Most Valuable Thanker?
Have you ever won a prize for excelling at something? Salesman of the year? Best in your category at a music competition? Top goal-scorer in the league?
We think that those who excel have a reason for pride, and deserve some recognition. You can make a name for yourself by being really good at something.
Which makes the image in Colossians 2:6-7 unusual:
Just as you received Christ as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
The Spirit here exhorts us to “overflow with thankfulness,” or literally, to “excel in thanksgiving.” That is a surprising combination. Those who excel stand out for attention, and they win prizes. But thanksgiving goes hand-in-hand not with praise, but humility. They never give out awards for gratitude, like Most Valuable Thanker, or Top Appreciator.
No, if you’re thankful, you’re in a position of being obligated to others for their generosity. Your thoughts are drawn away from yourself, because you’ve received something, and you know you didn’t earn it. Our thanksgiving is always derived and secondary. It’s always less than what was given.
Maybe you’ve experienced how small gratitude can seem. Someone gives you a valuable gift, monetary or otherwise. Someone makes a great sacrifice for your cause. Or maybe someone even saves your life, pulls you from a car wreck. At certain times our words of thanksgiving can seem so small, so inadequate! In human terms, gratitude always puts us in the lower place. And that’s exactly our position before God: weak, helpless, dependent. He has given us everything in Christ—he has freely saved our life through him.
So the Spirit says, “Excel in thanksgiving!” God says, “If you’re going to be good at something, be good at this. Shine in gratitude. Stand out with your worship.” It doesn’t matter that you’ve received everything, and that you’re utterly dependent on God. Just be really good at giving him the glory. Make it your life’s work!
If there’s anything you should be known for, let it be thanksgiving. If you have received Christ—who abounds in every way—then abound with thanksgiving. The preeminent Christ should receive preeminent praise.
That’s a challenge for us. It’s a challenge, because we all still fight the tendencies of the sinful nature, those tendencies to be critical, or discontent, or complaining, or jealous. So often we are full of anxiety and care. We fear the future, we doubt God’s promises, we don’t trust his Word.
You can be sure that even on a day devoted to thanksgiving, we’ll find some reason to grumble: “The turkey is too dry.” “I wish there was more dessert.” Much more seriously, you might look at your life and say, “I’ve prayed so often about this, but God hasn’t heard me. The LORD has let me down. Because he’s not blessed me in the ways I was hoping, I’m not even sure what my life is for right now.” It is hard to excel in thanksgiving when you feel empty.
But then we go back to thanksgiving’s foundation. As Paul says, “We have received Christ Jesus as Lord.” If there’s anything for which we ought to be thankful, it’s our new life in Christ. We could mention many other blessings—and we should—but not before Christ. Not at the expense of Christ. Don’t obsess over the wrapping paper and the shiny bows. Take all that away, and admire the real gift. Speak of God’s glory, tell of his mercy, rejoice in his grace in the Saviour. Be satisfied in him.
“Be overflowing with thankfulness.” That is, if you’re thankful, you should say it. Show it. Pray it. Sing it. Later in Colossians, Paul exhorts us: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (4:2). He links watchfulness to thankfulness, because each day we need to notice God’s goodness, to see his mercies which are always new.
God knows perfectly well that we cannot bring anything to repay all his goodness toward us. All our gifts and a lifetime of worship and constant praise would never be enough. Everything we have has come from him—he’s the overflowing fountain of all good. But if we see that truth clearly, then it’s also clear that we’re left with just one task. It is why we’re here: to abound with thanksgiving.
So get really good at it. Shine in your praise. Excel in your gratitude. Let it continue, all year, and for the rest of your life.
Since you have received Christ, continue to live in him, and overflow with thanksgiving!