In today’s world we are addicted to success. We all want to win. Second place makes you the first loser. Like Sly Stallone in the Rocky movies, we don’t want to be a “bum.” This desire to do well is not entirely misplaced. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Ephesians 2:9). We all aspire to hearing the voice of our heavenly Father receive us with the words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21 & 23).
We all want to do good works and have them affirmed by God – and we should want these things!
The place where we can – and so often do, err in this desire to do “noticeably well” concerns how we evaluate the worth of what we accomplish. This month, I want to share some thoughts with you from
1 Thessalonians 2:1-5 so that we can get at the heart of what pursuing success looks like.
Here is what the Apostle Paul writes to the Church:
“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure… with the help of God we dared to tell you of his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.”
Think for a moment about how Paul is demonstrating the success of his missionary visit to Thessalonica. He is NOT saying that it was not a failure because after all, a good number of people were gathered, a church was established, the budget was met… In this text, everything he says to a success-addicted people is that we have not failed, because we didn’t do these things: fear telling the whole truth, mix our motives in reaching out to people, desire to please people more than God, flatter people, give in to greed, look for praise from men. Everything he says to demonstrate that the visit to Thessalonica was “not a failure” focuses on what they didn’t do.
Sometimes we want so badly to be visibly successful in our lives – our careers, our relationships, our ministries… that we will do all of these things as the ends justify the means. We will give in to a temptation to tell only part of the truth so that more people will tune in. We flatter folks so that they will like us. We nurture a secret desire to be known and loved by people that overshadows a desire to simply be known and loved by God. These are things that we all struggle with throughout our Christian lives. None of us are exempt from these temptations to “succeed at any cost” as it were.
As we seek to serve and please God, and work to succeed for his glory, let’s remember that “how” we attempt to succeed is a truer index of success than the brute fact of “what” we have accomplished. We need to concern ourselves with working faithfully – and we need to leave the outcome in God’s hands.