“When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you… then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)
This is a warning. Be careful! Watch out! There is a particular danger that you are going to encounter as God’s blessings flow into your life.
A Great Change is Going to Happen in Your Life
You are going to enjoy the blessing of God in ways that your parents never knew. It will come to you in three ways.
“A land with large, flourishing cities you did not build…” (6:10)
Cities are places of opportunity. Cities have infrastructure. They have large populations. Business thrives in the city.
Cities are built over decades and generations, but these people will have all the opportunity of life in cities they did not even build. Enemies are going to be cleared from these cities. God took these people from the desert, where there is no opportunity, and put them in a place of extraordinary opportunity.
“Houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide…” (6:11)
God was going to give this land to his people, and each tribe and clan would be given their own property as an inheritance. They had lived in tents in the desert, but now they will live in homes—with no mortgages! This is what is going to happen. And the land and the houses that God will give to each tribe and family is to be passed down from generation to generation.
God is giving these people homes. Property! Their parents left Egypt with nothing. Now there would be a family home, property and an inheritance that would be passed from one generation to the next.
“Vineyards and olive groves you did not plant…” (6:11)
Vineyards and olive groves give the means of generating an income. You will have land. You will be able to sow and plan and harvest. You will not only have food, you will be able to generate an income.
This is a marvelous promise of the blessing of God. When you go into the Promised Land, here’s what will happen: You will be surrounded by the opportunity of the city, you will be property owners, and you will have the means of generating an income.
Now here’s the surprise. Moses says, “When this happens… Be careful” (6:12). Why does he say that? You would expect him to say, “Be thankful. Lift up your hands in praise,” but that’s not what he says. He says, “Be careful!” When this great change happens in your life and you have opportunity and property, and when you have an income—Watch out! This will harbor for you a time of great danger.
That is why I’ve called today’s message, “The Subtle Test of Success.” Now, please turn with me to Deuteronomy 8, where Moses explains why the blessing of God carries within it a hidden danger…
We see this in Deuteronomy 8:6-11. When you experience the blessing of God, and it’s the same for us today, one of two things will happen: The first is that the blessing of God can intensify your gratitude and increase your love for the Lord. I’m going to call this “the circle of praise.”
The Circle of Praise
Fear the Lord
“Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and revering Him.” (8:6)
Fear the Lord as you love Him, and love the Lord as you fear Him. Give weight to the Lord in all your ways. Hear what He says. Do what he commands.
“The LORD your God is bringing you into a good land–a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.” (8:7-9)
If you fear the Lord, if he carries weight in your life, and you love Him as you fear Him and fear Him as you love Him, then the blessing of God will lead you to praise.
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” (8:10)
If you fear the Lord, then when His blessing and His abundant goodness comes to you, you will say, “All that I have has come from His hand.” And the very act of praise will lead you back to the Lord, so that the circle is complete.
Do not forget
“Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God…” (8:11)
If I fear the Lord, His blessing will lead me to praise. Praise calls His goodness to mind so that I am even more in awe of His goodness, and so the circle of praise continues. That’s where we want to be. We want to live in the circle of praise, so that when the blessing of the Lord comes it leads us back to Him.
I want you to notice what Moses says next: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord… Otherwise…” (8:11-12). Now he is going to introduce another cycle of events. If you fear the Lord, His blessing will lead you to praise, but if you forget the Lord, the good things that happen in your life will have a completely different effect. I’m calling this effect “the circle of pride.”
The Circle of Pride
Forget the Lord
To forget the Lord doesn’t mean to forget that He exists. It simply means that you no longer have Him in mind. You lose sight of His hand in the events of your life, in a way that you once did.
If you forget the Lord, here is what will happen:
“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…” (8:12-13)
God gives material blessings to those who forget Him, as well as to those who fear Him. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on those who hate him as much as on those who love Him (Matthew 5:45). What will happen then?
