“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:4-6)
I love the tension found in this text, especially given yesterday’s celebration of “thanksgiving.” John Calvin comments on this by writing,
“As many often pray to God amiss, full of complaints or of murmurings, as though they had just ground for accusing him, while others cannot brook delay, if he does not immediately gratify their desires, Paul on this account conjoins thanksgiving with prayers. It is as though he had said, that those things which are necessary for us ought to be desired by us from the Lord in such a way, that we, nevertheless, subject our affections to his good pleasure, and give thanks while presenting petitions. And, unquestionably, gratitude — “Gratitude for God’s benefits.” will have this effect upon us — that the will of God will be the grand sum of our desires.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians)
Charles Spurgeon preached,
“This blending of thanks with devotion is always to be maintained. Always must we offer prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. No matter though the prayer should struggle upward out of the depths, yet must its wings be silvered o’er with thanksgiving. Though the prayer were offered upon the verge of death, yet in the last few words which the trembling lips can utter there should be notes of gratitude as well as words of petition. The law saith: “With all thy sacrifices thou shalt offer salt;” and the gospel says with all thy prayers thou shalt offer praise. “One thing at a time” is said to be a wise proverb, but for once I must venture to contradict it, and say two things at a time are better, when the two are prayer and thanksgiving. These two holy streams flow from one common source, the Spirit of life which dwells within us; and they are utterances of the same holy fellowship with God; and therefore it is right that they should mingle as they flow, and find expression in the same holy exercise. Supplication and thanksgiving so naturally run into each other that it would be difficult to keep them separate: like kindred colours, they shade off into each other. Our very language seems to indicate this, for there is small difference between the words “to pray,” and “to praise.” A psalm may be either a prayer or praise, or both; and there is yet another form of utterance which is certainly prayer, but is used as praise, and is really both. I refer to that joyous Hebrew word which has been imported into all Christian languages, “Hosanna.” Is it a prayer? Yes. “Save, Lord.” Is it not praise? Yes; for it is tantamount to “God save the king,” and is used to extol the Son of David. While we are here on earth we should never attempt to make such a distinction between prayer and praise that we should either praise without prayer or pray without praise; but with every prayer and supplication we should mingle thanksgiving, and thus make known our requests unto God.” (Prayer Perfumed with Praise)
Peter T. O’brien writes,
“If the requests are made known to God in prayer, then they are to be accompanied (lit.) ‘with thanksgiving’. Within the Pauline letters the eucharistia word-group regularly denotes gratitude that finds outward expression in thanksgiving; there is an emphasis in Paul on the public aspect of thanksgiving. By mentioning what God has done in his Son other Christians are encouraged to praise him also; and as thanksgivings abound, so God is glorified (2 Cor. 4:15; cf. 1:11). From exhortations such as Col. 3:15, 17 it is clear that thanksgiving is an integral part of the Christian life; indeed, the regular offering of thanks to God is almost synonymous with being a Christian. By contrast, pagans who possess the raw materials of the knowledge of God, as his creatures were bound to render glory and thanksgiving to him as their creator (Rom. 1:21), that is, to recognize his lordship and live in grateful obedience. But they were destitute of that thanksgiving which the knowledge they possessed should have drawn forth (cf. the ‘ungrateful’, or 2 Tim. 3:2, which describes the character of people in the last days), and the original image of God was defaced. While the grounds for giving thanks in Paul are manifold, the great emphasis falls upon the mighty work of God in Christ bringing salvation through the gospel. God’s activity in creation is on occasion mentioned as a basis for the expression of gratitude (cf. Rom. 1:21 and the thanksgivings said over food: Rom. 14:6; 1 Cor. 10:30; 1 Tim. 4:3, 4). But the majority of the Pauline references are in the context of God’s grace given in Christ (1 Cor. 1:4; cf. 2 Cor. 9:15 with 8:9; Rom. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:11; Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3, etc.). At Col. 3:17 the giving of thanks to God as Father is to be the accompaniment of every activity, or is to be offered ‘under all circumstances’ (1 Thes. 5:18), for it is the appropriate response of those who are filled with God’s Spirit (Eph. 5:18–20). Thanksgiving is conjoined with petitionary prayer at Col. 4:2 as well as at Phil. 4:6. As the Philippians make their requests known to God, they are to be thankful to him for the good things they have already received, especially his gracious gift of salvation in Christ through the gospel, but also his present blessings to them (cf. 1:29, and note Paul’s grateful attitude as expressed in 1:12–18 and 2:17–18). Further, by offering their petitions with a thankful heart they will show that they are prepared to surrender themselves to God’s will whatever the circumstances.” (The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 494-95)
Richard Melick writes,
“The third command is negative, but it has a positive thrust: “Do not be anxious about anything.” Jesus spoke about anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:25–34), where he stated the most common causes of anxiety. They are: physical attributes (v. 27); clothing (v. 28); food and drink (v. 31); and the future (v. 34). Even in contemporary life with its complexities, the same simple concerns cause anxiety. Prayer cures anxiety. Here three words describe prayer. Each contributes to a proper understanding of the comprehensive nature of the prayer life. The point, however, is that prayer relieves the problem of anxiety. The center of the verse is the significant part: Prayer is to be offered “with thanksgiving.” The attitude of gratitude accompanies all true approaches to the Father.” (Philippians, Colissians, Philemon [NAC], 149)
And best of all, William Hendriksen writes,
“This implies humility, submission to God’s will, knowing that this will is always best. There must be grateful acknowledgement for: a. past favors, b. present blessings, and c. firmly-grounded assurances for the future. Paul begins nearly every one of his epistles with an outpouring of thanksgiving to God. Throughout his writings he again and again insists on the necessity of giving thanks (Rom. 1:21; 14:6; II Cor. 1:11; 4:15; 9:11, 12; Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:15; etc.). Prayer without thanksgiving is like a bird without wings: such a prayer cannot rise to heaven, can find no acceptance with God.” (Exposition of Philippians, 196, emphasis mine)
Hope your thanksgiving was wonderful and that your reflection was centered on Christ… and that it continues!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.