Philippians 1:3 - Thank... who?

It was common for letters in Paul’s day to contain a brief thanksgiving following the initial greeting. In Philippians 1:3-6, Paul makes use of this social convention, but transforms it from mere formality into beneficial gospel use.

Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God [for all your remembrance of me], always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

In this devotion we’ll focus on verse 3 where Paul expresses the first reason for his thankfulness. ‘I thank my God for all your remembrance of me.’ This foreshadows 4:10-20 where Paul praises God for the Philippians' financial support. Paul says in 4:15-16, ‘And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.’ And now in prison, Paul had recently received their gift from Epaphroditus.

The intriguing thing to note is that while the Philippians are the ones who gave to Paul, Paul nowhere directly thanks them. This is not to say he is an ingrate. Paul does express gratitude, but his thanksgiving goes to God alone. ‘I thank my God for all your remembrance of me.’ This is a common pattern for Paul. Throughout all his writings, he only directly thanks man once (Romans 16:4). Thanksgiving is almost always directed to God.

It may be arguing from silence to say we should never thank man directly, but this example set by Paul should give us pause. Perhaps there is a precedent here that would well be worth us adopting in the way we articulate our gratitude. Let me offer some reasons for why I believe we should copy Paul’s model.

First, doing so is in line with reality. Paul’s gratitude to God expresses his deep recognition that underlying all the good the Philippians did lay the work of God. Why did they consider Paul’s needs? Why did they want to help? Why were they able to help? Philippians 2:13 ‘it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ God ought to get the thanks because ultimately it is His doing.

Consider one more verse on this. 2 Corinthians 8:16 ‘But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.’ Did Titus earnestly care for the Corinthians? Yes. Why? Because God put it into His heart. Therefore, thanks be to God.

Secondly, doing so means God gets the praise that is due His name. Genuine thanksgiving is not mere words; it is an expression of praise. If our good is ultimately God’s doing, then He ought to get the praise for it. We honour God rightly when we express gratitude Paul’s way. To the contrary, we withhold God’s praise when we direct gratitude solely to the human vessel through whom God has worked.

Have you ever noticed how Christians often try to reflect expressions of gratitude for something they’ve done from themselves to God? Does this not spring from an awareness that praise ought to go to God, not to us?

By expressing gratitude in Paul’s way, not only are you praising God yourself, but directing the human vessel through whom God has worked to the same end.

Thirdly, doing so will keep us all humble. Humility recognises the truth of Jesus’ words, that without Him we can do nothing. Humility recognises that all good in our life is a work of God’s grace. Humility delights to be a vessel of God’s blessing to others and to see God praised through what we have done. It is idolatrous pride that demands personal thanksgiving.

Imagine the check we would experience on our pride if, instead of hearing “thank you for doing such and such”, we heard, “I thank God for what you did.” Your reaction to such a statement would reveal a lot about the condition of your heart. A self-centred heart craves the praise of man, and therefore wants personal thanksgiving. A God-centred heart craves the praise of God, and therefore delights when gratitude is directed to Him.

Paul’s model of expressing gratitude is therefore a guard against pride and a call to humility. And so for the sake of God’s praise and for the sake of brotherly love, I challenge you to adopt Paul’s model of thanksgiving. It may feel awkward at first, but with perseverance it will flow naturally from your tongue.

1 comment:

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