A Spirit of Thanks-Living (Nov 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Al Maxey

One of the recurring themes in the OT psalms is gratitude. The people of God are a very blessed people. Therefore, it is only natural that they should demonstrate this wealth of blessings with lives lived in daily thanksgiving for His marvelous grace. Singing and shouting, laughing and leaping, and various other emotional, demonstrative expressions are only natural to those who are keenly aware of the unmerited favor of their God. Noah Webster (1758-1843; noted as the “father of the modern dictionary” and also a translator of the Bible in early colonial America) defined the word “gratitude” as “a feeling of thankful appreciation for favors or benefits received; warm, appreciative response to kindness; thankfulness.”

The apostle Paul knew very well the vital nature of this emotion in the lives of disciples of Christ. In Colossians 3:12-17, he seeks to focus the hearts and minds of his beloved readers upon the fact that, as “those who have been chosen of God,” they are to display those qualities in their lives that visibly reflect that blessed reality. He attempts to do the very same in his companion passage, which is found in Ephesians 5:15-21. Most biblical scholars recognize that these two passages are not limited to a “worship service,” but rather provide spiritual guidance applicable to all areas of daily Christian living. Dr. F. F. Bruce “appropriately points out that ‘the NT does not contain a detailed code of rules for the Christian. … Codes of rules, as Paul clearly explains elsewhere, are suited to the period of immaturity. … What the NT does provide are those basic principles of Christian living which may be applied to all situations of life as they arise'” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 216-217]. The Pulpit Commentary takes the very same position, stating that within these two passages from the pen of Paul one may find divine guidance “for all the practical activities of life” [vol. 20, Colossians, p. 155]. “Herein is the widest description of the Christian life” [ibid, p. 193]. “Into every nook and cranny of the new life the consecrated spirit is carried. The meanest matters are thus lifted into heavenly light, and our God reigns over all. There is to be no exception to consecration” [ibid, p. 181]. The qualities enumerated by Paul must “permeate the entire life,” as R.C.H. Lenski points out in his commentary on Colossians [p. 179], and The Expositor’s Bible Commentary further notes that “the context is not restricted to that of the church’s liturgy,” but “such gratitude to God is to cover every circumstance” of one’s daily life [vol. 11, p. 73].

In Colossians 3 the apostle Paul starts out by addressing himself to those who “have been raised up with Christ” (vs. 1). We have died, figuratively speaking, to the old fleshly nature, have been spiritually resurrected, and have now “put on the new self,” a renewal in which earthly distinctions are past, and in which we’re all truly being transformed into the image of His beloved Son (vs. 10-11). Jesus Christ, “who is our life” (vs. 4), should be the example, pattern and standard of our daily actions and attitudes. Therefore, we should set our minds upon those things that reflect the glory and reality of the heavenly realm, rather than that which is base and sordid (vs. 2). “Immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed … anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” (vs. 5, 8) are all to be cast aside. Instead, our daily lives should be characterized by “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (vs. 12). We’re to “bear with one another and forgive each other” (vs. 13), “and beyond all these things” we are to “put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (vs. 14). We are all called to be One Body in Christ Jesus, and thus we must allow peace to be the rule and standard that we seek to promote in the family of our heavenly Father (vs. 15). Such a spirit is applicable to all our relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children, even masters and slaves (Colossians 3:18 – 4:1).

Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we are to be a thankful people — living, breathing, vibrant examples to the world about us of the power of an attitude of gratitude, which transcends lips and transforms lives. This enormous truth is stressed three times in three verses (vs. 15-17). We’re called to live in peace in One Body, “and be thankful” (vs. 15). The word of Christ richly dwells within us, therefore use this power effectively to speak to and admonish one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (which can be done anywhere, anytime), and let this truly come from the depths of your heart. Such feelings as these may also be expressed worshipfully as we pour forth the devotion of our hearts, either individually or collectively, in praise to our Father — and this does not even have to be done audibly, for God “hears the heart,” however it does have to be done “with thankfulness in your hearts” (vs. 16). So, in other words, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, make sure it is done “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (vs. 17). This entire chapter is really about spiritual attitudes reflected in/by godly actions. Against such attitudes and actions there is no restrictive legislation (Galatians 5:23b). The fruit of the Spirit is truly a spirit of thanks-living.

