The current United States political theater provides a sad example of what happens when we lose the ability to value one another. Contingents on both sides have determined that the “others” are not just different but evil. That bile makes thankfulness for each other nearly impossible. But that is a trap Christ-followers are to perceive and avoid.
We continue our Weeks of Thanks by observing a well-documented habit of the Apostle Paul. Consider these five examples:
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” (Romans 1:8, NASB95)
“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:4, NASB95)
“For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers;” (Ephesians 1:15–16, NASB95)
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;” (1 Thessalonians 1:2, NASB95)
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;” (2 Thessalonians 1:3, NASB95)
From these examples, it would seem that Paul always opened his letters to the various churches with a note of thanks. But that is not the case. Paul didn’t throw thanks around as a kind of polite “socially correct” speech. For instance, there is no note of thanks in Paul’s harsh letter to the Galatians. Because of this outlier, we can conclude that Paul’s notes of thanks in the other letters are genuine expressions.
There is something else we can glean from these examples. Paul’s thanks were not only relationally driven but also report driven. It’s easy to be thankful for someone we know, but rarer when it is only a faceless name in a far-off city. Distance did not deter his thankfulness.
But what about Galatians? Though harsh, Paul was not pushing them away but trying to pull them out of the ditch of law-based righteousness and onto the path of righteousness by faith. Whenever we elevate our divisions, we are following the law-based righteousness the Galatians had adopted. After all the notes of correction, Paul signs his letter to them, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” (Galatians 6:18, NASB95) Paul’s love for them remained.
When we look at the reason for Paul’s gratitude, we see it is founded in the outworking of faith in Christ and love towards one another. We can be distanced from one another in many ways. Our faith traditions within the realm of Christ may be different. Our theological understanding may be at odds. Our styles of worship and expectations when gathering as the church may be worlds apart. Instead of shooting one another, we are to thank God for one another.
That same thankfulness applies within our respective church bodies as well. We’re not all the same. There are differences of opinion and convictions on many different things. Those differences should not stand in the way of our thankfulness and love for one another.
I thank God for my Christian brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, the United States, and in other far-off places of this world. This Evangelical Anabaptist Vineyardite soul thanks God for my Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Baptist, Pentecostal, other, and Independent brothers and sisters in Christ. I thank God for those that have a different political philosophy and perspectives than me. I thank God for you.
Thankfulness demolishes all those things that would divide us from one another. The differences remain, but, through thankfulness, they do not stop our love for one another.