Faithlife Sermons

The Key to Success

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Keys are very handy if you know how to use them.

            Did you hear about the lady standing beside a car in the parking lot, pushing her remote unlock on her car? A guy asks her what the problem is, and she tells him she can’t get the car unlocked. How in the world will she get home? He asks for her keys, slides the key into the door lock, and says with a smile, why don’t you just drive?  

            I keep a set of keys with me every time I leave my house. They are known as THE keys: a key to the front door, a key to the van, a couple of keys to the church, and a couple of mystery keys to what I really don’t know. Each keys is unique because it unlocks only certain doors. My house key won’t start the car, my car key won’t fit your vehicle’s ignition. Even my mystery keys must fit a lock somewhere, if only I could jump start my feeble memory.

            In many ways, the key to success is unique. It only opens one door, but what a door: the door to life lived to the fullest, the door to deep satisfaction and happiness that lasts.

Many people stand at the door of success, trying to unlock it. Some try the key of wealth, or the key of fame; others the key of power, or the key of pleasure. But none of these keys fit, and they get so close to success but never get past the door.

I’m here to tell you there is only one key that unlocks the door of success. Here’s the really great news: this key is available to every person here. It doesn’t matter how young or old, rich or poor, introvert or extrovert—this key is available to you if you’ll reach out and take it.

            What is the key to true success? It’s found in many places in the Bible, but I want to focus on how it shows up in 1 Samuel 18, in the life of a man named David. (v. 1-5)


The history of David is one of the Bible’s biggest success stories. He steps on stage in 1 Sam. 16 as the son of Jesse, youngest of 8 brothers, forgotten shepherd boy who’s never elected most likely to succeed. God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint him as king, and suddenly he steps through the door of success. He becomes David the giant slayer, David the mighty warrior, David the man who will be king. 4 times in 1 Sam. 18 the NKJV says David behaved wisely (v. 5, 14, 15, 30)=  was successful. David discovers the key that unlocks the door of success. Which key is it?

Perhaps it’s the key of friendship. Heroes have a way of drawing fans, sometimes even worshippers. I imagine everybody wants to be David’s friend after his big victory over Goliath. But vs. 1-5 tells us one young man is drawn to David as a friend: Jonathan, King Saul’s son.

In some ways it’s natural for these two to bond. Jonathan’s a brave warrior in his own right. He and his armor bearer took on the whole Philistine army back in 1 Sam. 14. Perhaps Jonathan is impressed by David’s courage and faith.

Whatever the reason, vs. 1 tells us Prince Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Jonathan makes a covenant with David, a solemn pledge of eternal love and loyalty. He seals this covenant by giving David his robe, his armor, his sword, his bow, and his belt—all symbols of his position as prince and future king of Israel. Jonathan’s friendship will be very important for David in days to come.  

It’s good to have friends in high places, but this friendship is not primarily political. It’s straight from the heart. These two men love each other, echoing the wisdom of

     Proverbs 18:24 …there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

These two buddies will stick together until the very end. Jonathan often seems more interested in David’s success than in his own. This is how true friends are, isn’t it?

  Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.

Your friends can make you or break you. It’s important to choose your friends wisely, because they influence you. They contribute to either your success or your failure.

You’ve seen it happen. Someone starts hanging out with the wrong crowd, and soon they are in all kinds of trouble. I wonder how many people sit in prison today not for what they did, but just because of who they were with?

But then there are friends like Jonathan who think more of your success than their own.

Many years ago two struggling young art students, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein, worked to earn money for their art studies. The work left them little time to study art so they agreed to draw lots and let the loser support them both while the winner continued to study. Albrecht won, and after becoming successful, he sought out Franz to keep his bargain. But he discovered that from his hard labor, Franz’s fingers had become twisted and stiff. He could no longer manage the delicate brush strokes necessary for fine paintings. Yet Franz was happy his friend Albrecht had attained success. One day Albrecht saw his loyal friend kneeling, his rough hands entwined in silent prayer.  Albrecht quickly sketched the hands, later using them to create his masterpiece The Praying Hands.

