What is Success? When I ask this question to myself, the answers don’t come easy. What would it take for me to be a success at fatherhood? If I can’t get my daughter to hold my hand and obey in me in public, what does that say about me as a father in private? Is a successful parent one that can get his child to obey?
I am a pastor; how do I measure success? A banker can tell whether he is gaining or losing funds. A teacher can tell whether her children are learning. A chef knows whether their food is liked or disliked. A presidential candidate has polls and points and delegates. What about a pastor? A lawyer wins cases, a doctor heals patients, and a builder… builds. Is my success based on attendance? Is it based on tears in the crowd? Is it how well people give to the causes I’m interested in? What is success for me?
Some of the definitions of the word seem lacking. Ever noticed how a word struggled to define, seems to use the very word in the definition? “The outcome was a success.” “a successful performance or achievement.” “A person or thing that is successful.” Wow. Thanks. What is Success? The best thing I found was “The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.” (Heritage Dictionary). So this begs a new question. “What are we after?” What is the “thing” we are desiring, planning, or attempting? In our most parts of our lives, we often strive for happiness. We want to be happy in work, home, little league teams, school, and even church. So it could be that for us success is measured by Happiness.
If I graduate from school, land the most profitable job that is most fulfilling to my life, then I will be happy. I will find someone to trust my future with, and this will continue my happiness. Children that resemble me and shout my name as I enter my home will make me feel good. I will use my job to maintain a lifestyle that will be better than my parents- I will own cars, a good house in a great part of town, and my lawn will be much greener than my neighbors. I will be happy, and this will mean I am a success.
Could it be that if you miss or fail at one of these goals, are you universally seen as an unsuccessful person? Does failing at a marriage make you unsuccessful? Does the inability to have children cause you to be a failure? When your children make mistakes, choices that hurt your family, are they a failure? Losing or for that matter, never gaining a job… was does this say about us as people? Would we be failures based on these concepts?
The idea of wealth is often connected with happiness leading to success. I would think, if I have money, then I can attain happiness, because financial stress will no longer be a part of my life, but Biggie said, “Mo money, mo problems.” Often we think, I can own the things I need in life, I can give to my children and family, and I wouldn’t have to worry about any of that. So, wealth could grant me happiness and I could be “successful”
Another concept of success, is what others deem successful. In other words, if people think you are, then maybe you are. What others say can seem important. We care what people think. We do. We care how we look. This guy told me a few weeks ago, that my shirt was so lame it was cool. I thought about throwing it away. I’m in counseling over the whole experience. I think it is safe to say, on some level, we all care what people think. We want approval, acceptance, and some sort of recognition that we are doing “okay. We want people to see the “best” part of us, and that best part, is the one that is a success.
Tina Fey is successful, but how successful?
Do you know who she is? Her career is taking off in entertainment. She was the first head female writer in the history of Saturday Night Live. In 2004 she wrote “Mean Girls” which made almost 130 million dollars worldwide. After years of development, Fey created 30 Rock which has become a modest hit on NBC. The question has been asked a lot of her recently about her success, specifically about her new movie “Baby Mama”. Her statement was interesting, she said she’d like to be successful enough to continue what she loves to do, but not be so successful that people were trying to take pictures of her in her bathing suit on the beach. Good answer.
We know that Paul, Timothy, and Silas are writing to the small and young church of Thessalonica, and they have been very encouraging in their words. By public opinion, and the opinions of the founders it has been a success. Their receiving the good news about Jesus, His message, example, and His death and resurrection, changed them all. To the point, that they were praised for their works of faith, their labor of love, and their steadfastness of Hope. Christ had changed them and they were a huge success in all surrounding areas.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13 Paul lays out some definitions of success for the follower of Christ.
Portions of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-14 (ESV)
1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
Paul’s goal for this portion of text is to lay out the plans, desires, and attempts. This is what they are after and what the Church of Thessalonica should remember.
