Well, the summertime blues are over. Fall has come and it’s about gone. Winter is coming to west Michigan USA where I live. We’ve already had a taste of winter on All Hallow’s Eve—three inches of snow. Time to make sure the furnace is ready for winter. Our friends up north in Canada have already celebrated Thanksgiving on October 9. Six weeks later it’s Thanksgiving week in the USA.
I can still remember a Thanksgiving day long ago when my mother switched things up and served beef chow mein to us disappointed kids sitting around the card table. I think she got it out of a can that said Chun King on it. I wasn’t thankful.
Unfortunately, for many people Thanksgiving is just a day off from the rat race, an excuse to over-eat and lounge on the couch watching NFL games between naps. For others, Thanksgiving is about a different kind of consumption, surfing Amazon or planning the annual black Friday Christmas shopping marathon. Others have a hard time mustering up even an appearance of thankfulness because they’re grieving the death of a loved one or a broken relationship. Some don’t even get the day off—they have to cook the feast or serve those of us who’ve decided to go out for a Thanksgiving buffet this year. Hopefully they’ll at least be thankful for generous tips.
Is Thanksgiving just another holiday that’s highlighted on your calendar, maybe even a day you dread every year due to fractured family relationships? Are you beginning to realize it’s impossible to manufacture gratitude just because the calendar says you should?
Followers of Jesus can do better than this. We can express gratitude because we’ve experienced grace. Grace enables us to transform Thanksgiving. Paul shows us how in Colossians 3:5-17.
• • • • • • •
You can look over our previous Thanksgiving-related posts here.
• • • • • • •
Colossians 3:1-4: A Transformation Sandwich
Colossians 3:5-17 builds on Colossians 2:20-3:4, the text highlighted in our previous post on Colossians. Paul makes a transformation sandwich in Colossians 3:1-4. God’s grace in Christ provides the bun—believers in Jesus have died to the old life and have been raised up with Christ (3:1a, 3-4). Paul calls on us to pack the bun with beef—Christ-like habits and character traits, values and activities that fit the new life he has given us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, at conversion we begin to participate in Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, session, and coming! And likewise, Jesus participates in our lives, becoming more real to us as we walk in the Spirit and grow in the grace and knowledge of God through the Scriptures.
Will the real followers of Jesus please stand up? What should people who have died and risen with Christ look like? Paul shows us in Colossians 3:5-17.
How does Colossians 3:5-17 fit together?
Colossians 3:5-17 has two parts. In 3:5-11 we have a list of the vices Paul had in mind when he spoke of dying with Christ to the old earthly lifestyle we inherited from Adam. In 3:12-17 we have a list of the virtues Paul had in mind when he spoke of rising with Christ to a new heavenly lifestyle.
Notice how 3:5 and 3:12 both begin with “therefore” (ESV, NIV) or “so” (NLT). Compare 2:6, 16, 20; 3:1, 5, 12. Do you get Paul’s logic of transformation?
- Paul moves from general principles to specific practices. Our new identity/union/participation with Christ (3:1-4) must transform our character and lifestyle. Paul gets right up in our face to call out what’s wrong with our old life and and point us to a better way.
- Paul moves from what is wrong with our old self-centered life to what is right in our new life centered in Christ:
- First he tells us what vices to get rid of in 3:5-9a.
- Then he reminds us why we should do this—we are new in Christ—in 3:9b-11.
- Then he tells us what virtues we should cultivate in 3:12-17. Notice how these virtues conclude with three references to thanksgiving in 3:15-17.
- Compare Paul’s teaching here on dying to the old life and living a new life in Christ to his teaching in Romans 6:1-14 and Ephesians 4:17-5:20.
• • • • • • •
• • • • • • •
Two Powerful Metaphors
Paul teaches us that we become who we are as a new person in Christ as we unbecome the person we used to be in Adam. He uses two powerful metaphors to get this across:
- Kill your vices! 3:5-9 lists vices (thoughts and deeds) that are not fitting for people who have died with Christ to the old life. Paul emphasizes sexual immorality, greed, anger, and evil speech. Jesus didn’t think and act like this! If we’ve been crucified with Christ, we can crucify these vices. Compare Romans 6:6, 11; 8:13; Ephesians 4:19; 5:3, 5; Colossians 2:20; 3:3
- Wear your virtues! 3:12-17 lists virtues (thoughts and deeds) that are fitting for people who have been raised with Christ to a new life. Paul emphasizes humility, kindness, patience, and love, mentioning thanksgiving three times. This is how Jesus acted and thought! This is the wardrobe of our resurrection life in Christ. Compare Romans 13:13-14; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; 6:11, 14; 1 Thessalonians 5:8.