            There’s no doubt friendship is a beautiful, powerful force in life. But is it the key to success?

I don’t think so. I know people who do their best to lift their friends up, and yet the friend still fails. Maybe you have a friend on the road to ruin, and you do your best to help them straighten things out, but their wrong choices and bad attitudes keep leading them down the road to failure. Friendship can open many doors, but friendship alone is not a guaranteed key to success.

Well, let’s try the next key mentioned in vs. 6-16: the key of enmity. We usually underestimate the value of our enemies.

He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. -Edmund Burke

     An enemy is often the resistance that strengthens us, the challenge that stretches us, the person who help makes us (for better or worse) who we are.

     David’s enemy is born of envy. Soon after David’s triumph over Goliath, King Saul and David ride into town to celebrate victory. They’re met by adoring subjects, including women singing and dancing and shaking their tambourines, celebrating their heroes.

     Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens thousands.  

     Whoever wrote these lyrics had no idea how much trouble they would bring. The line is a classic case of Hebrew poetry, built on parallelism. It isn’t comparing Saul and David, it is complimenting Saul and David. If anything, Saul’s name first gives him the place of honor. It’s an innocent song sung to rejoice over Israel’s victory over their enemies.

     But this isn’t what Saul hears. He takes these words as a personal insult, an invitation for David to steal his throne. He’s glad David kills the giant, but now he wonders if maybe this shepherd boy isn’t getting a little too popular. King Saul begins to eye David=view him with suspicion from then on. 

     This suspicion becomes violent when Saul has one of his fits and David comes to make music to soothe his troubled mind. Not once but twice Saul hurls a spear at the young musician, and twice David dodges death. Finally, Saul sends David away to fight in his army, hoping he will die on the battlefield. Vs. 29 says ….Saul became David’s enemy continually….

     Yet the more Saul tries to destroy David, the more successful David becomes. The rest of Saul’s story records how he falls deeper into failure, and David reaches higher and higher success. You could even argue that Saul’s enmity actually benefits David in many ways.

     Just as our friends can make us or break us, so also our enemies can make us or break us. Your enemies can bring out the best in you, or they can bring out the worst in you.

     An old tale tells of an officer who one day struck one of the soldiers under his command. The soldier did not retaliate, but told the officer, one day you’ll be sorry you hit me! Later in the heat of battle, the officer is wounded and watches this same soldier fight his way through to rescue him. As they reach safety, the officer’s eyes filled with tears, as the young soldier holds out his hand and says with a smile I told you one day you’d be sorry you hit me!

     Though Saul hated David, David never hates Saul. Though Saul tried to kill David, David later spares Saul’s life. Ironically, it is through Saul’s hatred David learns important lessons about God’s faithfulness and goodness and power. David’s enemy brought out the best in him.

The Lord gives us friends to push us to our potential--and enemies to push us beyond it.- Jim Vorsas[i]

Maybe enmity is the key that unlocks the door of success. I don’t think so. Enmity can bring out the best in us, but it can also bring out the worst. Not everybody sees opposition as an opportunity. Many people became as bitter and hateful as the person who hates them. Enmity is no guarantee that it will unlock the door to success.

What about the third key? : the key of humility.

     Throughout this chapter David seems strangely unaware of Saul’s envious enmity. Even when Saul tries to skewer him on the spear, he probably chalks it up to the distressing spirit from God (v. 9). Even as David is praised he never loses sight of his humble beginnings.

One of Saul’s traps for David is the promise of marriage to one of his daughters. This is what Saul promised to whoever killed Goliath. This will get David into the royal family, and open the way for him to one day be king. The king offers his firstborn daughter Merab, but David refuses because he does not consider himself worthy to be the king’s son-in-law. Keep in mind David knows God’s anointed him as king, but he refuses to scheme his way to the throne. He humbles himself before King Saul and all the people, and God.

