From the Pastor's Desk 

The Blessing of Thankfulness



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            Let's pray.


            Today, we're going to take a break from our look at the gospel of John.  Instead, we're going to continue with our celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday by looking at what we're going to call the "blessing of thankfulness."  We're going to do that by reading Phil. 1:1-6.  When Paul wrote this letter, it had been ten years since he had last visited the city of Philippi.  We find more details about his time in that city in the book of Acts.  Let's look at Acts 16:13-32. 

            Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi.  His purpose was to express his heart-felt thanks for that church's gracious support of his missionary efforts.  Paul had founded the church at Philippi on his second missionary journey.  He wrote this letter from Rome in either 61 or 62 AD, sometime during his two years of imprisonment there.

            The church at Philippi was the first NT church founded by Paul in Europe.  He had wanted to go into Asia and preach the gospel, but the Holy Spirit would not permit him to do so.  It was in this context that God gave Paul the vision to go to Macedonia and help the people there. 

            This personal correspondence is full of good, positive exhortations from Paul to the people of this church.  It is full of thankfulness and joy especially.  19 different times in these four chapters the apostle mentions joy, rejoicing or gladness.  The recipients of this letter needed these encouraging words.  They had been experiencing hardship and challenges in life and Paul is reminding them that circumstances do not have to control them.

            As was the case so often with Paul during his missionary journeys, he suffered much and experienced a life of hardship and difficulty on his way to Philippi.  But every time he thought of them; every memory he had of what God had done in their lives spiritually, brought a response of thanks from his heart to God.  The very remembrance of all God had done for them overwhelmed him with joy.  Seeing souls saved in that community more than compensated for what Paul had endured to get the gospel to them.


            The Apostle Paul begins this letter as he began all of his letters:  by identifying himself as the writer.  But he doesn't simply identify himself; he also mentions Timothy.  We have no idea what role Timothy may or may not have played in helping Paul write to this church.  Maybe he helped Paul, maybe he didn't, we don't know.  But Paul still includes him in the opening remarks because they were serving in ministry together.

            Not only does Paul mention Timothy in his opening, notice how he describes and refers to his young pastor friend.  He treats Timothy as a spiritual and ministry equal.  At this point in time, Paul is a veteran missionary statesman; Timothy was just a novice beginning to preach.  It would have been easy, natural even, for Paul to relegate Timothy to a lesser position of importance.  But Paul doesn't do that.  He shows no distinction whatsoever between the two men and even refers to Timothy as a co-slave for the work of Christ's kingdom.

            The term Paul uses here in verse 1 to refer to he and Timothy is "slaves."  It could also be translated "bondservants."  The word means "one bound to another."  The kind of servitude expressed here is not at all like the slavery we are familiar with in the Deep South during former times of our nation's history.  This kind of servitude is a voluntary act of complete surrender to one's master on the grounds of love. 

            God enters our lives and implants new life into a believer's heart as a result of His work of forgiveness and salvation.  His work for us is entirely an act of His grace and an expression of His great love for us.  God's agape love, unconditional love, sacrificial love is beyond our comprehension.  He went to great lengths and at great cost and sacrifice to Himself and Jesus to provide us with forgiveness of our sins and salvation for our souls.  The basis of all that God does towards us is love.

            That should also describe us as His followers.  As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, what we do and how we live should be based upon and motivated by our love for God.  The follower of Jesus should be willing to surrender all his rights and privileges to the Father's will.  We don't surrender or submit ourselves to Him because we're forced to or have to:  we should do it out of love for Him and as an expression of gratitude for what He's done for us.

            Let's look at Ps. 40:8.  "I delight to do your will, my God."  King David is the writer of this psalm.  That is quite a statement that he makes in verse 8:  I delight to do your will.  David took great joy and found great delight in seeking God; in knowing God's Word; in doing God's will.  He took great delight in obeying all that God was commanding him to do. 

            The happiest person in the world is the one who in the true sense of the word is a servant of Jesus Christ.  God is our master.  He is our owner.  He bought us and paid for us so we belong to Him in all of the good ways of what that means.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that we are a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we need to glorify God in our bodies.  One of the key ways that we glorify God is through complete submission to Him and His Word as His servants. 

