Tag Archives: Thanks

Colossians 1:12; Brief Thoughts

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

The third refrain describing the worthy Christian life beckons the believer to gratitude. Indeed, one of the greatest hallmarks of the Christian faith is that of a cultivated gratitude for the presence and work of God. So it is with genuine believers that gratitude overflows from the soul into the world around them. In Ephesians 5:4, gratitude is urged as a defining character trait of the Christian’s speech. In Philippians 4:6, Christians are urged to combat anxiousness with gratitude. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul calls believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” In 2 Thessalonians, the saints are encouraged to give thanks for salvation.  In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul calls for prayers of thanksgiving to be made for everyone, including pagan Kings. In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Christians are urged to give thanks for everything they receive.

The spirit of gratitude, cultivated in the life of a believer is absurd. It is a spirit that thanks God for persecution, famine, destruction, as well as freedom, plenty, and life. This Spirit urged among the believers of the first century, no doubt, seemed even more obscene. As Paul urges Christians to express gratitude to God, the Christian religion is experiencing tremendous persecution. Yet, in the face of rejection and death, Christians are to say thanks. Thanks for destruction? Christians are to be grateful for the loss of everything? Truly? Yet, it is the Spirit of God that lives within believers and empowers such obscene gratitude. Though the world collapse and reject everything the Christian holds dear, still, the Christian contradicts such resounding rejection with love and gratitude. The Christian life is a contradiction of worldly values. Believers seek a value that stands in stark contrast with the values of this world and its systems. It is precisely this contradiction that is manifest in the Christian’s gratitude.

Where does such profound contradiction come from? A Christian’s faith results in gratitude for all things because a Christian’s faith is from the God who is over all things. It is “the Father” from whom the ability to respond in gratitude is received. It is also to Him that gratitude is given. He has granted life where there was death and brought light into darkness (c.f. Ephesians 2:1-8). The God of all things, the Maker and Sustainer of all life, has granted Christians an inheritance where there once was none.

Note: He “qualified” believers for this inheritance. The word used here means “to make sufficient” or “to render worthy.”[1] Consider that for a moment. God has made Christians worthy. He has, in His infinite grace, established those who believe in Him as worthy. Those who love Christ need not strive to be worthy. They simply are worthy. They are worthy because the Father has made them worthy. He has changed their condition from sinful, unworthy, and wicked to saintly, worthy, and righteous.

All mankind rejects God. There is no one who is righteous on their own, indeed, all are sons of disobedience (c.f. Romans 1-3 and Ephesians 2). Yet, God, in His kindness, saved those who believe in Him, granting orphans adoption. Forgiving those who deserve death. From this realization, springs gratitude. Mankind is wicked and deserving of death, yet God’s love and favor persist. No person can look upon the face of God, behold His majesty and glory and persist in self-righteous pride. No person can be confronted with the reality of His holiness and still deny His goodness and grace. In the face of such a God, the only acceptable response is gratitude.

Ponder for a moment the truth that He has changed the soul of those who believe. The very nature of the individual who confesses Christ has been displaced and replaced with a new nature that is entirely changed. A nature that has been made worthy of the holiness of God. A nature that has been qualified! Thus, the worthy Christian life is one in which this deep and powerful truth transcends our mundane existence and draws us to our knees in gratitude. This gratitude is present in the light!

The light… everyone can see the Christian. The flaws and weaknesses. The failures and trivial affections. Christians receive an inheritance as children of “light.” There is no hiding in the light. One is entirely exposed in the light. Even so, the stark contrast of the unworthy sinner who has been deemed worthy by God and the holiness of God must draw the Christian to gratitude. For such a change of condition is too great to be observed passively. It demands an exchange of self-righteousness for humble gratitude. Christians cannot stand in pride or pretense. They have been exposed before a holy and righteous King who has deemed them worthy by His own act of benevolence.

[1] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

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Colossians 1:3-4; Brief Thoughts

3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,

There is little that can bring greater joy than the comfort and affection of brothers and sisters who have joined in the gospel ministry of love. The gratitude that springs from the soul when someone shares in the labor is tremendous. Paul is grateful for the Colossian believers. He is thankful for their faith and he is grateful for their expressed love to all the saints. Yet, Paul’s gratitude is not directed at the Colossians. Rather, his thanks-giving is directed to God. He is grateful to God for what God had done in the Colossians. The object of gratitude is “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Indeed, God is the only appropriate recipient of gratitude for faith and love, for they only exist within the context of His mercy and grace. Christians are capable of faith because God has changed their nature in redemption (Col. 3:9-10). Christians are capable of love because God has first loved them (1 John 4:19). It is fitting to lavish gratitude upon the source of faith and love.

