to point to a need for faith. In faith, James says, we should ask God for what we need. Too often we do not get what we are asking for, because out motives for asking are out of line. Our goal is to ask for things that are in line with the things that God wants; to ask in faith and out of humility. It is vitally important not to underestimate the influence of humility. For as long as the Disciples had travelled with Jesus, humility was one of the things that took the longest for them to understand. In Mark 9 the disciples struggled to understand the teaching of Jesus largely because the things that they most 2

wanted were things for themselves. Their thinking was directed by greed and not by humility and the result was that it became impossible for them to understand. (Mark 9:30-37)
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They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
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They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, What were you arguing about on the road? 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
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Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.
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He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me. The Disciples struggled to understand what Jesus meant when he said the Son of Man would be killed and rise from the dead in three days. The problem really was not that Jesus did not speak clearly. There are plenty of times that Jesus told parables that his listeners, and even the disciples, had a hard time understanding, but this isnt one of them. Jesus had referred to himself as the Son of Man many times. And the rest of the teaching about being handed over to men, killed and rising from the dead is really pretty clear. The thing that caused them to get stuck in their understanding was that they all wanted Jesus to be an earthly king. They knew that the close friends and followers of the King had a good life, lots of money, good food, and, for the single guys, pretty women. All of their anticipation for the future hinged on Jesus becoming Israels earthly king with earthly power and authority, so when Jesus talked about being killed they didnt get it. Jesus dying just didnt fit into the future that they had imagined because the future that they had imagined was filled with what was best for them and how awesome it would be to be friends with the king. The future they imagined was filled with pride and greed and left humility and wisdom way out in the cold. Jesus yanks their imagination back into reality, first by letting them know that he knew they were arguing about who was greater, about who was best, about who was the closest friend of the future king and about who would receive the greatest rewards. Instead of stroking their egos and praising one or two of them, Jesus tells them that in order to be a leader, in order to be the first and greatest, they had to become servants, the lowliest and last. Instead of fueling their understanding of greatness, where kings enrich their friends, Jesus tells the disciples that if they loved him they should be people who welcome children. What? Wait. I dont think that in our culture we really grasp what Jesus is talking about. We place a high value on children but in the ancient world, and also in more recent history, it was not always so. Children were loved by their parents, but largely were meant to be seen and not heard. Often, even servants and slaves had a higher status than that of children. Even the children of an important person would be under the supervision, under the authority, of a well-educated slave. Children had no real authority; they were completely at the mercy of someone else. To welcome children was of no benefit to anyone. If we are having a conversation about the keys to success, welcoming children doesnt seem to fit at all. Children have nothing that they can give or offer that can contribute to our success and this was especially true in the time of Jesus and the Disciples. If you read books about success written by Stephen Covey or any other popular modern author, the keys to success that you will find in them will be different than what we find in scripture. Certainly hard work is probably common to most of those sorts of lists and there is a good chance that you will find education on those lists and just maybe 3

wisdom (although education and wisdom are often very different things weve all met well-educated idiots). What few, if any, of those lists will include are faith and humility. Remember that Jesus is always concerned about the heart of human beings. The disciples, and everyone else, had a good idea of what it took to get ahead in their world, but Jesus knew that there are plenty of rich people who are not a success. Just as we have met well-educated people with no common sense, there are many people who have gained power or achieved success but who are still missing something vitally important. Some of them are empty inside, others have power or wealth but have no direction, and others lack passion for anything but more power and more money. For Jesus, being a success takes more than power or money, it has everything to do with the condition of your heart. So there you have it. Four keys to real success, honor, and praise. Work hard, gain wisdom, have faith, learn humility and always remember, success it isnt about how much you have, its about the condition of your heart.

You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.