A Letter of Thanksgiving

Bible Book: Ephesians  1 : 3
Subject: Thanksgiving; Gratitude

Some years ago I received a letter from an unnamed source expressing concern for my ministry. From what I could understand, the individual did not approve of my fellowshipping with unnamed people, and preaching in an unnamed setting, and felt that I needed counsel about the matter. While I do need counsel in many areas, I was not very impressed with the letter, and filed it in an unnamed trashcan.

The New Testament book of Philippians is basically a personal letter from the Apostle Paul to the church of Philippi. But, there is nothing about the letter that would make it an anonymous letter. In this Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, we are not only introduced to the human source, the Apostle Paul, but to the dear people to whom he writes and the special setting of Philippi.

Several names have even been given to this letter. For instance, along with several other Epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon), the Epistle to the Philippians has been called “A Prison Letter.” It is commonly believed that Paul was a prisoner in the city of Rome at this time (see 4:23). For sure, in several verses in Chapter 1, he made mention of his “bonds” (1:7, 13, 14, 16).

This letter has also been called “Paul’s Joy Letter.” Over and over, throughout this Epistle, this theme is underlined. The words “joy,” “rejoice,” and “rejoicing” are found 17 times. It might be asked, “How could Paul possess so much joy in prison?” The truth is: before he was put in jail, he was placed in Jesus; before he was a servant of Caesar in this carnal capacity, he was a servant of Christ in a spiritual capacity.

In addition to being a prison letter and a joy letter, this letter is “A Love Letter.” In introducing his studies on Philippians, the humble Baptist pastor and writer, Alexander Maclaren, pointed out, “Like all Paul’s epistles it begins with salutations, and like most of them with prayer, but from the very beginning is a long gush of love.” We must confess that it is interesting that there are no doctrinal issues or stern rebukes in this letter.

One of the most outstanding truths in the book of Philippians is that of “The Christ-life.” All four chapters seem to revolve around the great text, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). In this sense, we could therefore call this “The Christ-life Letter.” In this Epistle, we learn that the Christian life is not just living for Christ, but Christ living in us and through us.

Coming to our present emphasis, this letter could also be called “A Letter Of Thanksgiving.” This theme is introduced early on as Paul wrote, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Phil. 1:3). Again, at the end of the book, the Apostle admonished the saints to approach God with “thanksgiving” (4:6). Between these two unique bookends for the Epistle, a spirit of rejoicing prevails in the letter.

Those of us who have had to deal with credit card companies know what it is like to receive a letter of thanks from the company when the account is paid off. But, we also know that the letter is more than a simple “Thank You.” It usually includes an increased credit line which assures us that we can charge even more in the future. The bottom line is that they desire to have more of our business.

We can be certain that Paul was not writing a letter of thanks just to take advantage of the saints in Philippi. His motive was not a selfish one! This letter issued out of a genuine heart of gratitude. As we briefly examine this letter, may the Spirit of God renew a desire for, and a development of, genuine gratitude in our hearts, both to the Lord and to others.

Because there are three parts to a letter - - the greeting, the body of the letter, and the conclusion, or ending, let’s study this letter from these three perspectives. We learn first that this letter is a letter of thanksgiving as we look at the greeting.


After introducing himself and Timothy as the “servers” of the meal, “the servants of Jesus Christ” to the “saints” in Philippi (1:1), and saying “grace” at the table, or speaking of “grace . . . and peace” in verse 2, Paul began to serve the meal. And, as he brought forth the first course, he did so with thanksgiving. His opening remark was, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (1:3).

Using Paul as our example, we see that thanksgiving is evidenced in one’s:

A. Identification With The Church

With a grateful heart, the Apostle identified with the “fellowship” of the church (1:5). The word, “fellowship” (koinonia, Gr.), refers to the “community, or oneness” of the body. Although Paul was not in Philippi, he still sensed a oneness with believers there. This fellowship, therefore, was not based on religious personalities or church activities. It was rooted “in the gospel” of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:5).

Paul also identified with the church because of the operation of God in the lives of the people. He was “confident” that God had “begun a good work” in them (1:6). He believed that they had experienced a divine work, and, to use the words of Job, that “the root of the matter” was in them (Job 19:28). So confident was the Apostle that this operation was of God, he expected Him to “perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6).

It is clear that Paul identified with the church in his inner being. The saints in Philippi were not just in his thanksgiving; not just in his prayers; not just in his remembrance; and not just in his fellowship. His own confession was, “I have you in my heart” (1:7). And, calling God as his witness, a further admission of identification was stated. “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (1:8).

Again, from the illustration of Paul’s life, we are made aware that thanksgiving is evidenced in one’s:

B. Intercession For The Church

If we are really grateful for God’s people, we will be quick to identify with believers in the church, and will have a heart that intercedes for them. What a prayer Paul prayed for these saints! First, he interceded for their spiritual development. Understanding that our spiritual affections determine our spiritual advancements, the very first words of his petition were, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” (1:9).