“Then your heart will become proud…” (8:14)
If you forget the Lord, His blessing will lead you to pride. You will take the credit to yourself and that will intensify your forgetting of the Lord. You’ll say, “This is marvelous! Look at what I’ve been able to accomplish.” Praise leads you back to the Lord, because your eye is on Him. Pride leads you away from the Lord, because your eye is on yourself.
I have done this
“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’” (8:17)
Here is the subtle test of success, the great danger that lurks in every blessing: We think it comes from our own hand, from our own strength. So Moses says, “Be careful! Watch out!” It’s like a big “Danger!” sign, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord” (6:12), “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God” (8:11).
Success Can Destroy
What this means for us is this: When you move into that new home, there is a temptation for you to face. When you graduate with that degree, there is a spiritual danger for you to overcome. If your salary moves from five figures to six figures, there is a subtle test that you will face. You cannot avoid it. These good gifts are to be welcomed and celebrated, but be careful, because every blessing of God carries within it the subtle test of success.
Success can destroy an individual, if we forget the Lord
This is counter-intuitive—the opposite of what we usually think. The time of your greatest spiritual danger may not be when you are sick, but when you are well. You’re more likely to forget the Lord. You’ll pray when you’re sick. The time of your greatest testing may not be when you lose a job, but when you find one.
You are more likely to grow cold in your walk with the Lord, not when the stock-market goes down, but when it goes up. Students, if you are getting straight “A’s,” you may be in more danger of spiritual pride than if you had gotten a “B” or a “C.” Moses says, “When these good things happen to you, be very careful! Watch out! See the danger, because success carries with it the subtle temptation of spiritual pride.
Remember this when you are tempted to envy those who have more than you—a greater opportunity, a larger property or a bigger income. Don’t wish yourself into another man’s temptation. You don’t know what kind of steward you would be. The very fact that you are struggling with envy suggests that it may be God’s kindness and mercy that is keeping you from the ravages of that temptation.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48
I think with great sadness about a man I knew in London. He told me one evening, with great joy on his face, how he had been head-hunted by a large company and they had tripled his salary overnight. “Pastor,” he told me, “something wonderful has happened. It’s the blessing of God.”
I saw him change. Within a year he had denied his faith, and left his wife and two children. Satan got him. All it took was an increase in his salary. He forgot the Lord. He said, “My strength and my power have produced this wealth.” He felt strong and it destroyed him. C. S. Lewis put it like this:
“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.” [i]
Success can destroy a generation, if we forget the Lord
“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’” (8:17)
I was watching a documentary the other night by Tom Brokaw. You may remember a book he wrote called, “The Greatest Generation,” about those who fought in World War I. Now he has turned his attention to the boomers, my generation. This is the largest generation ever—78 million people born between 1946 and 1964.
We have enjoyed greater wealth than any other generation. But from Woodstock [ii] on, in large measure, we have forgotten the Lord. As we have amassed great wealth, we have said, “My strength and the power of my hand have done this.” Os Guinness says:
“Rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self satisfied-heart for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant.” [iii]
That is in large measure the story of this generation.
Success can destroy a church, if we forget the Lord
Apply what we are learning here to a church, and you will see that there is a subtle test that comes to a church that grows, a church that expands.
When a church grows, other churches want to know how it happened, “What is the secret of your success?” Books get written, seminars go on the road. The church begins to say, “Look what we were able to do.” And Satan runs rampant. Have you not seen this?
A few weeks ago I asked you to join me in prayer for two things—God’s protection and God’s provision. We need His protection because we are experiencing His blessing. Here we are counting down to opening two new sites. If Moses were here, he would stand on this platform and say, “Be careful! This is a time of great spiritual danger. And whatever you do, do not say, ‘We have done this by the strength of our own hands.’”
