Teaching series from Colossians

Loving God Through Thankfulness

Colossians 3:15-17

Teaching t23038

Introduction

Review the setting and this section of Colossians. Paul is counseling and teaching them/us toward spiritual maturity (1:28). His instruction consists of two main parts:

Cultivate a mental focus on what God has provided for you through Christ (3:1-4; review “keep seeking” & “set your mind on”).

Embrace a lifestyle consistent with what God has provided for you through Christ (3:5-17) – putting aside a lifestyle of self-centeredness, and putting on a lifestyle of biblical love. Paul says that this loving lifestyle is directed toward three foci: God, one another and people who don’t know Christ.

This morning we will look more closely at loving God through thankfulness. You can see Paul emphasizing this in 3:15b,16b,17b (read). He also emphasizes it several other times in this letter, which we will examine. Let’s explore this by asking three questions: What is biblical thankfulness? Why is it so important? How can we practically cultivate it?

What is it?

Biblical thankfulness is different in several ways from the generic thankfulness of American culture:

Generic thankfulness is directed to people only, or to a vague God or “higher power.” Biblical thankfulness is directed primarily to the God of the Bible as the Source of all good gifts (read 1:3) because He is the ultimate author of all good gifts (Jas.1:17)

Generic thankfulness is almost exclusively for temporal and material blessings. Biblical thankfulness includes thankfulness for these things – but is especially focused on God’s gift of salvation through Jesus (read and explain 1:12-14) – blessings God gives us the moment we receive Christ, blessings that are permanent and far greater in magnitude than temporal blessings.

Generic thankfulness is usually reserved for certain special occasions (e.g., Thanksgiving). Biblical thankfulness is OK with this, but emphasizes developing a lifestyle/disposition of thankfulness (read 2:7 – “overflowing” describes disposition; see present tenses of 3:15-17).

Generic thankfulness is rooted in feelings of gratitude. Biblical thankfulness is rooted in choice based on what is true regardless of our current feelings (3:15b is an imperative; 3:16,17 are participles modifying imperatives). Seen in this way, thankfulness is a key expression of faith in God.

Generic thankfulness is generally not regarded as a key priority for spirituality. Biblical thankfulness is taught as a key priority in several ways (key aspect of prayer – read 4:2; repetition in New Testament [40 times] and statements that assert its importance – see 1Thess.5:18;). This leads us to the second question– why is thankfulness so important? You will need to be convinced of its importance in order to cultivate it!

Why is it so important?

There are more biblical answers to this question than we have time to recount – so I’ll give you what I believe are the top four. But first I need to tell you the wrong answer to this question. Thankfulness is important not because God needs it. God is not some insecure Deity who needs to be constantly affirmed by people thanking Him. God is fully sufficient within Himself; He needs nothing from us. He commands our thankfulness, not because He needs it, but because we need it. When our daughters eventually thanked us for parenting them in certain ways, we were happy – not because it validated us as parents, but because it showed that they were maturing.

Because it is the only sane response to God’s grace. When my oldest daughter was four, I heard her screaming in her bedroom. When investigated, I saw her standing in front of her wardrobe screaming: “I don’t have anything to wear!” I realized that she was just having a temporary fit of insanity. She had a wardrobe full of clothes to wear – but she was so focused on what she didn’t have that she was temporarily detached from reality.

That incident became an instructive parable for me. I realized that when I am unthankful, I am spiritually insane. I deserve God’s judgment every day for my rebellion against Him. But instead of giving what I deserve, He sent His Son to die for me. He has forgiven me completely, has made me His beloved child, has guaranteed that I’ll be with Him for eternity, and He has given me His Spirit to encourage and empower me every step of the way until then. All these gifts are completely undeserved, they meet my deepest needs, and they are mine forever!

That’s why a friend of mine says: “Every day I wake up and I’m not in hell is a good day!” Does that sound morbid to you? Actually, it is the mind-set of a thoroughly sane person! Thankfulness is a key way to “keep seeking” and “set my mind on” the things above (3:1-4). The more I thank God for all He has given me through Christ, the more I am able see and appreciate what He has given me. The more I thank God for this, the easier it is to combat lies about who God is, who I am, etc.

Because it is key to putting aside a self-centered lifestyle. Last week, we saw that sinful behaviors like sexual immorality, materialistic greed, and relational demandingness are all rooted in a self-centered orientation toward life. Self-centeredness is essentially unthankful. An unthankful person feels empty and entitled, which breeds envy, jealousy, self-pity, etc. – and these attitudes breed sinful behaviors and habits that corrupt and enslave us and damage others.

That’s why we have to attack these sinful behaviors on a deeper level than just trying to resist or avoid them. If ingratitude is the mother of sinful attitudes and behaviors, gratitude is the mother of godly attitudes and behaviors. That’s what Paul is getting at in Eph.5:3,4 (read). “So powerful is the influence exerted by ingratitude, that when we displace it with gratitude, we will likely find a multitude of other sins dislodged from our lives... ...” Do you battle sexual lust (e.g., porn), materialism (e.g., shopaholism), and relational sins (e.g., angry outbursts)? Apply this counter-intuitive, indirect approach, and see how God works through it to weaken those temptations!

