Can we give thanks on Thanksgiving 2020?

2020 has been a difficult year. COVID is all over the world. With it comes various restrictions that make people upset. What seems to get lost is the more than 1,000,000 (1 million) people who’ve died from it. So far. There will be more. As you read this, more people will die. Also apparently forgotten or ignored are the healthcare workers. They tirelessly risk their lives, including for people who selfishly get sick for their own pleasure. These same healthcare workers also get sick. And they add to the number of dead and dying. But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

Because of COVID, so many people have lost jobs. Lost homes. Can’t put food on the table. Too many don’t even have a table. But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

Can we give thanks on Thanksgiving 2020?

Because of COVID, so many people have lost jobs. Lost homes. Can’t put food on the table.

Too many don’t even have a table.

But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

Here in the U.S. we have a Presidential election like none before. I feel like our current President is turning us into a so-called Banana Republic. Maybe even with hopes for a family-run Oligarchy. The pride of so many Christians is turning out to be just another dictator wannabe. But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

Our apparent, but still not yet for sure next President – depending on a probable Supreme Court ruling somewhere down the road – sounds so much more Presidential, even in his early speeches. He gives a message of hope. It’s so different from the hatred we’re used to over the last four years. And yet, nearly half the country wants him to fail. But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

I was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. The same is true for so many other people around the world. The big “C” word. It usually beings fear and dread with it. For the person getting the diagnosis. And for their families. Loved ones. Friends. One case touches so many people. My own cancer is what’s called “well-behaved”. That means no treatment for now. No surgery for now. They’ll watch it, alternating between biopsies and MRIs every 6 to 12 months. And yet, that doesn’t happen for everyone, But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

Speaking of cancer, a friend of mine just had a huge tumor removed from his brain, just two days ago. He’s very early in the recovery process. The brain that God gave us is such a remarkable thing. A miracle, really. In just two short days, his recovery can be seen in an improvement in his ability to put together sentences. He has a ways to go for sure. But to think something the size of a lemon can be removed from someone’s head and he’s alive and recovering is awesome. His family, in this country and in South America have gone from praying to God for successful surgery to Praising God for just that, and for continued success in his recovery. And yet, that doesn’t happen for everyone. But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

We don’t call them wars – we’re too politically correct to do that – but there are so many “regional conflicts”. People are dying. People are losing their homes. Trying to get from their ancestral homes to another country that will take them. Leaving everything behind. And finding little to nothing where they go for relief. But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

I know there are more things happening around the world. Too many. Too many to include them all here today. But still, this is Thanksgiving. How do we give thanks?

There is only one way. A way that includes something so many here in America and probably most other countries can’t / won’t / don’t do. Look beyond our noses. Look beyond today. Actually, to look at a different tomorrow. The one Jesus told us about.

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

Jn 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Yes, if we look to that tomorrow, the next life, all the troubles we have today will no longer exist. Won’t even be possible.

That’s something to be thankful for. Rather than call this turkey day and try to find something here in this life to be thankful for, why don’t we look to God? Be thankful that He offers the kind of life we can have with Him. One with no troubles. One with His kind of Love. No sickness. No evil. Only love.

I was watching BBC News just before writing this. They called Thanksgiving an American holiday. But if we look to God, be thankful to Him, this doesn’t have to be an American holiday. It can be a reminder that we can all be Jesus’ disciples. And if we become one of them, we can give thanks to Him. Thankful that He offers the kind of life we can have with Him. One with no troubles. One with His kind of Love. No sickness. No evil. Only love.

Thanksgiving in the Bible

Obviously I don’t mean the turkey day kind of Thanksgiving. Rather, I’m talking about something Paul wrote. Many take one verse out of the passage below and use it for Thanksgiving. But you might know – I really don’t like to do that. Context is important! So instead of just pulling out one verse, here’s the entire passage, with often chose portion that one verse underlined.

