5 Life-Changing Gratitude Lessons from the Apostle Paul

  • Joel Ryan Contributing Writer
  • Updated Oct 31, 2023
5 Life-Changing Gratitude Lessons from the Apostle Paul

The early church apostles devoted their lives to spreading the gospel, discipling fellow believers, and encouraging the church. Few Christians in the early church were as committed to the church's growth or wrote such prolific defenses of the gospel as the apostle Paul.

Although Paul is praised for explaining the Christian faith's core theology, one theme running throughout Paul's life, ministry, and writing is the importance of gratitude.

It was Paul who wrote that the Christian is to:

  • "Devote yourself to prayer with an attitude of Thanksgiving." (Colossians 4:2, emphasis added) 
  • Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among who you appear as lights in the world." (Philippians 2:14-15, emphasis added)
  • "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, emphasis added)

These were not empty platitudes. We know from Paul's testimony that Jesus Christ's undeserved love and mercy had so radically transformed Paul that gratitude naturally overflowed from his heart. Unfortunately, true gratitude is rare in our world—and, sometimes, even inside the church.

What lessons of gratitude can Christians learn from Paul's life and ministry? Here are five clear lessons.

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  • A man wearing orange and praying, paul on finding joy in affliction

    1. Find Joy in Affliction

    Like all whom Jesus Christ has eternally redeemed, Paul had much to be grateful for. However, Paul was no stranger to suffering and persecution either.

    In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he outlined how much he had endured for the gospel's sake. Imprisoned, beaten, threatened with death, falsely accused, whipped, stoned, and shipwrecked, Paul had weathered cold, sleepless nights, hunger, and thirst for Christ's name (2 Corinthians 11:23-30). Through it all, Paul persevered, writing, "we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

    However, Paul did not share his affliction to boast of unique resilience. Rather, his weakness allowed Jesus Christ's sustaining grace to shine through his life (2 Corinthians 11:29). He encouraged believers to look up and see Christ's sovereignty and sufficiency in difficult times (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

    Like the apostle James, Paul concluded that his trials had helped him build perseverance, perseverance, character, and proven character hope (Romans 5:3, 8:25; James 1:2-4). It was this sanctifying work that gave him reason to be glad.

    Not many people look forward to persecution or affliction in life. Paul did not particularly enjoy being beaten or imprisoned either. However, he could smile through his most difficult nights with a divine measure of peace and even gratitude by recognizing that his present suffering paled compared to the eternal glory that awaits God's children—fellow heirs with Christ who share in His suffering (Romans 8:16-18). "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

    Only a mind fixed on Christ could be grateful for suffering. Only a heart set on the kingdom of God's eternal joys could sing songs of praise even while in prison (Acts 16:22-4). Paul would also write that he was grateful for his imprisonment in that it had advanced the gospel, provided an opportunity for him to minister to those around him, and inspired the saints to find the courage to preach the gospel (Philippians 1:12-14).

    Paul endured a lot in life. However, we never encounter a bad attitude, grumbling, or complaining in his writing. If anything, Paul understood that God was at work in and through him in all seasons. Therefore, his message to the church was simple: stop complaining and see that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

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  • women praying in church, paul on gratitude and loving the church

    2. Love the Church

    In nearly every letter he wrote, Paul expressed gratitude for the local church and individual believers in his introduction (Romans 1:8-15; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). Paul was never shy about thanking God for the church and his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He prayed for the church, spoke well of other believers, wrote to them from prison, visited them, served them, commended them when they were doing well, and even admonished them in truth when they were struggling (Ephesians 4:13). In doing so, Paul not only heard but heeded Christ's command to "love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

    This man had encountered Jesus Christ's radical love and forgiveness in his own life. It was Paul/Saul who had previously persecuted the church and hunted down Christians in his younger years (Acts 8:1-3). Following his conversion, however, Paul would be forgiven and accepted by the church, the same church he had once tormented.

    In return, Paul's love and gratitude for the church were modeled in his commitment to teaching, instructing, and encouraging fellow believers. Like a proud father, Paul rejoiced in the church's obedience (Romans 16:19) and boasted when she did well (2 Corinthians 7:3-4). In tenderness, as a nursing mother cares for her children (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8), he also corrected the church (Galatians 6:1-5). He instructed believers from a place of love with a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

    Forgiven of much, Paul had learned to forgive generously. Loved while at his worst, Paul did not hesitate to love others, starting with the church. In time, the same church Paul had persecuted donated to and supported him throughout his ministry (2 Corinthians 9:10-15), praying for him while he was in prison and providing for him even while he was under house arrest (Philippians 4:10-20).