All throughout the time of Paul, and the area of which Thessalonica is in, people are doing similar things as Paul, Timothy, and Silas. They are coming into areas, teaching, trying to lead, and ultimately attempting to be a success.
Paul is interested in being a success, but his goal, his attempt, desire, or plan is much different than others: 1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. In this context, the word vain almost works as the exact opposite of the term success. The message to understand, “You guys know that when we came to you, what we did, what we talked about (Christ), and how we lived, did not turn up EMPTY in your lives.” Paul was interested in communicating how successful their trip was, and remind them how they acted while they were with them.
3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive. In verse 5 the never came with words of flattery, nor were they greedy. In verse 6 it says they weren’t interested in seeking glory from people, and verse seven talks about their gentleness among them. Verse 9 mentions how they worked, they “toiled” day and night showing that they labored, they worked for this “success”. Finally in verse 12 it lays out some specific mention of their teachings, they exhorted, they encouraged, and the charged them to walk in a manner worthy of God.
Their plan wasn’t to trick or persuade. It wasn’t to make money off the helpless and needy looking for faith. Paul was not interested in having people praise his name. He didn’t need flattery, money, or manipulation over others. His goal was different. The founders of this Church were willing to invest the time and effort needed for this group of believers to successfully follow Christ Jesus. They trained them, corrected them when need be, and gently showed them how to walk in a manner worthy of God.
Verse four shows a little of their focus, “so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”
I wonder how much of my life is truly spent trying to please God. More times than not, I feel like a people pleaser. It is like I prepare for my week like an obstacle course (maybe you do the same thing.) in which everyone that I know and love, my wife, my children, my family, and the people that I work with and for, are all obstacles. If I clear them without injury, or without injuring them, then they are happy, and I have pleased them. And we’ve heard it said before, “If momma ain’t happy, then no one’s happy.” We often take that principle and apply to all people in our lives. If I please them, then I will be happy and successful.
Paul cared more about God, and what He thought, and judged than anything else. So should we.
Verse 13 hits home the heart and soul of Paul, and the Thessalonians’ success. “13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
He wants us to be imitators of God in Christ Jesus.
If success is “The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.” Then our plan must be Christ. Our desire must be to become an imitator of Him. The plan, the goal the everything in our lives must be Christ.
You want to be successful? As a parent, as a father or mother, as a son or daughter, as a worker, as a student, as a lover, as an employee, as a leader or follower? Do you want people to look at you and see a success? Then let Christ be your life. Let him be your goal, your plan, your full desire. And from Christ, your success will be measured not from whether things went well, but how you lived no matter what came your way.
If Christ is the center, that doesn’t guarantee your life to go exactly the way, you thought it would, and it doesn’t mean hardship won’t find you, it just means, that you aren’t after the things that people want, you are after the things of God, and what He wants for you. In Christ- He is the success.
And I wonder what people think about his success. He lived a successful life free of sin. The Bible says he grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. He performed miracles and taught amazing things and gained followers. Then one day, He said things that made people leave Him. Things like, if you hate a man in your heart, it’s the same as murder, if you lust after an another it’s the same as adultery. People left Him. Yet his devoted followers believed Him to be the Christ. On one Sunday they praised Him and laid palms in front of Him, He told those that worried about this, that if they hadn’t praised Him, the rocks would scream it. They saw Him as the EPITOMY OF SUCCESS.
Then He was brought up to be executed for claiming He was God.
He was beaten, he was mocked, and he was nailed to a cross. This looks nothing like success, but the plan was achieved. The desire was completed, That desire was for the world to know that God loved us so much that He gave up His Son, and that anyone believes will be saved.
The cross is the ultimate example and definition of success. Our goal, our achievement, our desire must be to imitate Christ. Die to ourselves and live for Him. To honor God with every part of our lives, every part- to take up our cross and follow Him. We must imitate Christ- that is the definition of Success. Not what men care about, but instead our focus must be turned to God.