Exhortations

Phil 4:2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

When we read in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God., I think it’s important to understand the context within which that statement is made.  To that end, Here’s something from Warren Wiersbe in The Bible Exposition Commentary.


YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORRY!

Philippians 4:1–9

If anybody had an excuse for worrying, it was the Apostle Paul. His beloved Christian friends at Philippi were disagreeing with one another, and he was not there to help them. We have no idea what Euodia and Syntyche were disputing about, but whatever it was, it was bringing division into the church. Along with the potential division at Philippi, Paul had to face division among the believers at Rome (Phil. 1:14–17). Added to these burdens was the possibility of his own death! Yes, Paul had a good excuse to worry—but he did not! Instead, he took time to explain to us the secret of victory over worry.

What is worry? The Greek word translated “anxious” (careful) in Philippians 4:6 means “to be pulled in different directions.” Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us the opposite direction; and we are pulled apart! The Old English root from which we get our word “worry” means “to strangle.” If you have ever really worried, you know how it does strangle a person! In fact, worry has definite physical consequences: headaches, neck pains, ulcers, even back pains. Worry affects our thinking, our digestion, and even our coordination.

From the spiritual point of view, worry is wrong thinking (the mind) and wrong feeling (the heart) about circumstances, people, and things. Worry is the greatest thief of joy. It is not enough for us, however, to tell ourselves to “quit worrying” because that will never capture the thief. Worry is an “inside job,” and it takes more than good intentions to get the victory. The antidote to worry is the secure mind: “And the peace of God … shall keep [garrison, guard like a soldier] your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). When you have the secure mind, the peace of God guards you (Phil. 4:7) and the God of peace guides you (Phil. 4:9). With that kind of protection—why worry?  [1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 94). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Doesn’t that give us things to be thankful for?

Let’s go through the passage in more detail. Find some ways to see how it applies to us today. See more reasons to be thankful, even today, because of things that will lead us to the life Jesus promises for Tomorrow with Him. Reasons to become His disciples. Not only that, but the best disciples we can be.

Exhortations – reasons for thanksgiving?

Seriously? Give thanks for something coming under the heading of Exhortations? That doesn’t sound right. It seems more like someone telling us to do things we really don’t want to do! What’s going on? Well, here’s what the word means, from the original Greek.

3870 παρακαλέω [parakaleo /par·ak·al·eh·o/] v. From 3844 and 2564; TDNT 5:773; TDNTA 778; GK 4151; 109 occurrences; AV translates as “beseech” 43 times, “comfort” 23 times, “exhort” 21 times, “desire” eight times, “pray” six times, “intreat” three times, translated miscellaneously four times, and “vr besought” once. 1 to call to one’s side, call for, summon. 2 to address, speak to, (call to, call upon), which may be done in the way of exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction, etc. 2A to admonish, exhort. 2B to beg, entreat, beseech. 2B1 to strive to appease by entreaty. 2C to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort. 2C1 to receive consolation, be comforted. 2D to encourage, strengthen. 2E exhorting and comforting and encouraging. 2F to instruct, teach.  [2]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Yes, it could be comfort or instruction. But then, it could also be something like admonition. In and of itself, being exhorted to do something doesn’t really specify whether that think will bring us positive or negative emotions.

But here’s the thing. Think back to what we’re thankful for. An eternity with Jesus. No more of the troubles, trials and tribulations of this world. No more hatred. Only love. No more wars and regional conflicts. Only peace. This life is so short. Eternity is, well, forever. Isn’t it worth doing a few things that at first appear negative in this life, when the reward in the end is so wonderful?

Thanksgiving – the context for the “thanksgiving” verse.

With that in mind, let’s look at the first verse in the passage.

Phil 4:2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.

Paul’s pleading with Euodia and Syntyche. I’d put in the Greek word behind what we read as plead, but you’ve already seen it. It’s the same as exhort.

