summers ago when my dad, Matthew, my nephew and I were out in Pennsylvania
watching trains, we went into a place where we always eat during the trip, and
saw something that I had to point out to Matthew and Paul. There on the wall, as you walked into the restaurant,
was an actual pay phone. I had pointed these out to Matthew in the past in
movies, but I am pretty sure it was the first time he had ever seen one in
I am fifty
years old, and like many of you I have witnessed the incredible advances in
technology that have transformed the way we live. I know how great these changes are. But then once in awhile you have an
experiences\ that makes you truly realize how much things have changed.
another one of those not long ago. A
member of our family had received a very gracious gift. I emphasized that a thank you note should be
sent, to acknowledge the gift and express how much it was appreciated. I gave
the address for the individual to the member of our family. I knew that the thank you note had been had
been mailed, but as it turned out the note didn’t arrive as soon as it should
have. You see, if you only put the name and street address on the envelope, the
U.S. Postal service has a very difficult time delivering it. This member of our
family had never addressed something to be sent in the mail, and didn’t realize
that you also have to provide the city, state and zip code in order for
it to be delivered. With that minor oversight corrected, the thank you note was
eventually received by the person who had given the gift.
for tonight’s Thanksgiving Eve sermon is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
While Paul does address a number of issues in this letter, one its purpose is
to be a thank you note. As I have
mentioned several times over the years, the apostle Paul had a very close
relationship with the Philippian church.
They were very generous in supporting his ministry, and in our text he
thanks them for yet another gift of money that they had sent.
He says in our text, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.” Then later he goes on to say, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”
The Philippians had done it yet
again, and Paul thanked them. He also goes on in our text to talk about what
the gift meant before God. He writes, “Not
that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your
credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well
supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a
fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Paul gives thanks to the Philippians
for their gift. And at the beginning of our text he takes up the theme of giving
thanks to God that you expect to hear at Thanksgiving. He says, “do not be anxious about
anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of
God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus.”
The apostle tell us not to be
anxious about anything. Instead we are
to turn to God in prayer and supplication. Now that sounds very normal. Of course, when I have problems and concerns
I should turn to God. Yet notice how
Paul adds, “with thanksgiving.” The
apostle reminds us that our life with God is always to be one that includes
thanksgiving. This is true even when there are things that cause us worry –
things about which we are praying to God.
We have a tendency to focus on the
things that are not the way we want them to be. Yet in doing so, it is so easy to ignore all
the blessing that are already there – all the blessings that God has given to us
out of his fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness
in us. We forget about the fact that we
don’t have to wonder about where we will stay tonight or where our next meal
will come from. We don’t have to worry about basic issues of peace and
security. We don’t have to worry about being able to come to church to hear
God’s Word and receive his Sacraments.
Most importantly we don’t have to
worry about our standing before God. We
don’t have to worry what happens if I or a loved one dies, as my aunt did last
night. As Paul says in our text, “And the peace of God, which
surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
Through the Gospel, we know that
Jesus Christ died on the cross for us.
In the previous chapter Paul spoke about what Jesus Christ meant to him
– that it meant “not
having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that
which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on
faith.” Jesus the sinless one died in
our place, and because of him we are forgiven – we are righteous in God’s eyes.
But death that ended in death could never bring victory
over sin that produces death. And so on
the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In the resurrection of Jesus
Christ God has defeated death. And
Philippians is unique because in this letter the apostle explicitly talks about
what that means for us now if we die and what it will mean on the Last
In the first chapter Paul says, “For to me to live
is Christ, and to die is gain.” He says,
“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Because Jesus has risen from the dead and
ascended, for the Christian to die is to be with Christ. It is to continue living in a way that is far
better than what we now have.
And then in the
third chapter, Paul tells us that the best is yet to come. He says that “we await
a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly
body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him
even to subject all things to himself.”
As we heard this past Sunday, we are looking for the return of Jesus
Christ on the Last Day when he will raise and transform our bodies to be like
his perfect resurrected body that can never die again.
are causes for thanksgiving! They are reasons to give thanks and praise to God.
And in particular it is the forgiveness and life that we have in Christ that
enables us to be content and give thanks in the midst of all circumstances.
our text, as Paul thanks the Philippians for their gift, he acknowledges that
for a time they had not been able to help him.
He writes, “You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no
opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned
in whatever situation I am to be content.
know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every
circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger,
abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens
Now that word “content” was used by
the Stoics to mean self-sufficient and free from dependence on anything. But
Paul uses it in a completely different way, and we see this in the last verse I
quoted. You are no doubt very familiar
with the verse, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” But
this text has been completely misunderstood.
First the statement “all things”
refers to the things Paul has just been talking about: being brought low and
abounding; being in plenty and hunger; being in abundance and need. It is has nothing to do with the claim that
“I can do anything.”
And secondly, that statement more
literally is “I have strength with respect to all things through him who
strengthens me.” Paul says that because of Christ who strengthens him, he has
the ability deal with all circumstances. He is able to be content not because
he is self-sufficient, but because he is Christ dependent. Completely
dependent on Christ the risen Lord, Paul had strength through Christ’s Spirit
to deal with all circumstances.
He could face them all in faith. And
he could face them all with thanksgiving because the ultimate gift of God for
which he was thankful was Jesus Christ – the crucified and risen Lord. That was
why Paul could say in the previous chapter about his former life in Judaism,
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of
Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing
worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
On this Thanksgiving Eve, we are
reminded of the many blessings that God has given to us. He has richly blessed
us in so many ways that are related to the support of our body and life. Yet the greatest blessing is our Lord Jesus
Christ in whom we have forgiveness and life.
Jesus Christ the risen Lord is the One who strengthens us through his
Spirit so that we are able to be content and give thanks in all circumstances.