It seems like Paul is expecting too much from us in his letter to the Philippians. In chapter 4 he presses a talking point straight out of the book of spiritual correctness: No matter what, be thankful. With the Thessalonians, Paul made a rational argument: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We should be thankful because God wants us to be thankful. His will is done and that’s that. But with the Philippians, Paul makes it a matter of the heart. Gratitude is an expression of a spirit that is uplifted from what we choose to remember about the people we love. “I thank my God for all the memories I have of you” (Philippians 1:3 GW).
That’s how grief yields to gratitude at the grave of a loved one, because we remember the spark that person brought to our lives. The hell that is war and the violence of terror are no match for the eternal flame that fallen compatriots lit in our hearts. I would be very thankful to pass into the next life with the recollection of the angelic faces of my grandbabies on my mind.
Paul was thankful not to be what he used to be. The Lord Jesus appeared in his life and converted him from being a hater to being a lover of God and God’s people. The memory of Christ’s love turned chains, hardship, and martyrdom into opportunities for Paul to say, “Thanks anyway.”