Mark Zuckerberg and the Biblical Meaning of Success

Looking forward to your 28th birthday? Or remember what you did? Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will never forget his special day. Today, four days after his 28th birthday, Facebook open to public investors and begin trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. It’s expected to be worth $100 billion.

Twenty-somethings could respond to this in at least two ways. Either they can be inspired by his entrepreneurial spirit and hard work or discouraged that they will never reach the heights of his success.

Most will be discouraged. By age 28, many face what’s called a “quarter-life crisis,” thanks to the two great lies our culture promotes among children in school, students in college, and professionals in the business world. The first great lie is, “If you work hard enough, you can be anything you want to be.” It is often sold as the American Dream, expressed in sayings such as, “In America, anyone can grow up to be President.”

The second great lie is like the first one, yet possibly even more damaging: “You can be the best in the world. If you try hard enough, you could be the next Zuckerberg.”

These lies are accepted by many Christians as well as non-Christians. They have catastrophically damaged our view of work and vocation, because they have distorted our biblical view of success.

The Idol of Success

Success, defined as being the master of your own destiny, has become a cultural idol. In Counterfeit Gods, pastor Tim Keller describes the idol:

More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are God, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength, and performance. To be the very best at what you do, to be at the top of the heap, means no one is like you. You are supreme.

If we will rediscover the biblical doctrine of work and correctly understand our vocational calling, we must recognize a more timeless, faithful definition of success.

The late John Wooden, the most successful college basketball coach in history and a committed Christian, was once asked how he would define success. He replied:

Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

The New Testament defines success in a similar way in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). This parable offers profound insight not only into the definition of success, but also into the purpose of our call to work. Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven is like a man going on a long journey. Before leaving, he gives three servants different amounts of money, denominated by talents. Whatever its exact value, in the New Testament a talent indicates a large sum of money, maybe even as much as a million dollars in today’s currency.

The man gives five talents to the first servant, two talents to the second servant, and one talent to the last servant—each according to his abilities. Upon his return the master asks what his servants did with the money. The first and second servants doubled their investments and received the master’s praise. The third servant, who was given one talent, safeguarded the money but did nothing to increase it. The third servant was condemned by the master for his inactivity.

God Provides the Tools We Need

Whatever they represent—natural abilities, spiritual gifts, or other resources—talents in this parable at least represent tools God gives us to carry out his mandate in the Garden to “take dominion” over the earth—to reweave shalom into creation—and to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples. In this context, we can assume two things from the parable:

1. God always gives us enough in order to do what he has required.

2. Whatever the Lord gives us now, he will ask us about later, expecting us to diligently work with these resources to further his kingdom.

Therefore, we base our definition of success on whether we have cultivated and invested our God-given talents and, by faith, taken advantage of divine opportunities to use them—whether we have been given one, two, or five talents.

This definition should convict. We are called to greater heights of stewardship then we ever before realized. But it’s also relieving: we are only called to steward our own talents and opportunities, not those allotted to people like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs.

It is up to us whether the Master will respond, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master,” or, “You wicked, lazy servant!” Love of the Master drives and inspires our work. We’re not working to become the next Zuckerberg, though some may be called to such influence. We’re simply working to receive the Master’s praise.

  • Chris Mulherin

    Thanks for that reminder about the difference between success in God’s eyes and worldly ideas of success.

    But I think the last paragraph needs to be modified: it is not up to us whether God will accept us finally. It is God’s choice. The theological nuance is important: otherwise we have just redefined success so that we are still in charge of our own salvation.

    Without getting into debates over salvation theology, in the end the last word is God’s not ours.

    • leslie_

      ?? God is not someone else.

    • Melody

      He is not talking about salvation there. He is talking about what will be said to you when you get there.

      If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3

      • leslie_

        Ah perhaps I misunderstood. I was certain he was talking about salvation, and not the judgement seat of Christ where post-salvation works are judged.

      • sam

        Isn’t that passage talking about those who are saved and not saved?
        Right afterwards, Jesus says “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”
        I mean that’s a new interpretation to me, to say that they would be cast out then after some time in the darkness(like purgatory?) they are welcomed to heaven.

  • Leslie

    Excellent stuff! Brilliantly stated sir! Exactly the kind of message that the youth of this generation need to hear. I commend you for bravely tackling this diiffcult, oft-misunderstood topic.

  • Michael Swart

    The share trading debut of Facebook is exploiting human greed and covetousness. How can a company with a turnover of $3.71 billion in 2011 be valued at around $100 billion? Would the shares be as highly valued if there were regulations forcing share holders to retain them for say five years before resale?

    But it is not only the business side of the company that should raise serious ethical problems for a Christian. There are various other ethical issues that need to be considered. I hope that this article will be followed others addressing the most serious issues relating to Facebook.

    • http://www.jessicaakent.com Jessica A. Kent

      ?? This article wasn’t about Facebook. It was about stewarding the talents and gifts God has given us.

    • Melody

      Why are you even keeping up with that kind of stuff? So you can judge people? Who cares how much money other people make? That is the whole point. God is in control of it all anyway.

