Glad-Hearted Gratitude (1:12a)
If you are reading the ESV (English Standard Version), as I am, you'll see that the words "with joy" are placed at the close of v. 11, as if to qualify the endurance and patience that God's power will enable us to experience. In other words, this rendering suggests that perseverance and longsuffering are to be joyful, not morose and sullen, as if we were to submit to injustice and hardship grudgingly and with a long face.
I certainly think the Bible teaches this, but I'm not sure Colossians 1:11 does. In a footnote to this passage, the ESV indicates that we might want to take "with joy" in connection with v. 12. In this case, we would render it something like, "strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father . . ."
My preference is for the second of these two options (both the NASB and the NIV also render "joy" as qualifying the way we give thanks). I won't bother you with the technical reasons for this, but would like to focus on the importance of our gratitude to God being a joyful, heartfelt, rapturous thanksgiving.
But does this even warrant comment? After all, what other kind of gratitude is there but that which is joyful? Isn't all thanksgiving, by definition, characterized by joy? No.
The fact is, we often receive things we don't want. Not every gift brings a smile to our faces. There are times when we silently wish the donor would just return it and get their money back!
On other occasions we find ourselves suspicious of the motive of the giver. What are they up to? Do they want something from me? Is this gift just a way of flattering me? Am I being manipulated? Perhaps they're doing this to get me to lower my defenses so they can ask of me a favor they know I otherwise wouldn't be inclined to perform!
In any case, gratitude can all too often be lifeless and perfunctory. We say, "Thanks," with virtually no energy or sincerity. It may be due to our thinking we actually deserve whatever they've given. If we view their action or "generosity" toward us as the payment of a debt, there may well be little joy or delight when we receive it. Relief, yes, but very little if any rejoicing.
Perhaps we struggle with this because we've lost sight of how important joy is to God. Consider, for example, these words from Deuteronomy 28:47 – "Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you." Merely serving the Lord wasn't enough. Joyfulness and gladness of heart were essential for their service to be pleasing to the Lord.
Or consider the following, which is a small sampling of a pervasive theme in Scripture:
“But let all who take refuge in Thee be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and mayest Thou shelter them, that those who love Thy name may exult in Thee” (Ps. 5:11).
“I will be glad and exult in Thee; I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High” (Ps. 9:2).
“Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fullness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps. 16:11).
“As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake” (Ps. 17:15).
“O Lord, in Thy strength the king will be glad, and in Thy salvation how greatly he will rejoice! . . . For Thou dost make him most blessed forever; Thou dost make him joyful with gladness in Thy presence” (Ps. 21:1,6).
“Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones, and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart” (Ps. 32:11).
“They drink their fill of the abundance of Thy house; and Thou dost give them to drink of the river of Thy delights” (Ps. 36:8).
“Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).
“Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and upon the lyre I shall praise Thee, O God, my God” (Ps. 43:4).
“Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” (Ps. 51:12a).
“But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; yes, let them rejoice with gladness” (Ps. 68:3).
One final thought, which will prepare us for the next meditation. One reason we don't give thanks "with joy" is that we know so little of the profound spiritual blessings that God has provided for us in Jesus. In Colossians 1:12-14 Paul will cite three stunning gifts from God, all ours because of what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. Meditate upon them, and rejoice with thanksgiving!
Joyfully thanking God with you,