Do you remember a time when you were overcome with emotional feelings of thankfulness? Maybe it was stimulated by a near miss, when you could have been injured or killed. Or perhaps you were so flooded by blessings that you just had to stop and look up. It is probably true that the saddest person in the world is an atheist on Thanksgiving Day, because he has no one to whom he can express gratitude.
Theoretically, the older you are—the more thankful you should be. Hindsight tends to clarify your view of life, so the farther you can see in your past, the more you may realize God’s hand of guidance and care, resulting in expressions of gratitude.
Little children are taught to say “Thank You” because it is not a natural reaction. The normal self-centeredness of children tends to make them believe they deserve anything they want and get. It was a banner day in our house when each of our five children finally said, “Thank You,” without being prompted by Pat or me saying, “What do you say?” Genuine appreciation was a characteristic we strongly encouraged in our children.
The things that make you thankful reveal a lot about your heart.
When the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Colossae in Asia Minor, he began, “We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Colossians 1:3). He began by telling them why he was thankful to God for them. The things for which Paul thanked God are examples that can improve our thanksgiving today. Using Paul’s thankfulness as our example, what things should make us thankful?
1. Be thankful for Faith in Christ…”Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 4).
There is no evidence Paul had ever been to Colossae, but he had spent three years ministering in the city of Ephesus, about 100 miles to the northwest. From Ephesus the gospel went out to the whole province (Acts 19:10). A native of Colossae, Epaphras, had probably heard the gospel and been saved during those days, had returned to Colossae, led others to Christ, baptized them, and started that church. So, Paul said, they had “understood the grace of God in truth” as they “learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant” (Colossians 1:6, 7).
Though Paul did not know them personally, he was thankful for their faith in Christ. He knew that it was faith in the Lord Jesus that saved them, changed them, and gave them assurance of a home in heaven. Scripture promises: “By grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). The Colossian church members had heard the gospel and had placed their faith in Christ to save them.
2. Be thankful for Love for Others…”and the love which you have for all the saints” (v. 4).
The church members of Colossae sincerely loved all the saints. The word “saint” in Scripture was not meant to describe some highly respected, deceased, godly person with a halo. In the Bible, the word was used of people who had been set apart to God because they had trusted Christ as their Savior. A saint is a believer who is made holy and identified by his or her faith in Christ. Those members in the Colossian church loved saints, believers in Christ in other places.
The Christian life was not just about them, but was about loving Christians in other places who loved and served the same Lord and Savior. Loving other brethren in Christ was evidence of saving faith, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). Christians are commanded to “Let love of the brethren continue” (Hebrews 13:1).
3. Be thankful for Hope in Heaven… “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (v. 5).
Because the saints in Colossae had placed their faith in Christ Jesus, they were saved, and had real hope beyond this life. For Christians, this life is not the end, but the first phase of a life that lasts forever. Jesus said, “he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
It is amazing that Christians can live here on earth, motivated by the fact that after they die here, they have a life and hope awaiting them in heaven that will never end. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Notice that this hope is “laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5). When your hope is “laid up” that means, no matter what happens in the present, your future life is secure, out of danger, awaiting you in heaven, God’s home. That is why Paul said, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We are to live here with our hope there.
These Christians had hope secure in heaven because they believed what they “previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel” (v. 5). Epaphras had shared the gospel, which was the good news that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, that he had been buried, but rose again the third day, and that anyone, anywhere, who placed his or her faith in Him would be saved (John 3:16).
So, what makes you thankful? If you have trusted Christ, you can be thankful for your faith in Him, your love for others, and for the hope you have in heaven. If you have not trusted Christ for salvation, you can do so today by repenting of your sins, and trusting Him alone to save you. Then, you will have eternity to thank Him!