There are 13 letters from Paul in the New Testament (assuming he didn’t write Hebrews) and in 9 of them he explicitly gives thanks for the recipients of the letter. The exceptions are: 2 Corinthians where he jumps right in with comfort, 1 Timothy and Titus where he says to both “my true child in a common faith”, and Galatians where he is seriously ticked. (Isn’t it interesting that Paul even gave thanks for the Corinthians with all their problems–division, sexual immorality, pride, rich-poor issues, Lord’s Supper issues, chaos in worship–but he doesn’t give thanks for the Galatians. There is nothing as deadly and damning as turning to a different gospel.)
So what did Paul appreciate in his churches? What in these congregations prompted him to give thanks to God? If you read the introductions to his letters carefully, you’ll find that Paul’s gratitude can be divided into six categories.
1. He was thankful for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, 1, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).
2. He was thankful for their love for all the saints (Ephesians, Colossians, 1, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).
3. He was thankful for their steadfastness, especially in trial (1, 2 Thessalonians).
4. He was thankful for their spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians).
5. He was thankful for their partnership in the gospel (Philippians).
6. He was thankful for their history and mutual affection (2 Timothy).
If you are a pastor, think about following Paul’s example and letting your people know how grateful you are to serve them. I just did on Sunday and it was long overdue.
And for everyone else, think about how your church is a blessing in these six categories. Then thank God for your local congregation and let your fellow members know how you are thankful for them.