When we are in a time of trouble we know how to call upon the Lord, but when we are in a time of blessing, that’s when it is easy to forget the Lord. Remember the church at Laodicea? They were saying, “I am rich, I have acquired wealth, I do not need a thing.” But Christ says to them, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16-17).
Success can destroy a church: I was ordained in Charlotte Chapel, a church of about 1,000 people with a great history. It was the largest baptist church in Scotland. You’ll know what I mean when I say, some of the folks were aware that it was the largest baptist church in Scotland. My pastor, Derek Prime, used to say, “The life of the church is the blessing of God, and if He were to shut it off, the church would dwindle to nothing before you know it.”
Breaking Out of the Circle of Pride
What is success doing in your life? Is it increasing your praise or is it increasing your pride? Maybe you find yourself saying, “There is too much pride in and too little praise in this heart.” Then the great question is, how can we break out of the circle of pride?
Moses is describing a person locked into the circle of pride, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me’” (8:17). He goes on to say, “but,” here’s how you break out of the cycle of pride. “But, remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today” (8:18).
Moses is making this obvious point: “You say it was ‘my strength’ that did this. You say it was ‘the power of my hands’ that produced this wealth, but where did that power and strength come from? Who gave you the mind to discern these truths? Who gave you the skills that built this business?”
The Bible tells us about Nebuchadnezzar, a king who accomplished extraordinary things. One day he was walking on the roof of His palace in Babylon, admiring the wonders of the ancient world in his kingdom and he said, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built… by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). That’s what Nebuchadnezzar said on the roof of his palace.
While he was still saying this, God spoke, and in a moment Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind. He became completely mad. For a time after that, he ate grass and lived among the animals of the field. His hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird (4:33). Can you imagine how desperate that man became?
After some time, Nebuchadnezzar gives us his testimony, “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me… Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt… the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and…those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:34-37).
“God uses our effort as a mask under which he blesses us.” [iv]
The world sees what you have done. They see the mask. The world says, “He is a great man. Look at what he has accomplished.” Luther says, “Your effort, your gifts, your enterprise, your skills, are a mask.” The real reason underneath your success is the blessing of God. Only God can say, “I AM who I AM.” What we must say is, “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Matthew Henry says:
“When we have got it, we must not say, it was the might of our hand that got it. But must own that it was God that gave us the power to get it. And therefore to Him we must give the praise and consecrate the use of it.” [v]
“What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). This takes us to the heart of the Gospel: “We are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:24-25). “Where then is boasting? It is excluded” (3:27), because we are not redeemed by the strength of our hands or by our intelligence, not by our efforts, but by the shed blood of Christ.
Some of you will know Carl F. H. Henry, a man whose brilliant mind and wise judgment were used by God—perhaps more than any other in the shaping of evangelicalism in the second half of the 20th century. Carl Henry, who is with the Lord now, was a man of extraordinary scholarship, a prolific author, the founder of Fuller Theological Seminary, and the first editor of Christianity Today.
Don Carson conducted an interview with Carl Henry late in his life, and asked him: “Having achieved all this in your life, how do you stop it going to your head?” He said,
“How can a man possibly be proud when he is standing beside a cross?”
There are ultimately only two kinds of men, two kinds of women. There are those who are standing on their own achievement, and there are those who are standing beside the cross. What about you? Forget the Lord and His blessing will lead you into a life of pride, but how can anyone be proud if he or she is standing beside a cross?
[i] C. S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters,” p. 155, HarperCollins, 2001
[ii] A free music festival held near Woodstock, New York for three days in August 1969. It was one of the biggest rock festivals of all time, with over 500,000 people in attendance.
[iii] Os Guiness, “God in the Dark,” p. 44, Crossway, 1996
[iv] Martin Luther, “Luther’s Works” Volume 9: Deuteronomy, p. 96, Fortress, 1957
[v] Matthew Henry, “A Commentary on the Holy Bible” Volume 1: Genesis to Deuteronomy, p. 392, Religious Tract Society, 1835