1) Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, 2) let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, and 3) whatever you do, do all in the name of Jesus. I believe that obedience to these commands is the soil in which the spirit of thanksgiving flourishes. Obedience to these commands is the lifestyle which is most conducive to the thankful spirit.
This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving, that uniquely American holiday on which we take off from work and school, eat turkey and dressing, and watch parades and bowl games on television. But we need to remember that Thanksgiving should be more than a day off and a special meal and seasonal TV programs. Thanksgiving was instituted as a day which our culture sets aside to count our blessings and to give God thanks. Yet we must acknowledge that Thanksgiving as originally instituted is becoming more and more foreign to much of our culture. A radical form of ingratitude has come to characterize the culture that today dominates in certain spheres of our society. The philosophy behind this radical ingratitude is neo-Marxism, a new embodiment of the failed economic theories of Karl Marx.
The original version of Marxism tried to promote revolution through conflict between factory workers and the capitalist owners of the means of production. In the twentieth century, economic versions of Marxism were tried in numerous places and without exception proved to be economically disastrous. At the same time, the economic status of workers continued to improve in societies with a free market. In the closing decades of the twentieth century, socialism and communism were abandoned in many nations as failed economic experiments.
Sadly the ghost of Marxism has risen from the grave in the twenty-first century. The newer version of Marxism tries to promote revolution through conflict not between economic classes but between social classes referred to as the victims of oppression and the oppressors. Instead of promoting gratitude for the real blessings that people experience, neo-Marxism encourages people to view themselves as oppressed victims even when they are not. Neo-Marxism tries to convince people to view truly good things about our culture as sinister means used by the powerful to maintain power and to oppress their victims. To give some examples, free speech is opposed as a form of hateful violence, police protection for high crime neighborhoods is opposed as racial profiling, private ownership of defensive weapons is opposed as the cause of criminal violence, constitutional limits on government are opposed as barriers to radical social change, the traditional family is opposed as a barrier to new sexual liberties, and so on. In today’s world, things for which we should be grateful are labeled as means of oppression.
Perhaps the most tragic consequence of neo-Marxism is the current trend for young people to be dissatisfied with the biological sexual identity that God has encoded into every gene in their physical bodies. It is a sign of our times that instead of saying with the psalmist David, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” many young people resent the physical bodies which God has given them.
In contrast to much of our culture today, the biblically defined Christian is characterized not by an embittered ingratitude but by thanksgiving. To use the language of the hundredth Psalm, we enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Giving thanks to God is the Christian’s duty. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul exhorts us, “In everything, give thanks.” And consider Ephesians 5:3-4:
3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;
4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
Worldly people may be known for their dirty jokes and filthy language and coarse jesting, but the Christian should be known for giving thanks to God.
I chose Colossians 3:15-17 as our passage for today because it mentions the concept of thanksgiving three times, once in each verse. This is very obvious is verses 15 and 17. Verse 15 says, “be thankful,” and verse 17 says, “giving thanks to God the Father.” The reference to thanksgiving is not as obvious in verse 16, at least not in the New King James Version, which reads, “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The reference to thanksgiving in verse 16 is obvious in some other translations. For example, the New American Standard and the English Standard Version both translate verse 16 as referring to singing “with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
The Greek word here is usually translated “grace.” Yet like most words, this Greek word has more than one possible meaning. The meaning of this word which we are probably most familiar with is the goodwill which motivates a giver to give a gift as an undeserved and unearned favor. This is the meaning that this word has, for example, in Ephesians 2:8, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” This is a reference to grace as the goodwill which motivated God to give us the unmerited and undeserved gift of salvation. Yet this Greek word also has other related meanings. It can refer to the gift itself. It can also refer to the gratitude of the person who received the gift, to the gratitude motivated by the reception of the gift.
In verse 16 of our text, the Apostle Paul is here using the Greek word often translated “grace” to refer to the gratitude of someone on the receiving end of God’s undeserved favor. This is the possible meaning that makes the best sense of verse 16 and is also the meaning that is most consistent with verses 15 and 17, both of which mention thanksgiving.
I believe our passage for today gives us some insight into how we as Christians can maintain the spirit of thanksgiving in spite of the ingratitude that dominates so much of our culture. Our passage today consists of three verses, and each verse contains a command. The three commands are 1) let the peace of God rule in your hearts, 2) let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, and 3) whatever you do, do all in the name of Jesus. I believe that obedience to these commands is the soil in which the spirit of thanksgiving flourishes. Obedience to these commands is the lifestyle which is most conducive to the thankful spirit.
I want to look at these commands and through them exhort us to give thanks to the Lord our God.
Paul’s first command is, Let the peace of God rule in your hearts. Now notice at the onset that Paul is not talking about just any old inner peace. There are plenty of people who are at peace with themselves who should not be. Many people have hearts like the false prophets of old who cried out, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace. The Bible describes the unregenerate heart as calloused and stony, which is a metaphorical way of saying unfeeling. Their lives are burdened with sin and with guilt and yet they feel no inner grief. They have the peace of spiritual indifference, the peace of spiritual ignorance, the peace of spiritual death. Their hearts have the peace and quiet of the graveyard.
Paul is not referring to just any old inner peace. He is referring to the peace of God. This is the peace which Jesus promised as His legacy to His people in John 14:27, where He said,
27 “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”