1 Thes. 2:1-12 – For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.  But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.  For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive,  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.  For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness.  Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.  But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.  So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.  You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.  For you know how, like a father with his children,  we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
I think the quintessential biblical passage regarding success is found in I Thessalonians 2:1-12. God does not call us to fail. He does not send us on fool’s errands that cannot accomplish their desired end. But He also does not allow us to determine what the desired end is. Churches are not businesses and they are not headed up by CEOs, or franchise operators. We are servants. We are bond slaves of Jesus Christ. We are a purchased possession and as such, we do not get to say what our task is, what the goals of the task are and what constitutes success. Our call is obedience and faithfulness. This is such a cliche that it barely gets more than a passing thought for most of us in the evangelical camp. But even those who know it to be true and agree with it can be deceived into believing otherwise. It is easy for us to fall into believing that we set the goals and we determine when it has been reached. It is particularly tempting to do this in a culture that weighs things by its own values. Success is measured in our culture in dollars, numbers, influence, power. It is incredibly difficult to maintain faithfulness to a biblical world view in the midst of a thousand voices screaming that they know what our goals should be. It is very tempting to measure our success in corporate measurements. But it is also forbidden. It is not wrong, it needs to be pointed out, to rejoice in great numbers being converted. But it is wrong to conclude that if there are not, that this is failure. It also should be noted that no one who is seeing great numbers come to Christ will ever write anything like what I am writing right now and people can be forgiven for thinking that my grapes are a little sour. And maybe I do have issues with my lifelong record of success as churches measure such things. But maybe it’s only because I am too influenced by a culture that gets most things Christian, wrong.
All that said, I Thessalonians 2:1-12 is a wonderful description of what the true marks of success are. Here goes: Verse 1 –
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.
How did they know that Paul’s work was not in vain?
i. Verse 2 – “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” – Boldness to declare the Gospel despite suffering, shameful treatment and conflict.
ii. Verse 3 – “For our appeal does not spring from error” – The appeal of the Gospel does not come from error – they delivered the one true Gospel
iii. Verse 3 – “…or impurity” – They lived morally upright lives. Their lives were consistent with their words. (See verse 10)
iv. Verse 3 – “…or any attempt to deceive” – They did not try to hide bad motives for the purpose of convincing people they were better than they really were. Their lives were transparent.
v. Verse 4 – “…we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” – They were not men pleasers. They made it their goal to please God, whether this pleased people or not. They remained conscious of the fact that God is the one to whom they were accountable.
vi. Verse 5 – “For we never came with words of flattery,…” – They didn’t try to butter their hearers up.
vii. Verse 5 – “..nor with a pretext for greed…” – Flattery is often for the purpose of getting something out of people and Paul and his companions were successful because they were not greedy. Their audience was not for them. They were for their audience.
viii. Verse 6 – “…Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” – They did not use their work as an avenue to win applause form people. They could have made demands since they were Apostles but the Gospel was more important to them than whatever payments they could have garnered.
ix. Verse 7 – “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” – They were gentle, not harsh. Very gentle. Just consider the analogy Paul makes.
x. Verse 8 – “…we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” – Success in Gospel work is not only the giving of information, or the winning of many converts. It is the giving of oneself.
xi. Verse 9 – “…we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you…” – they refused to burden their hearers financially. Paul and his companions were not full time missionaries. They had day jobs so they could keep body and soul together and so that their hearers wouldn’t have to give money for their support.
xii. Verse 11-12 – “For you know how, like a father with his children,  we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” – They were like a good father who teaches his children in the right way and with the right things.
I want to be very successful. I have some of these marks of success, as do most of the Christians and pastors and evangelists I know. I also am lacking in some of them as are others. Oh Lord, thank you for this needed instruction. Thank you that you are the father who teaches His children. And thank you for telling us what it means to be a real success in a culture that has it all turned around backwards.