Further, Paul understands that the faith and love that has manifested itself in the Colossians is the work of God alone. In Philippians 1:6 Paul credits God with the work of salvation in the lives of the Philippians. In Ephesians 2 he explains that God has redeemed them from death and brought them to life. In Galatians 2:20 Paul states that he has been “crucified with Christ” and he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. It is the Lord who changes the souls of men and it is He who works out faith and love in Christians.

Is there a greater motivation for gratitude than the actions of a God who births faith and love in the hearts of obstinate people? The actions of a King who calls friends from out of the midst of enemies and rescues those who hate Him (C.f. Romans 5:1-11). Could there be a more perfect target for thankfulness? Not only has God born faith in Paul, He has also done the same mighty work across the world! Two deep truths are present in this reality. First, God moves apart from any one individual. God moved in the hearts of the Colossians with such great power that Paul “heard of” their faith and love. He did not see it first-hand. The transforming power of Christ’s spirit in their hearts was so profound that Paul “heard of” it and was drawn to gratitude towards God for the work God accomplished. Paul did not have to be there for the gospel to transform the Colossians. Second, God is faithful to redeem even when we are not present to see it. Just because you do not see the movement of God does not mean He is absent or still. He is moving to redeem His people and one day you may be fortunate to hear of it.

The faith and love of the Colossians have been “heard of.” Consider that for a moment. What a great accolade for the Colossians. Their faith and love have reached the ears of other believers in far off lands! So great is their witness that they have garnered a reputation as faithful and loving. How tremendous! O that every Christian would have such a reputation among the masses. Imagine what it would be like if Christians were actually known for their love as Christ said they would be (c.f. John 13:31-35). To be as the Colossians were would be a beautiful sight to behold.

Colossians 1:1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father

It is a tremendous relationship that Christians share. The unity expressed through faith is encapsulated by Paul in one simple word: “brother.” Paul’s address displays a familial relationship with those who share the faith. Indeed, so great is the tie that binds Christians that it is deeper blood connection. When Jesus is called upon by His own brothers and mother in Mark 3:31-35, He responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers?… Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34, 35). Jesus’ response elevates the position of faith above biological attachment. Further, His repudiation of His family’s request establishes a priority of fidelity within the faithful. Those who follow Christ share a spiritual connection that supersedes any other relationship.

Consider the power of this deep truth. Believers share a common connection that can and does supersede even their own family. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than in countries that persecute Christians. When a believer in Christ is forced to flee their home because of their faith, they choose the family of faith over their biological and environmental family. IN this way, the persecuted serve as the greatest examples of testimony for the “brothers” in the faith. They’ve rejected this life in favor of the next. They’ve surrendered this world in favor for Heaven. They’ve given their own familial titles up in their adoption into Christ’s. They have exchanged the life and attachments of this world, for the true life of Christ and attachment to Him.

How powerful to ponder that Paul calls Timothy and the Colossians, “brothers!” As members of the family of faith, Paul and Timothy can write to their family at Colossae and know that they are brothers. The use of the term “brother” is also profound. He does not refer to them as family or as his children (as is done elsewhere in Scripture. E.G. Gal. 4:19, 1 Thess 2:2, 7, and 5:5). He refers to them as brothers. It may seem semantics, but Paul is intentionally using the connection of brothers. Brothers share a unique bond. There is an equality among siblings that does not exist in the parental relationship or in the more general familial sense. Brothers labor together and utilize their gifts alongside each other. There is no actual hierarchy in brotherhood, only earned respect by diligent work. Paul considers Timothy and the Colossians to be brothers. What a phenomenal encouragement! Timothy and the Colossian believers are placed on equal footing with their missionary patriarch! How empowering to hear a man of Paul’s stature grant such a title as “brother” to other believers.

Such is the nature of the Christian faith. There is no hierarchy. Not really. Churches sometimes impose one out of a minor necessity of leadership, but there is truly no hierarchy. Christ is the head of the church. Not the bishop, not the pastor, not the elders, not the presbyters, not the pope. Christ! Christ is the head of the church. Everyone else is brother.

