READ – Colossians 2:6-7 (see also, Colossians 1:3, 11-14; 3:15-17; 4:2)
We’re in a series called F1RST on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The key verse is Colossians 1:18 “that in everything He might be preeminent,” that is, that Jesus might have first place in all things. Jesus brought a new arithmetic into existence: Jesus + Everything = Nothing; Jesus + Nothing = Everything. That’s the large theme of this little letter.
But there are several smaller themes woven into Colossians. Two stand out as you read the letter in its entirety: fullness and gratitude. Those two themes come together in one phrase that Paul uses in Colossians 2:7 – “overflowing with gratitude.” It’s what Paul believes is a sure sign of true Christianity. If you get the gospel, your life will overflow with gratitude. So this week we’re zooming in on the concept of gratitude and thankfulness.
1. THE POWER OF GRATITUDE
First we should recognize the magnitude of gratitude for our lives. Thankfulness is not just a matter of being polite, as if saying “Thank you” a lot is what’s at stake. Instead, gratitude is powerful. It has the ability to transform every aspect of our lives. In Colossians, gratitude is interrelated to prayer and our relationships to others (1:3); it’s connected to joy (1:12); it works in reducing conflict in relationships (3:15); it helps God’s Word move from the conceptual to the experiential (3:16); it’s linked to how the presence and power of Jesus becomes a part of our everyday, ordinary experience (3:17); and gratitude is how we develop a healthy, consistent prayer life (4:2). A number of recent psychological studies help confirm Paul’s point about gratitude. Thankfulness can help reduce stress, give better sleep, help us work through our past, and lead to improved relationships, work environments, and productivity.
Why? Why is gratitude so powerful? The Bible suggests that gratitude is powerful because it gives a big clue to two basic, fundamental truths about life. First, we were made to live with overflowing gratitude – thankfulness was to be our default setting; an essential part of what it meant to be fully alive. Second, gratitude points to the transcendent – to a Giver of the gifts that we often can’t help but be thankful for. In our greatest moments of wonder and accomplishment we can’t stop overflowing with gratitude.
2. THE DIFFICULTY OF GRATITUDE
If gratitude was supposed to come naturally and rises up in us (sometimes) instinctually – why is it often so difficult? We have moments of gratitude, but are often overflowing with discontent, anxiety, and irritability. You can see the difficulty of gratitude in the modern cultural phenomenon of Black Friday encroaching on America’s national holiday for gratitude – Thanksgiving. Paul explains this tension between the power of gratitude and its difficulty in another letter in the New Testament, Romans. In Romans 1:18-21. Essentially, Paul argues that there are two voices inside of us. One voice instinctively recognizes the gift of a Giver and wants to say “thank you.” But another voice wants to suppress the reality of the Giver. Why would we want to suppress the Giver? Because if everything that we have and are is a gift than we aren’t entitled to any of it. Further, if it’s all a gift than we can’t earn anything. That spells the end of our ego and sense of personal pride.
Gratitude is so difficult because our entitlement and ego stand in the way. Thankfulness is a call to let go all our entitlement and ego and reflect on all God has done for us – not all He owes us.
3. THE OVERFLOW OF GRATITUDE
So why can’t we just end it there and encourage ourselves to have an “attitude of gratitude” this week? Gratitude is clearly powerful and has the ability to affect our lives for good. Paul says that our lives won’t just be touched by gratitude, but that it will overflow in our lives. The truth is that we won’t overflow with gratitude if all we’re after is the benefits and blessings for ourselves. We will only overflow with gratitude when our gratitude takes us beyond ourselves and beyond the gifts to the value and love of the Giver of the gifts.
In Colossians, the center of gratitude is a relationship. Paul’s emphasis is on giving thanks to, not giving thanks for. Gifts are meant to build and strengthen a relationship not function as replacements. Often our lives are marked either by an overvaluing of God’s gifts (idolatry) or an undervaluing of His gifts (discontent). Scripture invites us to see that every gift we receive reveals something about God, His love, care, and character. We’re called to enjoy the gifts and receive them, but more importantly savor the Giver.
Gratitude as a command doesn’t really work. Gratitude hits us when we see how much it cost the Giver, how much I don’t deserve the gift, and how I could never earn it. We need to be moved and melted by overflowing generosity and grace in order to be truly grateful. The gospel is the power that melts us. The gospel exposes the depths of our entitlement and ego, and yet provides the gift all the same. The gospel says you deserve nothing, and you’re entitled to nothing, and Jesus who was entitled to everything let go of everything so that you could gain all you will ever need and more. The gospel says we can earn nothing. All our efforts and morality doesn’t earn an ounce of God’s love and acceptance, but because of Jesus we receive all the love and approval our hearts long for. Jesus has earned what you could never earn yourself, what you weren’t entitled to, and He gives it as a free, unconditional gift. That’s overflowing grace that will lead a life of overflowing gratitude.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Besides the gospel J what’s the best gift you’ve ever been given? How did it make you feel?
3. Have you experience the power of gratitude in your life? Give an example.
4. How do you think we can intentionally practice gratitude in our life?
5. Entitlement and our ego make gratitude difficult. What are the ways you have been suppressing the Giver in your heart and life this week? What might change look like?
6. As parents know, commanding thankfulness won’t work. What’s the answer then to how to cultivate a life that overflows with gratitude?
7. What’s one thing you are thankful for right now? Share with the group. Thank God for the gift.