Paul’s teaching isn’t just about passive personal piety. He’s denouncing vices that destroy interpersonal relationships and lead to international conflicts. He’s insisting on virtues that lead to wholesome families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and yes, even politics. New life in Christ leads to healthy people living in community with one another as salt and light in the world. It’s about renewed individuals, freed from their former vices, who form a new humanity that wears the virtues of Jesus. Compare Paul’s teaching on Adam and Jesus in Rom 5:12-21 and 1 Cor 15:20-22, and his teaching that believers are new creatures in Christ in 2 Cor 4:3-6; 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10, 15; 4:22-24.
Real thanksgiving doesn’t happen because it’s a certain day of the year or because we’ve experienced prosperity. As we learn in Deuteronomy 8 and Habakkuk 3 (appended below), prosperity can lead to prideful self-reliance, and scarcity can bring us to depend on God alone. Thanksgiving is not a matter of circumstances that can change like the weather.
Thanksgiving happens because grace happened. God has given believers a new life and identity in Christ that doesn’t change, come what may. Through the Spirit we died with Christ to our old prideful ways. We rose with Christ to a new life of pride in the cross alone. This experience of amazing grace enables us to express authentic gratitude anytime and anywhere. Transforming Thanksgiving is simply a matter of bringing our observance of the holiday into conformity with our new life in Christ. Out with sexual immorality, covetousness, anger, and abusive speech! In with compassion, humility, love, and thankfulness!
Here’s a few more thoughts:
- How would Jesus celebrate Thanksgiving?
- Human rebellion against God began with a refusal to honor and thank him (Rom 1:21).
- We won’t have a transformed Thanksgiving apart from humility, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and love.
- Transforming thanksgiving doesn’t happen all at once, it’s a life-long journey.
- Pride is the archenemy of thanksgiving and humility is its best friend.
- Humility is the root of thanksgiving and generosity is its fruit.
- Thanksgiving is a key ingredient of constant communion with God through thick and thin (compare 1 Thess 5:17-18).
- If we’re truly thankful for what God has given us, we will give a generous portion of it to people who haven’t been blessed as we have. How can we enjoy God’s blessings without sharing them?
- God equips us for transforming Thanksgiving and all then rest of life in several ways:
- Community: We are admonished and encouraged by our brothers and sisters in Christ, who remind us that we are not in this alone.
- Instruction: We grow in our understanding of the Bible and gain wisdom for life.
- Sacraments: Faithful participation in Baptism and the Lord’s Table shows us the gospel and seals its truth to our hearts.
- Enablement: We are guided and prompted by the Holy Spirit, who helps us relate our newness in Christ to the complexities of life in a fallen world.
- Providence: God’s got us no matter what.
- Service: As we help others. we learn to rely on the Lord and thank him for what he is doing through us.
Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s reflect on all God has done for us. Sing along with The Goodness of God. Show his goodness to your neighbors.
• • • • • • •
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:10-20 NIV)
• • • • • • •
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habbakkuk 3:17-19 NIV)
• • • • • • •
For Further Reflection: Thanksgiving Texts in Paul
An inductive study of thanksgiving in Paul is eye-opening and convicting! Here’s the raw material for you to study and build your own understanding and wisdom:
- Acts- 27:35; 28:15
- Romans- 1:8, 21; 6:17; 7:25; 14:6; 16:4
- 1 Corinthians- 1:4, 14; 10:30; 11:24; 14:16-18; 15:57
- 2 Corinthians- 1:11; 2:14; 4:15; 8:16; 9:11, 15; 10:30
- Galatians- The absence of thanksgiving in this book combined with its intense content shows how deeply Paul was troubled for these congregations.
- Ephesians 1:16; 5:4, 20
- Philippians 1:3; 4:6
- Colossians 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15-17; 4:2
- 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2:13; 3:9; 5:18
- 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:13
- 1 Timothy 1:12; 2:1; 4:3
- 2 Timothy 1:3; 3:2
- Titus- The absence of thanksgiving in Titus is an outlier, not a clue to any problems Paul had with his pastoral associate in Crete.
- Philemon 4