Philippians 4: 12-13 (Thanksgiving 2015)
“Giving Thanks to Christ in All Things”
Paul had a thanksgiving secret. But he didn’t keep it a secret. This secret was meant to be shared. Paul had learned a secret for being content, happy, and thankful in any situation of life. It was less related to earthly things and more attached rather to heavenly realities. Life as a child of God is a life of giving thanks. Thanksgiving is born out of a trust in Christ Jesus. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
The content of Paul’s letter, from house arrest in Rome, was a letter of joyful thanksgiving for the partnership they had shared in the spreading of the gospel (1:5). The city of Philippi was a chief Roman colony in Macedonia. The Christians who began to gather there had made some sacrifices in order to continue in their Christian life. You may recall Lydia the purple clothe dealer, who risked her business and opened her home to the mission. You may recall the jailer who risked his life and family to open his home to Paul and Silas. These Christians willingly suffered danger, persecution and even poverty because of their confession of Jesus. They suffered grief from the rest of a community that rejected Jesus.
Still they insisted on professing the Name of Christ Jesus. Still they insisted on supporting Paul’s life and the ministry of the apostles at large while he was in house arrest in Rome. Still they insisted on sharing in the mission offerings that were being brought to their fellow Christians in Jerusalem. In a letter to the Corinthians Paul put it this way: “Out of their most severe trial, their over flowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Corinthians 8: 2). The Philippi Christians had learned the joy of the Gospel. Their thanksgiving overflowed because of Jesus who sacrificed his life for their sins. The Christians in Philippi had learned Paul’s secret “I can do everything though him who gives me strength.”
They learned that from Paul and from their own experiences as children of God in Christ. Paul had learned that Bible lesson through his own personal experiences: “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.” Paul had been all over the Mediterranean world preaching the Gospel of Jesus. Some received the Word with joy and took Paul into their homes and lives. Some places he needed to supplement his needs with outside work. Some people left him for dead in the country because of the message of Christ. Some placed him in jail. Many of his travels were met with danger and tragedy (consider 2 Corinthians 6). But the Lord always made certain that he had what he needed.
No matter what, Paul always had the one thing needful: his Savior Jesus and the sure promises of his Word. Paul had not always known the comfort of forgiveness and the truth about Christ. He spent his life with the etched memory of persecuting Christ and his Church. He considered himself the chief of sinners on earth. He remembered daily his unworthiness to even be an apostle of the Christ he once hated. Guilt and other troubles of a sinful, dying world plagued him often.
Now, no matter where he went, no matter how people treated him, no matter what circumstance of his life, well-fed or hungry, in the home of friends, or in the dungeons of his foes, Paul knew that Christ Jesus loved him unconditionally. He was confident that Jesus was with him. He knew “nothing in all creation could separate him from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8: 39). No one could undo the power of the cross of Jesus. Death itself could not remove the power of Christ’s resurrection. In Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul’s guilt was lifted from his heart. In Christ, Paul’s eternity with God was certain. In Christ, Paul was content and thankful in any situation. It was joy of knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
We are learning this valuable lesson for life each day. We can recall the days when we are well-fed and the days when we have been hungry. There are days when we rejoice with friends and days when we struggle with enemies. The proclamation of the Gospel is certain to meet opposition. The wicked plans of the devil seek to destroy the faith of the Church. Life with Jesus means a life under the crosses which we bear. Through those struggles, like Paul, like the Macedonians Christians, we learn Paul’s secret for thanksgiving. Life under the cross brings daily struggles for us, struggles in which we begin to taste the real food of what it means to be content in every circumstance.
What is the opposite of contentment? What is the opposite of thanksgiving? Is it not complaining? Is it not spiteful attitudes toward God? With Paul we confess to be the chief of sinners and admit to our sins of faithless worrying and foolish pride. We are certainly drawn to those attitudes in our hearts. Lord, you did not bless me enough. Lord, why do you let such grief into my life? Lord, if you have the power to do all things, why don’t you remove all of these worries and anxious circumstances from my life?
Paul, in a sense wrestled with the same issue: “Three times I pleaded with God to remove [this thorn] from me.” But he said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It was Christ’s eternal love for him in all circumstances which made Paul thankful in each circumstance and able to say things like “I rejoice in weaknesses, in insult, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10). It was the power of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus which led Paul to say: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
The Gospel of Christ is our secret for thanksgiving. Jesus who spent his life for us on the cross removes sinful complaints from our hearts. Jesus changes the attitudes of hearts to contentment. Jesus removes our fears by using the struggles of life for his wise and useful purposes. Jesus removes our fear of death with his mighty power over the grave. Jesus fills our hearts with faith and the Holy Spirit through his words of love. We can be certain that he daily and richly proves all that we need. As Paul said, “My God will meet all your needs according to his riches in Christ.”
What did that move Paul do? It moved him to be even more dedicated to the spread of the Gospel from a prison. What did that secret promise move the Christians in Philippi to do? They continued the partnership in the Gospel in their home town. They offered gifts for the spread of the gospel in other towns. Paul called those gifts “fragrant offerings, acceptable sacrifices, pleasing to our God.”
What does the Gospel of Jesus move us to do? We certainly can learn to be content in any and every situation. We certainly can be moved to lives of service to the Gospel and to each other. We are partners with Paul in the sharing of Christ to the towns around us. We offer our lives as living sacrifices to God in view of his mercy (Romans 12:1). In that way, the secret of thanksgiving does not remain a secret. It is shared.
The people in Philippi who had learned from Paul were very new Christians. Like Paul, they had not known of free grace in Christ Jesus. They knew what life was like before and after knowing Christ. Now they knew the unconditional love of Jesus, the gracious providence of their Creator, and the comforting work of the Spirit in their hearts. They could not help but well up in joyful hearts and rich generosity.
What will we do with the leftovers tomorrow? The cold turkey will get spruced up or put on sandwiches. The green bean salad will need knew crisp onion rings. The pie will be just as good but not as warm. Don’t let our joyful contentment turn to complacency. Don’t let our secret for Thanksgiving become a forgotten joy. Day by day be reminded of the secret of God’s Word. Remain connected to Christ crucified and risen again for us is the secret for a vibrant life of daily gives thanks to our living God. With Paul we say in confidence: “I can do everything through Christ who gives me the strength.” A Blessed Thanksgiving! Amen.