Thanksgiving and Prayer
Open Your Bible
Philippians 1:3-11, Acts 16:16-40, Philemon 1:4-7
Early into this past Advent season, I wrote letters until the ring finger on my right hand blistered. For two days straight, I wrote cards of gratitude and joy for each of the volunteers in the children’s ministry I lead, followed by cards filled with stickers and sweet words for every child (ages three and over) in my ministry. In each child’s card, I wrote a variation on a similar theme, but all had the same conclusion: “I hope you always remember how much Jesus loves you.”
I assume these cards were tossed aside in the holiday hubbub, or purged in the seemingly requisite January clean-out that most families undertake. As I wrote, I kept thinking, Do these words matter? Is it worth the time? Maybe the cards matter, maybe they don’t, but I know the words on them do. And every time I penned that phrase, I prayed the child who received the card would take it to heart.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians starts with similar sentiments, echoing ancient truths and the hope that the words within the letter would sink down deep into the hearts of those who would read it. This opening exhortation to his readers in Philippi offers a template for godly relationships of believers deeply committed to sharing the love of Christ. Paul expressed gratitude for the Philippians, “for every remembrance” of them (Philippians 1:3), as well as their partnership in the spread of the gospel.
Paul has a history with the Philippians, and it is on this rich foundation that he builds this really beautiful letter. In Acts 16, we see that when Paul first came to Philippi, a woman called Lydia was converted to faith, and then she and her family invited Paul to stay with them. Their generous hospitality was marked by open ears, open hearts, and open homes.
Later in the chapter, Paul and Silas were arrested, and in the end, the Lord delivered them from prison. However, during their imprisonment, one of their jailers became a believer, and also welcomed Paul and Silas to his home: “He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household” (Acts 16:34).
Paul seems to care very deeply for the Philippians. As modern readers, we know the rest of this letter will hold both caution and affection. But this beautiful opening reveals the heart and intent behind Paul’s words. We see in these verses how godly relationships work when they are anchored in love for the gospel; there is push and pull, earnest prayer, and deep care for one other’s true well-being and spiritual growth.
As I write, I see the faces of those believers who I know I can cling to with the same godly affection Paul has for the Philippians, who balance their love for me with their desire for me to grow more like Jesus every day. They aren’t afraid to whisper (or shout) rebuke in love, and they bathe their strong words in prayer for my sanctification. These people have partnered with me in the hard work of sharing the gospel with a world that has become increasingly hostile toward it.
I am so thankful for these friends, and today I pray for them in the same way Paul prayed for his friends in Philippi: “that [their] love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment,” and that they would “be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9–11).