Unit 06 04 Paul the Letter Writer Part 2 The Thanksgiving
So far, we've looked at the first of the four major parts of Paul's letters, we looked at the letter opening. And so now we move to the next major unit, namely the Thanksgiving section. And in due course, we'll turn to the body and the letter closing. First of all, we need to be aware that a Thanksgiving section exist. Far too many New Testament readers, even many pastors are completely blind. They think after Paul says grace and peace, they expect Paul to start the body of the letter, the heart of the letter, and he doesn't. Paul always or almost always, first has what we call a Thanksgiving section, in which he sets the stage for the rest of the letter to come. So let's look at this Thanksgiving section a little more carefully. First of all, what is it and and why do we call it a Thanksgiving section? Well, it is a distinct epistolary unit, right? It's, it's a very fixed unit. It's not the opening. And it's not the letter body. It's a very distinct unit within Paul's letters, in which he gives thanks to God for his readers. So his hand is pointing up, I give thanks to God for what you the readers are doing. And it's called a Thanksgiving section because he always begins the same way. In Greek he says you Christo or you curse to man, I give thanks for the plural, we give thanks. And hence the name, thanks giving section. I have a comic here that I like because this comic writer clearly knows what we're talking about today. He clearly knows Paul's structure or the outline of his letters. Notice already the things that echo what we've talked about. In our session, he begins that is the comic with a name. And he's not a mature Paul, he's just a little kid. So it's not Paul but Paulie and his title. He's not an apostle or a servant. Yet, he's a kid called to be a camper set apart for archery and crafts. And then we have the recipient. And again, it's not to the church of so and so and the positive descriptive phrase, it's more simply, to the parents gathered in the hometown. And then Paul hasn't Christianized His grace and peace yet, right. It's simply greetings. But then notice this next phrase that's found in the comic we read, I give thanks daily for the cookies you sent, I count all my poison ivy as loss. Now, you have to be pretty sanctified to count poison ivy as last. But the more important point here is, notice how this comic writer knows at the beginning of the letter, before Paul gets to the heart, and soul of what he wants to talk about, or what problems exist in the church, he opens the letter with an expression of thanks. And now you hopefully know that truth too. Now, a good question to ask ourselves is, Why does Paul do this? I mean, why doesn't he jump right into the heart or the body of the letter? What does he gain? Or more accurately, what function do these Thanksgiving sections have? How do they aid? How do they enhance
the persuasive purpose of Paul in the letter, and I suggest to you that these Thanksgiving sections have three important functions. First, they have what I can call, what I call a pastoral function, a pastoral function. The Thanksgiving section allows the apostle to re establish his relationship with his readers. We tend to think of the apostle Paul and very high and lofty terms. I mean, for he for us, he's not just Paul, he's the Apostle Paul. And although we're not Catholic, most of us we might even be you know, St. Paul, the idea you know, that that we believe he's the inspired and authoritative apostle and and we say, Yes, Paul, whatever you say, Paul, you the man, Paul, but in the first century, that's not always the relationship he had with his readers. I mean, some churches he had a close intimate relationship in which they honored him and his status as an apostle but other churches there was a bit of tension. And what's more, Paul when he writes to these churches are often this is the first communication he's had with him since he started or founded the congregation there obviously was no email there was no phone there was no Skype or anything like that. And so there was no way for Paul to kind of reconnect with his audience until now until the writing of this letter. And think about somebody you haven't seen for a while someone you know that maybe you're somewhat close to but you haven't met in person for a while when you first see them you you know, you just can't boom, jump right into whatever big issue it is that you want to talk about with that person. You first have to kind of have some small talk to reconnect with that person. You say, Hey, how are you? You know how you doing? How's your family and so forth. And then after you reconnect with that person, then you can maybe move on to more deeper or serious things? Well, in a similar way to and Paul writes to his various churches, and especially depending on the relationship he has with that church, whether it's a close one or a little bit of a distant one, Paul can't Well, at least he wisely chooses not to dive right into the heart of whatever serious matter is going on in the church, but he reconnects with his audience and the Thanksgiving section allows him to do that. And allows him to do that in a particular way. If you look at his Thanksgiving sections, they almost always begin the same way. Paul says, We give thanks for I give thanks to God by how, how does Paul give thanks to his readers, it's always prayer. He'll say things like making remembrance of you in my prayers, or I'll say, praying for you. And I'm always impressed with the power of intercessory prayer, that is prayer enough for yourself, but for other people, when when people say I'm praying for you, I'm always moved by that because, well, I have enough time praying for myself, let alone other people and, and I'm sometimes taken aback that this person must think about me and care about me so much that they're willing to pray for me even when they don't see me. And so Paul, the pastor, expresses his care, his love for his audience by saying, not only do I get thanks to God for you, but I do so in my prayers I do so making remembrance of you in my prayers. So that's why I call it a pastoral function. It allows Paul to express his love his care, his compassion for his readers.
