Monthly Archives: November 2017

Paul on the subject of Thanksgiving, pt. 4 (The Power of the Gospel)

For the apostle Paul, there was another huge motivator for expression of thanksgiving. It was gratitude for what Christ had done in the lives of those with whom he had had the privilege of sharing the Gospel. As he started new churches throughout the region, those new churches were made up of real people, individuals whom Paul had led to Christ. He spent time with them, he knew them, and he loved them. Time after time, he wrote letters back to the churches, expressing thanks to God for those precious saints whom he knew personally. He rejoiced to see how the Gospel was powerfully at work transforming their lives.

To the Church in Corinth, he wrote:
I always thank God for you
because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in 
him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. (1 Cor. 1:4-6)

To the Church in Rome, he wrote:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
(Rom. 1:8)

To the Church in Colosse, he wrote:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for youbecause we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—  the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. (Col. 1:3-6)

To the Church in Thessalonica, he wrote:
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.  We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 1:2-3)

To the Church in Philippi, he wrote:
I thank my God every time I remember you. (Phil. 1:3)

Paul knew the believers who made up these churches as well as the circumstances of their lives. He  knew how their lives had been before encountering the life-changing power of Christ. His observation of the stunning changes the gospel had made in their lives gave Paul abundant reasons to rejoice and give thanks to God for them.

For personal reflection: Are there any Christians around you in whom you have been able to see God  change over time? Have you witnessed life-transformation in someone that you have had opportunity to disciple or encourage in Christ along the way? Reflect on some real-life examples of God’s trophies of grace. See if that doesn’t cause your heart to give thanks as you remember them.

Paul on the subject of Thanksgiving, pt. 3 (The Partnership in the Ministry)

We’ve already seen how Paul valued the notion of our lives being a continual outpouring of thanksgiving, despite the trials and sufferings that to some degree accompany everyone’s journey. Yesterday we looked at what fueled his gratitude to the Lord, the chief motivator being the “gift” God had given him, a personal relationship with his Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul referenced this gift as the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us… (Eph. 1:7-8).

But I believe there was another Thanksgiving motivator for Paul: his calling to share in the ministry of the Gospel to the Gentiles. His specific calling to this ministry followed right on the heels of his encounter with the Living Lord:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around
him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you
persecute me?”  “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are
persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”…Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.  All those who heard
him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem
among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners
to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews
living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.  (Acts 9:3-6, 19-22)

It wasn’t as if Paul hadn’t been doing “religious work” previously. Prior to his call to the Gospel ministry, the former “Saul” had been a zealous Pharisee. But the call on his life experienced on the Damascus Road fundamentally shifted everything about the way the new “Paul” saw his work for God. Here are a few comparisons:

PAUL THE APOSTLE referred to himself as a “servant of Christ”, an “ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:20) while SAUL THE PHARISEE “served God” as a member of the religious elite.

PAUL THE APOSTLE received his ministry calling by revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12) while SAUL THE PHARISEE saw his calling as upholding the “traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:14), which Jesus called “traditions of men” (Mark 7:8)

PAUL THE APOSTLE took part in a ministry of the “Good News” (by grace are you saved through faith – Eph. 2:8) in contrast to SAUL THE PHARISEE’s ministry, which turned out to be the “Not-so-Good-News,” rebuked by Jesus as: you load people down with burdens…you will not lift one finger to help them (Lk. 11:46).

PAUL THE APOSTLE participated in sharing about the grace of God (not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph.2:9) while SAUL THE PHARISEE advocated favor with God through religious ritual.

PAUL THE APOSTLE, like Jesus Himself, ministered the Gospel as a “suffering servant” (Acts 9:15; I am crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), while SAUL THE PHARISEE belonged to a group which Jesus indicted as self-serving and self-exalting (Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces– Luke 11:43).

PAUL THE APOSTLE focused on building up the Body of Christ in sharp contrast to SAUL THE PHARISEE’s goal of destroying the Church (Gal. 1:13).

PAUL THE APOSTLE’s brand of “Thanksgiving” was centered on Christ while  SAUL THE PHARISEE’s thanksgiving prayer might have sounded like this: God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tithe of all I get. (Luke 18:11)

I believe Paul was grateful to God, not only for saving him, but for replacing his mis-guided service to God with the ministry of “Good News.” He expressed this idea in his letters to Timothy as well as to the Church at Corinth:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me
faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a
persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and
unbelief. (1 Tim. 1:12-13)

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and
through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. (2 Cor. 2:14)

For personal reflection: The work of Kingdom-expansion through the Gospel belongs to all who follow Christ. Think about the opportunities Christ has given you personally to be a bearer of “Good News” to the people in your relational networks.  Does the invitation to join God in His redemptive mission fuel a grateful spirit of Thanksgiving in your life?

