“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6 NIV
Writing from a prison in Rome, likely about 800 miles away, Paul addresses the church at Philippi. He does not come to them with a rebuke but with an attitude of gratitude. He lets them know that in all of his memories of them, he only offers thanks. These memories are always a source of joy to him. He values their support of him in sharing the gospel, both by how they have personally supported him, and also how they themselves are partnering in the spreading of the gospel.
Paul takes a few moments to encourage them by reminding them that the work that has been started in them will be completed by a God who can be trusted. They do not need to be anxious about the journey but to simply trust in the initiator of the work in them. They did not save themselves and they cannot bring themselves to a place of being the perfected work of God. That is God’s job and He will be faithful to it. When God starts something he doesn’t walk away from it. He completes what he begins. This work is not just a work of the moment but is carried on step by step, through ups and downs, through dangers, and setbacks. Still, God sees the entire process through. We often get excited about beginning a work, but God commits to the entirety of the work. When He begins a work He pledges to complete that work. What a reason to be thankful.
Paul’s life was lived in response to the love of Christ not his mood that day. The relationship between Paul and the church went deeper than human friendships. Yet, he had every reason to be distant. It was at Philippi that he was mistreated, he was put into stocks, and, up to date, likely saw very little fruit to his labour. He lacked fellowship, lacked connection, but nothing could break the true connection in Christ. He remembers them with joy. He could do that because he looked upon his suffering for Christ as his credit, his crown, and a reason to celebrate. He was pleased to mention any place that he had suffered. His hardships did not make him bitter, but better. True joy does not depend on ones situation or place in line, rather it depends on the recognition of Whose I am. When we take Christ into every circumstance, only then we will have true joy. Paul was not the prisoner of Rome, he was the prisoner of Christ (Ephesians 3:1). The soldiers chained to his wrists were not guards, but lives for whom Christ died. He could look over all his setbacks, beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and see that they served to advance the gospel. He understood that gratitude is God focus not self worship.
Today I am thankful for all who have been a support in my life, both through moments of joy and moments of pain. I am grateful for the different members of the body in this area who work together to see Jesus lifted up. I am grateful that these believers know how to walk together rather than compete with one another. I am thankful for God’s commitment to not give up on me, but to see His work through in my life. The church is God’s idea and I am thankful He has allowed me to be a part of it. I am humbly grateful.