            We don’t know if Merab loved David, but we do know Michal does. Notice how cold and calculatingly Saul is to tries to marry her off to David not for love, but so that she might become

a snare to him= bait for him. (v. 21). This time Saul asks for a grisly bounty, which David and his men go out and double. David humbly refuses to promote himself, then humbly honors the king by obeying his orders. His humility reminds me of the words of Jesus in

Luke 14:11 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

David’s main ambition is to be a good servant of God and of his king. He’s not out to steal the throne, but to support Saul. David’s humility will be one reason God will exalt him.

So is this the one? Is this the key that unlocks the door to success? There’s no doubt humility is an attitude of the greatest people.

But humility doesn’t guarantee to unlock the door of success. Humility is the only way to get to the door. Pride will open all the other doors to failure, but humility will always lead you to this door, but it won’t unlock it. There is still one more key on this ring, one final key that always unlocks the door of success. It is mentioned 3 times in this chapter: vss. 12, 14, & 28. Do you see it? I call it the Emmanuel key: God with us.

            Vs. 12, 28 tells us Saul recognizes God is with David, which is why he’s so afraid of him. Vs. 14 tells us David behaved wisely= was successful in all his ways was God was with Him.

            The key to David’s success is not his bravery, his loyalty, or even his religion. Some love David, some hate David, but nobody can defeat David because God is with him. The key is not what David possesses, it’s in Who possesses David. God is with him.

This is the key to David’s success in all of his life. Whether David is running for his life in the wilderness or sitting safely on his throne, God is with him. When David is singing at the top of his lungs God’s praises, or confessing His sins under God’s displeasure, God is with him. If you want to understand why David is Israel’s greatest king, why David is so blessed physically and spiritually, why David enjoys victory over his enemies, you must understand the key to his success GOD…IS…WITH…HIM!  

            This is the key to your success, too. If God is with you, you will find success in life.

No, God with you probably won’t get you a multi-million dollar record deal, or get you elected to the Oval Office. God with you probably won’t make you famous or admired by adoring fans. God with you won’t always make life easier or more comfortable.

            But God with you will give you a life worth living here, and never-ending life when you die. God with you will free you from all your heavy burden of sin and shame. God with you lifts you up when you’re down, and carries you when you’re too weak to take another step. God with you empowers you to do the impossible, to move mountains and dance in the dragon’s jaws. God with you takes even your worst failures and turns them into glorious successes because God with you cannot fail.

            If this is the key to success how do I get my hands on it? How do you enter into the personal experience of God with you? You have to go all the way back to Christmas story, to the words of an angel speaking to a frightened carpenter named Joseph in

     Matthew 1:23 Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

     You and I know this Baby by another Name: Jesus Christ, the God, Who stepped out of

eternity into time, walked off the floor of heaven’s throne room onto the dusty roads of earth.

     He came to stand between wretched sinners like you and I and a holy God, and bring us together through His Cross. He bridged the chasm by His blood, and right now, He offers you the incredible privilege of experiencing God with you.  

You see the secret of success is not sin, but salvation. What good does it do to win the whole world, with all its riches and pleasures and comforts, but lose your own soul? He who wins the world but loses his soul is a success for the moment but a failure forever.

But when God is with you, you gain life you cannot lose, you have an account in heaven the stock market never affects, treasure that robbers or rust or rot can never tarnish.

This morning Jesus Christ will turn your life around just like David’s life was turned around, if you’ll come to Him and say Lord, I’ve tried my best but I’ve made a mess of my life! I am a failure, but I ask you to please forgive me, cleanse me, save me!

He’ll do it. He’s unlock the door and usher you into a life beyond your wildest dreams.

     Revelation 3:7  …He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens…

     Have you found this key? Right now you stand at the door of success—true success in God’s eyes, and the key is being offered to you. Will you receive God with you right now?   


[i] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House

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