Thanksgiving and What Ancient Letters Teach Us About Being Thankful

It is no secret that ancient letters had a particular format much like we think of the format of personal letters today. I am not going to get into all of it right now but you can read more about that here if you are interested – Ephesians: Purpose, Background and Structure. One of the things that ancient letter writers included was a thanksgiving and prayer section in which the writer would wish the recipients well and mention general or specific prayers that are being offered up on their behalf. Paul did this in all but four of his letters (2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Timothy & Titus). In 2 Corinthians he flips the typical thanksgiving and prayer section to have them pray for him and that thanksgiving will result (2 Cor 1:10-11).

The ancients connected relationships with thanksgiving and prayer. They also connected the dots between thanksgiving and prayer…that when we are thankful (especially for people) that we thank God for them and that we make intercession for them. In these sections, Paul doesn’t pray for himself. Instead he prays for them, constantly. Here are some of the things Paul prays for them about,

Romans
1:8 – their faith is being reported all over the world
1:10 – that God may open a way for Paul to visit them
1 Corinthians
1:4 – for the grace God has given the Corinthians
1:5-7 – that they have been enriched in every way, not lacking any spiritual gift
Ephesians
1:17 – that God grant them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to know God better
1:18 – that the eyes of their heart might be opened to know the hope to which they have been called
1:19 – to know the power God is using on their behalf
Philippians
1:5 – for their partnership (koinonia) in the Gospel
1:9-10 – that they love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so they can discern what is best and that they may be pure, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ
Colossians
1:4- thankful for their faith and their love
1:9-12 – asking God to fill them with knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding the Spirit gives…that they may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work…growing in knowledge of God…strengthened with all power…and giving joyful thanks to the Father.
1 Thessalonians
1:3 – their faith, love and hope
2 Thessalonians
1:3 – that their faith is growing more and more as is their love
2 Timothy 1
1:4 – asks God that he (Paul) might be filled with joy
1:5 – reminded of their faith
Philemon
vs. 3 – their love
vs. 4 – their parternship (koinonia) in faith

When we think about all that we are thankful for, at least for me, the focus is typically still on myself. I am thankful for my comfort. I am thankful for my salvation. I am thankful for all sorts of things that keep my at the center of my thankfulness. Not Paul…Paul is thankful for others. His prayers in these letters rarely include himself (2 Tim 1:4) and are all about other people. This Thanksgiving, let our thankfulness not be just one more way to As we approach thanksgiving, let us be especially thankful of the people God has put in our lives. Let us tell them thank you. Let us tell God thank you!

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