And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
In the verses leading up to verse 15, the Apostle Paul is in many ways like a coach telling his team how the game should be played. He says if you are going to make it in the Christian life, you need to clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, and gentleness (v. 12). You need to forgive people who have hurt you (v. 13). Then in the middle of all your relentless activity, you need to know the stillness of the peace of Christ ruling in your heart.
While there is much to say about this verse, I would like to draw your attention to just two words that are found in the passage above: Be thankful.
Thanksgiving Is a Choice
The first thing that I want us to notice is that Thanksgiving is a choice. There is an interesting transition from the passive to the active in this verse. First, there is the passive: Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart. He does not say ‘be peaceful’. The source of peace is not us, but we must let it work on us.
The peace that we need is found in Christ, and Paul says you need to allow that peace to fill your own soul.
One of the most beautiful features of the vision of heaven given to John was that the sea was like glass (Revelation 4:6). Have you seen the sea looking like glass? Sea is normally a picture of turmoil, upheaval, and collision between tides and waves. But God is not in turmoil. No forces compete with God in heaven.
So when the Son of God comes from heaven, he confronts the violence of a great storm on earth. And he is able to say, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39), and there is a great calm. Let this true peace rule in your hearts. And this is passive—something that Christ must do for you. All you can do is open your hand to receive it.
But then notice the change to something active: “And be thankful!” The gift of peace is something that can only be given by Christ, but the response of thankfulness is something can only come from you.
So, be thankful! It’s a choice! There’s something intentional about it, and this choice involves three things. With this choice, we:
1. Recognize the role others have played in our lives.
The thankful person remembers the people who contributed to his or her life. The ungrateful person forgets these contributions and takes all the credit.
Think of all the people who have contributed to the course of your life. Parents and Sunday school teachers, people who have given to you, those who love you. People who have worked with you to achieve things that were important. Friends who were thoughtful. That person who said something at just the right time when you needed a word of encouragement.
Make a conscious choice to recognize and remember the people who have touched your life.
It is very interesting that in Romans 1, Paul gives a description of what he calls a godless and wicked person. He tells us that this person makes three very clear choices
- They suppress the truth about God, although the evidence of God is all round about them in creation.
- They refuse to worship God.
- And, they do not give thanks.
These are the marks of a wicked godless person! The result is that their thinking becomes futile. They live in a make-believe world in which they enjoy the gifts without any acknowledgment of the giver.
In contrast, the choice to give thanks to God is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian:
- We choose to embrace the truth.
- We choose to worship God
- And, we choose to be thankful.
So when Paul writes to Christians and says “Be thankful,” he is saying something that goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian: We recognize that all we are and all we have comes from the hand of God.
2. Affirm the value of something done for us.
Our gratitude should always reflect the value of what is done. Gratitude should be in proportion.
If you hold the door open for someone, they will say thank you. But it would be inappropriate to say, “Oh thank you so much, I really cannot tell you how grateful I am.” If next week they came up to you and said, “You know all week I have been reflecting on what you did for me,” you would fairly quickly be heading for the door yourself.
The value of the gift determines the appropriate level of gratitude.
Suppose God were to send his son into the world and stand in your place experiencing the hell that you would otherwise certainly endure. Suppose he were to rise and then make you a member of his own family. What would be the appropriate level of gratitude then?
Of course, sometimes our problem is that we find it difficult to know what is of true value. If you give two gifts to a young child, and one is a check for 10,000 dollars and the other is a shiny red car, he will show no interest at all in the check, unless it is to put it in his mouth and eat it.
Have you understood the value of what Jesus did for you on the cross?
It is a choice in which we recognize the role other people have played in our lives. It is a choice in which we affirm the value of something that is done. So choose to affirm the value of what Christ has done for you.
3. Express our pleasure at something received.
You cannot separate gratitude from pleasure. Where there is pleasure gratitude is easy, without pleasure gratitude is difficult, and often false.
Reflecting on this my mind went back to childhood. The day after Christmas was always writing thank you letters. It was always more fun to open the parcels than to write the letters.
Have you written your thank you letters yet?
Think of the gifts you really value, and then Thanksgiving is the most natural thing in the world. The expression of pleasure is at the very heart of thanksgiving.
If you give a gift to someone else, the reason you do it is to give them pleasure. That’s what you want to happen. If it brings pleasure to them then your goal in giving is fulfilled.
Parents know all about this. You give a gift and as the kids open it, their pleasure is your pleasure. In that experience, we have some insight into the heart of God.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I want to ask you three questions:
- Do you recognize the blessing of God in your life, or are you among those who choose not to give thanks?
- As you think about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what value do you place on what he has done?
- As God looks at your life, would he see that you take great pleasure in the gift of his Son, or would the truth be, that the Son of God is something of an unwanted gift?