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Thanksgiving Sunday, Oct.12, 2014 Php.4:1-9


"Thanksgiving?! What's there to be thankful for? Haven't you heard the news lately? You MUST be out of the loop! The economy is in bad shape; the stock market had a bad week. Our provincial debt is about 275 billion dollars and climbing by close to $400 a second. Ebola is killing thousands in west Africa and now it's on North American soil too. Thousands of children have been sent to hospital suffering from Enterovirus D68, which has been linked to polio-like symptoms, such as paralysis. 40% of marriages end in divorce before their 30th wedding anniversary. The climate is changing because of all our pollution. How can you possibly be THANKFUL at a time like this? Are you out of your mind?"

Well, if we are, we're in good company. From the get-go, Christians have practised gratitude even in the worst of circumstances. Take the book of Philippians, for example. It's shot through with references to joy, some 16 times in 4 short chapters. Yet when the Apostle Paul wrote it, where was he? In prison! Protective custody, guarded constantly by a Roman soldier under house arrest. Yet he can talk about "rejoicing in the Lord" and praying "with thanksgiving". How weird is that?!

You see, while we are concerned about our neighbours and our world and climate change and unpromising economic realities, that's not the basis for joy or gratitude for the Christian. Our focus is elsewhere. John Baillie said: "A true Christian is a man who never for a moment forgets what God has done for him in Christ, and whose whole comportment and whole activity have their root in the sentiment of gratitude." So our thankfulness, our gratitude, is rooted in what God has done for us in Christ - not external circumstances, which change as the weeks and months go by.

Today as we look at the final letter in Paul's short epistle to the church at Philippi, we find he helps us spell "Thanks" T-H-A-N-K-S. Each of these letters represents keys to being grateful to God.


Let's start with our attitude, how we THINK about things. Is our outlook based on TRUTH or trash? Php 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things." That's the sort of thing we're to be THINKING about, considering, meditating upon. What's shaping our "habit of thought"? Commentator Robertson notes, "We are responsible for our thoughts and can hold them to high and holy ideals." How much of our "screen time" this past week would qualify under these adjectives?

Is it TRUE? In an eternal sense - does it match up with Biblical principles? Does it align with God's laws?

Is it NOBLE - honourable, venerable, reflecting respectable character?

Is it RIGHT, just, in harmony with God's divine standard of holiness? Or thrown in gratuitously because the director knows it will help sell at the box office?

Is it PURE? Chaste, unsullied, morally clean and undefiled? Would you have to think twice about switching screens if your parent or spouse suddenly walked into the room?

Is it LOVELY? Pleasing, amiable, gracious, uplifting? Or does it leave you feeling kind of trashy or depressed afterward?

Is it ADMIRABLE, EXCELLENT, PRAISEWORTHY? Highly regarded, reputable - or kind of sketchy?

When we allow our thoughts to be captivated by things that are NOT true - noble - right - pure etcetera, our consciences know it; and God knows it. We've allowed unclean idols to dominate our consciousness. So we're already behind the spiritual 8-ball due to guilt and shame - that's a hard place to manufacture thankfulness.

Paul starts chapter 4 by saying "THAT is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!" So to understand the "THAT" he's talking about, you have to look back into chapter 3; there v15 talks about those who are mature taking a certain "view of things" - a perspective, thinking about things from a certain angle. That angle is heaven: v20 that's where our citizenship is - in heaven; from there "we eagerly await a Saviour...the Lord Jesus Christ." Is that what we REALLY truly are "eagerly awaiting"? Or is it the next episode of our favourite TV show? Our next holiday?

3:18-19 "For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.Their destiny is destruction..." HOW COME? What are these folks foccused on? "...their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.Their mind is on earthly things."

If our mind is consumed with things of this world - passing things, shameful things, what we're going to stuff in our stomach next - Paul says we're actually "enemies" of Christ's cross. Of course we're going to find it hard to be thankful the minute one of those earthly tantalizers is in short supply, or we become bored because they don't satisfy us at our spirit-core.

So, the "T" of THANKS stands for "Truth-Think".


Have you ever noticed it's hard to have an air of thankfulness when there's conflict in the home? Everything seems tense, your tread around lightly lest you irritate someone further and they explode. Our dog Christie was our "tension gauge" in our home: whenever we weren't getting along (parent-teen rows and so forth), Christie our big black Labrador-Newfoundland cross would head for the hills - or, more specifically, a quiet corner of the basement AWAY from where all the friction was happening.

So HARMONY is part of the "H" in THANKS. Vv 2-3 Paul writes: "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." Obviously, there's been some sort of disagreement or conflict - we're not told the details. Paul appeals to his co-worker on the scene to help the two women involved to sort it out. Part of the self-denial Jesus calls us to is to lay down our points of view and presumptions long enough to walk a mile in the direction of our adversary - try to see it their way.

"Help these women", Paul asks. There's another "H". Conflict resolution often takes a third party to help identify and resolve the issues - a neutral perspective. Another H is Humility: people who clash can tend to be proud and arrogant, full of "hubris" (remember the professor used that word in God's Not Dead? Hubris is pride). Proverbs 13:10 "Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice." Hmm - taking advice? That requires humility.

So the H of THANKS includes Harmony, Helping, and Humility.


At the core of thanksgiving is REJOICING - ALWAYS (note the "A") rejoicing. It's easy to be thankful in happy circumstances, when everything's going well; what allows Christians to rejoice even when things are NOT going well is the joy we have from an eternal invisible source, that's not tied to earthly events.