Paul on the subject of Thanksgiving, pt. 2 (The Person of Christ)

Yesterday we discussed Paul’s perspective on life, that is the importance of expressing gratitude to the Lord in all things. This perspective, which seems quite amazing against the backdrop of suffering and hardship in Paul’s life, undoubtedly was shaped by the Gospel. But what motivated him to give thanks? I believe, first and foremost, his
heart of gratitude was fueled by the fact that God, in his mercy and kindness, had given him a new life in Christ! Paul wrote often about the “gift” God had given him.

When someone receives a gift from a friend or family member, the natural response is to express thanks to the gift-giver. At the same time, the depth of appreciation naturally correlates to the quality of the gift. This must have been true for Paul exponentially. He often expressed throughout his letters to the churches how much this special gift meant to him. The”gift” Paul had received was nothing less than a personal relationship with Jesus Christ–the gift John wrote about in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Sonthat whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

Over and over again Paul refers to what God has done for humanity’s sin problem as a “gift” from God:

 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and
in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—  for before the law was given,
sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over
those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the
one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the
gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the
one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive
God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through
the one man, Jesus Christ.  (Rom. 5:12-17)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our
Lord.  (Rom. 6:23)

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in
Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches
of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you
have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph.

Paul’s life had been marked by God’s gift through Christ. For this former Pharisee, it wasn’t just theological theory; it was intensely personal! As a former persecutor of the Church and of Christ himself, Paul had been gloriously saved from sin and rebellion through God’s kindness in Christ Jesus. An acute awareness of this gift of God most certainly fueled his joy and his thanksgiving. The apostle, who was rarely at a loss for words, couldn’t seem to find words to describe this gift!

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:15)

For personal reflection: One of the best antidotes for a heart that lacks a sense of gratitude is a bit of personal reflection. The intentional process of thinking back to the first time that God’s love became very real and personal inspires a sense of gratitude. As we revisit that occasion, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear the words naturally flow from our heart and mouth: “Thank you, Jesus, for the precious gift of forgiveness of my sin and new life in Yourself!”

Paul on the subject of Thanksgiving, pt. 1 (The Perspective of the Gospel)

Paul was consistently writing to the early churches about gratitude. He encouraged them to give thanks always and for everything, that is, in all circumstances. He wrote to the Church in Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:4-6)

The person who did not know Paul might be tempted to say: “Paul, that’s easy for you to say! But you don’t know my circumstances! If you knew all the things I faced, you wouldn’t be telling me to give thanks in all circumstances!” But what about Paul? Did he ever experience any difficulties? Take a look at this list:

• He was struck blind on the road to Damascus.

• On five different occasions, he received the maximum 39 lashes.

• Three times he was beaten with rods.

•Once he was stoned and left for dead.

• Three times he was shipwrecked.

• He was snake-bitten.

• While onboard a severely battered ship, he was food deprived.

• He was imprisoned and put in shackles.

• He was falsely accused by religious leaders.

• He was hauled before the government officials on various false accusations.

• He often suffered persecution.

• He was seized and dragged out of the temple.

• He experienced some heated disagreements with ministry partners.

• He was ridiculed by the Greeks while sharing the gospel with them.

• He became the center of a riot with the crowd yelling “Get rid of him!”

• He was the focus of a plot in which some Jews bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they had killed him.

• He was transported under cloak of darkness because of threat of ambush to kill him

• He experienced a persistent “thorn in the flesh” that God wouldn’t relieve him of.

• While he was preaching, he witnessed a young man fall out of a window and die.

• He had to deal with immoral church members in his new church start.

•He had to be a mediator for feuding women in the church.

This was the same Paul who encouraged others to rejoice in the Lord…always! and to give thanks in all circumstances. This was the same Paul who turned a prison cell into a choir loft!

As incredible as it seems, and despite the many hardships he experienced, Paul desired to live his life for the Lord with an attitude of thanksgiving. He encouraged his brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same. The life-changing gospel of Christ had changed him from a Christian killer, breathing out murderous threats, to a devoted follower of Christ breathing out a continuous “Thanks Be to God!”

For personal reflection: What is your reaction to those words of Paul give thanks in all circumstances? Does that notion seem impossible? Maybe a bit ridiculous? Or, perhaps encouraging? Stay tuned. We’re going to dig into some “thanksgiving motivators” in Paul’s life…