What is the greatest danger for the Christian? Is it failure or success? The answer might surprise you.
The Greatest Risk
Believe it or not, the greatest risk for falling or stumbling for the Christian is right after a great victory or having great success in something. This is something that I learned the hard way. It’s too bad that I didn’t understand that I will learn more from defeat than I ever will from success. When Christians are successful there is the danger and tendency to believe that it’s from their own effort and not from God. When we see great accomplishments in our life we start to rely on ourselves and not on God. This robs glory from God because ultimately everything that happens in our life is the result of a loving and sovereign God. Not even a sparrow can fall to the ground that He is not aware of or that He does not allow it (Matthew 10:29).
Victory from Defeat
When I was a Little League baseball coach, we were like the Bad News Bears. We could not win a game at all. The teams used to rub it in our face but we learned more during our defeats than we could have ever learned from winning. We came up with a plan:
- we decided to practice harder,
- we worked on the basic skills more,
- we examined the fundamentals more and
- we also learned how to be good sports in losing.
It’s easy to be a good sport when you are winning but the true test is how to be one when you lose…time and again. In short, we learned how to accept defeat even though it was difficult . Here’s what happened. We began to practice more than the other teams, we studied the game more intently and we started to improve as a team and individually. Ironically, the teams that were beating us lightened up in their practice times. They didn’t practice as often or as hard as we did and as a consequence, we slowly began to be more competitive. Near the end of the season, we started winning games. No, we didn’t win the league but we started gaining the benefits from our practices that our defeats compelled us to take. The result was that we turned our season around. If we had been winning at first, we may have never learned some valuable lessons. We learned how to lose graciously and how to work harder and improve. We learned more from our defeats than we ever would have from our victories.
Defeat from Victory
During the zenith of David’s success as king, he had victory after victory and his heart became swelled with pride. We know this because he took a census and counted his troops. It was like a rich man counting his money. Even though Joab tried to warn him that this was sin, David’s pride blinded him. Pride has a way of doing that and this makes it more difficult for others to warn us. As you might imagine, this angered God because it revealed that David saw the strength of the troops as his own strength and he began to consider himself as self-sufficient. This meant that he had taken His eyes off of God and was focusing on his own strength and abilities. When we begin to take credit for blessings, for success or victories, we are actually robbing God of His due glory. Satan was said to “stand against Israel and incited David” and even though Joab tried to warn him, David  should have known better (2 Chronicles 21:1). As a result, Israel paid dearly with the death of seventy thousand men (2 Samuel 24:15-17).
Another example includes that of Israel when Joshua was in command and it came just as they were having great success against the inhabitants of Canaan. Israel had won battle after battle and often over superior numbers. Then Israel decided to take on Ai, one of the smaller city-states that was significantly outnumbered. Ironically, defeat came against one of the smallest of the Canaanite nations, even though the defeat was attributed to one of the soldiers disobeying God (Joshua 7:1-26).
Then there is the example of Elijah who had one of the greatest victories over evil ever recorded in the Bible. Here was one lone prophet of God going up against four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah. So here’s the line….Elijah verses eight hundred and fifty but the fact is that 1 plus God is always a majority and God proved that Elijah was serving the One, True God. You would expect Elijah to be filled with confidence but immediately after this great success and a mighty display of God’s power Elijah ran away to hide from Jezebel who threatened to kill him (1 Kings 19:1-3). Elijah gave up. He wanted God to just take his life (1 Kings 19:10).
The Lesson of Israel
And what could we say about ancient Israel’s history? Every time they became prosperous they forgot their God and He would send them into captivity. This happened time and time again. They prospered, were sent into captivity, then humbled themselves and God delivered them. Even though God had warned them numerous times, they refused to learn the lesson of success. If only they had taken to heart what God said in Deuteronomy 8:10-20:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’”
There are several important things that God mentions here that we should take to heart. When things are going well we better not forget the Lord. When our goods increase and our wealth (or success) is multiplied, don’t let our hearts become proud. When we are delivered out of our own wilderness with hunger and thirst, remember it is God Who delivered us…we did not deliver ourselves. When things go well we are tempted to think, “My power and the strength of my hands” have done this. Whenever we do this we rob glory from God for He alone gives us the power to have wealth. Anything good that happens is always from God’s gracious hands. It is not from us. Who among us would want to rob God!?
God Resists the Proud
The greatest dangers come during times of success because it can breed pride  and since we know that God resists the proud this means that He will resist us. The word for resist or as some translations say, opposes, is actually better rendered “at war with,” so if we read James 4:6 in a literal way, it says that “God is at war with the proud but gives grace only to the humble.” The lesson is that the greatest threat is not found in defeat but from victory. In defeat, at least we’re humbled and forced to look to God and depend upon Him. Success makes us look in the mirror…struggles make us look to God. When we have success or victories, we can easily over-inflate or overestimate ourselves. When we do this, we rob glory from God. Since we know God will not share His glory with another, this spells trouble for us. Isaiah 42:8 warns us that He is “the LORD” and that “I will not give my glory to another nor my praise to graven images.” Sometimes that “graven image” has been me!
When we are filled with pride we are just like Satan. When we are lifted up, we are exalting ourselves. When we are boasting we are headed for a fall. What else can we expect but to hear “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!” (2 Samuel 1:25). If we remain humble and give credit to God for our success, God will continue to bless us, but if we boast of anything we do then God will resist us and we are surely headed for a fall. If you have failed to repent, confess your sins, and trust in Christ, God is at war with you right now. You have made yourself to be your own “graven image” and God has told us to have no other gods before Him…even if it’s us!
Humble yourself today and know that God will give you grace. He wants us to prosper in all things (Romans 10:17) but He also wants us to acknowledge where that prosperity comes from. When someone compliments me, I try to deflect it because there is none that are good (Romans 3:10, 12). I put it this way. I am like the moon. The moon has a dark side. As a matter of fact, it’s all dark. Without the sun shining on it, it would remain dark. The moon cannot support life. It is dead, decaying, and pock-marked by asteroids and meteorites. The moon is a waste land but when the sun shines on it, it is beautiful. It reflects the sunlight and gives light to darkness during the night. Likewise, I am dark, dead, and decaying and have no light source but when the Son shines His light on me, I can reflect that light to a dark, sinful world. Even a tiny match can light up a large, dark cave. I am not the light but He is. Just as the moon has no right to boast, neither can I boast in my own good works (light). I must give glory to the Son who illuminates the darkness and is the light of men (John 1). If I keep this in mind, then God will not resist me and I can properly give credit and glory where it is due…and it’s not me…it is from God alone. To Him be all the glory, honor, and praise, forever and ever, amen.
Take a look at this collection of Scriptures about success: 20 Bible verses about success 
Resources: New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide