Every year as the holidays approach, I take a break from whatever book I’m preaching through and turn to something completely different. For instance, last year I preached a series entitled “A Very Reformed Christmas”, preaching a text from the Christmas narrative each week of Advent and pairing it with one of the five solas and a Reformer. It’s a fun change of pace.
I was on a road trip last weekend and found myself wrestling with a question I don’t normally have to answer. I’ve been preaching through 1 Samuel, so each week I usually just pick up where I left off each week. But as I starred blankly into the expanse of highway ahead, I wondered, “What passage am I going to preach on for Thanksgiving?”
I couldn’t shake this three-word sentence tucked into Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
A Three-Letter Word.
Let’s look at the first word: and. It’s a three-letter word whether you read it in English or in the Greek Paul wrote to the Colossians–a three-letter word that occurs 9,264 times just in the New Testament. So, it’s understandable why you might be tempted to treat it like a throw-away word. But let’s think about it for a few minutes. The word and is a conjunction, which means that it connects two related things: peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, Parks and Rec.
The odd thing about the and in Colossians 3:15 is that it comes out of nowhere and connects something that seems completely off-topic. Listen again: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” It feels like an add-on. But that’s the point.
Paul added it onto verse 15, but he could have added it to verse 14: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony…And be thankful.” Or he could have added it to verse 12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…And be thankful.” As we think about this three-letter word, it shows us that no matter what, thankfulness is always related.
Thanksgiving: The Perfect Accessory.
And reminds us that wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you can always add more thankfulness. And says, “Every opportunity that you get to add thankfulness, take advantage of it. Every chance you get to give thanks, do it.”
We were at a wedding this past weekend, and during the cocktail hour, they had waiters walking around with these spring rolls. Just wave after wave of spring rolls coming out of the kitchen. Every time they walked past, “Sir, would you like a spring roll?” “Yes, thank you.” “Spring roll, sir?” “Certainly, thank you.” “Would you care for a spring roll?” “I would. They are delicious. Thanks so much.” I started to get embarrassed because I could tell the waiters were starting to keep a running tally of how many spring rolls I had actually eaten. Because every time the opportunity presented itself to have another spring roll, I always had room for one more.
Thanksgiving is like those spring rolls. There is always room for a little more. There is literally nothing that thankfulness doesn’t go well with. It’s the perfect accessory. That’s why Paul so easily tosses it in here, seemingly out of nowhere.
Don’t just make dinner. Make dinner, and be thankful. Don’t just go to work. Go to work, and be thankful. Don’t just come to church. Come to church, and be thankful. Don’t just change diapers. Change diapers, and be thankful. Don’t just do laundry. Do laundry, and be thankful.
It sounds ridiculous until you realize this is in no way an exaggeration of Paul’s point. These are the very first words of the body of his letter to Colossians: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…” (1:3). Again in the same chapter, he writes: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father” (1:11-12a). But that’s not all. Chapter 2:6-7—“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…abounding in thanksgiving.” One more time in chapter 4, he says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4:2).
Here’s the clincher. Paul’s summarizes his point in this way: “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” (3:16-17). It doesn’t matter what word you are saying. It doesn’t matter what deed you are doing. Whatever it is, you can always add, “And be thankful” to it.
Conversely, if you can’t add “and be thankful” to it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Yell at your spouse, and be thankful. Cheat on your test, and be thankful. Lie at work, and be thankful. Flip off the guy in traffic, and be thankful. You see? If we spoke and acted with the and in mind, we would learn to hate evil and do good. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
And What Came Before?
The word and also indicates that something came before it. And is meant to add something onto what is already there. So, the word and is adding thankfulness to something that is already true in our lives. But what? Look at the first half of the verse: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body.” The peace of Christ, that’s what we are anding; that’s what we are adding thanksgiving to.
This is what is true of every believer: Not peace like a precious moments doll or peace like listening to smooth jazz in a bubble bath, but the peace of Christ. It’s the peace won in the war to end all wars that happened on the cross:
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether in heaven or on earth, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you who were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before him.” (Colossians 1:19-22)
The peace of Christ had nothing to do with us and everything to do with God sacrificing his own Son on a cross so that his blood shed for us would bring an end to our evil war against Heaven and Heaven’s righteous wrath against us.
Jesus Christ, the son of God, came and lived a perfect, holy, spotless life, so that he could offer up himself as the perfect, spotless, sacrifice in our place to bring us back to God—not as POWs, not as filthy rebels, but as sons and daughters, as new creatures in Christ Jesus, as holy, blameless, and above reproach before him. If this is true, if you believe that peace has been made by the blood of his cross, then this is what you can add to it: “And…be thankful.”