This past Christmas I received a red and white, University of Oklahoma, sweater vest from my daughter and her husband. To say that I was profoundly grateful is an understatement. When it came time to express my gratitude, I didn’t address my sentiments to my sister, although she has been extremely generous to me over the years. Nor did I turn to my wife and say, “Honey, this is a wonderful gift. Thank you so much!”
I hope you realize why. No one, at least no one in his/her right mind, says “Thank You” to people who were not responsible for whatever gift or opportunity or blessing it is that one is considering. We express our gratitude to the person(s) who purchased or produced or in some way was responsible for it now being ours. This is simple common sense that does not require much discussion.
So what are we to make of Paul’s consistent practice of thanking God for the faith and love and obedience of the various believers to whom he addressed his many epistles? Colossians is no exception to this Pauline rule. We read in Colossians 1:3-4, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints . . .”
If Paul believed that these Colossians were themselves ultimately responsible for the presence of faith and love in their hearts, why did he bother to thank God? Why didn’t he simply congratulate the Colossians and get on to other matters? On the other hand, if Paul believed, and I believe he did, that God was ultimately the source for their trust in Jesus and their affection towards one another, it makes perfectly good sense for him to express his gratitude to heaven each time he prays for these Christians.
In his sermon on Ephesians 1:15-18, John Calvin makes much the same point. Paul again “does not cease to give thanks” for the Ephesians because he has heard of their “faith in the Lord Jesus” and their “love toward all the saints” (Eph. 1:15-16a). I’ve taken the liberty of quoting Calvin, substituting “Colossians” for “Ephesians”. He writes:
“Now, with all this, he shows that faith and love are the very gifts of God and do not come from ourselves, as men always imagine through a devilish pride. I told you before that St. Paul did not play the hypocrite in giving thanks to God for the faith and love of the Colossians. If every man was able to believe and have faith of his own accord, or could get it by some power of his own, the praise for it ought not to be given to God. For it would be but mockery to acknowledge ourselves indebted to him for what we have obtained, not from him, but from elsewhere. But here St. Paul blesses God’s name for enlightening the Colossians in the faith and for framing their hearts to make them loving. It is to be concluded, therefore, that everything comes from God” (Sermons on The Epistle to the Ephesians [Banner of Truth Trust], p. 83).
Do you find faith resident in your heart? Are you this moment believing in Jesus and trusting him for life and breath and all things? Do you feel a deep and abiding affection for the people of God? Do you delight in showing compassion and generosity towards those in the body of Christ? If so, do not reach around to pat yourself on the back. Rather, extend your hands toward heaven and say: “Thanks, God!”
Thanking God with you,