I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 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. (Philippians 1:3–6)
On the fourth Thursday of every November in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a day when we pause to thank our God for all that he has done. Although God gives us plenty of reasons to give thanks, many of us experience seasons when it is difficult to give thanks.
- Seasons when life troubles overwhelm us
- Seasons when things fall short of our expectations
- Seasons when gross injustices remain
In these moments, Philippians 1:3-6 serves as a timely reminder. Through Paul’s example of thanksgiving, we can mimic Paul’s thanksgiving in six different ways.
1. Christian Thanksgiving Is Directed to God (Philippians 1:3)
Paul begins many of his letters with an expression of thanksgiving. In verse 3, Paul starts by writing, “I thank my God.” Likewise, we give thanks to our creator God.
Notice Barack Obama’s Thanksgiving proclamation in 2009; he makes no mention of God. This is not Christian thanksgiving.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 26, 2009, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage all the people of the United States to come together, whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place where family, friends and neighbors may gather, with gratitude for all we have received in the past year; to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own; and to share our bounty with others. (Barack Obama, 2009)
In contrast, amidst the middle of the Civil War from 1861-1865, Abraham Lincoln directs his thanksgiving to his God.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. (Abraham Lincoln, 1863)
Christians should also express gratitude to others. One of Paul’s purposes for writing Philippians is to thank the believers for their unyielding support and love. But ultimately, as Christians, we offer thanksgiving to God.
2. Christian Thanksgiving Starts with Remembrance (Philippians 1:3)
Paul continues verse 3 with “in all my remembrance of you.” What prompted Paul to burst into his thanksgiving to God is his remembrance of the Philippian believers. The precursor to thanksgiving is the remembrance of God’s blessings.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist church in my youth, I sang a hymn called Count Your Blessings. The lyrics of the first verse are as follows:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
The Greek word (ESV translated “remembrance”) has two meanings. The first meaning is “remembrance or memory”. The second meaning is “making mention.” Once we remember something significant, we think about it. And when we meditate on something, we will mention it in our discussion with others and in our prayers to God.
So often, we forget God’s goodness. To minimize my forgetfulness, at the end of each year, I write down all the blessings God has given. This annual exercise fuels my heart to offer prayers to God with thanksgiving.
3. Christian Thanksgiving Should Be Continuous. (Philippians 1:4)
When Paul describes his thankfulness to God, he did not use the adverb “sometimes” or “often.” He used the word “always.”
We thank God when things go well. But what happens when things do not go as we plan? We have every reason to give thanks to God even in times of sorrow, calamity, and pain.
- God’s steadfast love (2 Chronicles 20:21)
- God’s goodness (Psalm 118:1)
- God’s faithfulness (Psalm 138:2)
- Our victory over sin through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57)
- Our victory in Christian living (2 Corinthians 2:14)
- For all things (Ephesians 5:20)
- God’s reign (Revelation 11:17)
Therefore, we can be thankful in every occasion and circumstance.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7 ESV)
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)
4. Christian Thanksgiving Follows Intercessory Prayer. (Philippians 1:4)
Paul offered thanksgiving to God “in every prayer of mine for you all.” In his intercessory prayer on behalf of the Philippians, Paul gave thanks.
When he wrote Philippians, Paul was likely in Rome during his first imprisonment. (Acts 28) He was tethered to a Roman guard in house arrest. Falsely accused, instead of quickly being exonerated, he remained incarcerated. Paul had every reason to think of himself and ask God for deliverance. Yet every time Paul prayed, he remembered the Philippians, and he thanked God for them.
None of the churches Paul had written were perfect. Yet consistently, Paul prays for other churches with thanksgiving (Ephesians 1:16; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2). To imitate Paul’s constant thanksgiving and intercession, we must focus on the best of others. Instead of dwelling on their faults, we remember their best.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV)
What we think will determine the content of our prayers. If we think more about others, our intercession for them will increase. Our concern for others will change our perspective of our life circumstances. When we pray for others in genuine love, it will draw our heart to greater thankfulness.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people”
(1 Timothy 2:1 ESV)
5. Christian Thanksgiving Accompanies Joy Based on Relationship (Philippians 1:4-5)
Paul further describes his prayers “making my prayer with joy.” Thankfulness is not simply expressing gratitude in words. It is a joyful mindset.
God commands us to rejoice always, but he wants us to rejoice in the right things. Describing Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13:6, Paul tells us “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” When we see others obey and honor God, we should rejoice. As we obey God, we bring joy to others.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)
In verse 5, Paul gives a reason for his thankfulness (v.3) and joyfulness (v.4). The basis for thanksgiving and joy is the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” The BDAG lexicon defines this Greek word (ESV–translated partnership) as a “close association involving mutual interests and sharing.”
Happiness is a response to circumstance; joy is a confidence built on relationship. (John MacArthur, Elements of Joy – Part 1)
Christian joy is ultimately built upon our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is only possible through the finished word of Christ explained in his gospel. Because of our relationship with God, we can also experience joy through our relationship with other like–minded believers.
Paul identified the Philippian Christians as his partners. Their relationship was not based on common hobbies, ethnicity, or cultural heritage. Their association was based on the gospel of Christ.
In their book Compelling Community, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop call these “gospel-revealing” relationships. These relationships do not exist apart from the power of the gospel.
Last month, one couple joined our family for our Thanksgiving celebration. Looking at the externals, we had little in common. The couple were recent immigrants from a foreign country. Their culture and background were different. But we had this in common. All of us love Jesus, and we are awestruck by his unmerited grace.
Many churches cultivate a different type of relationship, and Dever calls it a “gospel-plus” relationship. These relationships are founded on the gospel plus something else. A list of “something else” may include the following:
- Similar ethnicity
- Similar cultural upbringing
- Similar socio–economic status
- Similar occupation or educational background
- Similar age, marital status, or life stage
- Similar hobbies and interests
Instead of “gospel–plus” relationships, let’s earnestly desire “gospel–revealing” relationships. These relationships bring joy which then produces thanksgiving.
6. Christians Thanksgiving Is Grounded On Future Hope (Philippians 1:6)
Another important reason we can give thanks is the assurance of our future hope. God has taken away the penalty of sin through the finished work of Christ Jesus. Through his spirit, God gives us the power to live for him in our mortal bodies. But God’s salvation work will not be completed until he perfects us on the day of Christ.
Paul reminds us of this blessed assurance. “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.” God is not done with us yet.
One evening, my wife and I were baking cookies. My five year old son asked to taste the unfinished cookie dough. I reluctantly obliged. He grimaced, giving me a look of disapproval. I reassured him that once we mix all the ingredients and bake the dough, the cookies will taste much better. His face lit up with eager anticipation.
We are still unfinished cookie dough. God has begun his work of salvation (justification and sanctification), but he is not finished. But we have full confidence that our final destiny is secure. We have a future hope that we will be made perfect. What a great reason to thank God.
Final Thoughts on Paul’s Thanksgiving in Philippians 1:3-6
We learn several important truths in Philippians 1:3-6 about Christian thanksgiving.
- We should direct our thanksgiving to our God.
- We should start by remembering all the good gifts from God.
- We should thank God continually.
- We should intercede and pray for others.
- We should pursue joy built on relationship.
- We should have confidence in our future hope.
May we continue to contemplate these truths as we pursue Christian thanksgiving.