THANKSGIVING THROUGH THANKSLIVING
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Sir, Michael Costa, a famous composer and conductor from Naples, was once rehearsing with a vast array of instruments, and hundreds of voices. With the thunder of the organ; the role of the drums; the sounding of the horns, and the clashing of the symbols, the mighty chorus rang out. The piccolo player said himself, "In all this din it matters not what I do!" So he ceased to play. Suddenly Costa stopped and flung up his hands. All was still, and he shouted out, "Where is the piccolo?" His sensitive ear missed it, and it's absence made a difference to him.
God, likewise, has a sensitive ear, and misses every voice not lifted in praise and thanksgiving. It makes a difference whether we thank God or not. We may often feel like the piccolo player that it does not matter. With all the angels of heaven singing, and millions of voices on earth joining them with songs of thanksgiving, how can it matter what we do? For us to say thank you Lord seems even more insufficient than the skill of a piccolo player in a colossal symphony. Our benefits and blessings are so great, and our ability to express our gratitude so inadequate, that we sometimes question if we are really thankful at all. The more one counts his blessings, the more inadequate he feels to give thanks. Simon Greenberg expresses this in poetry.
Five thousand breathless dawns all new,
Five thousand flowers fresh in dew;
Five thousand sunsets wrapped in gold,
One million snowflakes served ice cold;
Five quite friends; one baby's love,
One white mad sea with clouds above;
One hundred music-haunted dreams,
Of moon-drenched roads and hurrying streams;
Of prophesying winds, and trees,
Of silent stars and browsing bees,
One June night in a fragrant wood;
On heart that loved and understood.
I wondered when I waked at day,
How-how in God's name-I could pay!
We can't even begin to thank God enough for all the blessings of nature and loved ones, let alone for the gift of salvation and eternal life. To think of paying is foolish, for we are indebted to an infinite measure. The question is, how can we thank God? He hears our weak prayer of thanks and counts it essential, but even so, we know that words are cheap and cost us nothing. Certainly there is some way to express our gratitude to God in a more concrete and practical way. Paul here in Col. 3:15-17 gives us, I think, just what we are looking for to make thanksgiving a truly vital aspect of our lives. He gives us in these verses three ways in which we can give thanksgiving through thanksliving. The first way is connected with-
I. THE PEACE OF CHRIST. v.15.
Paul says let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Peace us one of gifts Jesus left with His disciples before He went to the cross.
Is not an exclusive gift to them only, however, but is the possession of all believers who are united to Christ by faith. But it is one thing to possess the peace of Christ, and another to let the peace of Christ possess you. It is the latter that Paul is urging upon the Colossian Christians. The degree to which we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts is the measure of our gratitude for the gift of His peace. Paul connects being thankful directly with letting peace rule in our hearts. The peace of Christ could never rule in the unthankful heart. The two are mutual aids. The more thankful one is, the more the peace of Christ will rule, and the more it rules, the more thankful one is.
Paul is certainly an example of this. He writes this from prison where he could very soon suffer a violent death, and yet he writes of peace and being thankful. Paul was thankful for every state he was in, for the peace of Christ reigned in his heart. His was a life of thanksliving, for he lived always for the end of pleasing God. He urges all Christians to pursue a like path by letting the peace of Christ rule in their hearts.
So shall our walk to close to God,
Calm and serene our frame,
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads us to the Lamb.
What does it mean to let the peace of Christ rule? The Greek word is the term for umpire. In a baseball game, if a dispute breaks out, the umpire must make a decision and settle the dispute. Lightfoot, the Greek scholar, says of this word, "Wherever there is a conflict of motives or impulses or reasons, the peace of Christ must step in and decide which is to prevail." In other words, the peace of Christ is the umpire that is to settle all disputes in our lives, and put down all rebellion. This means that Christians, like everyone else, have conflicts in their lives. They have emotions and wills that are often in a turmoil and do not know which way to turn. It is at this point the Christian has a resource in the peace of Christ. Let Christ make the decision. Commit yourself to do only what is in harmony with Christ, and you will be at peace.
Let the experience of Christ himself be our guide. In Gethsemane His heart was in conflict, and he was deeply troubled. The greatest decision of His life was being made. He gained perfect peace by letting the peace of God rule in His heart. He resolved all conflict by total submission, and said, "Not my will but thine be done." So when we find ourselves in one of those situations where we don't know what to do, resolve the conflict by submitting to Christ. In the context Paul is referring to conflict with other Christians. We are called to be one body, and anything that divides Christians is an agent of Satan. Do not let him have control, but let the peace of Christ rule here as well.
