Study Guide, November 27, 2016
Pastor Clay Olsen
Since we just enjoyed Thanksgiving let’s linger a bit longer on it and give it it’s proper due. Family gatherings and special meals are a significant focus of the Thanksgiving holiday, but one other great thing about Thanksgiving is that it is intended to promote the habit of giving thanks all year through. So what we need to focus on today is just that; promoting thanksgiving – not just the holiday, but promoting the practice of thanksgiving itself. And yes, there is a way to promote this habit in our life. And we see it from the pattern that the Apostle Paul practiced. For, you see, Paul not only developed this great habit of practicing thanksgiving toward the Lord, he even developed this great habit in promoting a thankful habit toward others, and about others. How so? Well, let’s look.
Take Epaphroditus, for example. Who was Epaphroditus? Epaphroditus was a messenger of the church of Philippi to the apostle Paul during his imprisonment at Rome and was entrusted with their contributions for his support. Paul seems to have held him in high appreciation, calling him his “brother,” “fellow worker,” and “fellow soldier.” On his return to Philippi he carried the ‘epistle of Philippians’ to the church there. But while in Rome Epaphroditus came down with a dangerous illness while ministering to Paul and others. In fact, this will tell you about the kind of guy Epaphroditus was.
Remember, he is seriously ill, but listen to what he is concerned about. Phil 2:25-30- “For now, I think I must send Epaphroditus back to you. He is my brother in God’s family, who works and serves with me in the Lord’s army. When I needed help, you sent him to me, but now he wants very much to see all of you again. He is worried because you heard that he was sick. He was sick and near death. But God helped him and me too, so that I would not have even more grief. So I want very much to send him to you. When you see him, you can be happy. And I can stop worrying about you. Welcome him in the Lord with much joy. Give honor to people like Epaphroditus. He should be honored because he almost died for the work of Christ. He put his life in danger so that he could help me. This was help that you could not give me.” ERV
What was Epaphroditus concerned about? He didn’t want to make any of his fellow Philippian brothers and sisters sad by learning about how sick he was. What? Wow! Talk about a super servant! Now, of course he was all in for others praying for him and such, but this just speaks volumes about his servant-hearted attitude. What distressed Epaphroditus was when others became distressed about him. Pretty amazing. But the point is this: We are told that Paul held Epaphroditus in high appreciation. And that’s the first part of our formula for promoting the habit of thanksgiving: Appreciation.
Let’s look at another brother from a different Mother and we’ll see the next part of the formula. This brother has a similar name to Ephaphroditus. His name is simply ‘Epapras’. And some have thought Epaphras and Epaphoditus were the same guy. I could see how that could happen, right? But Epaphras was connected to another city; the city of Colossae, which was in Asian Minor, while Philippi was in Ancient Europe. And here Epaphras was an eminent teacher in the Colossian church. And Paul had a lot to say about Epahras, too, like calling him a ‘dear fellow servant, who is building up the Colossian Christians’; and ‘a faithful minister of Christ’, implying that Epaphras was the founder of the Colossian church. In Philemon 23, Paul calls him “my fellow prisoner”, who was taken captive like Paul for his zealous labors in Asia Minor. Epahras had been sent by the Colossians to inquire after and minister to Paul.
And then in Col 4:12 Paul commends him this way: Col 4:12-14- “Epaphras, another servant of Jesus Christ from your group, sends his greetings. He constantly struggles for you in prayer. He prays that you will grow to be spiritually mature and have everything that God wants for you. I know that he has worked hard for you and the people in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Greetings also from Demas and our dear friend Luke, the doctor.” NASU
So here we find the other part of the formula for promoting the kind of thanksgiving that the Apostle Paul practiced. And that is: Commendation. Paul was constantly commending others to others about all of the things he appreciated about them in their service and works and helps and character qualities and on and on. Plus, by focusing on the practice of commending others it defeats the critical spirit that lurks within our old sin nature. You know, that attitude that just spills out when somebody bumps your cup. Or just that antagonistic spirit that seeps up to the surface and we criticize this person and that person and we grumble and gripe about this, that, and the other thing. How do you defeat that old vile critical spirit of our sin nature? By practicing ‘commendation’!
So here’s the formula for promoting the habit of thanksgiving; and again, thanksgiving towards God and thanksgiving towards others. Here it is: ‘Appreciation plus Commendation promotes Thanksgiving.’
