Monday, January 24, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ I Thank God for You: Phil. 1.3-5

Last week we looked at the salutation, just the opening words of greeting, and one member of the congregation that I serve wrote to me and said, “You know, you could have parked on the very first word of this letter –Paul. And you could have taken a whole sermon just to think about the glory of what it is. That this is Paul… not Saul, writing to this congregation.”

The greetings that Paul gives in verses 1 and 2 are rich. We looked at the senders, Paul and Timothy, who describe themselves as bond-slaves of Christ Jesus. Paul may have been imprisoned by Caesar, but Caesar was not his Lord. Jesus was his Lord, and Paul was only there because the Lord Jesus wanted him there.

We looked at the recipients, the Philippians themselves, including Paul’s greetings to those who were leaders in the congregation – the elders and the deacons who were there to lead and to serve that congregation. And we looked at the content of the greeting itself, the beautiful benediction contained in it, in which Paul pronounces grace and peace, calling attention to the sovereign mercy of God that saves them from their sins and the total well-being that flows from the sovereign mercy of God in the lives of all those who rest and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel.

That leads us right into the body of the letter. Over the next few days we will consider three things in verses 3-5. In verse 3, notice Paul’s thankful heart; Paul’s thankful heart has something to teach us. Then, later this week, in verse 4, at Paul’s joyful prayer, because again, Paul’s joyful prayer has something to teach us. And then in verse 5, at Paul’s gospel focus, because here he’s going to tell you what it is that he has in view especially that makes him so thankful and joyful when he thinks about the Philippians. We’re going to look at Paul’s thankful heart in verse 3, his joyful prayer in verse 4, and his gospel focus in verse 5.

It’s not surprising that when you move into the body of this letter you immediately are confronted with thanksgiving and joy. It’s really not surprising, Paul is filled with joy throughout this letter, that the first note that is sounded in the body of this letter is joy and thanksgiving. In particular, Paul telling the Philippians of the great thanksgiving that he has in his heart to God for them, at the joy that he experiences even when he’s praying for them, and specifically at the sheer delight that floods his heart when he thinks about their unity, their fellowship, their cooperation, their participation with him in the gospel.

First, look at verse 3, where we see Paul’s thankful heart. Paul is saying that when he recalls the love of the Philippians, when he recalls the support of the Philippians, when he remembers the Philippians, it leads him to thanksgiving to God. Paul had a special relationship with this congregation. He seems to be on the same wavelength with this congregation, and so his fellowship with them is especially sweet; and so when he thinks about them, it leads him immediately to thanksgiving to God. For Paul, blessings received from God lead to thanksgiving to God.

Is that the way it is for you? Do God’s blessings to you, especially gospel blessings, lead you immediately and instinctively to thanksgiving to God? Or are we a thankless people?

The Apostle Paul is modeling for us an attitude of thanksgiving and an act of thanksgiving. Every blessing that comes to him he does not take for granted. Is our practice in prayer to spend much time in thanksgiving? If it is not, what does that say about us? Well, it may say that we have not adequately spent time reflecting on the greatness of God’s blessings to us, and thus we’re not thankful for them; or, it may say – worse – that we are not thankful people, but that we are entitled people.

I met someone was working in an orphanage in Africa, and much to her delight when she got there, there were some hymnals that had been donated to them. And these poverty-stricken children who had (in terms of worldly goods) nothing, were excited about these hymnals like you had told them that they were going on holiday. These African children with nothing, were delighted in order to sing out of these hymnals that had been donated to them. And she simply commented on the fact that how glorious it was to be able to be with and minister to children who were so thankful for this relatively small gift, when in the United States she so often has ministered to children who have so much, but they are not thankful for it. They feel entitled to it. They are even bored by the many gifts and blessings which have been given to them.

Sometimes that’s our attitude. We are complacent. We feel entitled to the gifts that God has given to us, and consequently we are not thankful people and we are not giving thanks to God. And here the Apostle Paul is spurred on by the work of God’s grace in the Philippians to do what? Immediately turn around and give praise to God.

What was happening in the Philippians’ lives is not ultimately due to Paul’s strategies or even to Paul’s efforts, but due to the grace of God, and so God is deserving of the praise for it, and Paul turns immediately around and gives thanks to God. Is that the way it is for us? Are we thankful in our prayers and in our heart attitude? Or do we feel entitled, we ungrateful for the greatness of God’s gospel mercies to us? Paul’s thankful heart, I think, urges us on to be thankful in prayer and in our life attitude.

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