It is often difficult to maintain a heart of thankfulness when we face difficulties in the world and division in the church. The church of Jesus Christ should be a haven for Christians as we journey onward to a city whose designer and builder is God (Heb 11:10). Perhaps that’s why Paul addressed this subject to the church in Colossae as they experienced the pressures of Jew and Gentile division among other circumstances of life. In his letter, he said the following in Colossians 3:15:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Both Jewish and Gentile believers would struggle with anxious thoughts as they looked out into the hostile landscape of a culture following the brutal crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps the tendency was to focus on the cross and overlook what happened three days later when Jesus was resurrected from the tomb. Jesus had not only commanded his followers to take up their crosses and follow him (Luke 9:23), but they were also warned about rejection and persecution that would come upon them.
Not only were the Christians in Colossae facing many challenges, they were also dealing with divisiveness that was separating Jews and Gentiles on the basis of theology and traditions that were being pressed upon them by false teachers (Col 2:8; 16-23). Some of the Jewish believers were insistent upon observing traditional Jewish feasts and keeping those non-salvific traditions in place while Gentile believers were not committed to such traditions having been raised in a different culture. Paul writes the following in Colossians 2:16–19:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
Notice that Paul not only points out that the traditions are shadows that point to Christ, he also emphasizes the “body” language that is formed by Christ—a reference to the Church. He then builds to chapter three where he emphasizes the need to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts as they were called into one body (a reference to the Church). He then adds, “be thankful” (Col 3:15).
The church of Jesus has much to be thankful for as we look to Christ, our Head and Savior. Consider just a few things that Paul points out to the church in Colossae as foundational reasons for thanksgiving:
- Circumcised with a circumcision made without hands. This is a reference to the new birth and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Col 2:11). See also (Rom 2:28, 29; Phil 3:2, 3).
- Baptized as a follower of Christ, by faith, and marked out and identified with Jesus Christ who defeated death and the grave (Col 2:12).
- Regenerated and brought to life spiritually by the work of our sovereign God (Col 2:13a).
- Forgiven for all of their trespasses by cancelling their debt and satisfying the legal demands when their sins were nailed to the cross in Christ (Col 2:13b-14).
- Jesus triumphed over the spiritual rulers and authorities by disarming them and putting them to open shame (Col 2:15).
Paul insisted that the church should look at what Christ had done for them in order to drive them to a place of joyful life and worship and to unite them in the bond of Christ. The entire letter is filled with the tone of thanksgiving as you look back to Colossians 2:6-7:
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Paul emphasized the fact that the church at Colossae had received Christ and been taught the true gospel, but he also includes himself in the equation when he gets to the benefits and blessings of the new birth—he writes the following in Colossians 2:13-14:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Thanksgiving is not always an easy holiday to celebrate. Today, as you gather with your friends and family you may not think that you have much to be thankful for this year. You might have recently walked through the death of a family member or lost your job. One of the most difficult things to do in life is to look beyond the immediate circumstances of your life to Christ and consider the blessings and benefits of the new birth. Although a difficult lesson to learn, that is precisely what we must learn to do in the Christian life.
Look to the cross and be thankful.
Look to the cross and see every last one of your sins nailed to the cross as Christ was nailed to the cross in your place.
Consider the fact that you are no longer marked out by sin and rebellion, but you have been marked out as a child of God in Christ.
Live with hope and thanksgiving no matter what difficulties you may be facing today. If anyone should be thankful, it should be the Church of Jesus Christ.