[3] We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, [4] since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,

Colossians 1:3-4

When Paul says “I always thank God,” it got me thinking about a lifestyle of gratitude. Childhood Christmas’s and birthdays for me meant the endless writing of thank you notes to aunties and uncles which may be made me not so grateful for the gift I had received. (Their kindness and generosity was not in question). I wondered about how grateful I am when I receive a gift or whether I just take so much I have around me for granted. I thought about how long my gratitude remains.

So, what are we to make of Paul’s consistent practice of thanking God for the faith and love he sees in the believers in Colossae? Was it just these particular believers that he gave thanks for?

If Paul believed that these Colossians were themselves ultimately responsible for the presence of faith and love in their hearts, why did he bother to thank God? Surely it’s they that should thank God not him.

Why didn’t he simply congratulate the Colossians and get on with other apostolic stuff?

However, if Paul believed, and I believe that he did, it was God who was ultimately the source for their faith in Jesus and their love towards one another, it makes perfectly good sense for him to express his gratitude to heaven each time he prays for these Christians, for it is God who is at work in them.

John Calvin believed this gratitude was deep in the heart of Paul and that he saw the believers in the churches he served through the lens of gratitude. So in Calvin’s sermon on Ephesians 1 he reminds us that Paul again “does not cease to give thanks” for the Ephesians because he has heard of their “faith in the Lord Jesus” and their “love toward all the saints” so there is a wonderful constancy in his gratitude. For the purpose of our text let’s change Calvin’s reference from Ephesians to Colossians.

“Now, with all this, he shows that faith and love are the very gifts of God and do not come from ourselves, as men always imagine through a devilish pride. I told you before that St. Paul did not play the hypocrite in giving thanks to God for the faith and love of the Colossians. If every man was able to believe and have faith of his own accord, or could get it by some power of his own, the praise for it ought not to be given to God. For it would be but mockery to acknowledge ourselves indebted to him for what we have obtained, not from him, but from elsewhere. But here St. Paul blesses God’s name for enlightening the Colossians in the faith and for framing their hearts to make them loving. It is to be concluded, therefore, that everything comes from God”

[18] give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

There are thirteen letters from Paul in the New Testament (I haven’t included Hebrews, so for you it may be 14) in nine of them he explicitly gives thanks for the folk in the church.

The exceptions are: 2 Corinthians where he jumps right in with comfort, 1 Timothy and Titus where he says to both “my true child in a common faith”, and Galatians where he appears to be annoyed with them. Isn’t it interesting that Paul even gave thanks for the Corinthians with all their problems–division, sexual immorality, pride, rich-poor issues, breaking of bread issues and so on. So what did Paul appreciate in his churches? What in these people prompted him to give thanks to God? 

1. He was thankful for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, 1, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).

2. He was thankful for their love for all the saints (Ephesians, Colossians, 1, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).

3. He was thankful for their steadfastness, especially in trials (1, 2 Thessalonians).

4. He was thankful for their spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians).

5. He was thankful for their partnership in the gospel (Philippians).

6. He was thankful for their history and mutual affection (2 Timothy).

Maybe we should follow Paul’s example and before doing anything else we are involved in this Sunday we should stop and tell each other (and maybe every time we meet) how grateful we are to God for one another. Agree in your heart to put appreciation above your opinion of their faults.

Also, maybe it’s long overdue that we open our church directory and start with some time spent in prayer “giving thanks to God” for each member, putting aside any issues or difficulties rather just being thankful to God and thanking God for the faith in their lives.

Maybe it’s time to ask God to help us to see the faith of the people in our Church and for God to give us a deep love for them. Do you delight in showing compassion and generosity towards those in the body of Christ? If so, do not reach around to pat yourself on the back. Rather, extend your hands toward heaven and say: “Thank God!”