15 April 2010

Colossians studies 13: thanking God — timing and significance (1:3)

by Dan Phillips

[The series all starts here.]

In Colossians 1:3-8, Paul tells the Colossian believers when and why he thanks God for them. He writes, "We always thank God, the Father of  our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying concerning you...."

It is worth noting the prominence of thankfulness in this letter. Again and again, Paul urges the Christians in Colosse to give thanks to God. Consider the following:
  • "...thanking the Father who qualified us  for our portion of the lot of the holy ones in the light" (1:12)
  • "...abidingly rooted and being built up in Him, and being confirmed by the faith just as you were taught, abounding in it  in thanksgiving" (2:7)
  • "And let the peace of Christ keep ruling in your hearts, unto which also you were called in one body; and become thankful people" (3:15)
  • "And everything, whatever you may do — in word or in deed — do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, thanking God the Father through Him" (3:17)
  • "Keep persisting in prayer, staying alert in it with thanksgiving" (4:2)
Since the apostle stresses thanksgiving so much, it is fitting and characteristic for him to set the example.

This in turns leads us to consider the importance of thankfulness, particularly in this setting. Briefly put:
  1. Saying "thank you" focuses us on what we have.
  2. False teaching invariably would focus us on what we supposedly don't have.
Almost four years ago, we looked at the dangerous vulnerability of discontentment. Think of it again in connection with the Colossians' situation. The false teacher was trying his best to make the Colossians feel left out, excluded, deprived. He wanted them to feel that there was a higher level of spirituality to which they hadn't attained. The Gospel hadn't gotten them there. He wanted to convince them that they needed this special doctrine, this special teaching, that only he could bring.

This is what false teachers have always done, and will always do. This is temptation, in a nutshell: what you have isn't good enough; you need this. Satan did it in the Garden  — and it worked. Bathsheba represented that to David  — and it worked. The false gods took that guise to Israel  — and it worked.

Paul's message, by contrast, is going to be that a human being finds and receives everything he truly needs in Jesus Christ (cf. 2:9-10 for a summary-statement). Any and every Christian by definition is forgiven, rescued, redeemed, reconciled, loved, indwelt, filled full, and marked out for God's service. It simply does not get better than that, except in the visible presence of Christ on that day.

Convinced of the truth of Christ's great salvation, each and every Christian can and must be totally unimpressed by any teaching that says otherwise. Suppose some charismatic person comes and says, "Oh, but you need the second blessing...and this level of grace...and this special teaching...and this experience ─ or you miss out!" The slightest flicker of interest betrays defective faith. Faith would produce glazed eyes, a yawn and a dismissive shrug.

Surely this is how we want to be. What, then, is a sure way to enjoy that invulnerable contentment in Christ, to realize it and grow in it, and to get full value out of it?

The surest way is to say "Thank You" for Christ — for His person, His work; for all we have in Him. Say it often, loudly, and regularly.

Paul sets the stage in this note of thankfulness. When he himself says "thank you" to God for the Colossians, is it going to be because some few of them are attaining some new standing in grace? Is it going to be because they received some "second blessing," or delved into deep secret teachings not open to rank-and-file, garden-variety, blood-bought Christians?  No!

When Paul says "thank you" to God, it will be for the Colossians' faith and love (v. 4). Are these reserved for an elite sub-set of Christians? Not at all. They are attributes which grow in the heart and life of every healthy, growing disciple of Christ.

Thus, we can see that the cagey apostle is already starting to counter the false teaching, in a very subtle way. Thankfulness is a heresy-antidote. A people thankful for Christ's person and work is a people immune to false teaching.

Note too that, no matter how faithfully Epaphras labored in the Gospel, it is God who gets Paul's thanks. This is the principle of "credit to whom credit is due." Popular teaching is dead wrong in its notion that numeric "success" is a sure sign of God's blessing on the right method. Only God can bring a genuine response to the Gospel, and genuine spiritual growth.

Remember Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 3:6, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." Epaphras (and you, and I) can plant and water, but only God can give life and growth.

Finally, note the frequency of Paul's thankfulness: "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying concerning you." His other letters show us that the apostle had quite a prayer list. This doesn't mean, of course, that Paul did nothing but give thanks. But it does mean that, when he prayed for the Colossians, he gave thanks for them.

This is an encouraging note, and it shows Paul's tactfulness. He is going to correct them, to be sure, and warn them off from this doctrinal temptation. But before he does so, Paul assures them that he still has much for which to thank God, every time he prays for them.

The application does not require much imagination, I think. When we tell others of Christ, do we pray that God will bring spiritual results? Or are we closeted Pelagian Calvinists — focusing on an excellent presentation of the Gospel, with proper measures of law and Gospel and sovereignty, as if that "should do the trick"?

