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Thanksgiving: To Whom and For What

November brings a special time of year where our families gather to offer thanks. This year however, family gatherings may not look the same. For a number of reasons, there may be some family members who are not sitting around the table or watching football or getting in that last-minute nap before strategically planning to stand in long lines for those shopping deals.

Due to the unique situation with COVID-19, this year’s Thanksgiving will certainly be different. But how should we respond? My quick and simple answer is: give thanks. Isn’t this what the Thanksgiving holiday is about anyway? At this point, those reading this article may ask “to whom and for what” do we offer thanks during these unprecedented times? I believe the apostle Paul has our answer in Colossians 1.

Throughout his letters, Paul consistently offers thanks to God and intercedes on behalf of, or for, his readers. The letter to the Colossians is one of these examples. There are two important sections of the letter that exhibit this thanksgiving to God (1:3-8) and intercession for the believers of Colossae (1:9-14). Paul adapted the typical Greco-Roman letter of his time to include what looks like two sections of thanksgiving, with similarities and differences.

Paul directs both the thanksgiving and intercessory prayer to God, and both sections include a discussion regarding the life and growth of the Colossians. On the other hand, in one section, Paul addresses his thanks to God for the Colossians’ faithful living and loving care that is based upon the power and hope of the gospel. In the second section (1:9-14), Paul prays for the Colossians’ knowledge of the gospel and thus a life that is consistent, obedient and pleasing to God. Both sections focus on the gospel; one is the basis for a new life in Christ (1:4), and the other is the practical outworking of this new life (1:10-12).

Colossians 1:3-8 [Paul Gives thanks to God]

Paul gave thanks, not to the gods as was typical of thanksgiving sections during his time, but to THE God. His expression of gratitude and appreciation to God for the Colossians was frequent and regular during his times of prayer (v. 3); especially because of the presence and potential effect of the false teachers on the church of Colossae (2:8, 16-19).

Paul gave thanks because of the Colossians’ faithful living and non-discriminate love toward others (v. 4). They were actively living out their faith, but why? Because they had hope! (v. 5). As O’Brien notes, “The Colossian Christians were assured that everything contained in their hope was kept for them in its right place – in heaven, where no power can touch it. Though stored up for future; it has present and immediate ramifications, not least as the basis for their ongoing faith and exercise of Christian love” (O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon 11-12). The Colossians’ growth was due to their belief in the truth of the gospel proclaimed and the power of the gospel expressed (vv. 5-6). The gospel was actively building up others and accomplishing the will of God (v. 6). They understood the grace of God in truth; that is, they made the truth of God’s Word a part of their personal life, and Epaphras reported the good work of the Colossians to Paul (v. 8). In summary, the church at Colossae had a living faith, expressed in a love for others, that was based upon the hope of the truth of the gospel.

Colossians 1:9-14 [Paul Intercedes for Others]

Paul prayed regularly on behalf of the Colossians (v. 9). The basis of Paul’s prayer was what he already heard (v. 4), likely what Epaphras reported (v. 8). Paul then asked God to give the Colossians a complete understanding of His Word (v. 9). Therefore, with this understanding they could see God’s Word clearly and distinctly as truth, so they had a comprehensive obedience that others could see. They were to understand through spiritual wisdom and understanding, or as Melick, Jr. states, “Spiritual understanding includes wisdom: the acquisition and application of knowledge. It consists in the ability ‘to act’ and ‘think spiritually;’…it is both the goal and the means to an end” (Philippians, Colossians, Philemon 202).

Typically, Paul does not intercede for others without a purpose; Colossians is no different. Paul, therefore, prayed in order that the Colossians would walk consistent with their identity as Christ followers (v. 10) ultimately with a resulting character that pleases God in every way. The ways in which they can please God are found in verses 10b-12; that is, a continual and responsible growth in one’s spiritual life (v. 10b), a submissive and empowered spirit strengthened through God’s might and power (v. 11) and a joyful giving of thanks to God the Father (v. 12).

Paul encouraged the Colossians to give thanks to the Father because of His work (vv. 12-13) and His Son’s work (v. 14). God is to be genuinely thanked and acknowledged for his incredible kindness because He has made us righteous (v. 12), He has rescued us from the dominion where darkness reigns and is controlled by Satan (v. 13) and He has transferred us into the dominion where Christ reigns and we are citizens in the realm of light (v. 13b). And it is this Christ, God’s Son, who paid the payment to secure our freedom and forgiveness of sin (v. 14) and cancelled/erased our debt by nailing it to the cross (cf. 2:14). As a believer in Christ, Paul clearly explains that there is much for which we can be thankful.

A Challenge For Your Prayers This Thanksgiving, 2020

I encourage you in this unique Thanksgiving season to let your prayers of thanksgiving to God be an act of praise and appreciation, where He is genuinely thanked and acknowledged for His redemptive work through His Son on your behalf (1:12-14). You are presently one of His people (1:12) ultimately awaiting a glorious and confident hope (1:27) through Christ.

Let your intercessory prayers for others be given for the express purpose that they grow in and through God’s Word to ultimately walk pleasing to Him in all aspects of life. You are currently in a settled state as a believer; fixed and planted in Christ (2:7) ultimately and continually being strengthened in Him. While a pandemic certainly has impacted our lives; COVID-19 shouldn’t negatively impact our giving thanks to God this Thanksgiving.

by Wayne Slusser, Ph.D., dean of Baptist Bible Seminary

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