With genuine spiritual progress comes the constant need of spiritual perception. Thus, the Apostle prayed that the Philippian believers might “approve things that are excellent” (1:10). He was not just concerned that the saints could distinguish between right and wrong, but that they might perceive the value of abhorring that which is evil and clinging to that which is good (see Rom. 12:9).

The remainder of Paul’s intercession, “that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (1:10), accentuates the need for genuineness in motive and action in spiritual matters. Unless progress and perception are pure and filled with the righteousness of Christ, one can become self-serving, and “throw a stumbling-block in the path” of others (John Eadie).

As set forth in the Apostle’s life, thanksgiving, evidenced in identification with and intercession for the church, is also evidenced in one’s inclusive:

C. Interest In The Church

In the remainder of the chapter, the Apostle rejoiced in what God was doing through the church for the advancement of the cause of Christ. Not only had his imprisonment directly resulted in “the furtherance of the gospel” (1:12), but other brethren were encouraged to preach “without fear” (1:14). Although there were varied motives for ministry, Paul rejoiced that Christ was preached (see 1:15- 18).

The Apostle’s great desire was that, “whether . . . by life, or by death,” Christ would be “magnified” in his body (1:20). Certainly, death would be “gain” for him (1:21), and “to depart, and to be with Christ” would be “far better” (1:23). Yet, his burden was to personally minister to the church and witness their “furtherance and joy of faith” (1:25). He felt their “rejoicing” would be “more abundant” if he could serve them again (1:26).

Paul’s interest in the church is further portrayed in his exhortation to perseverance. Whether he would see them again or not, he admonished them to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). Encouraging them in their persecutions, he reminded them that, like their faith, suffering was a special gift from God and would prove to be for Jesus’ “sake” (1:29).

We also see that this is a letter of thanksgiving by analyzing the body of the letter, or the division we are calling:


Let me hasten to admit that neither Chapter 2 or Chapter 3 contains the words, “thanks,” or “thanksgiving.” But, the general tone of the Apostle’s statements in this portion of the letter represent the overflow of a grateful heart. Having greeted and exhorted the church in Chapter 1, however, the emphasis moves to the Christ of the church. It reminds us that true thanksgiving rallies around the Lord Jesus.

In the first eight verses of Chapter 2, we are reminded that a thankful heart is occupied with:

A. The Person Of Christ

After making an appeal to believers about being examples of encouragement, harmony, humility, and selflessness (see 2:1-4), the Apostle exhorted the saints to look to Christ, as the chief Example and Pattern. He wrote, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5). Then, in a most marvelous manner, he pointed them to the Savior’s Person and excellence.

The word, “form,” in the phrase, “Who, being in the form of God” (2:6), has to do with Christ’s “nature, or essence,” and proclaims the doctrine of His Godhood. Of course, since He was God Himself, being “equal with God” was not something He had to attain or retain (2:6). The Christ Who was very God, however, “made Himself of no reputation,” or “emptied Himself,” and became very Man (2:7).

And, “as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (2:8). As God, He stooped to become Man. As Man, He stooped to die on the cross.

Jesus died for our sins! But, thank God, that is not the end of the story. We are told that “God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:9- 11). The One Who died in humiliation is now the inescapable Lord!

In the remaining verses of the chapter (2:12-30), the thankful heart continues to be occupied with Christ. However, at this point, Christ is seen in His people. We might say, then, that they become:

B. The Portraits Of Christ

First, we see that Paul’s life was a portrait of the sacrifice of Christ. The Apostle exhorted the Philippian believers to be honorable in their testimony (see 2:12-15). As Christ’s sacrifice was not in vain, so the Christian witness of these believers portrayed that Paul had not “run in vain” or “laboured in vain” (2:16). As Christ’s sacrifice was effectual, the fruit in their lives portrayed the reality of Christ in his life (2:17).

Secondly, we see that Timothy’s life was a portrait of the sincerity of Christ. Paul’s brief commentary on Timothy was, “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state . . . But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel” (2:20, 22). The word, “naturally,” interpreted “truly” by M. R. Vincent, is elsewhere rendered “sincerely” (2 Cor. 8:8) and indicates “without wax.” Unlike vessels which, having been broken, were pieced back together, and covered with wax, Timothy portrayed the genuineness of Christ.

Lastly, we see that Epaphroditus’ life was a portrait of the service of Christ. Underlining that this man was a dear Christian, Paul referred to him as “my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier” (2:25). But, more than that, he explained that “for the work of Christ,” he was “nigh unto death” (2:27, 30). Portraying the service of Christ, Epaphroditus never regarded his own life, but gave his all to serve others!

Moving on to Chapter 3, the thankful heart is represented as one who is in:

C. The Pursuit Of Christ

The credentials of Paul’s religious past were very impressive (see 3:1-6). But, enabled by the Spirit of God, he counted “all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (3:8). Instead of pursuing the admiration and appreciation of others, his deep longing was to know the Lord Jesus. Thus, his cry was, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (3:10).

The Apostle never felt as though he had “attained,” or reached a state of perfection (3:11). Rather, in his old age, he continued to “follow after” (3:12), or to eagerly pursue, his Lord. Using the analogy of a runner in a race, he testified, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13, 14).