Do we personally thank God for every spiritual benefit that comes of our attempts to serve, whether as pastors or members or parents?

Probably the single best dietary change any of us could make would be regular helpings of generous, hearty, loud thankfulness to God for all His riches to us in Christ.

Dan Phillips's signature

18 comments:

David said...

Okay, you just changed how my morning was going to start.

Thanks!

donsands said...

Excellent encouragement. Thanks.

I have been overwhelmed with work, and in the midst of my overloaded brain I thought, "Lord, one day all this will be gone, and it's only a vapor until then. I am Christ's. I am in Him, and He is in me."

And a few moments later I was battling again, but then I came and read your words.

So, thanks again for being faithful to our Master, and sharing your gift with His children.

Gabby said...

"This is what false teachers have always done, and will always do. This is temptation, in a nutshell: what you have isn't good enough; you need this."

So does this mean I'm not fully loaded and totally equipped? That I don't have pinstripes? Huh? Wha?

All joking aside - thank you for this excellent study. Colossians has taken on new meaning for me since I read your last lesson. Am looking forward to more!

DJP said...

Thanks, Gabby. I appreciate you and both the other folks who are enjoying this. Besides me!

(c;

Ollie said...

In all things, give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Thankfullness to God is the greatest tranquilizer. I thanks God every time I thank of you Dan. You are a blessing.

Gabby said...

Dan - seriously. You've opened up Colossians for me. Your explanation of 'saints' (positionally holy in the sight of God) and 'faithful' (our duty individually) was very, very helpful and edifying to me. Keep up the good work, brother!

love God... said...

Amen Dan...and I am thanking God for this post on thankfulness to Him!! :-)

David said...

Say Dan,

Could you throw in a couple of rumors, unsubstantiated accusations, or even unmitigated prevarications into your next post to boost your readership in this series? Because more people ought to be reading it.

Stefan said...

In context of thankfulness as an antidote to discontentment, there is one difficult thing that we need to learn to be thankful for: unanswered prayer.

By way of illustration, my wife and I have been going through a very difficult situation these last few months, and yet in the midst of God's seemingly* not answering our biggest prayer, He has used this very situation to bring us closer together in our marriage, help me grow as a husband and leader, and bring my wife closer to salvation.

And so, even as we pray for God to hear and answer our prayers (and having faith that He will), we're learning to thank Him for the way He has used His not answering our prayers, to our benefit and His glory.

*I say "seemingly," because we fallible humans can't see the way He is in the process of answering our prayers until we actually see the final result.

CAUGHTNOTTAUGHT said...

I always thank God for the guys that come across to our church in Scotland from the Colorado Christian University in America on missions trips. I also do it because of the hope laid up for me and for them in heaven. I love that we'll all be together one day. I love that time and distance is not anything significant.

donsands said...

"*I say "seemingly," because we fallible humans can't see the way He is in the process of answering our prayers until we actually see the final result." -Stefan

And there may not be a final result in our life. Though everything God does is purposed for His beloved ones.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (NASB)

And He will be glorified in the results, whatever they may be.

And I was thinking when we see a senseless death of a 4 year old child, and the excruciating pain we bear, God is doing something, and only when we reach glory, and ask Him will we understand how this was to His eternal glory.

Just thinking out loud.

Zaphon said...

hah! "Pelagian Calvinists"...yeah, thanks for the rebuke my brother.

Me thinking my clever arguments and style gonna do any savin' work on these Muslims & Atheists to whom I speak the Gospel at work.

God bless.

DJP said...

Unfortunately, Zaphon, I had my own heart to study, in coming up with that.

Kurt said...

"Faith would produce glazed eyes, a yawn and a dismissive shrug"

I love it, made me laugh. :-)

I have been tempted by "Pelagian Calvinist" thinking myself from time to time, thanks for the poke on that one.

GrammaMack said...

Thanks, Dan. This is so true:

"Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic."
John Henry Jowett

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan said...

Don:

A belated thanks for your comment.

I don't even know what real suffering is. I wouldn't even know how to begin to console a family who had just lost their beloved child. Talking blithely about the sovereignty of God when they're in the midst of their pain would be...well, it would be for reasons like that, that by God's grace we have the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit.

But your comment and my wife's and my situation did make me think of this:

Talking the Calvinistic talk in the good times is easy. Learning to walk the Calvinistic walk in the hard times is where the real treasure is buried.

donsands said...

"Learning to walk the Calvinistic walk in the hard times is where the real treasure is buried."

Amen.

"Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty Cross.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin."-Julia H. Johnston,