Chapter 2   Thanksgiving and Prayer

We know a lot about people from watching their outward behavior. But we cannot see the impulses, feelings, words, motivations moving up and down their nervous system. Our first chapter has given an important external view of Paul's team as they preach, travel, risk their life, are imprisoned. But the Epistle also gives us a picture of the heart concerns that move them.

The heart of faith in God is thanksgiving. We might hear it expressed in words like "thank you" and "I am so grateful.". The facial expression of a thankful person is very different from the thankless. But mostly thankfulness is a conversation in the heart. "Thank you Lord for healing that pain, which I thought was cancer." "I am so grateful for this person in my life." And thanksgiving easily changes into praise. "Lord, what a wonderful evening. As the sun is setting on the water the rays are coming straight towards me. All your ways are wonderful."

Admittedly a persons' faith could still be mixed with ignorance, superstition, and wrong ideas that need to be corrected. In Athens when Paul found an altar "to an unknown God" he did not deny their rudimentary faith. But he said "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:23).

So when someone claims to be an atheist, I always ask "Do you ever find yourself being thankful?" If the answer is "No, why should I be thankful for anything in my life?" there is nothing much more to be said on that occasion. But usually they admit that they are thankful from time to time, and I can then assure them they already have a huge amount of faith. You cannot say "thank you" to matter or energy or chance. As soon as there is thanksgiving to a Creator that person already has faith in a personal God. And growth in faith is an every increasing experience of being thankful. Paul even wrote "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18) which suggests that even in the worst of circumstances he had learned to be thankful.

Paul's Epistles often begin with thanksgiving. "First, I thank my God through Jesus the Messiah for all of you" (Romans 1:8, see also 1 Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:15-20, Philippians 1:3-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5, 13-14, 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4). And here are some examples of thanksgiving in the Epistle to the Colossians.

1:3-4 - Paul is thankful for the establishment of their church, and their love for the other disciples. "In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, for we have heard of your faith in the Messiah Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints" (1:3-4. The Greek word Christos should be translated Messiah, as in Matthew 1:1, 17, 18 and throughout the Gospels).

1:12-13 - He wants the Colossian disciples to be constantly thankful for the privilege of having been brought out of darkness into the light of the Messiah's kingdom. "Giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son" (The word 'saint" does not refer to those we put up in stained glass windows. All Christian disciples (disciples are learners, however imperfect and ignorant they may still be) are saints (2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:2).

2:6-7 - Faith begins with thanksgiving, then it becomes rooted like a plant in the soil of the Messiah, and it grows by "abounding in thanksgiving." "As therefore you have received the Messiah Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught abounding in thanksgiving" (for Messiah see note above on 1:3-4).

3:15 - When we are ill at ease, it is a sure sign that there are areas of our life for which we are not thankful. But thankfulness in everything quietens our heart. "Let the peace of the Messiah rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."

3:16-17 - Christian worship is based on sharing the Messiah's Word, and that results in songs of thanksgiving. "Let the word of the Messiah dwell in you richly; teach and admonish (instruct) one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God" (as we will see in the next chapter Christian teaching does not mean legalistic admonishing).

The parallel passage in Ephesians 5:18-20 contrasts drunkenness with spiritual worship.

3:17 - Our conversation and behavior should be in the name (name indicates character) of the Messiah. And the test of the rightness of an action is whether we can thank God for it. "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Jesus summed up the heart of ethics as "You shall love the Lord your God with all our heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it : You shall love your neighbor as yourself " (Matthew 22:39). It is easy to see that being constantly thankful to God is a sure sign of loving him. There may be things we do because of our love for God, but trying to please God by way of duty instead of an expression of thankfulness quickly turns into legalism.

Love for our neighbor was already taught in the Old Testament. "You shall not take vengeance against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). And Jesus explained that there is no way we would want to murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or dishonor our parents, if we love them as we love ourselves (Matthew 19:1). But we wonder what genuine love for others really means? Just as the heart of our love for God is thankfulness, the heart of love for others is prayer. Doing things for others can in fact be very patronizing and manipulative if we have not first found ourselves praying for them. This is why well-meaning social service without prayer is so often resented by the recipients.

Paul's Epistles are full of deep concern in prayers for others (Romans 1:9-10, Ephesians 1:17-18, 3:14-19, Philippians 1:9). And his Epistle to the Colossians is no exception.

1:9-10 - "For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God." Rather than tell others what we think they should do, it is always much better to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to them what God has in mind.

1:11 - "May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience." When Joshua took over from Moses the huge task of taking two or three million people across the Jordan into the promised land, God told him to "Be strong and courageous" and again "Be strong and very courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed" (Joshua 1:6,9, see Deuteronomy 31:6-7). Praying for courage for those who are in positions of leadership is certainly a prayer that God delights to answer.

2:1-2 - "I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their heart to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding." Paul's prayer struggle (see 4:12) even extends to Christians he has never met in churches he has never visited.

4:2 - "Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert (watchful) in it with thanksgiving." It is easy to offer up prayers, and quicky forget what one has asked. Prayer is far more effective if we watch to see how God answers our prayer and immediately thank him for what he is doing.

4:3 - "At the same time pray for us as well that God will open a door for the word, that we may be able to declare the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison." If we could go behind the scenes, we would be astonished to see that every advance of the good news of the word of God has been the result of others, often in far away places, praying for the right doors to open.

4:12 - "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Messiah Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills." Epaphras had come all the way to Rome to consult Paul about the false teaching that was ravaging the Colossian church. But together with seeking Paul's advice he continued wrestling (see Jacob's all night wrestle, Genesis 32:24) with God for his fellow church members.

4:18 - "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains." Paul is not afraid to ask for the prayers of other Christians, but he ends with his characteristic prayer for them which is literally "The grace be with you" (as in 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 4:22, Titus 3:15. In other letters he refers to "the grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah"). "The grace" includes all that the Messiah has done and graciously intends to do to perfect us in the love of God. And that again is a prayer that God delights to hear and answer.

Chapter  3 .....