In the western church, there is an epidemic of poor leadership. Men take the position of pastor assured and self-confident that they are the head of their congregation. Now, don’t misunderstand. Many of these men are godly men who love and obey the Lord. But they believe themselves to carry some weight of authority because of their title. In truth, their title grants them responsibility… not authority. Simply because a man dons the name of Pastor does not grant him a position higher than the rest of the congregation. No. He must submit to the Scripture, the same way everyone else in the body does. The Scripture is the authority in the church and it is what directs the people.

To be fair, governance is a necessary component of church life, and there is much to be said about it. There are responsibilities that must be assigned within the church and there are structures by which the local bodies of Christ organize themselves. (There are different models of structure within the New Testament church, and that is a large topic that I will endeavor to answer only if people comment on this post asking me to do so.) The critical truth to grasp is the power of recognizing a lack of hierarchy within the people of God.

When the leaders of the church will recognize that they are leading from a position of equality with those they lead, they will empower and strengthen their brothers in the faith. When they insist that they have a position of authority beyond the Scripture, they will domineer their congregations and cause harm. When leaders recognize that Scripture places them on the same level as everyone else in the congregation, vision will rise from the community and churches will begin to see changed lives. It is no small matter to be called brother. Indeed, it is a deep and profound truth that could potentially save the western church. We are brothers laboring together.

Colossians 1:1; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

Amidst a culture in which myriads of teachers are claiming to speak with Divine authority, Paul labors to explain that Jesus is the only Lord. Paul writes Colossians to a group of believers that are surrounded by teachers who would lead them into legalism by strictly imposing a variety of traditions upon the church. Paul’s answer to such legalistic nonsense is to write about the character and nature of Christ. So, Colossians stands as a book about Jesus in the hearts of those who believe. A book that tells the reader about Christ, and in doing so, about him or herself.

Religious people tend to gravitate towards rules and regulation. It is easier to engage a god who is managed by legislation than to live a life in intimate proximity to the God who does what He wants. So, the appeal of legalism is obvious. The appeal to confine God’s working to a prescribed set of traditional norms is obvious. The appeal of a God who submits to mankind’s methodologies and practices in order to approve of righteousness is obvious. The appeal is control. The god presented by legalism and some forms of traditionalism is a god that can be manipulated and follows our desired model of life. But that god, is not God.

Jesus is not controlled or manipulated by our desires and methodologies. He is much too big for that. This is why Paul spends the bulk of his letter to Colossians explaining the character and nature of Christ. The greater our understanding of Christ’s nature and character, the less we will rely on legalistic practices and traditions to attempt to control Him.

In verse 1-2 Paul begins his letter with the greeting common to his epistolary style. As usual, Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ.” He is an apostle; one who has been sent. Paul’s authority and knowledge of Christ come from Christ. He has seen Christ and is now acting as a messenger on behalf of the Lord. Paul was not appointed by a committee, voted in by popular vote, or assigned this role by another apostle. Acts 9 and Galatians 1:11-2:10 describe Paul’s journey to apostleship. God appointed Paul. Indeed Paul was and is an apostle only “by the will of God.” The will of God is that which appointed and prepared Paul’s commission as an “apostle to the Gentiles,” (Rom. 11:13) and is that which maintains and sustains that current position.

It is a tremendous assurance to consider that one’s position in the work of the Kingdom of God is contingent on God’s will. A greater assurance cannot exist! God maintains the position of those whom He calls and places into position. Christians are placed in positions of service by the will of God. So it is with great confidence that Christians can rest content in their current position of service. It is also with great assurance that God is in control that Christians can submit to a lesser position or a time of wandering. The confidence of condition and the ability to be content rest solely in the understanding that God’s will both procures and secures our positions in His kingdom.

Consider that for a moment. Your value in the Kingdom of God is not contingent on your merit or ability, but on the will of God. It is not contingent on your striving, but on His power within you. Though you toil to minister the Gospel of Christ, you are empowered and strengthened by His power and His working within you. Your struggle is real and it is worked out in the context and protection of His will. You cannot break it.

Paul rarely writes these letters by himself. The letter to Colossians is no exception. Paul knows the value of community. When he writes to younger pastors, Titus and Timothy, he encourages them to appoint elders in the church to help in the ministry to the congregation. There is profound power in the community of the church. Paul knows the strength of a team. So it should be with the modern church.