But one point about that is this:This wonderful habit of thanksgiving is not one that is developed in isolation. And that’s why the practice of thanksgiving often breaks down. Thanksgiving is something that develops in connection with developing other great habits, like practicing the habit of appreciating the services and good works and sacrifices of others, along with practicing the habit of then commending them and these good things to others. Think about it: Nearly the entire final chapter of Romans is filled with Paul naming significant believers and commending them for their significant works. Take a read with me here: Rom 16:1-7- “I want you to know that you can trust our sister in Christ, Phoebe. She is a special servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to accept her in the Lord. Accept her the way God’s people should. Help her with anything she needs from you. She has helped me very much, and she has helped many others too. Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, who have worked together with me for Christ Jesus. They risked their own lives to save mine. I am thankful to them, and all the non-Jewish churches are thankful to them. Also, give greetings to the church that meets in their house. Give greetings to my dear friend Epaenetus. He was the first person to follow Christ in Asia. Greetings also to Mary. She worked very hard for you. And greet Andronicus and Junia. They are my relatives, and they were in prison with me. They were followers of Christ before I was. And they are some of the most important of the ones Christ sent out to do His work.” ERV
And Paul goes on naming and commending others. And did you catch what Paul said in the midst of his words of appreciation and commendation about them? “I am thankful to them, and all the non-Jewish churches are thankful to them.” You see, His thankful spirit and his thanksgiving habit was promoted by his deep appreciation for others and his generous commendation about others.
Again, ‘appreciation plus commendation promotes thanksgiving. Plus, when you express your appreciation of others and practice commending others to them and commending them to others, you know what happens? It sets things in motion in their own lives that become blessings that they become thankful for and blessings that others are thankful for. Really, Do not underestimate the power of public appreciation and the power of public commendation. Paul practiced this over and over with others, as you can see in the readings of the New Testament. And whenever he did that it created a powerful blessing in their lives, which then set good things in motion in and through their lives.
Take Timothy for example: Listen to what Paul tells the Philippians about him.
Phil 2:19-24- “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.” NASU
Now, you are probably struck by what Paul said there in the middle part, but first note that by Paul calling Timothy a ‘kindred spirit’ and commending him for his ‘proven worth’ and his passion for furthering the gospel, Paul not only greatly encouraged Timothy, but he planted this sense of esteem toward Timothy in these Philippian believers as well. Particularly when he reveals that it was Timothy that stepped up to offer himself in serving them any way he could when others were simply caught up in their own interests. So imagine the reception Timothy got when arrived after this commendation to them about Timothy. Imagine how thankful they were for Timothy after learning how much Paul appreciated Timothy’s commitment and then hearing how much Paul commended Timothy’s character.
One other ‘by the way’ here: Isn’t that a strange, but sad commentary, that here, even in the early church, the Apostle Paul was frustrated by how many around him were, as he put it, ‘not all that concerned for the welfare of others, but were just seeking after their interests ahead of those of Jesus’ interests’? I guess times change, but human nature pretty much stays the same. That’s why we have to develop and promote other habits in our lives, like appreciating others and commending others and being thankful for others…for otherwise, our human nature just reverts to focusing on self service rather than serving others.
And now we can see how these all come together by looking at an amazing thing Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. Check it out: 1 Thess 1:1-3- “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father…” NASU
Here the appreciation of Paul and Silvanus and Timothy toward these Thessalonian believers promotes these words of public commendation of them, which then promotes these expressions of thanksgiving in such a way that for over 2,000 years now, millions of others have learned about the great reputation of these Thessalonian believer’s works of faith and their labor of love and their steadfastness of hope. These believers had lifted others up through these works of theirs, so Paul made sure that he and his friends lifted them up by publicly appreciating and commending and thanking them. And these seeds of appreciation and commendation and thanksgiving grew into blessings for these Thessalonian believers and it also inspired them to continue in their works of faith, their labor of love, and their steadfastness of hope.
Oswald Chambers once said that we are often not aware of how much of a blessing we are to others. So others need to say it. We need to let others know. Like Paul, we are to develop this habit of publicly appreciating others and commending others because those who are worthy of appreciation and commendation are also the very ones who are not seeking it for themselves. No, honorable people like this are not focused on seeking to build themselves up. They are looking to build up others, to edify others around them. But somebody needs to be building them up. That’s how it’s supposed to work. So that’s why you and I are to build them up, as well. It’s like a circle of edification really. And when we do that for others it encourages them to continue their works of faith and their labors of love and their steadfastness of hope. Plus, it promotes this habit of thanksgiving in us and in others.
One other ‘by the way’ as we wrap this up. Did you notice another pattern here in 1 Thessalonians? (Faith, love, and hope…or as it’s usually put: faith, hope, and love) Paul gave us a pattern that can help us identify things that we appreciate about others, things we can commend in others, and things that we can express our thanks for in others. Just identify some things you see in others about their works of faith, about their labors of love, and about their steadfastness of hope. Look for examples of these things in others and then express your appreciation and your commendation and your thanksgiving about it all. And by doing so it will not only promote this overall habit of giving thanks to God and others in your own life, but it will bless others richly and change you greatly.