A second function that the Thanksgiving has can be called an exalted function and exalted a function. exportation is an English word, which talks about exhorting, or calling upon, you know, kind of urging people to act or to do certain things. And a Thanksgiving section is at least implicitly exhaustive. In other words, people typically want to live up to the praise that other people give to them. I call this persuasion through praise. If I have you in my class, and I say about you, you know, I give thanks to God for you. I mean, you're such a good student, you study hard, you come to class prepared, you ask great questions, you laugh at all my corny jokes? Well, in a certain sense, I'm putting a bit of pressure on you to keep on being a good student to keep on coming to class, prepare to keep on asking good questions to keep on asking, laughing out my corny jokes. And so when Paul writes to his readers and says, I give thanks to God for your steadfastness of hope, and your labor of love, and so forth, while the puts a bit of pressure on them to keep on demonstrating those very virtues for which he's giving God praise. And sometimes it's not even implicit. Sometimes it's explicit, because in some of the Thanksgivings, not all of them. But in a number of the Thanksgivings, at the very end, Paul will say something like, I pray that that audit audit will happen in your midst. And then he's not very subtle at all, then his readers know exactly what he wants to happen in their life. I mean, it'd be one thing if I said, for my son, my youngest son is in university, Sam, you know, Mom and I are praying for you, right? But it'd be different if I said, Sam, Mom and I are praying that you will study hard that you use the gifts that God has given to you that you'll act wisely with the freedom that you have when now that you're away from home. You see, then it's not at all subtle, it is an implicit what our son knows we want from him, right. And so the Thanksgiving section, either implicitly, or in those Thanksgivings that have that closing prayer explicitly exhort the readers to continue in a particular conduct or behavior. And that's another important function and exalted a function that the Thanksgiving section has. But there's a third function that it has. And this also is very important, it has a foreshadowing function. It anticipates not only the major topics that Paul will be talking about, but also the tone in which this discussion will be held. I have here on the slide a table of contents, because if I go to a library or a bookstore, and I see a book that's potentially interesting, and I want to know what it's about I, I look at the table of contents. Well, in a somewhat similar way, the Thanksgiving section is a table of contents for the rest of the letter to come. It isn't quite so exact. In other words, you know, it gives the page number where it's found. But Paul clearly foreshadows the major themes that he's going to be developing later in the letter. And the Thanksgiving section not only foreshadows the topics, the themes of the letter, but also the tone in which this conversation will be held. I think it's very important for you to understand the relationship of the author in this case, Paul, With the recipient, whatever their church may be, is it like the flippy and letter or the Thessalonian letters where there's a warm letter? It's a kind of, I love you, you love me, you know, everything is is warm and intimate. Or is it frosty cold like the Galatians? All foolish Galatians who has bewitched you? And those people who are pushing circumcision, I wish they go all the way and castrate themselves. Yeah, that's what Paul says, things are pretty bad. And Paul's tone is pretty harsh and strong. Or is it like First Corinthians, it's kind of in between, there's tension in the air and sound is going to get worse before it ultimately gets better, the Thanksgiving section for shadows, all of those important tones too. So it gives us a good context in which we hear the letter being read.