            The well-known missionary Hudson Taylor once said, "Let us give up our work, our thoughts, our plans, ourselves, our lives, our loved ones, our influence and our all, right into God's hand.  Then, when we have given all over to Him, there will be nothing left for us to be troubled about or to make trouble about." 

            Can you honestly say in your heart right now that you've done that?  Have you given your all into God's hand?  Or are you still holding onto some things, wanting to exert a certain sense or aspect of control over your life?  What's holding you back from giving your all to God?  What's keeping you from being the man or woman of God that He intends you to be?  Are there things in your life that you're allowing to trouble you?  Are there areas where you're causing trouble?  Let it all go.  Give Him control.  Submit to His lordship over your life and live as the bondservants you were created to be.


            If it hasn't been made clear yet, let's make sure that it is now:  we are not just slaves; we are slaves to Jesus Christ.  As Christians, we belong to Him.  I hope that for most of you, if not all of you, that is sort of a "duh" statement.  But I'm not convinced that everyone sees that the way they should.  What it means to be a slave to Jesus is that our lives are set apart for God; we are set apart to Him.  We are exclusively His and belong to no one or nothing else.

            Another way of saying this is that we are called.  Jesus has a certain calling for our lives.  For instance, I'm called to be the pastor of this church.  Brenda and Gae have been gifted with musical skills and they are called to be a part of our church's music ministry.  John, Dennis and Ron are called to be deacons.  We have folks called to teach Sunday School; people who are called to work in the nursery, to lead the youth group.  We aren't all called to do everything, but we all have something that we can do to help expand God's Kingdom here in Baxter. 

            Paul was writing this letter to some folks who lived in the city of Philippi.  That is where they lived and that is where they needed to focus their lives and their ministry.  It's important for us all to understand that we need to live for Jesus where we are.  We could put it another way:  grow where you're planted.  That's a favorite saying among pastors.  Instead of always looking for the next church or the next ministry, stay where you are and do your best.

            That applies to all of us.  We need to stay where we are; do what we are doing; and do the best we can, until and unless God is calling us to do something else or to go somewhere else.  We tend to seek out and look for God's will for our lives as if that is some grandiose thing somewhere else and not what we're currently doing or where we're currently at.

            But until God comes along and reveals His will for you to do something else with your life, just keep doing what you're doing where you're doing it.  God will let you know if there is a change or a move in store for you.  If there is, then you need to go and obey as quickly as you can.  But in the meantime, keep serving, keep loving, keep ministering, keep witnessing where you are.


            Then as he always does, Paul offers the people who were going to be reading this letter a prayer of grace and peace.  Grace is the unmerited favor of God; God's riches at Christ's expense.  Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve.  It is His enabling power as an inward resource in our life.

            He also desires peace for this letter's recipients.  Because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, we have peace with God through His salvation and forgiveness.  We are no longer His enemies; Christ has brought us into a personal relationship with Him. 

            Because of that peace, we can also have peace with one another and peace within ourselves.  Peace is that calm inner assurance of protection and provision from God, regardless of how bad our outward circumstances may seem.  The peace that God grants us surpasses all human understanding; it doesn't make sense to us at all. 


            As we move on past verse 2, we see the blessing of thankfulness.  (vv. 3-4).  Right away Paul mentions his thankfulness for the people of the church at Philippi.  The word for thank that is found in this verse is a word that we are all familiar with.  No surprises or deep meanings to this word that we don't already know.  Thank is simply defined as expressing gratitude.

            More specifically, Paul is expressing his thanks for past ministries.  (v. 3).  There are at least three different characters that Paul had contact with during his time there.  There was a wealthy woman, Lydia, who was a seller of purple cloth who befriended Paul.  There was a poor girl who caused Paul some problems and a middle class prison guard from Rome that beat Paul.  We see from this passage that Paul was thankful for people from many different nationalities and many different levels of society.