We need to carefully, prayerfully examine this verse in the epistle to the Colossian brethren (3:17) to determine exactly what Paul had in mind. We have already examined the context of the verse, but now we need to explore the significance of the phrases in the passage itself so that we might gain greater insight into the message intended for the readers (both then and now). Paul introduces the verse with this phrase: “Whatever you do in word or deed” [NASB]. The NIV phrases it this way: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed.” Clearly, Paul is being all inclusive in his instruction. Whatever you should happen to do: whether it be in what you say or in your actions. This leaves very little room for exclusion, and certainly has far more than the so-called “five acts of worship” in a Sunday “worship service” in view. This statement literally “stands for all the practical activities of life” [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, Colossians, p. 155]. “Here is the widest description of the Christian life. It covers ‘word and deed'” [ibid, p. 193].

Paul next states that whatever we do, whether it be in word or deed, it is all to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann writes, “All of our words and deeds must flow from true faith in Jesus, the Redeemer, and must be spoken and performed to His glory: all our words and actions being expressions of our thankfulness” [Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 2 — The NT, p. 334]. Kretzmann continues: “The love toward God and Christ which rules in the hearts of believers naturally finds its expression in a life of service toward their neighbors, … and all out of reverence for Christ, who did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister” [ibid, p. 286]. Thus, at least in part, Paul seems to be suggesting that when we live our daily lives in godly service unto others, as per the example of our Lord Jesus, we live our lives in reverence unto Him, glorifying Him, in both word and deed. We visibly lift high His name to all those about us when we live as He lived and when we love as He loved. All that we do in life is done in His name, not ours; to His glory, not ours. And we are thankful, indeed grateful, for the opportunity to do so, acknowledging such to our Creator — “giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Or, in the words of the apostle Paul in his companion passage to the Ephesian brethren: “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the reverence of Christ” (Ephesians 5:20-21). Here again we see the concepts of gratitude and reverence joined together, which are evidenced in thanks-living.

“There are various ways of interpreting: ‘do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus'” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 216]. Yes, the phrase “in the name of” can have reference to the concept of authority. Few will dispute that fact. However, is Paul really seeking to establish regulatory law in this passage for all the many activities of one’s daily walk with Christ Jesus? Or, is Paul simply seeking to direct our hearts and minds to various guiding principles for daily living? The context suggests the latter, as most biblical scholars declare. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states that the idea of authority is not the proper interpretation, but rather suggests that this phrase means to do all “as followers of the Lord Jesus. … To act in the name of a person is to act as his representative” [vol. 11, p. 216]. For example, in John 12:13 we find a quote of Psalm 118:26 in which the people proclaim, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” As most scholars agree, this is a reference to the coming of the Messiah as the agent or representative of God Almighty. Similarly, we today are sent forth as the representatives or ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, in His name we proclaim His Truth so as to further His cause to His glory (and that of the Father).

R.C.H. Lenski observes that “the phrase does not mean merely ‘with His authority'” [The Interpretation of Colossians, p. 179]. Rather, it points to our intimate union with Him, and the fact that all we do on a daily basis is to be done in light of, and with cognizance of, who and what He is, both to us, the saved, and to the lost. “We serve a risen Savior,” as the well-known hymn states; we daily labor for the Lord … in His holy name! Dr. Nicoll declares the phrase “expresses the idea of doing something in dependence upon Christ, or in regardfulness of what Christ is” [The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. 3, p. 364]. “His Name is our banner, and under it all is done” [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, Colossians, p. 181]. Undoubtedly, this is what Peter had in mind when he wrote, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed … If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God” (1 Peter 4:14, 16). Serving as His representatives to a world engulfed in darkness, we, like our great Example, will suffer at the hands of those who oppose His cause. And yet, in that Name we represent, we each, through our daily Spirit-filled lives, glorify our God. Under the banner of His name we live lives of holiness, which serves as a testimony to the world about us. “The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness'” (2 Timothy 2:19). This admonition is clearly seen in the overall context of Colossians 3.

As the representatives of His glorious name, how can we not be filled with an attitude of gratitude. Indeed, in the words of The Pulpit Commentary, “The Christian life ought to be a Eucharist” [vol. 20, p. 193] — i.e., a living expression of thanksgiving in every action of our lives (thanks-living). Is this not exactly what Paul has said at the close of Colossians 3:17? — “Giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” The companion passage reads, “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Ephesians 5:20). I appreciate the way The Message has phrased this verse: “Let every detail in your lives — words, actions, whatever — be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” In short, our daily lives, lived in relationship with the Son, are a continual tribute to the Father. Indwelt and empowered by His Holy Spirit, being increasingly transformed into the very image of His beloved Son, we reflect His glory in our words and deeds. For such a privilege and blessing our hearts overflow with thanksgiving and thanks-living unto Him through His Son, whose sacrifice made our acceptance by the Father a reality.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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