 

Philippians 4:10-13; Brief Thoughts

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Anytime a reference is made to Philippians 4:13, someone will inevitably misapply this precious truth to mean something it does not. When Paul says that he “can do all things through Christ who strengthens [him],” he is displaying a radical contentment. Paul reminds us of the great power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ while simultaneously explaining that he can be content in whatever situation he is in. The context of Paul’s assurance is not that he will be removed from struggle, but precisely the opposite. The power of Paul’s statement is that he is struggling with tremendous purpose within the contented fellowship of Jesus Christ.

Contentment evades the grasp of most western Christians. In the face of great comfort and means, modern, western Christians often struggle to develop a lasting peace. Yet, a first century, converted rabbi achieves contentment amidst severe persecution. This seems counter-intuitive. A first-century rabbi with little money and almost no creature comforts should not be able to express greater contentment than people who have all forms of leisure and comfort at their fingertips! (Literally, in the palm of our hands.)

Paul expresses that he has learned the secret of contentment – Christ. Facing plenty and want, need and abundance, exaltation and humiliation, Paul knows how to be content. He knows the strength of the Lord will provide for him whatever he may suffer. He knows how to transcend the destructive nature of the world’s oppressive persecution of his faith. He knows how to be content. At the beginning of chapter 4, Paul explained the great measure of peace a believer has and how it is achieved (v.4-7) He proceeded to examine how one may rest in the presence and grace of God (v.8-9). In these four verses, he continues to elaborate on the effects of this glorious communion with Christ. He is able to overcome and survive every circumstance because of the great strength of Christ within him.

Consider for a moment what it means to have the strength of Christ within you. The divine Word, the Creator and Sustainer of our souls, He who holds all things together, takes up residence within the believer and empowers that believer to overcome (c.f. Jn. 1:1-4, Ps. 54:4, Col. 1:15-20). So, assuming you are a believer, the power of creation is living and active within you. Is there anything that you cannot endure? Is there any suffering so great that you cannot overcome? The difficulty many Christians have is not in the truths that Scripture presents, but in our lack of knowledge of those truths or confidence in them. It is not for a lack of intellectual agreement that these truths exist that you may struggle to be content. It is, rather, a lack of confidence that these truths matter. However, the example of the apostle displays the tremendous power of Christ within the believer. You have more strength within than could be measured.

Rest in this confidence: that Jesus Christ is Lord over all things and that He is working within your heart. Cultivate a spirit of gratitude and a faithfulness in prayer, surrendering your anxieties to the holy King of all things. Then you will find yourself contented in Christ.

 

Philippians 4:8-9; Brief Thoughts

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In Matthew 15 and Luke 6, Jesus explains that what comes out of a person’s mouth is the result of what is in their heart. What a person’s inner being is filled with will overflow into their outward actions and words. Likewise, what a person fills themselves with will be made evident when they speak or act. So Paul tells his readers to think about good things. As an attentive reader, it is important not to overthink this particular list. Paul is not offering an exhaustive list of characteristics to meditate on. He is not charting out a legalistic set of standards by which to judge one’s mental processes. Nor is He providing some sort of pattern by which to evaluate one’s entertainment choices. He is simply listing off characteristics that are good. These characteristics should be considered when discerning what activities to engage in or what to occupy one’s thoughts.

Truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, excellence, and value. What would a life that is consumed by meditation on these characteristics look like? To meditate on such marvelous subject matter changes the world. However, before it changes the world, such activity changes the meditator. The person who seeks to change the world around him must first seek to see the change within himself, for each person is a part of the world in which they live and if they cannot change their own part, then they cannot change the world around. If Christians will focus their attention on righteous virtues, they will begin to see the change that they desire in their world.

Examine this list closely. Ask yourself if these are the characteristics upon which you base your affections. For, if you will focus your efforts towards this sort of piety, then peace will be yours. Dear Christian, our brother Paul calls you to a life of obedience that will bring you peace. Direct your attention toward that which is righteous and good. Imitate Paul’s life and peace will abound. It is an intriguing thing to ponder – that the imitation of such a tumultuous life would bring peace. Yet, here is Paul’s claim. “Practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Could there be any greater peace than the presence of God?

