This Thanksgiving season, a short sentence from Paul’s letter to the Colossians has been stuck in my head: “And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). In a previous post, we explored the first word and. And encouraged us to see how thanksgiving is related to every aspect of the Christian life. There is always room for more, and thanksgiving is the one thing we can add to the gospel.
In today’s post, we move from a three-letter word to a two-letter word: be.
An Impossible Command.
The word be is a command in Colossians 3:15, as in, “Be quiet!” or “Be patient!” What does Paul mean when he commands us to be thankful? For instance, it would be nonsensical for Paul to command us with the words “Be a miniature pony!” or “Be purple!” or “Be wooden!” In order to command a state of being, it has to be congruent with our nature. For Paul to say, “And be thankful,” he must assume that we are thanks-givers—meaning that we are able and willing to offer up thanks to God.
The problem is that Romans makes it plain that we are not thanks-givers in our natural state: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). We do not and cannot be thankful in the flesh because fallen humanity is a thankless people. We do not give thanks—by definition. Which must mean, then, if we have any hope of obeying Paul’s seemingly simple command, we must become thanks-givers in Christ.
The Chief Thanks-Giver.
Now we are thinking after the thoughts of Paul. He assumes that the only way we can be thankful is through Christ Jesus: “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.” (Colossians 3:17) If we have any hope of being thankful, we have to become thanks-givers in and through Jesus Christ.
The more we think about this, the stranger the idea becomes: Jesus, the…Thanks-Giver? He’s the Son of God. “He upholds this whole universe by the word of his power,” and, “The earth is his and the fullness thereof” (Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 24:1). What does Jesus have to be thankful for?
However, when we look into the Gospels we realize, by golly, it’s true. Jesus is a thanks-giver. His prayers start like this: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…” and “Father, I thank you…” (Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21; John 6:11). Whenever he sits down to a meal, we see him doing this: “And having given thanks he broke [the loaves and fish] and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds” (Matt. 15:36; 26:27;Mark 8:6; 14:23; Luke 22:19; John 6:11). Every time we turn around, Jesus is preparing a table, giving thanks, breaking bread, and feeding people. His ministry in the Gospels feels quite similar to our holiday season; Jesus spends it in thanksgiving and feasting (Luke 7:34). This is no accident.
The Head of the Table.
It’s a tradition in many homes that the host says grace. The one seated at the head of the table offers up thanksgiving on behalf of those gathered to eat. For instance, both Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey feature a heavy amount of feasting—and thanksgiving. Being pagans, the heroes of these epic poems make speeches and raise their glasses to the pantheon of Greek gods, often giving a tithe of the spoils as a thank offering. Susan Sherratt writes that this kind of thanksgiving feasting is actually a signal to listeners as to who the true heroes are: “It is clearly not only an activity of Homeric heroes, but also one that helps demonstrate that they are indeed heroes.” In ancient Greek literature, heroes feast.
This is also true in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, the supreme example is King David. When the people of God gather at the end of his royal ministry for a grand feast, he stands and offers this prayer to the heavens:
“‘Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all…And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name’…Then David said to all the assembly, ‘Bless the LORD your God.’ And all the assembly said, [‘Hear! Hear!’]…And they ate and drank before the LORD on that day with great gladness. And they made Solomon the son of David king the second time, and they anointed him as prince for the LORD, and Zadok as priest.” (1 Chr. 29:10-11,13,20,22)
Taking Our Seat at His Table.
As we take this scene in, we realize what it means to call Christ our Chief Thanks-Giver. He is the King. He is the one who has offered up his own body and blood as the King of the Jews, crucified on a cross. He is the one who went to battle for us in the valley of the Shadow of Death. He is the one who bore our sins and took them to the grave. He is the one who was raised in glorious power. He is the one who ascended to the throne at the right hand of the Father on high. And he is the one who says to us, “Take. Eat. This is my body, broken for you. Take. Drink. This is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. Come. Feast. Sit at my table.”
As we come from east and west and north and south and recline at his table in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29), as we marvel at what has been done for us—a feast that we bring nothing to, a feast prepared for us before the foundation of the world—as we look around with wide-eyed amazement at the goodness of our God, as we realize that we sit among saints old and new, as we see our Savior King Jesus seated at the head of the table, and as he begins the feast with these words, “I thank you, Father,” all we can do is lift our glasses and shout, “Hear! Hear!”
That is the reality into which Paul encourages us, “And be thankful.” He assumes that we have become thanks-givers. The peace of Christ the King now rules in our hearts where there was once rebellion and hostility. The word of Christ the King now causes psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to well up in our hearts where there was once emptiness and hatred (Colossians 3:15-16). We who were once thankless now find that thanksgiving is all we now have to offer. The only true thanks-givers in the universe are those gathered at the table of our King. We have joined in the victory celebration around Christ’s table in his Kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, what else can we be? And be thankful.