I thank my God every time I remember you… It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (Philippians 1:3, 7)
It is truly an American characteristic to want to appear self-sufficient. In fact, often our pride requires we pretend to be fine when we are not or to take full credit for something that relies on the help of others. We all want to appear “self-made” and in political circles, the spin that someone is “self-made” carries all sorts of respect and sympathy and can sometimes even leverage a few extra votes. Nothing fosters the respect of Americans like being a self-made person.
But the truth is, no one is self-made. From the families we come from to the kinds of communities we live in, we have help and access that comes from a much wider circle of people. The healthiest people know this, honor this, are thankful for this, and admit it. But the temptation is to try to convince ourselves that because we work hard we have earned all that we have. We want to be indebted to no one.
The Christian life teaches us a different message. ALL of us are dependent on the grace of God. God always goes first and 100% of everything we do starts with God and not with us. That means pride is replaced by gratitude for all who are people of faith. In addition, it is the nature of life in general and the nature of the church in particular, to be communal and to live in relationship with the God we encounter in Jesus and with each other. Autonomy is not an option for the faithful.
Paul has no such self-made illusions about himself. Despite being a proud Jewish lawyer (Pharisee), he knows that his work depends on the work and support of others. The Philippians have been especially supportive and especially generous. His work has been heavily underwritten by their love and generosity. He depends on them and is deeply thankful for their support, companionship and partnership in the gospel.
The temptation to try to believe that we are responsible for ourselves will still be there. The world will send examples and try to make us forget the truth about God and about life. But if we believe that God is a God of grace, then we will all be humbled and grateful for the gifts that have come our way. We will be thankful to those who have shared them with us. And we will be generous in sharing them with others, for they are not ours anyway. It has all come, in one way or another, from God.