Even the simple people of first century Palestine had a basic understanding and craving for success. Jesus said their Gentile culture, though unsophisticated even by world standards at that time, ran after, or chased the fundamental emblems of success, the food they ate and and the clothing they wore. In fact, he indicated these provisions had become icons of their standing in the world and, as a result, a source of deep personal anxiety for them. You know the teaching Jesus gave them. There are profound lessons about the emotional effects of chasing success.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what
you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than
food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither
sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are
you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a
single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider
the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even
Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes
the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven,
will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be
anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we
wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father
knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his
righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be
anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the
day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-34, ESV
The word translated anxious six times in this text is descriptive. It is from the Greek root merimnao, literally meaning to be divided. In a broader sense merimnao was the state of being distracted, having a double-minded attitude, being pulled in several directions. In Matthew's text merimnao seemed to derive from three specific life diversions---
1. Chasing after pagan success symbols, what you ate and wore.
2. Perceived need for more hours in the day to produce income for these items.
3. Projection of achieving these standards beyond today.
Of course, Jesus shifted his listeners attention away from the standards of an anxious world to a Kingdom standard. He said, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (v. 33).
This distraction thing is the deal for me. You and I live in a fast-paced, consumer culture that works long and hard to sustain a standard of living that is really the envy of the world. To say that we're distracted or that our attentions are divided is understatement if ever one was spoken. While many of the key social and domestic indicators are trending downward, upward mobility remains the key component that drives us. More and better are the ideals that keep this aim so elevated. It is the built-in work ethic and standard of success that defines the American epoch. This obsession also leaves markers of our distraction in the wake---family dysfunction, divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction, therapy, mental illness, exhaustion, depression, and so much more.
Chasing success has always been a dangerous preoccupation. That's partly because the standards and rules change with the ebb and flow of culture. That's why, in my opinion, Jesus told the people gathered on the Galilean mountain side to seek God's kingdom and his righteousness. They are eternal standards. When they are guiding us society doesn't define or redefine the rubrics of success and we can approach them with singleness of mind and purpose. His kingdom and righteousness are what we were created to pursue. They're what we should be chasing.
Writing to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul wrote of his own experiences in chasing success. Take note---
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a
Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the
church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I
counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because
of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Philippians 3:4-7, ESV
He had chased the success of Jewish legalism and traditionalism. In a face-to-face with Jesus this anxious pretense was given away for the eternal security of knowing Christ. It was a blessing that chased and pursued him the rest of his life. And, he wrote thirteen Epistles that are recorded in the Bible, the greatest selling book in human history. By the worlds standard he was a pauper, prisoner, and itinerant preacher. In the Kingdom standard he was our most significant theologian and planted most of the early churches around the world.
He was making little of himself, while God was making much of him.