The Apostle Paul and Thanksgiving II

Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday. Around this time of the year I usually blog about Thanksgiving. Last year I blogged about the Apostle Paul and Thanksgiving. This is part two which will continue in that tradition. Below we will continue to look at five verses from Pauline writings which concern a context of thankfulness and thanksgiving. In this post I will primarily be using the ESV. I will include translation abbreviations when another has been cited.

1) 2 Corinthians 9:15 "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" 

Paul begins here with using the same Greek noun also rendered as "grace" to express his deep gratitude toward God. Thanking God for his "gift" which has been understood variously to be Jesus Christ, the Gospel, gracious actions, brotherly love or unity, or the redemption event.

Most commentators go with Christ based upon Paul's usage of the Greek noun elsewhere but this is not decisive. No matter the gift we should never see or hear of a good work without being thankful and praising God. The Gospel came forth from Christ in His death, burial and resurrection and his saving work of redemption stirs gratitude in each of us. The NET has "indescribable gift" and the KJV "unspeakable gift". Christ, brotherly love, and redemption all offer moments when we can call them nothing but indescribable.

2) 1 Corinthians 15:57 "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 

Here we see, perhaps a sudden transition by Paul, to that of thanks to God. Who has given us the victory we obtain through Jesus Christ. Jesus demonstrated complete victory over death and the grave by His literal, physical resurrection on the third day. Note here Paul says "who gives us"--a present tense participle. Meaning it is a simple fact for Paul's thinking or a continual process. A.C. Thiselton noted that in this verse we have "a verbal equivalent to throwing one’s arm around someone in gratitude; or like throwing one’s hat in the air in sheer exultation."(1) 

3) 2 Corinthians 2:14 "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere." 

The ESV rendering is rich. W.R. Nicoll reminds us "The splendid image before the writer’s mind is that of a Roman triumph, which, though he had never seen it, must have been familiar to him as it was to every citizen of the Empire. He thinks of God as the Victor (Rev 6:2) entering the City into which the glory and honour of the nations (Rev 21:26) is brought; the Apostle as “in Christ”—as a member of the Body of Christ—is one of the captives, by means of whom the knowledge and fame of the Victor is made manifest."(2)

This passage starts out with a burst of praise by Paul thanking God, who was in Christ, leading us to triumph and through us spreads this knowledge of Him everywhere. In verse one Paul informs us that he had decided not to visit the Corinthians or "not to make another painful visit" and in chapter two is explaining why he has not arrived. His arrival in Corinth though is not as as urgent as it is to follow Christ. Paul tells the Corinthian community that despite his spirit not being at rest (2:13) he thanks God. Despite the obstacles God, in Christ, always leads him and us to triumph. Through this procession Paul, and consequently later believers, spread the fragrance of the knowledge of God. 

4) 1 Thessalonians 3:9, "For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,"

In the context Paul has written about desiring to come but "Satan hindered us" (2:14), sending Timothy to the community of Thessalonians and his encouraging report (3:1, 6). Even in "all our distress and affliction" Paul and company were comforted through their faith (3:7). Here Paul offers humble thanksgiving to God for the believers. In his Corinthian letter Paul states, "But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you." Here Paul also thanks God for Titus. In the next verse Paul carries this motif to another level.

5) In 1 Timothy 2:1, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,"

Not just for believers or for Titus, in particular, but "for all people". The humility of Paul here only serves as our example as present day believes. Paul was afflicted, suffered shipwreck and all manner of things for the spreading of the Gospel. Yet, in the midst of his pain and and suffering he thanks God for the Thessalonians miles away. Here Paul urges Timothy on in the faith and describes public worship. In this verse he uses four words which capture much of what should be involved in the Christian life and service: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and the giving of thanks. Paul has said "in everything give thanks" (NET). 

The four nouns "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings" are all in the plural form for added force.(3) In our self-centered society individualism is a premium. In contrast to culture, Paul invites believers to think outside themselves and offer prayers for others. To give thanks to God for others. People like leaders in our churches, governments, and all sectors of society. In his day the "all people" included those who bowed their knee to dumb idols. Those who spent time and money on these idols while being completely out of touch with God. This is not merely a passing fancy but part of what it means to be a believer. To be truly like Christ. 


1) Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000). 1303.

2) Nicoll, W. Robertson. "2 Corinthians." The Expositor's Greek Testament. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1912.

3) Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "1 Timothy." Gnomon of the New Testament,. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1858.

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Adversus Trinitas

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