One of the things that characterizes the writings of the apostle Paul is his regular practice of giving thanks to God for the saints of various churches he was writing to. Not only does he thank God for them, but he insists on telling them that he thanks God for them.
“Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;” (Eph. 1:16). “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Col. 1:3). Also see 1 Thess. 1:2, 3:9, and 2 Thess. 2:13.
Summary of the Text
God gives us gifts in one another, and through one another. We are the body of Christ to one another. The recognition that God is behind all of it is central. When Paul gives thanks, he gives thanks to God. All the good works that we do for one another are repurposed gifts, redirected gifts. God first gives, and then as a consequence of this, we are able to give. But we can only give biblically if we ourselves are a gift. When we give, we are imitating God who always gives Himself in the gift. So this is why we render a two-fold thanks. When we say thank you, we say thank you first to God, and secondly to the instrument in God’s hand. We do good works because we are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10)—we render gratitude and glory to Him, but this in no way takes away from the gratitude we render to our fellow servants. Rather, it recognizes the true source of all good gifts. No true Christian wants to be an autonomous gift; we should all want to be the gift of one to another.
Gratitude by Name
The apostle is also not shy about naming names. There are many places where we know only two things about someone—his or her name, and the fact that the apostle Paul was grateful for him or her. From Epaphroditus to Junias, we know that Paul was grateful to individuals by name. We also know that his gratitude did not always result in giving us that name. “And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).
Giving Thanks for You
And so, in what ways has this congregation been a cause for gratitude?
This congregation has been a “family-integrated church” for many years, and you were doing it before it was “a thing.” Our service is an hour and a half long, and we all worship together—from the seniors down to the littles. So we are grateful
to God for you, and for all the hard work that goes into keeping some sort of moral order in your row. Don’t be discouraged—we are coming up to the time of harvest. A child born when we first went to weekly communion is around fourteen now. Another fourteen years and he will have a four-year-old on his lap, explaining the wine and the bread to him.
Community is as community does. You are an extraordinary congregation of helping hands—whether we are talking about unloading moving vans, or preparing meals for families in need, or giving to those who are less fortunate. When help has been needed, the wordoutpouring would be a good way to describe what frequently happens.
We want to believe what the Bible teaches us to believe, and we want to behave the way the Bible says to behave. In the providence of God, this means that we often find ourselves off the beaten path. You have been taught some “odd” things, and I am grateful that you have been such good sports about it. God is God, and grace is grace. Everything else follows, and the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
You are musically adventurous. We are very grateful to God for the music He has given us to sing, but for you old-timers, we have occasion to be even more grateful to God for the music we used to sing. We have a lot to do, and a long way to go, but we are very grateful for what we get to sing on the way.
You are committed, in a way that few North American congregations are, to providing our covenant children with a thoroughly Christian education. Learning to think like a Christian is not something that can be managed with one message on Sundays only. Our task is to learn how to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. This is our task every hour of every day.
Hard to Satisfy
God is a perfect Father. The humblest effort to please Him does in fact please Him. He is very easy to please. At the same time, He is perfect, and therefore very hard to satisfy. Easy to please, hard to satisfy. He will not be satisfied until the work of His Spirit in us is final and complete. “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Col. 1:28–29).
We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that any expression of gratitude will make the one we are praising think that they have nothing else to do, that they have arrived. Since we don’t want that to happen, we withhold our gratitude because we don’t want anything going to anybody’s head. On the other hand, going the other way is thought of as discouraging. What we need is to know that we are already accepted in Christ, completely and finally. We are accepted in the Beloved, which means that there is no condemnation. We are set free to grow, without a gun to our heads. Grace is the only soil in which a true Christian can grow.