Because it leads to loving other people more. The Bible says that effectively loving other people (along with loving God) is the purpose of our existence and the definition of success. Thankfulness helps us in this direction in two ways:

It provides motivation to be a giver rather than a taker. The more you think like an orphan, the more you will relate to people as a taker. But the more you thank God for all that He has given you, the more you realize that you are His well-loved son/daughter – and the more plausible and appealing it is to give to others freely (2Cor.9:8).

It attracts people to us so that we have more opportunities to love. People are repelled from those who are negative, bitter, complaining, self-pitying, etc. But people are attracted to those who are grateful givers. This provides many opportunities to serve and to become a more effective servant – which is life goal!

Because it leads to increasing personal fulfillment. Jack Miller said: “How happy a person is depends upon the depth of his gratitude.” Why is this? In addition to the reason above, consider other ways the Bible connects thankfulness with personal well-being.

Phil.4:6,7 (read) connects thankfulness with God’s peace. As we combat our anxious thoughts and feelings by choosing to give thanks to God for His promises (along with asking Him for help), God’s Spirit mysteriously mediates His peace to that guard our hearts and minds in the midst of unchanging circumstances.

The Greek words for “grace” (charis), “give thanks” (eucharisto/chairo) and “joy” (chara) are all related. This is more than etymological coincidence. As we give thanks to God for His grace, the Holy Spirit ignites more and more joy in our souls.

“Over time, choosing gratitude means choosing joy. But that choice doesn’t come without effort and intentionality. It’s a choice that requires constantly renewing my mind with the truth of God’s Word, setting my heart to savor God and His gifts, and disciplining my tongue to speak words that reflect His grace and goodness—until a grateful spirit becomes my reflexive response to all of life.”

There are four reasons why cultivating thankfulness is so important. Don’t rush over this part. If you aren’t convinced that these reasons are true, ponder them and the scriptures connected to them, asking God to convince you. If you are convinced, let’s get practical...

How can we cultivate it?

“Cultivate” implies ongoing intentional activity. I am an amateur gardener, and I know the connection between my willingness to cultivate my plants and the harvest. Fruitful gardeners differ widely in their cultivation schedules, styles, etc. – but they all cultivate diligently! Ask God to show you how to cultivate thankfulness. In that spirit, I offer her examples from my own thankfulness-cultivation strategy. After I share mine, I’d like some of you to share yours.

I ask God to sensitize me to self-pity, complaining, etc. It is easy to gradually drift into an unthankful mind-set without realizing it. When I ask God to show me this hurtful way, He is faithful to do so. Then I step up my game in the following ways.

I try to appreciate my temporal blessings – starting with the amazing gift of being allowed to exist at all, and then thanking God for whatever temporal blessing I presently notice (e.g., spring beauty) and working from there to other temporal blessings that I tend to take for granted (e.g., physical health; relationships, etc.). The goal here is to notice these more than the circumstantial difficulties in my life.

I try to especially focus on my spiritual blessings – mainly by memorizing and meditating on biblical passages that speak of these blessings (e.g., Rom.5:1-5). The goal here is to keep deepening my understanding and appreciation of these greatest of gifts.

I try to make thanksgiving for the above the beginning of times of prayer. I noticed that in Paul’s letters, he always thanks God before He petitions God. I find that doing this often lifts me out of negativity and mild depression, and that it leads to petitions that don’t turn into more anxiety or negativity (e.g., WALKING DOG &/or RUNNING).

I try to give thanks to God for something before I get out of bed, and before I fall asleep. This helps to combat the morning waterfall of accusatory and/or anxious thoughts, and it is a fitting way to end the day.

When I am besieged with negativity, I admit this to another brother or sister, and ask him/her to help me by reminding me of my blessings, praying with me to give thanks, taking turns thanking God for specific blessings, etc.

I try to express thanks to other people for small kindnesses as well as big favors. I find that this mortifies my pride, builds them up, promotes genuine unity, etc. (I am not that great at this, but I’ve made some progress by God’s grace).

Reading books on thankfulness has been helpful for me because it focuses me on this priority, deepens my convictions about it, and provides practical suggestions (SLIDE: DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude; Pao, Thanksgiving; Belmonte, Defiant Joy)

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE: Embracing a lifestyle of love involves cultivating thankfulness to God.

NEXT WEEK: Col.3:12-16 – Embracing a lifestyle of love by building unified relationships with other Christians.

DISCUSSION: What other ways have helped you to become a more thankful person?

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude, pp. 56,57.

Jack Miller, cited by Ajith Fernando, The Fullness of Christ (Keswick Ministries, 2007)), p.89.