Topic: Biblical Verse: Philippians 4:6–20
November 23, 2022
Paul the apostle’s words to believers in the ancient city of Philippi speak to us across the ages, especially so on this Thanksgiving Eve. As we prepare to gather with family and friends around tables laden with all the foods that we associate with this holiday, we pause to offer our thanks and praise to the Lord for blessings of body, mind and spirit. Tonight we focus on that one verse from today’s Epistle lesson: “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, hearing, and living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In my own life, my prayer often – even daily – is that the Lord would grant me strength equal to the tasks that are before me. This stands in sharp contrast to a different prayer: “Lord, grant me tasks that are equal to my strength.” Do you see the difference? Sometimes the tasks that we face seem so huge that left to our own strength and resources, we’d never get anything done. But as Paul reminds us: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Have you ever had a day, or even a season in life, when you look back on it and have no idea how you got through it? How you did all that you did? For the child of God, we know how we got it all done, and it wasn’t through our own efforts. It was through the strength which the Lord provided to do what needed to be done. That’s a humbling thing, isn’t it? And through this we are moved to give thanks to the Lord, not just with our lips, but with our lives. And so we begin to realize the truth that Thanksgiving is not just one day in late November. For the child of God, each and every day becomes a day to give thanks. Each and every day becomes an opportunity for us to say with Paul: “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
We don’t know precisely where Paul wrote this letter. Many regard this as one which Paul wrote from prison while in Rome, and that would make sense. Paul writes to the Philippian believers to thank them for their partnership in the Gospel. The whole letter overflows with joy and thanksgiving. It is a word of encouragement to these early Christians to hold fast to Jesus at all times. Paul’s words are all about thanksgiving not just for material blessings, but for the fruits of faith that he is seeing in the lives of the Philippian congregation. Paul doesn’t just talk the talk here; he walks the walk. He reminds his hearers: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I 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 me” (Philippians 4:11-13). And that is contentment, isn’t it? Contentment, together with the peace of heart and mind that goes with it, is a gift from the Lord. That’s a life lesson we all need to learn, and by the grace of God, we are learning it step by step, day by day, throughout our entire journey of faith.
When all is said and done, God’s gifts are really in other people, aren’t they? Paul acknowledges this as he writes to the Philippians: “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18b). They had sent gifts to Paul through this individual, Epaphroditus, and Paul is now writing his thank-you note to them. Who are those gifts of God in your life? Beyond the turkey and all the trimmings of the Thanksgiving feast are the people in our lives who bless us with kindness, understanding, and grace; people who have helped us to grow into the people God would have us be; people who have challenged us to push ourselves and go farther than we thought we could. My encouragement to everyone is to do as Paul did and write a thank-you note to one of these people in your life. Let that be your Thanksgiving homework that is the takeaway from this worship service. If a written note isn’t your thing, then reach out to that person by email, phone or Facetime. Across the miles and maybe across the years, let them know how you have been blessed through them. That will indeed be, as Paul writes, “a fragrant offering,” to the glory of the Lord. It is through such expressions of thanks that we are reminded: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Lest there be any doubt in the minds of Paul’s hearers then or now, he reminds us with that next-to-last verse in the Epistle lesson: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). We worship and serve a God of abundance, not a God of scarcity. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He is more than able to make a way where there seems to be no way. That’s important for us to remember always, but especially when days are difficult and we are struggling. If God did not withhold the life of his only Son, but freely gave him up for us all, won’t he also provide what we need day by day? For Paul, it all ends on a note of high thanksgiving: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:20).
I wonder what would happen if suddenly and for some strange reason, the Thanksgiving holiday were removed from our national calendar? What would happen if the last Thursday in November became just another day? That would be very weird indeed! Would we then suddenly stop giving thanks? Hopefully, we’ll never have to find out, but let our thanks not be limited to this once-a-year holiday. Let today and tomorrow and everyday become a day to give thanks to the Lord, as the psalmist says: “For his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). Because of the steadfast love of the Lord, “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Amen.