Remember, Paul is writing this letter WHERE? In prison, under house arrest. Yet the theme is "joy" over and over: Php 1:4 "I always pray with joy", 1:18 "I will continue to rejoice," 2:2 "make my joy complete", 2:18 "rejoice with me," 3:1 "Rejoice in the Lord," 4:1 he calls the Philippians "my joy and crown", 4:10 "I rejoice greatly..." What's Paul's secret? Prison may be called "sing-sing" but that doesn't mean it's normally a joyful place to be!

Look closely at 4:4 - "Rejoice in the Lord always.I will say it again: Rejoice!" ALWAYS rejoice - how? "In the Lord." Ordinarily we might talk about ENjoying fleshly fulfilments - a good meal, a party with refreshments, a movie with popcorn and treats - but Paul was deprived of all that. Yet he found a constant source of joy IN Christ.

A parallel passage here might be 1Thess 5:16-18 - note the "A" again: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." How cool is that? This is what your Heavenly Father WANTS or wills for you - to be joyful, praying, giving thanks. Every weekend, every day of the year, is Thanksgiving on God's people's calendar.

John MacArthur notes that to rejoice in the Lord "signifies the sphere in which the believers' joy exists - a sphere unrelated to the circumstances of this life, but related to an unassailable, unchanging relationship to the sovereign Lord."

So, the A in THANKS stands for ALWAYS REJOICING.


Besides conflict that disrupts harmony, another enemy of thankfulness is ANXIETY. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned His followers against worrying about their lives, what they would eat or drink, and about their bodies, what they would wear; He assured them their Heavenly Father knew their needs and would provide for them when they seek first God's Kingdom and righteousness (Mt 6:25,32f). Thankfulness that trusts God's faithfulness and steadfast love displaces worry and anxiety.

So the "N" in THANKS stands for NOTHING - that's what we're to be ANXIOUS FOR. 4:6 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Or in the New American Standard version I used way back for memorizing it, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Note we can present our requests "with thanksgiving" even before they're answered, because we have confidence God loves us and cares about our needs.

How audacious and bold! What right have we mere creatures to present our requests to the Lord of the universe? Note the end of 4:3 - "whose NAMES are in the book of life." Those who receive Christ are saved once-and-for-all; their names are written in God's eternal record. Rev 3:5 Jesus promises - "He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels." Real, lasting security.

So "N" in THANKS stands for NOTHING ANXIOUS FOR because our NAMES are in the Book!


Our next letter, "K", I already actually covered mostly in the preceding point. Let's look at the tail end of v6 again: what saves us from worrying and anxiety? Knowing we can take our every genuine need to our loving Heavenly Father. Paul advises, "But in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (4:6) Or more literally, "let your requests be made KNOWN to God." Communicate your needs because God already KNOWS them.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews coaches us to likewise approach God with our concerns: Heb 4:16 "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Why are we entitled to such an awesome privilege? Because in Christ we're a KING'S KID! He is the King, truly sovereign over the universe. Peek back at the last verse in chapter 3 of Philippians to see how Paul describes this King's power: the Lord Jesus Christ "who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." (Php 3:21) Awesome! And you're His kin when you're in Christ. So let your requests be KNOWN - that's the K in THANKS.


Quick review: how do we spell THANKS? T- Truth-Think; H- Harmony, Help, Humility; A- Always Rejoice; N - Nothing Anxious For, Name's in the Book; K- Known to God, King's Kid. That brings us to the last letter in THANKS, S- SURPASSING PEACE. This one will help you to really be thankful!

Note 4:7, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." In the NRSV and NASV, "transcends" is translated "surpasses": "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." It's peace that's not just the stillness of the surface of a lake with no wind blowing: it's a peace that surmounts, "to stand out, rise above, [be] overtop" what is understandable / commonly grasp-able. Peace that bamboozles, it's so odd given the external circumstances - like a man in prison who can nevertheless rejoice.

And what does this peace DO? It "will GUARD your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Remember as Paul writes this, he just has to glance up from his desk to see a Roman soldier standing in the doorway, making sure his prisoner doesn't escape. God's peace becomes your SOLDIER "garrisoning" you, keeping you safe in "protective custody" (why does Arnold Schwarzenegger and the witness protection program come to mind?). Only an Almighty God can supply such unshakable peace, assurance, total security - that can never be erased.

There is a difference between peace and praise that results from positive developments. A person whose cancer has been arrested may say, "I am so thankful to God." That's praise. But a person who is dying of cancer and in pain may still calmly say, "Everything is all right.The Lord doesn't make mistakes.I have peace in my heart." That is surpassing peace, the "peace of God which transcends all understanding."


Thanksgiving, then, is not a time only to thank God for pleasant external factors; we can thank Him even when things AREN'T going well. "Rejoice in the Lord Always" - like the prophet Habakkuk (3:17f): "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior."

Someone who writes profoundly on the theme of thanksgiving in our day is Ann Voskamp, who lives not far from here (near Listowel), whose book One Thousand Gifts became a bestseller. Yet her story is not happily ever after. As a child, her sister was crushed under a truck in front of her and her mother. Consequently, her mother checked herself into a psychiatric hospital and her father couldn't find God. As an adult, Voskamp stood beside her brother-in-law as he buried his first two sons. So she's a wife and mother who does not grin through the pain but battles to believe that in God is joy, and that there are as many gifts amid the grittiness of life as in the moments of celebration.

Here's a quote from her book that fits well with what Paul was trying to say in Philippians 4: "Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy's fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy's flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust."

In saying "THANKS", you don't need to stop at 1,000. Another woman, Barbara Ann Kipfer, began keeping a list of her favourite things as a shy teenager. Soon the list became second nature; she found herself making additions while riding the bus, eating breakfast, and even in the middle of the night. 20 years and dozens of spiral notebooks later, her list was published as a book titled 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. Why not write your own book? Let's pray.