Amidst suffering and struggle, this is the assurance we need: the God of peace is with us. We do not need assurance of our own strength or our own virtuous ability. We do not need self-confidence or motivational inspiration to soothe our troubles. We need His presence. We need to be assured that the God that we know and love is nearby and has not abandoned us. This is the theological foundation that will overcome our worries and strife. It is a pursuit of piety in the virtues that are listed that will establish this confidence within the core of our beings. The closer our pursuit of holiness, the bigger and fuller our understanding of God becomes, and the more intimate our fellowship with Him grows.

Paul encourages his readers to model what they have learned, received, heard, and seen from his life and testimony. Likewise, Christian, find older saints that you can learn from. Seek wise men and women who know the Scripture and teach it well. When you have discovered such a person, receive what is taught. Teachers are not perfect, so be discerning. Listen for what they teach that is based in Scripture and discard what errors may arise, forgiving the mistake. Learning does not benefit the one who will not receive the instruction. So, if we are to learn, we must be intentional about receiving what we learn.

In the western church, discipleship is often thought of as an intellectual exercise. We provide classes and instruction in front of a whiteboard for a group of students. Yet, in truth, the best form of learning is life-observation. We must submit ourselves to instruction, to be sure, but we also must be attentive to what we see and hear with regard to the teacher. Pay attention to the life of your leaders, imitate what you see and hear with regard to holiness. If your spiritual leaders are not practicing holiness, then it is time to find new leaders who know and follow after God. Practicing this pious pursuit of life will provide more assurance and confidence in the faith than any self-help or motivational book could ever bring.

Philippians 4:5b-7; Brief thoughts on thanksgiving

The Lord is at Hand, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

How does one find perfect peace? In a world filled with violence, rejection, suffering, and turmoil, how can anyone find peace? First, peace is revealed in a trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is a general peace that accompanies belief. When a believer confesses faith, they are granted a sense of eternal peace through the assurance that they will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. However, the peace that Paul is proposing in verse 7 is a peace that is transcendent even of current circumstances. A prisoner who could not be overtaken or defeated by any circumstance, Paul gives the reader insight into how a person can achieve perfect peace amidst a life filled with suffering and strife.

Consider the exhortation of verse 6, “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God” (ESV). At the root of Paul’s admonition is thanksgiving. The basis of approaching the Holy God of the Universe is to do so with a spirit of gratitude. The word translated as thanksgiving is the same word used to refer to communion in the early church fathers.[1] This word denotes a sort of connection with God that exalts Him as Lord and submits to His design and will. Thanksgiving necessitates surrender. So it is here, in order to find peace, one must be willing to surrender their own control. Prayers and requests must be founded on a motivation of gratitude no matter what the outcome of the prayers may be.[2]

In addition to a spirit of gratitude, the target of effective prayer and supplication is God. He is the one to whom Christians direct their requests in times of anxiety. It is a peculiar reality that Christians often do not pursue prayer as their first course of action. When anxious feelings strike the soul, the often Western Christians will set their minds to solving the problem. They will seek to gather information, speak to others, seek out counsel, identify the solution, and even attempt to escape their own predisposed condition. Paul’s instructions are vastly different. Christians are not supposed to be anxious, but are supposed to combat anxiety with prayer first and foremost. Believers are designed to lean on God for comfort, yet almost every Christian conference in the west deals with being a better leader or developing a better strategy. There is almost never an emphasis on simply obeying this simple exhortation: pray. Is it any wonder that the western church is fraught with anxiety? As a culture, western Christianity has attempted to address moments of trouble and suffering with their intellect, financial means, and talents. Paul says peace will come if we pray with thanksgiving.

Take note of the kind of peace that comes. It is not merely circumstantial or temporary. The type of peace that Paul is proclaiming is one that is transcendent. It surpasses understanding. This is the sort of peace that baffles the world. This is the sort of peace that challenges human concepts of comfort. This is the sort of peace that can lose everything and rejoice in the face of certain death. This is the peace only Christ can give. This peace is so powerful and profound that it will guard those who have it.

Paul cites that this peace will specifically guard the “heart” and “mind.” Take encouragement dear Christian. God is concerned about your heart. He has not left you to struggle. He walks through your pain and suffering with you to guard your heart. Trust Him. Nor has God abandoned you to your own reason. He guides you and leads you on in your search for understanding amidst pain. You have not been left alone. God has come and is here with you, offering you peace in surrender to Him.

[1] Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 2, p. 88). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

[2] For a more full explaination of the word for thanksgiving and the concept of eucharist, I highly recommend Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts.