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Thankful For What?
by Philip Owen

             It would be easy to make a case for the idea that no one suffered more in the cause of Christ than did the Apostle Paul.  This much, at least, is certain:  the Holy Spirit has been pleased to record more both as to the extent and the details of Paul’s sufferings than that of any other saint in the New Testament.  We might find it remarkable, then, that Paul so frequently manifests a heart full of thankfulness.  His example reminds us that thankfulness does not find its source in our circumstances (We will never have enough of this or that, nor will our circumstances ever be ordered in so perfect a way as to create thankfulness.) but in the state of our heart and its relationship with the Lord.

             Many pages could be filled with an exposition detailing the nature and extent of Paul’s expressed thanksgiving.  But one of the most remarkable things about Paul’s expressed thankfulness is the predominance he gives to one object of his thanks giving:  his brethren in the churches.  He thanks God for the Roman believers (Rom. 1:8), for the Corinthians (I Cor. 1:4), for the Ephesians (Eph. 1:16), for the Philippians (Phil. 1:3), for the Colossians (Col. 1:3), for the Thessalonians (I Thes. 1:2; 2:13; 3:9; II Thes. 1:3; 2:13), for Timothy (II Tim. 1:3), and for Philemon (v. 4).  That these are genuine expressions of particular thanksgiving for these brethren rather than the use of a formulaic device is evident from the fact that such expressions are not found in II Corinthians, Galatians, I Timothy, or Titus.  Paul’s love for the brethren and in many cases their love for him, in Christ, created an intense bond the proof of which was his thankfulness for them.  Paul knew what it was to suffer the loneliness and isolation of itinerant ministry.  More than that, he knew firsthand the sense of separation experienced by one who had known “the sufferings of Christ.”  Paul drew strength from and was thankful for any evidence of growth in the saints and for any fellowship with him in his ministry and sufferings that they exhibited.

             Timothy we might expect; the Philippians we might understand.  But how, we might wonder, could Paul be thankful for the believers at Corinth?  Wasn’t that a church filled with no end of problems?  Aren’t they the ones who had the temerity to suggest that Paul’s “letters . . . are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (II Cor. 10:10)?  Was not his confidence in their spiritual maturity so lacking that he remarked that “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (II Cor. 12:15)?  How could he be thankful for such a group?  Listen to the Apostle in his own words.  “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:  So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (I Cor. 1:4-9).

             Paul was thankful that the Corinthians (1) had received grace, (2) had been blessed with spiritual gifts, (3) though carnal, had evidenced salvation, (4) though carnal, were anticipating the return of Christ, (5) were going to be confirmed (stabilized) by Christ, (6) would ultimately be blameless, and (7) had been called into fellowship with Christ!  What great thankfulness!  We see clearly its source and foundation.  As carnal as were the Corinthians, Paul rejoiced that God had been pleased to redeem them, that despite their carnality they evidenced fruit of genuine salvation, that God in Christ ultimately was going to complete the good work in them that He had begun, and that finally they would together bask in the fellowship of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s thankfulness is rooted in the grace of God as manifested in the fact that He could and did save people such as those at Corinth and that ultimately they would be sanctified and glorified in perfect fellowship with the Father and His Son.  Elsewhere Paul would write:  “Giving thanks always for all things” (Eph. 5:20a); “In every thing give thanks:  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thes. 5:18);  “I exhort therefore, that, first of all . . . giving of thanks, be made for all men” (I Tim. 2:1).  And in his genuine thankfulness for the gracious work of Christ in the Corinthians, Paul practiced what he preached and set an example for us to follow.

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