By David Brown
We give thanks to God Father of our Lord Jesus Christ praying for you always (Col. 1: 3)
Have you ever done something special for someone and that good work was not even acknowledged by that particular individual? What if there was not even a thank you, no pat on the back, nothing. None of us go through life looking for constant gratification by our friends and loved ones, but what if the work you had done was so monumental that not only was every human being called to recognize it, but they were encouraged to stop what they were doing each day and give a heartfelt thanks for that good work? What if that monumental work wasn’t even acknowledge by the vast majority of people?
These questions need to be considered when we study the book of Colossians because Paul repeatedly reminds us to give thanks to God.(1) Giving thanks to God calls us to remember His mighty works. So, what is the significance of this repetition and what exactly does Paul mean when he emphasized giving thanks to God? Thanksgiving is far more than just personal gratitude for receiving God’s blessings. For Paul, thanksgiving was tied to the mighty works of God as recorded in both Old and New Testaments.(2)
The premiere event in the Old Testament that reflected God’s mighty work took place through the exodus. In this glorious event God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and this event was so significant that He called Israel repeatedly to remember and celebrate this event annually through the Passover. This was a way for Israel to never forget the greatness of what God had done for them.
In the New Testament the premiere event is found in Jesus’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem and His crucifixion and so it is not a coincidence that in the Greek text Luke describes His departure on the Mount of Transfiguration as an exodus (Luke 9:31). Following in the typological pattern begun by Moses, Jesus delivers humanity (not just Israel) from an even greater bondage than Egyptian slavery. He delivers all who believe in Him from the bondage of sin. In addition, just as the Old Testament called Israel to never forget Luke reminds believers in the same way to never forget the greatness of what God has done for us through the cross. In Luke 22:19 he wrote: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” One final note we should recognize is the Greek verb for “do” is a present tense verb that denotes an on-going type of action. We, like Israel, are called to never forget the greatness of what God has done for us through Jesus.
A couple of years ago I accepted a call from a church in another state to become their pastor. I have been serving as a pastor for fifteen years but I have never seen a church embroiled in such strife and turmoil. After only eighteen months the deacon body demanded my resignation and so last December I resigned unceremoniously. All of my hard work had come to an abrupt end with no thank you; nobody saying we are sorry to see you go; nothing. In fact, the following weekend the church celebrated their annual Christmas banquet. Hurt does not adequately describe the immeasurable pain of how I felt. I wanted to die.
In the months that followed my wife and I repeatedly asked God two questions. First, where do we go from here? This was a plea for His direction. Second, we asked what are You trying to teach us? During this time God patiently answered our prayers in two profound ways.
First, He reminded us that He had delivered us from a truly dysfunctional church. Through this dreadful experience God showed us how dysfunctional church life can be. More importantly this type of dysfunction was not just going to be identified simply on an intellectual basis. This type of dysfunction had to be experienced first hand so that we completely understood this was NOT how a church should operate.
Second, God revealed His desire for us to plant a church. Since this time we have been doing the groundwork and our church plant has begun meeting at a weekly a Bible study. As a result, I have come to be deeply grateful to our Lord and, like Paul, I find myself repeatedly thanking Him in my daily prayers.
So what are we to make of this thanksgiving to God? In the book of Colossians thanksgiving means recalling the mighty works of God and thanking Him each day for these truly miraculous acts of deliverance that were recorded in Scripture. But as we make our own pilgrimage through life God allows us to experience some of life’s most difficult sorrows. Like my last church God allowed me to recognize and experience human dysfunction in an up close and personal way so that I might never forget the mighty acts of how He has once again delivered me.
In Him we give our all.
1 In Colossians, a book of only four chapters, Paul mentions giving thanks to God in 1:3, 1:12, 2:7, 3:17, and 4:2.
2 David W. Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2002), 39-58.