However, since we have context for “plead”, we know that it’s some kind of disagreement. We’re going to learn more about these two women in the next verse, but given their positions, it’s reasonable to assume the disagreement was of some importance. Also, if it was trivial, would Paul include it in this letter?

We should all be cognizant of two things when we disagree on something in the church.

First of all, as Paul points out in a number of his letters, there should be no disagreement over the basics of Christianity. No disagreements on the major points about Jesus, the Son of God, His position as our Lord and Savior, and that He is our path to Salvation. I know, some are already cringing. Hopefully not telling me I’m going to Hell for saying that – but I’m guessing that’s out there as well.

The second thing is that I wish we could disagree on the minor points in a civil and truly Christian manner. If our differences aren’t about salvation, are they really so major as to think one or the other of us is going to Hell? I pray not. And given that, can’t we just agree to disagree on those non-salvation things and continue down the narrow path together?

There should be no disagreement over the basics of Christianity

The position I have is much like what C.S. Lewis writes about in Mere Christianity. (I’m breaking up the very large paragraph from the Preface to the book to make the points more obvious.)

The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian ‘denominations’. You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic. This omission is intentional (even in the list I have just given the order is alphabetical).

There is no mystery about my own position. I am a very ordinary layman of the Church of England, not especially ‘high’, nor especially ‘low’, nor especially anything else. But in this book I am not trying to convert anyone to my own position. Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.

I had more than one reason for thinking this.

In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history, which ought never to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others.

And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own.

Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.  [3]Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

For those that disagree, sorry, but that’s my opinion, it’s my faith, and you’re free to disagree. I just pray we all find out in the End that we’re together with Jesus and that our disagreements weren’t so major that we really messed up. And especially that we don’t take anyone to the wrong place with us!

If we can accomplish the things just written in the midst of something important enough for Paul to include in this letter, then I believe we’ve found something to be thankful for. Thankfulness in the middle of disagreement. Sounds impossible. But not with God. Praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

Paul did support women in ministry

Phil 4:3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

OK – you had to know we’d get into one of those points where we need to agree to disagree without condemning each other. Many point to Paul as the reason why they cannot accept women in positions of ministry. And yet, look what’s happening here.

Paul writes – these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel. Let’s look at that.

There are no grammatical links between verses 1 and 2, and it seems as though verse 2 marks the beginning of a new section. It is unique in several ways. First, it is unique in that it contains personal names. We have no knowledge of Euodia and Syntyche beyond what is given here; it is remarkable that Paul mentions them by name. Reading the letter would mean reading it out loud in the Philippian church. Presumably their differences of opinion were well known in the church, so Paul is not turning a private disagreement into a public one. It is interesting, however, that whereas in the later exhortations Paul uses the language of command (4:4–9), here he uses the language of entreaty: I plead … I plead. The ground on which he urges them to find unity is that they are already united in the Lord, a phrase and an idea we have encountered repeatedly throughout the letter. They do not have to manufacture unity; they simply have to realize it.

This view matches up with what I wrote earlier. We should be able to find unity in our disagreements. Like so many issues like this, there’s no secret. Pretty much everyone already knew what was happening.

It’s interesting that we aren’t told what the disagreement is. While some merely lament the absence of details, I often view this as intentional. After all, since we believe all Scripture is God-breathed, I feel like if God wanted us to know, the details would be there.

When they aren’t present, it does prevent us from drawing conclusions about the disagreements. We can’t put in our favorite thing to disagree on. Or our favorite thing to force others to agree on. It leaves the field wide open. God doesn’t put Himself in a box, even though we might try to put Him in one. Praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

So what was it? Did Paul tell us women should never be involved in ministry? Or was Paul, like Jesus, involved in giving women a stronger role than what they had previously under Judaism? Let’s keep going.