    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

      HI Michael,
      Business has a much longer term view than just one year. If you were to buy all the stock, at $100 billion. It would take you approximately 27 years to make a profit, assuming the value stayed the same. That’s about the same length of time many people take a mortgage, reasoning that when they have paid it all, then they have the profit of owning the house. Usually, the business people know what they are doing.

      When we try to regulate according to what we think is some higher principle, often we just cause problems. The medieval church tried to regulate the economy by what they thought were Christian standards. They allowed no more than a 5% mark-up on goods; anything more was considered profiteering. Today, Walmart averages about 2% profit on it’s goods, thus the free market giving us less than half the mark-up than did the regulated market.

  • David L.

    Very well said.

    The American Dream is, or should be, the Christian’s nightmare. It breeds covetousness and discontent. Learning to be content is really nothing more than learning to be under the Sovereign hand of God. We are what we are, we have what he have by the grace of God and He is just in withholding all grace.

    Our problem lies in a culture that categorizes the “pursuit of happiness” as an “unalienable right endowed by our Creator”. We confuse bondage with freedom and fail to see that the pursuit of happiness apart from the pursuit of Christ is the *already* eternal judgement of hell on Earth.

    Deistic America has fused together ultimate purpose and covetous entitlement . The American Christian is too often one who enters God’s courts with entitlement and is only thankful and full of praise if the “happiness” they pursue is bestowed. We, like Christ’s followers in John 6, want to make Christ King but only in order to fill our stomachs with more bread, instead of pursuing the Bread of Life for, and as, our happiness.

    I only know this because it describes me. Again, well said… this topic is so important because we have sanctified worldly blessing in the name of God’s blessing.

  • http://frightfullypleased.blogspot.com Stephen

    Wendell Berry had it right some years back when he pointed out that consumerism and the modern industrial economy is founded on the seven deadly sins and the breaking of all ten of the Ten Commandments.

  • http://www.jessicaakent.com Jessica A. Kent

    Really good evaluation of how we should be viewing our life. I would like to have seen you go into this – “We’re not working to become the next Zuckerberg, though some may be called to such influence” – a bit more (or maybe it’s another blogpost). I fear that, as Christians, we don’t become all that we can be with all we’re given because we’re told we have to “be the servant” and not exalt ourselves. That’s true of how we should live our lives, but it could easily translate into a philosophy of not trying at all, of not accepting a promotion, of not setting our sights on becoming leaders of our culture. God may be calling us to lead corporations and get higher degrees and become culture-changers, but we (and I speak from experience) feel like as Christians we shouldn’t advance past the mailroom because we’re supposed to be “servants.” We don’t realize that we can ascend to the highest level – David was King! – and still retain holiness and servanthood. It can be done!

    • Joe Carter

      Mr. Whelchel delves deeper into a lot of these issues on his Institute’s blog. You can find many interesting series here: http://blog.tifwe.org/

    • Melody

      God prospers people. It is a matter of what you do with it when you get it. Do you use it for luxury or to help others? Francis Chan comes to mind.

  • http://compete4christ.blogspot.com/ Kurt Earl

    As a coach at Christian high school we talk about the definition of success a lot. If you are curious how we define (similar to this article) check out this post on my blog Compete4Christ: His Glory defines our Success http://compete4christ.blogspot.com/p/his-glory-defines-our-success.html

  • Giovanni B. Naive

    Mr. Zuckerberg failed the most important thing about life. He is athiest. That’s not a success..

    • Melody

      He isn’t dead yet so there is always hope

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  • tricia

    The American Dream is alive and flourishing.Francis Chan: “Your biggest fear should not be failure, it should be succeeding at something that does not matter”.David Platt,s book Radical addresses this subject so well.

    • Russell Chadwick

      Thanks Tricia, this is a very important perspective!
      Mmm…I’m going to enjoy chewing on this for a while!

  • M Craig

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been thinking about the issue of stewardship recently. We just don’t know what each person’s “Success” looks like. It is only visible to the God who made us and prepared good works in advance for us to do. God has given us every gift we possess for the purpose of serving and building His church for the sake of His name. We should all feel the weight of responsibility for the gifts we were given. They were not given to us to build our kingdom or to lay there untapped. They are for the Church and no matter how inconsequential your gift may seem, it was given to you for a purpose. So use it!

    • tricia


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  • Cheah Zhong Xiang

    For Christians, there can be many definitions of success, as long as they give glory to God. Someone shared his definition with me: “To know God and to make Him known!” Very true indeed~

  • http://blog.higherpixels.com Brian

    The problem with the American Dream is that there is a kernel of Biblical truth inside of it (although misapplied as this article suggests).

    We all know Phil 4:13, and it inspires us to know that anything is possible with God. As a follower, I take great comfort in this verse. As a father, I want my kids to know that anything could happen with God. When He’s for you, who can be against you? I never want to put God or his plans for me in a box (including the plans he has for my kids). So, we use this verse, and others, to paint a big picture of possibilities.

    However, what I love about this article is that it draws people back to the simple truth – Anything is possible with God, but we, as his children, aim to glorify Him by doing what He calls us to. Following his voice is what brings us the most joy.

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