    In Paul's words, the church had offered him an "indescribable gift." Still, in his heart, he always thanked God for the indescribable gift of the local church and body of Christ (2 Corinthians 9:15). How many Christians today treat Christ's bride with as much love, respect, and gratitude as Paul?

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  • Woman with outstretched arms, a great book on Christian calling

    3. Be Grateful to be Called

    Following Paul's conversion, Christ named Paul a "chosen instrument" (Acts 9:15) and "an apostle to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46; Colossians 1:25-29). In contrast to many servants of God, Paul embraced his calling to those outside of Israel. "Unashamed of the gospel" (Romans 1:16-17), he rejoiced wherever Christ was proclaimed (Philippians 1:8). This is what he was "set apart" to do (Romans 1:1).

    Of course, what does this have to do with gratitude?

    In Paul's writing, we encounter an attitude towards ministry where he rejoiced in his vocation. Compare that to Christians who constantly complain and slog through ministry out of obligation, never joy. Christ told His disciples, "Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30, emphasis added).

    The lesson here is that Paul was thankful even to be called upon and entrusted with the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:4). It was not his gospel to preach (Galatians 1:11-12). His ministry was not even his to steer. In His grace, Christ had chosen to include Paul in His mission. In response, Paul's attitude towards ministry was not "I have to," but rather, "I get to." Paul, therefore, embraced the opportunities he was given, thanking God for "putting him into service" (1 Timothy 1:12-14).

    Photo Credit: Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash 

  • hand holding page reading open Bible, paul on gratitude and valuing god's word

    4. Treasure God's Word

    In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul addressed some Jewish Christians' concerns regarding Christ and the new covenant. Now that it was clear that the gospel was open to the Gentiles, many Jewish believers wondered if they had lost their unique relationship with God as His covenant people.

    While Paul and the apostles emphasized that, under the new covenant of grace, all are "sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus" and that, in Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek" (Romans 3:26-29), Paul reminded the Jewish believers that they were still blessed amongst all people because they had been "entrusted with the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2).

    God had uniquely chosen the children of Israel to reveal Himself to and deliver His Law.

    Accordingly, Paul would write that Law had not been "nullified" but "established" in Christ (Romans 3:31). It was still "holy, righteous, and good" (Romans 7:12). It was the Law that produces a "knowledge of sin" (Romans 7:7), points to the Messiah (Galatians 3:15-18), and becomes the tutor leading us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). The Jews would always be a people of the book, entrusted with the very Word and breath of God.

    Furthermore, Paul wrote that "all Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    Paul had devoted himself to the Word because he had learned to treasure it, encouraging all Christians to do the same.

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  • Hand grabbing another hand with a glowing light between, paul on gratitude for salvation

    5. Praise God for His Saving Grace

    Of course, there was nothing in Paul's life he was more grateful for than Jesus Christ's undeserved grace and mercy.

    Throughout his ministry, Paul never forgot the man he was before Christ met him on the road to Damascus. Again, this was someone who had ravaged and persecuted the church (Acts 8:1-3; Acts 22:4-5). In Christ's own words, Paul had persecuted Christ, establishing himself as an enemy of the Son of God (Acts 9:5).

    However, Paul succinctly wrote, "while we were still helpless,  Christ died for the ungodly at the right timeFor one will hardly die for a righteous person; though perhaps for the good person someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).

    Furthermore, in his transformation, Christ had been glorified (Galatians 1:13-14).

    Nothing about Paul deserved grace. Salvation was a gift given by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24). As a result, Paul had little of himself to boast about (Romans 3:27-28). Like every Christian, he was saved and justified by God's grace alone.

    How could he not, therefore, rejoice in his salvation (Romans 5:11)?

    Freed from sin (Romans 6:15-23), he was now a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), reconciled to God (Romans 5:11), and adopted as a son and heir of the Father (Romans 8:14-17). No longer separated from Christ or a stranger to God, Paul had become a fellow citizen with the saints (Ephesians 2:19).

    More importantly, the old Paul had been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6). What was once dead in sin was now alive in Christ (Colossians 2:13-15). He would never take his salvation for granted.

    Like all Christians, Paul was not who he was before. For that, he was eternally grateful.

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    Joel Ryan is an author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Salem Web Network and Lifeway. When he’s not writing stories and defending biblical truth, Joel is committed to helping young men find purpose in Christ and become fearless disciples and bold leaders in their homes, in the church, and in the world.

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