Second, these verses are notable in supplying evidence that women played a large role in the propagation of the gospel. Euodia and Syntyche are described as these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel (4:3). Historical evidence suggests that in Macedonia women played as prominent a role in public life as men. Paul did not hesitate to allow this to spill over into the church. This also suggests that the cause of the friction may have been differences of opinion regarding methods of propagating the gospel. Paul’s attitude was that differences of opinion regarding methods should not be allowed to degenerate into personal quarrels. In 2:6–11 he has already enjoined upon them “the mind of Christ.” He uses the same language here: be of the same mind in the Lord; that is, be ready to give in to those of opposite views.  [4]Wilson, E. L., Deasley, A. R. G., & Callen, B. L. (2007). Galatians, Philippians, Colossians: a commentary for Bible students (pp. 228–229). Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House.

If Paul looks at this as a matter of personal opinion, that’s far different from banning women from the ministry. If Paul looks at the issue as one related to social norms, then he appears to be going down the same path that Jesus started. If that’s the case, Paul is an advocate for increased roles for women as culture and society changes. Further, it appears he believes that change should take place.

This is why context matters. In this context, the views from the excerpt, and my own views, make sense. The question then becomes one of context for other places where people see Paul saying women shouldn’t be involved in ministry. What was happening at the time? Was it a local issue? Was it even a primary issue, or was it minor? Context does matter.

Ultimately, it is a decision we must make for ourselves. Denominations differ. We can’t read God’s mind. And yet, we can draw conclusions. Conclusions that should come with much prayer, study, with consideration to things that Jesus says need to change, versus those core things that must not change. Yes, we will disagree. Hopefully, not so destructively as to refuse to talk to each other or have one side tell the other they’re going to hell. Neither of those are what God wants.

God wants what’s best for us. Do we realize that what’s best for us is also the things that bring glory to God? Do we act with love that’s based on His love for us? For those times that we do, we bring Him honor. For those times we don’t, we should be thankful that He doesn’t abandon us and treat us like we sometimes treat each other. For that, praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

These verses are really a summary of what you just read.

Even when we disagree, we have cause to rejoice, since God won’t abandon us when we honestly try to follow Him. For that, praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

We truly have nothing to be anxious about. No matter what happens here in this life, we have the promise of the life to come. A life with no troubles, no tears, nothing but love. For that, praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

Because of those things, and so much more, we really do have reason to be thankful. We can, as Paul wrote in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  For that, praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Peace beyond understanding. God’s peace is something that, when we think we understand it and have it, we find out later that we only had a small portion of it. As weird as it sounds, especially to non-Christians, when things happen and we turn to God, we experience even more of His peace. Not that we really want to go through the troubles, but when they come and we experience God’s peace more and more, it truly is something to be thankful for. For that, praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

You know – there’s something amazing about this verse. Everything we experience fits in with that verse. At least, everything we experience has the possibility of fitting in. Remember that God tells us even things that were meant for evil will be made good for those whom He called and for those who love Him. That means even the worst things we think happened to us can and will be turned for good, if we love God. The questions are will we allow it? Will we acknowledge it? For those things, praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

And when it happens, will we share it? I ask, because if we don’t share it, others won’t know, won’t be able to learn from us. Some will only know about the evil, but not how God turned it around.

Some in similar circumstances will think they’re the only ones. That they’re alone. That God can’t help them.

But when we do share the bad and the good – people will know that God can help them as well. When we do that, and when people can see God through us and learn about Him from us, praise and glory to God, with much thanksgiving. Even for Thanksgiving 2020.

Conclusion – Can we give thanks on Thanksgiving 2020?

Absolutely! Even on Thanksgiving 2020 we have so many reasons to give thanks to God. Maybe even especially in 2020.

Final Instructions

1Th 5:12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

1Th 5:16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

1Th 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

1Th 5:25 Brothers, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

1Th 5:28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.


Image by Jing from Pixabay


Footnotes

Footnotes
1Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 94). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
3Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
4Wilson, E. L., Deasley, A. R. G., & Callen, B. L. (2007). Galatians, Philippians, Colossians: a commentary for Bible students (pp. 228–229). Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House.

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