The earnest pursuit of Christ is not just a passing whim, but the longing of grateful hearts all the way to the throne! While those “who mind earthly things” will surely be brought to eternal shame and judgment (3:19), believers will be brought to transformation and glory. When we see our Savior, “our vile body” will be changed and “fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (3:21).

Having observed Paul’s thankful spirit in the greeting of the letter, and in the body of the letter, we now see his gratitude in:


In a speech, a sermon, or a letter, a conclusion is often a summary of the main points of what has been said. Thus, as the Apostle concludes his letter of thanksgiving, he reiterates his own thankfulness, both for the saints in Philippi and their contributions to his ministry. And, in between the two above themes, he encourages the church to give thanks as they make their own petitions known to the Lord.

As we cross the threshold of Chapter 4, one more time, we find the Apostle:

A. Giving Thanks To God For People

In his list of very intimate and descriptive terms, Paul’s gratitude for these saints cannot help but be sensed. He referred to them as “My brethren . . . dearly beloved . . . longed for . . . my joy and crown,” and then repeated the words, “my dearly beloved” (4:1). While the terms, “brethren,” and “beloved,” or “divinely loved-ones,” magnify their connection to the family of God, they also reflect their connection to the Father, Himself.

On the other hand, the other special words, “dearly . . . longed for,” and “my joy and crown,” clearly reveal Paul’s personal feelings toward the Philippians. Not only did he highly esteem them, but he yearned to be with them, and reveled in their closeness and fellowship in the gospel. It is apparent here that it is more than possible for a believer to be closer to another Christian brother than his or her own earthly relatives.

Another indication of the Apostle’s gratitude for the church folks in Philippi is the mentioning of several names. Certainly, he was burdened for “Euodias and Syntyche” (4:2) and instructed them to restore their fellowship in the church. But, he also spoke of a partner in ministry there as “true yokefellow,” and remembered “Clement” and other “fellowlaborers” in the Lord’s work. He not only rejoiced in their service, but in the fact that their “names” were “in the book of life” (4:3).

While exhorting the saints to “Rejoice in the Lord” (4:4), he instructed them to carry this same spirit of thanksgiving to the throne of God. Thus, he addresses this very important matter of:

B. Giving Thanks To God In Prayer

Before accentuating the theme of “thanksgiving,” the Apostle spoke of an enemy of prayer and thanksgiving - - anxiety. The words, “Be careful for nothing” (4:6), might be rendered, “Be anxious for nothing.” It is possible to be so laden down with earthly cares that we hindered in moving Godward. Basically, when we are filled with anxiety and worry, we are figuring and calculating without consulting the Lord. Here, we are exhorted to lay all our cares down before Him!

It cannot be overlooked that “thanksgiving” is married to prayer. In the divine scheme of things, they cannot be divorced. Where you find one you find the other! Therefore, the saints are exhorted, “But in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (4:6). It is impossible to genuinely pray without giving thanks. And, it is impossible to truly give thanks without lifting your petitions to the Lord.

One last word here, as our requests are presented to God with thanksgiving, “a thankful spirit” becomes “a practical contributor to peace” (Guy H. King). “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (4:7).

In the remaining verses of the chapter (4:8-23), the basic subject set forth is that of stewardship. And, in this context, we are reminded of the Christian responsibility of:

C. Giving Thanks To God For Provisions

Paul commended the Philippian believers for assisting him with the burdens of ministry (see 4:14). “No church,” he recalled, “communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only” (4:15). He also reminded them that they had given “once and again” to his “necessity” (4:16). Yet, while he was thankful to these dear saints for sacrificially giving of their means, his thanksgiving ascended beyond people to the God Who often channels through people in meeting the needs of ministry.

The Apostle also wanted to make it clear that his desire and motive was not just to receive their money, or their “gift.” Rather, his overwhelming concern was that “fruit” would “abound” to their “account” (4:17). He was aware that they were not free to travel from place to place, preaching the gospel. But, by helping him in his labors, they were participating in gospel ministry. As well, through their support and prayers, they could share in the rewards of ministry.

After describing their most recent gift as “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” (4:18), Paul’s grateful heart was moved to magnify God’s faithfulness. He exclaimed, “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (4:19). And, before signing off with a few final salutations and greetings, he concluded with more thanksgiving. “Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (4:20). The lesson is: that which is born in thanksgiving, and nurtured with thanksgiving, will consummate in thanksgiving!


When my family and I have visited an amusement park, I have found myself being rather amused watching people ride the carousel. First, they pay money to stand in line and wait for their turn. Then, they get on a ride that only takes them up and down, and round and round. While going up and down, and round and round, they wave to people they don’t even know. And, when they get off, they get off right where they got on, having gone nowhere.

Living a life of thanksgiving is more than riding a carousel. Yes, there is a price to pay! We must humble ourselves before the Lord to have a grateful heart. And, as illustrated in Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, if we start out with thanksgiving, we will end up with thanksgiving. However, we are going somewhere! A life of thanksgiving is a life of progress! May the Lord generate a renewed thankfulness and gratitude in our hearts and lives. Amen.