By the way, this is why Thanksgiving sections are sometimes difficult to preach on or to teach on, you know, a good sermon or a good class should have one central theme. You know, don't confuse your audience. Just talk about one thing and highlight that for the whole message. And that's hard to do in a Thanksgiving section for the simple but important fact that Paul doesn't do that. Right. He, he deliberately doesn't take any one theme and develop it in detail. Now, he kind of whet people's appetite for what is to come. A modern analogy would be in movies. You know, when you go to a movie theater, right, you sit down, you pay all your money of your popcorn and your pop. And then once you get to watch the movie, right? Know you first have coming attractions, right? They want to entice you, right? They want to tease you with what future movies are coming so that you'll hopefully come back and in a certain sense, that's what a Thanksgiving section does it. It's kind of coming attractions, what is Paul are going to be talking about in greater detail in the rest of the letter to come. So these are the three functions. These are the three purposes, I believe why Paul includes in his letter, this Thanksgiving section, he doesn't jump right away to the body of the letter, but he adds this important introductory section, which sets the stage for the rest of the letter to come. Well, let's look now at Philemon armed with this knowledge of the Thanksgiving section and what it's supposed to do. Let's look now at the Thanksgiving section of Philemon. It actually it's kind of long given how short the letter is as a whole. Paul says, I always think there you have that opening Thanksgiving section, that formula. I always think my god is I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith and that you will have a full understanding of everything good we have in Christ, your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you brother have refreshed the hearts of the saints. Now did you hear already the first function at work the exhorted function by Paul saying to find him and I give thanks to God for what your faith in the Lord Jesus, but especially your love for all the saints? Well, that puts implicit pressure on finally men to keep on demonstrating love for all the saints, including love for this brand new saint, namely your runaway slave on isthmus. But it also foreshadows this first thing we've already talked about because it was found in the letter opening, but the Thanksgivings section foreshadows the theme of love. Remember, in verse one, Paul identified Philemon with the adjective love, right? You're a person Funnyman who has been loved by me and Timothy, and now in the Thanksgiving section at once. But twice, he identifies Philemon as one who takes that love and extends it for others, hearing of your love for all the saints. And then verse seven in the Thanksgiving section, I have much joy and comfort because of your love. And again, did you hear the cash register to ching ching ching, as Paul deposits, this praise this praise of love. And that sets the stage for the body of the letter in verses eight and nine where Paul says now withdrawal time, right more because of love, I appeal to you that added added and then also foreshadows that key request in verse 16, that you welcome back on SMS no longer as a slave but more than a slave as an agave toasts as a beloved brother. So this is basically a review of the theme we already talked about in the letter opening. But there are other ways in which the Thanksgiving section foreshadows the rest of the letter. Here's the second one. There are more by the way that I can give you in this lecture. So I'm only giving you a few. There's lots more information if we had time to talk about but here's the second good example of the foreshadowing function of the Thanksgiving section. Paul There uses two words which are kind of striking. He says that you Funnyman are the kind of person who wants who refreshes the hearts of the saints, especially that verb refresh, and even more special the word
hearts. Now, even if you don't know Greek, you probably know the most common Greek word for heart. If somebody has a heart attack, we say they have a water arrest, they have a cardiac arrest, because the most common word in Greek for hearts is cardio. But that's not the word that Paul uses in the text. Here, Paul uses a different word the word is Splunk. Na, and Splunk now refers to the inward parts the intestines, the in colloquial terms of the guts. Why? Because in the ancient world, it was believed that the deepest emotions weren't here in the heart. Now, the most strong emotions are down here in the belly, in the intestines in the Splunk. Now in the guts, I mean, today, if you want to express your love for your significant other, you say, Oh, dear, I love you with all of my heart. However, an ancient world if you really wanted to say it powerfully, would say dear, I love you with all of my guts. If you said that to your beloved, I'm sure he or she would notice, wouldn't it? And so I'm Paul uses the word Splunk. Now, instead of the word hearts, I'm sure that his readers, and now hopefully us modern readers would notice. Now that word Splunk, though that rare word or rare word, that more emphatic word for the emotions is occur occurs two more times in the letter. In the body of the letter, Paul goes, describes on this semester, runaway slave this way, he says, an SMS right, who became my child and Allah's in prison. He says this one, verse 12, is my very heart. And again, Paul doesn't use the common word, cardio, he says, This one is my very Splunk No, this one is my very guts. So in the Thanksgiving section, he says, You are the kind of Christian find a man who takes the guts, the inward parts of believers and you refresh them. And then in the body letter, Paul, not so innocently says, you know, this runaway slave of yours. By the way, he's my very guts. He's my very hard. And then we get to the closing of the letter. We're not there yet, but I can't help but refer to it now already. In the closing of the letter, Paul says not so innocently, re fresh, my heart refreshed, the same verb that he used in the Thanksgiving section, and heart here again, you're not surprised. It's not the common cardio, but the rarer and more emphatic Splunk No. Guts. Refresh my heart. How can Philemon refresh Paul's guts? Well, Paul says earlier on this summit is my guts. And thereby if you want to refresh my guts, my heart you can do what I'm asking you to do for your runaway slave owner says Are you starting to be convinced now the Paul is a skilled letter writer who very carefully structures and adapts his letters in such a way that it's more persuasive, that he communicates more powerfully. The message that he under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was led to say