J. Paul Getty & the Measure of Success

J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) was the founder of the Getty Oil Company.   He is well known for being one of the richest Americans to have ever lived.  At his death in 1976, he was worth an estimated $8.5 billion (adjusted for inflation).   From a business and financial standpoint, Getty was a tremendously successful man.  In his personal dealings, however, Getty was anything but a success.  Over the course of his life he was married and divorced five different times.  All but his last marriage lasted less than four years.  And though his final marriage lasted 19 years, it still ended in absolute failure.  His wife, Louise Dudley Lynch, recalled in her memoir how Getty had scolded her for spending too much money on medical treatment for their six-year-old son’s cancer treatments.  When his son died, Getty did not even attend the funeral.  Getty said, “A lasting relationship with a woman is only possible if you are a business failure.  I hate to be a failure.  I hate and regret the failure of my marriages.  I would gladly give all my millions for just one lasting marital success.”

Have you ever considered how you define success?  Our world would look at someone like J. Paul Getty and say that he was successful.  Though his balance sheet and his estate were certainly healthy, Getty was an abject failure in so many other respects.  I pray your measure of success is not the same as Mr. Getty’s.

The truth is that there are countless resources to help one become “successful.”  Just this week, I was invited to a conference called “Lead & Succeed.”  It is “guaranteed to help me become successful.”  It consisted of a panel of speakers that included everyone from Rudy Giuliani to Larry King to Matt Ryan.   What I found most interesting about this particular conference is that there was absolutely NO spiritual component whatsoever.

Therein lies the fundamental problem with how we define success – we do so from our perspective and not from the Lord’s.  Peter said in 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us…”  In other words, success is not measured by your balance sheet, but by the virtue of what Christ has accomplished on your behalf.  A successful Christian businessman may have healthy bank accounts, but his real success is based on how he reflects Christ in all his dealings – personal and professional.  The good news is that Christ has granted all the things we need to get there.

Getty once said, “Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil.”  Truthfully, I affirm 2/3 of his formula.  But Getty was missing the most important thing.  Maybe you’re living your life off a similar formula.  It is time to retire your broken definition of success and make your measure of success the same as the Apostle Paul.  He said in 2 Corinthians 5:9, “We make it our goal to please him [Jesus].”  Only when that is our life’s goal can we fully understand what real success is all about.

In Christ,

Pastor Brian



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