Attributes of Thankfulness

Colossians 3:12-17 NRSV
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

November, traditionally in America, is the month where we turn our thoughts toward being thankful. One of the things I’ve been enjoying on Facebook are the many who are daily listing the things for which they are thankful. In a cynical world, thankfulness silences the critics and raises one’s spirit.

Part of being thankful is being mindful of the blessings that God has given us. Sometimes, particularly in the midst of trials, that can be a very difficult task. But I’m coming to believe that thankfulness is the root of many other characteristics of believers, because when we become truly thankful it becomes easier to trust. And when it is easier to trust God, it becomes easier to allow His Holy Spirit to rule our hearts and minds.

We have the choice to focus on one of two things: we can focus on God and all that He has done and is doing for us, or we can focus on what we want (or think we want) and yet don’t have. James says:

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-4 NRSV

You want something and do not have it.
You covet something and cannot obtain it.
You do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend on your lusts (or pleasures)

That is the description of looking at life with the glass half empty. That is, in essence, refusing to be thankful (or mindful of blessings). We want, we covet, we ask and do not receive. We often get frustrated or disgruntled and, in essence, become angry with God for ignoring us! And yet, at every turn, He has been providing, giving us His best. At what point did His best become what we didn’t want?

In Colossians, Paul sums up this passage with the words: And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Thankfulness should begin and end everything we do. And if we are thankful, what should our lives look like?

We should be clothed (in essence, to put on, to sink into) with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Compassion: sympathy, pity, and mercy for others

Kindness: consideration and generosity toward others

Humility: thinking of others as better than ourselves, tending to their needs first

Meekness: being quiet, gentle, and submissive

Patience: tolerating trouble or suffering without becoming angry or upset

All of these characteristics are the opposite of anger and frustration. These characteristics also give no room for despair or withdrawal. When we are compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient, we must also be actively engaged in the lives of others, concerned about them and ministering to them. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 NRSV

We are to bear with one another and forgive each other.

The fact is, as people, we are often simply awful toward each other. We get tired, self-centered, or angry and we ignore, lash out, and make demands upon others. We want what we want when we want and we can feel that if we don’t demand that others submit to our wishes, we will suffer an irreparable loss. Father God knew that we would stumble and fall — often — which is why He commands us to forgive each other. Even as we are forgiven, we must forgive. And this is part of being thankful. If we are thankful for God’s forgiveness, we will willingly forgive others.

We must put on and sink into love, a love which strives for harmony not only with God but with those around us.

Love in the Western world has become in a distortion of the kind of love to which God calls us. This distorted love demands that perpetrators are victims, that emotions guide decisions, that sin be ignored in favor of personal choice. The love to which we are called as believers is far different for it is defined by God’s character and evidenced only through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.1 Corinthians 4-7 NRSV

When we love through the power of the Spirit, we love first and foremost God. We give Him our desires, our passions, our dreams, our wishes, our expectations — laying them at the foot of the Throne — and insist that He reformat our hearts so that we are in unison with His desires, His will, His plans. The perfect harmony must come first between us and Him for without it no harmony exists at all. Then, because we love God, we turn and love those around us: other believers, our neighbors, and the unsaved throughout the earth. We see them as God sees them, through the lense of the Cross, understanding that if Father God was willing to give His only begotten Son for them, there is nothing too great that we also cannot sacrifice if it brings them to accept the gospel message. If the Lord Jesus was willing to be tortured and unjustly executed because of His love for us, then we should be willing to endure what Paul calls “light afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:17) in order to minister to those around us.

Matthew Henry eloquently writes:

“[Love] can endure evil, injury, and provocation, without being filled with resentment, indignation, or revenge. It makes the mind firm, gives it power over the angry passions, and furnishes it with a persevering patience, that shall rather wait and wish for the reformation of a brother than fly out in resentment of his conduct. It will put up with many slights and neglects from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him” (Henry, M. 1996, c1991. Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (1 Co 13:4). Hendrickson: Peabody).

We are to allow the peace of Christ rule our hearts. We are called to this peace. It is our purpose in life.

Peace, to the Jew, had nothing to do with the absence of conflict, but was focused solely on the relationship between him and God. The peace of which Paul talks here is the same concept: it is the peace that comes between us and Father God when we accept salvation and understand that now nothing can take us from His hand.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. John 10:27-29 NRSV

But the impact of that peace on our lives needs to go further than this. If we are kept forever in His hands and He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28) then what is there to be angry or fearful or fretful about? Surrendering all of our daily worries, concerns, pains, and losses to Him, allowing Him to take care of us and sort it all out is what allowing the peace of Christ to rule our hearts is all about. Our heart attitudes — desires, passions, values, and expectations — determine how we face life. If those attitudes are ruled by the peace of Christ, then the Spirit is solely in control; our only responsibility is to minister to those around us through His leading. He will take care of everything else.

We are to let God’s Word live in us in abundance so that we are able not only to live according to His will, but also to teach and admonish one another in His wisdom.

Unfortunately, most of us sin. John Wesley believed that it was possible for the believer to live and not sin. Sadly, that kind of Christian living isn’t taught these days from our modern pulpits. Consequently, we sin. We expose our minds and thoughts to a myriad of sinful behaviors through television, movies, books, and the Internet. And those behaviors creep into (or are welcomed into) our lives. We are tempted and we succumb. And because we sin, rather than deal with our sin in a biblical manner, we tend to compare ourselves to each other, believing that because our sin isn’t the same in quantity or intensity as another’s, that we are somehow better or better off. The fact is, just as Daniel took responsibility for the sin of his nation (Daniel 9:3-5) and prayed for forgiveness, we need to begin to take responsibility for each other’s sin in the manner in which we are commanded by scripture:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2 NRSV

Our responsibility isn’t to criticize, gossip about, or condemn, but rather to restore in a spirit of gentleness. If God’s word is living in us in abundance, we are equipped to teach and admonish and to restore in the manner in which the Lord Jesus Himself would. When the woman was brought to Him, found in an adulterous relationship, the Lord Jesus rescued her from stoning, but also admonished her to stop her sinning (John 8:11). Whether she was a lonely wife caught up in an adulterous affair or a single woman, trying to make a living through prostitution, the Lord Jesus was telling her that there was a better way, a life without sin by trusting Father God to care for her, physically and emotionally. As we begin to fill our minds and hearts with the Word of God (rather than the trash of this world), we will become equipped to reach out to the hurting sinners around us with the good news that God is willing to forgive them. We can learn how the Spirit wants us to minister so that we restore in gentleness and thus bear their burdens.

Learning to live a life fully leaning on the Lord creates in us such a spirit of thanksgiving that we will sing constantly to and about Him. We will find ourselves focused solely on Him because in His light everything else fades to darkness.

There are two ways to live. One is to try to become firmly planted in this life. When one lives this way, the things of this life become all important, including success, rewards, comfort, recreation, and happiness. The other way to live is to understand that the only purpose of this life is to prepare us (and others) for eternity. When we live this way, we understand that to live is Christ and to die is gain, that it is better for others if we stay only because we are actively ministering to them to teach them about Christ.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. Philippians 1:21-24 NKJV

Do we truly desire to be in Heaven with our Savior? If so, then we will be willing to stay here only as long as He determines, to do His way and to be His ambassadors. We will understand that our relationship with Him is all that matters and be so thankful that He died in order to give us that relationship.

As we begin to think about being thankful, we have many, many blessings. But the blessing that is far above all other blessings is the gift of the Savior for without it all other blessings disappear. Without it we cannot even begin to understand what blessings are. Without it, we really have nothing to be thankful for.