            Paul made it a practice to thank God for the people in this church.  How many people were there?  I have no idea.  How many other churches did Paul express similar ideas of thankfulness for?  Don't know exactly but I 'm sure he thanked God regularly for all of the churches he was involved with.  Was he thankful for each and every person in each and every church?  Based on this verse and other aspects of his writings, I would guess that yes, he did.  He wouldn't have said this to the Philippians if it wasn't true.  Thankfulness wasn't a spotty, hit and miss type of exercise for Paul; it was his regular practice for all of the churches and all of the believers that he knew.


            Paul was also thankful for his present ministry.  (v. 4).  One of the most astounding aspects of Paul's ministry to this church was the ministry of prayer that he engaged in concerning them for the overall welfare of their lives.

            Paul's prayer for this church was personal.  He didn't go to God and just simply offer up some sort of blanket prayer for everyone, everywhere.  Paul knew these people.  He knew them by name; he knew what they looked like; he knew what they did for a living; he knew how they acted.  He had lived with these people, so when he prayed, it was a personal and a heartfelt prayer born out of the personal and heartfelt relationship he had with them.

            Paul's prayer for this church was also a privilege.  He didn't look at prayer as some sort of duty that he had to perform.  It wasn't his mentality that he should pray, so why not just go through the motions throw some things up to the sky and see what happens.  Paul felt privileged to be able to come to the throne of God and with joy in his heart pray for these dear believers.

            His prayer was also very practical.  It was his constant practice of making requests for these people.  Whenever he prayed, and it would have been often, he lifted up each and every church that he started where he knew the people involved.  Since he knew them, and because the prayers were personal, he could be practical and actually pray for specific things that they each needed.  His prayers were personal, a privilege and practical. 


            Paul saw himself as partnering with this church.  Just like he considered Timothy to be a co-worker and a co-slave in the work of God's kingdom, he also considered himself to be a partner with the church in Philippi. He knew that no one can do it all by themselves.  He knew that he needed other believers to help him do the work God had called him to do.  He recognized that in the Philippians and reminded them that he was truly grateful for the work they were doing alongside of him. 

            A key aspect of being able to partner together with this church was the fellowship they shared together.  Fellowship is the Greek word koninoia.  It means, "sharing, association and fellow feeling".  We need to work together to help advance the cause of Christ.  We need fellowship to help enable us to grow and be complete.  1 John 3:4 says, "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren."  And in 1 Peter 4:8 we find, "And above all things, have fervent love for one another."  We need fellowship with other believers in order to effectively partner with them as we help advance God's kingdom together.


            I want to close this morning by reading an excerpt from a newsletter that we got just this past week.  It's from Thierry and Tina at the Hope for Tomorrow ministry in Rwanda, Africa.  This is where our secretary Marilyn went in August for her missions trip.  When I first read this story it broke my heart and convicted my spirit.  I think that it perfectly sums up what our attitude should be towards the things that God has given us in life.

            "The grandpa, 86 and grandma in her 70's had 7 children, two of which are still alive.  Their daughter lives with them to help them, but her husband died, and she has two small children.  None have been to school and it all is on her.  If she finds some small job to do, they eat that day, if not, they don't.  The grandfather has disfigured legs, is going blind, and deaf.  They sleep on the dirt and lately with the rain and a leaky roof, in the mud.  If no one is there to help the grandfather, he must sit in the mud till someone comes home to help him.

            We decided to give them porridge, sugar and milk weekly, with the moms.  When we told them this, they literally went to their knees' in utter joy and exclaimed, "This is the day I know God has heard by prayers!"  When we gave them some clothes that people in the States have donated, the daughter prayed they wouldn't be prideful for such fine things and blessings."

            Thanksgiving is all about perspective.  It's all about how we view the blessings that we have received from God.  I would encourage you this next week as you celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, that you remember these poor people from Rwanda and what their attitude and mindset and reaction was towards some very simple, basic provisions.  How thankful would you be for porridge, sugar and milk?  Maybe your attitude needs to change.

            As our musicians come now, we invite you to develop a truly thankful heart for all of the blessings that God has given to you.  Thank Him for Jesus; for salvation; for forgiveness; for spiritual growth; for a church family; for fellowship with believers; for all of the blessings and comforts that we enjoy as Americans.  Thank you Lord.  If you need to share anything with us this morning, or make any sort of public profession, we invite you to do that now as we stand and sing.