John Chrysostom gives an illustration: "Suppose a man to have been unjustly insulted, two thoughts are born of the insult, the one urging him to vengeance, and the other two patience, and these wrestle with one another. If the peace of God stands as umpire, it bestows the prize on that which calls to endurance, and puts the other to shame." By so doing we are giving God thanks for His grace. That is thanksgiving through thanksliving.
II. THE WORD OF CHRIST. V.16
The word of Christ is just that, the words of Christ which we have recorded in the Bible. Here we have another very concrete way of expressing our gratitude to God, by seeking to know His will. But note, it is not enough that it dwell in your home on the bookshelf, or on the end table, or in the closet. The measure of our devotion is the degree in which we let the word of Christ dwell in our hearts and minds. Paul says to let it dwell in you richly. We must be filled with its content. Paul does not say let it visit you now and then, but let it dwell in you. Let your heart be its home, and not merely its motel. Let it reside in you and reside there richly, not as a narrow stream, but as a full flowing river. Moderation is no virtue when it comes to gaining a knowledge of God's word.
A letter from a loved one is precious even before you know it's contents. So the Bible is precious to us even when we are ignorant of much of it. But what boy or girl would be content with merely having such a letter when they can open it and gain the precious knowledge of it's contents, and what Christian can be content to own a Bible, but not know the riches of its contents? The truly thankful heart will take full advantage of having God's word, and do all they can to let it dwell in them richly.
When this is a reality, the richness of God's truth always spills over in song and poetry. A large portion of the Bible is poetry. One has written, "Every great spiritual revival in the Christian church has been accompanied by a corresponding outbreak and development of Christian hymnology." In college I did some research on a little known subject-hymns and missions. I discovered that missionaries have used hymns to reach the world. Hymnology has been a major factor in the spread of Christianity around the world. Some of our best hymns were written by missionaries, and even by converts of missionaries in other lands. Where the word of God dwells richly the heart is filled with song. Singing is a part of thanksgiving through thanksliving.
III. THE NAME OF CHRIST V.17
Like the peace of Christ, and the word of Christ, the name of Christ is a resource and standard for living that the non-believer does not have. The non-Christian is often like a chameleon which changes with the circumstances. His language and conduct are relative to the environment. He can curse and talk in foul language in one setting, and be very pleasant and respectable in another. Paul gives us a principle here that helps the obedient Christian be consistent in all circumstances, by doing all in word or deed in the name of Christ.
Notice, it is not just what we do and say in church, or in presence of certain persons. There are no qualifications at all, for it is all inclusive. It is a comprehensive principle which applies to all of life and all speech. There is no distinction between scared and secular. It is not only prayer that is to be in the name of Jesus, but all of our speech. It is not only Bible reading which is to be in His name but all reading.
What does it mean to do all in the name of Jesus? Certainly it does not mean we are to tack on to the end of every sentence we say, in Jesus' name. It does not mean we are to make it a ritual we repeat over every act, such as, I eat this meal in the name of Jesus. I now bowl this line in the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus stands for His total character, authority, power, and glory. To do all in His name means to do all by His authority and approval, and in recognition of it. Our conduct is to be always of such a nature that it is approved of by Christ. To eat a hamburger in the name of Jesus is to do so, knowing it is with His approval, and with the conviction there is nothing in the act out of harmony with the glory of Christ, and in thanksgiving that it can be done.
This principle keeps us from the moral relativism of our age. We do not ask, what is being done, or what is the majority of opinion, but we ask can it be done in the name of Christ, that is, with His approval? This principle earnestly applied would revolutionize many a vocabulary. It is easy to preach and teach in the name of Christ, but the real test comes in the home, at work, at school, and when we are in the company of non-Christian friends. All that is said and done there must also meet the approval of Christ.
This principle affects every aspect of life. Our attitudes on all the issues of our day. If we take a position, it must always be with the conviction that Christ approves of that position. If we fight for a cause, it must be in the persuasion that the cause is for the glory of Christ. All of this opens up the danger of subjectivity, however, and each person will say, Christ approves of His view, even when He may not. This principle can only be properly obeyed by first obeying the exhortation to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. There must be an objective standard to determine the mind of Christ. When we have the word of Christ as the foundation for our conviction, then we will have the peace of Christ to go ahead in the name of Christ.
Paul says also, that we are to in all we say and do give thanks to God in Christ. We are to thank God not only for all that He has done for us in Christ, but for all we can do for the glory of Christ. Without His grace man can do nothing pleasing in His sight, but by applying the principles of this passage we can do everything pleasing to Him. Every act and every word can be for His glory. Wherever we are now, we are far from where we can and ought to be in obedience and thanksgiving to Christ. Let's begin today in a greater measure than ever before to let the peace of Christ and the word of Christ dwell in us that we might do all in the name of Christ, and thus, give to God thanksgiving through thanksliving.