Upsidedown Living: Success (1 Thess 1:2-3)

On July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Commander Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. We all know his famous first words, “one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind”.  It isn’t well known but when Apollo 11 re-entered the earth’s atmosphere Mr. Armstrong mysteriously spoke the words, “Good luck Mr. Gorsky.” No one really knew what he meant by that. Many of the media and NASA staff thought he was well-wishing a Russian astronaut. However, after checking there was not anyone named Mr. Gorsky at the Russian space program. When Neil was asked what he meant by that he always smiled and moved on without giving much of an answer;

Until July 5, 1995, the 26 year old statement remained a mystery until a news conference in Tampa Bay the question resurfaced to Mr. Armstrong. Neil said that Mr. Gorsky had died and he now felt at liberty to explain his statement. When Neil was a young kid he was playing baseball in his backyard and his friend hit a fly ball into his neighbors yard where the ball rolled to the foot of the neighbors bedroom window. The Armstrong’s neighbors were the Gorsky’s. When Neil went to retrieve the baseball he overhead Mrs. Gorsky tell Mr. Gorsky, “Sex [Love]? You want [love] ? You’ll get [love] when that neighbor kid walks on the moon.” In a way, Neil Armstrong traveled over 240K miles for a labor of love. This takes loving your neighbor to a whole new level.

Paul had a significant relationship with the Thessalonian believers. He loved them dearly and their affection for one another is clearly seen throughout this letter. This message will explore what it means to have success in life and ministry.

Many people view success for Christians and churches as they do the rest of the world – how much money (wealth), how many people (influence), how big home/building (status), etc. Whether these are indications of success is debatable, but what is not in question is that God’s view of success can be summed in 3 words: Faith, Hope and Love.

2 We always thank God for all of you, remembering you constantly in our prayers. 3 We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Thess 1:2-3 (HCSB)

So how does a believer or a church body find success in these 3 words? This message will discover 3 actions for success.


Paul is thankful to God for the Thessalonian believers. He remembers[1] them fondly because of their joint faith and reception of God’s Word (2:13). Their faith was not one of mere talk but of action as well. It was not that they worked for their faith, earning salvation. Paul is clear that we are justified by faith not works.[2] Yet, when a person has true faith in Christ it will result in works.[3] So, it’s not a works salvation but a salvation that works.

Even more significant in the union of these two words is how Paul viewed all of life as work unto our Lord Jesus Christ. You may remember our last message that at the core of Paul’s identity was the fact that he was a missionary. His work or occupation was not that of a tent-maker but that of gospel-declarer.[4] Likewise, your primary work is not your career but your calling as a believer. God wants you to use your career and talents as a platform to spread the gospel.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.  James 2:18-19 (HCSB)


Paul continues to remember the faithfulness of the Thessalonians. He notes their work produced by faith, and their labor of love. The word Paul uses for “labor” is stronger than the one used for “work”. This one intensifies the meaning, indicating pain, hard work and sacrifice. Agape love is always labor intensive because it is self-effacing. It is constantly giving and pouring itself out for the sake of others. The cost of this type of love is sweat, fatigue, prone to discouragement and becoming utterly spent. This agape love is best seen when Jesus dies on the cross. He gave His all for the sake of the many to be reconciled to God.

The Thessalonian believers understood that agape love pays the price. They observed this in Paul (2:9) and in Christ they continued this example (4:9-10). This was Paul’s prayer that their love for each other would increase and overflow (3:12).

One of the things that makes SPBC such a great place is that it is a labor of love. When Carol Bairlein broker her ankle many people signed up to bring them food for several weeks. When Carroll Gray had esophagus surgery men unceasingly prayed and visited with him and his wife for weeks afterwards. When an unemployed family needed help with food and Christmas presents the needs were met within the week. When a new pastor joins the church his family is warmly welcomed and cared for. This labor of love must never end. If we will remain faithful to this Christian task then certainly God would be honored and the gospel will be advanced.

– You can encourage labors of love by writing cards of encouragement.

– Part of being a church member is committing to give yourself to labors of love – your time, talents and treasure.


A third mark of faithfulness for Christians is their endurance of hope. They anticipate the return of Christ by remaining faithful in the present. They trust, worship, pray, love, sacrifice, give, care and on and on until Jesus comes. The idea behind Paul’s thankfulness for their endurance is for the Thessalonians to be active and steadfast in their service to the Lord Jesus. Paul’s use of the word endurance is in the context of hardship and suffering.[5] They imitated Paul’s perseverance and unshakeable faith. They experienced joy in the midst of trials and continuously endure for the sake of the gospel.

No Christian or church should be content to passively remain until the second coming. No, we must rise up and be counted among God’s faithful. We will confidently and intentionally act in order to hear the words of our Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”


–          How would you define success for living the Christian life? How about for a church? Be specific, list at least 4 descriptions.

–          Why is Paul thankful for the Thessalonian believers? In what way does he express his thankfulness? What are some ways you can express thankfulness to God for other believers?

–          What is the connection between faith and works in the Bible? (See footnotes 3 & 4)

–          How is agape love different from the way the world loves? Explain why or if its more “laborious”.

–          Write & Deliver some “Labor of Love” cards

–          In the last 18months there has been lots of talk about “hope”. What are the hopes of people today? How does the Christian gospel speak to these hopes?

–          Why is faithfulness a greater marker of success than other worldly achievements?


[1] Paul remembers them by praying for them. This is a distinct mark of Christians who are thankful to God for the investment of others in your life.

[2] See Romans 1:17, 3:21-22; Galatians 2:16, 3:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9

[3] See Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 3:1-17; James 2:26

[4] Acts 20:24; Romans 1:15; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Galatians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 2:8-9.

[5] Endurance in hardship and suffering is a theme in the book: 1:3, 1:6, 2:2, 2:9, 2:11-12, 2:14-16, 3:3-5, 3:7, 5:3-11, 5:12-22.

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