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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Excel in Thanksgiving!
Text:Colossians 2:6-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 75:1,6                                                             

Ps 65:2

Reading – Colossians 1

Ps 50:3,7,11

Sermon – Colossians 2:6-7

Hy 83:1,2

Hy 85:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in our Lord Jesus, we’re a people greatly blessed! From day to day, God’s gifts keep coming. And we say that, remembering how some among us carry around a heavy load of trouble, even today. Some have a lot of uncertainty over their health. Several are concerned about members of their family, like parents who are unwell, or children who are unfaithful. Some could be worried about a slow-down in work, and about their finances. So what if we were all asked on our way into church this morning whether we felt blessed? “Are you grateful right now for God’s gifts?” Maybe some would hesitate for a moment: “Am I grateful? Can I really be thankful?”

But then we look a bit closer, and we see blessing. Look past whatever troubles are troubling, whatever anxieties are niggling, and see that you have what you need for life. God provides for us, things sufficient for each day. Surrounding those blessings is the blanket of peace and security that we enjoy in this land. On this day there might also be reminders of the gift of other people—the children around your table perhaps, your parents, a devoted spouse, a few good friends. Not to forget all the blessings of another kind: we have God’s Word (a light to our feet), and we have the Holy Spirit (life to our hearts), and we have the communion of saints (help for on the way). And we know the living God—we have fellowship with our Lord and Saviour, today and forever! That is greatly blessed!

And now let’s deepen our thanksgiving. For what reason has God been so good to us? Do you ever ask that? Why all these gifts? Perhaps it’s most clear if we think about what God owes us, what He’s obligated to give for our enjoyment. What are you entitled to? Nothing. Because of our sin, we’ve earned not a single blessing.

Yet God has generously given. And for the reason, we can only look to Christ. He has opened the way back to the Father, and opened the floodgates of blessing. Thinking about Christ our Saviour deepens and strengthens our thanksgiving. That’s the point of our text this morning, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” I preach God’s Word from Colossians 2:6-7,

Let those who have received Christ abound with thanksgiving!

  1. our thanksgiving’s foundation
  2. our thanksgiving’s expression
  3. our thanksgiving’s continuation


1. the foundation for thanksgiving: One of the things that Scripture is so good at doing is bringing us back to what’s really important. It re-orders that list of priorities that we maintain. Scripture resets those mental bookmarks on the things we value. Because it’s easy for us to lose focus. With so much going on in our life—even with many blessings—we forget what’s essential, and we let our attention to be diverted.     

But what ought to be supreme? When you read through this letter of Paul to the Colossians, there’s no mistaking Who should have our daily love, our commitment and worship. It is Jesus Christ, in all his glory and supremacy. Notice that opening note of our text, a reminder of what we have, and of who we are, in Jesus Christ: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord…” (v 6).

More on the details later. Yet this is what the Spirit wants us to keep at the foremost of our minds as He teaches: “You have received Christ Jesus…” Because this is true, in light of the fact that you know Christ and believe in him, there are wonderful and enduring results. Something fundamental has changed, and it changed when we put faith in the Lord Jesus.

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Colosse. When he wrote it he was probably in Rome, being held in jail. But as we know from reading Paul’s other letters, there wasn’t much that could stifle his deep care for the churches. He was still their pastor and teacher. So from prison he sat down to write a letter. Even from a great distance, the bond in Christ is strong.

If we glance over this letter, we see there are two things Paul is trying to do, and they’re closely-related. The first is to warn the Colossians against a heresy that was floating around town. We don’t know all the exact particulars about it, but one part was that favourite old heresy of legalism. What is legalism? That God will be good to us because we stick to some code of conduct, a set of guidelines or traditions. The good news is that God loves us because we’ve been doing well at keeping the rules.

Legalism, or a works-righteousness, is a dangerous idea for all kinds of reasons. But there’s one especially terrible side-effect: it makes Christ unnecessary! Who needs Christ, if we can pull ourselves out of the muck of sin? Who needs the good news, if you’ve got lots of goodness on your own? Even on this Sunday for thanksgiving we could harbor the quiet thought that almost everything we have, we’ve earned ourselves. Isn’t it mostly a product of my hard work and ingenuity? Self-reliance kills thanksgiving.

So to refute the false teachers, and to emphasize the truth for the Colossians, Paul does a second thing: He insists on the preeminence of Jesus Christ, the sole basis for redemption. He wants to show the one alternative to do-it-yourself schemes. In chapters 1 and 2, Paul piles up the praise for Christ, and he piles it up, miles high—right into heaven. Christ is the Creator of the universe. He is the sustainer of all things, and in him all things hold together. Christ is the head of the church. He is the fullness of God in bodily form. All we need to know about God, He’s told us in Jesus Christ. And Christ has rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.

At the cross, Jesus dealt with the biggest problem any person can ever have. And that problem is sin, the offense that separates us from God our Creator. Through Christ, sin is pardoned! Through Christ, evil is conquered. Through him, we’re given a new righteousness and holiness. By him we have free access to God—even to enter the presence of his glory, in prayer and worship. So the Spirit says a couple verses later, “You are complete in him” (2:10).

When you look at that astounding picture of Christ, there can be no one on earth who says, “Sorry, it’s not enough. Something’s missing. I need more than Jesus. He just doesn’t do it for me.” No one can say that, because Christ has no shortcoming and no deficiency. The cure for false teaching, and the guard against this world’s seduction, is always embracing the fullness of life in God the Son. And this is the life we have. The Spirit reminds the Colossians—and us: “You have received Christ Jesus the Lord…”

When you believe, you don’t just accept a Reformed tradition. When you believe, you don’t just inherit a collection of doctrine, or have to read an old book. But in faith you accept a living, breathing person. You join yourself to him. Think of it this way. It’s like Jesus himself came into a crowded room where you were. You look at him, standing on the other side, and for a moment you hesitate. You’re not sure what to do. Should you go to him? You wonder… And then the Spirit works the right response. He changes you, and you run to Christ—you “receive” him. You fall at his feet in worship. You embrace him the arms of faith! You receive him as a person, as the Saviour.

The first-rate position that Jesus has comes out again in verse 6, “You have received Christ Jesus the Lord.” Notice how his title is put first, to emphasize his divine calling: He is the Christ, God’s chosen Messiah. He’s also Jesus, the one who bent down to our level, who became man, and bore the guilt of our sin. And He is Lord, Master and Commander of the universe. He alone is supreme. And you have received him!

It’s true that we still want to “receive” many other things besides him. And we often like to connect our gratitude directly to an inventory of gifts and blessings. “I’m thankful to God, because I received a promotion, or a good year at work. I’m thankful, because I received a child, or a grandchild. I received a clean bill of health. I received my diploma. I received another year of life.” And yes, be grateful for all you’re received—for all these things, and much more. But don’t expect to find completeness in them. It simply won’t work to rely on them for satisfaction. Because all these things aren’t the point! It’s Christ. You have received him!

Compare it to the child who gets a birthday gift from her parents. The gift cost a fair bit of money, and what’s more, a lot of thought went into it. Mom and Dad are excited by how much their child’s going to enjoy the present. But once she opens it, what happens? Maybe you’ve had this in your house too. She glances at the gift, she plays with it for a few minutes, but then ends up spending all morning happily playing with the big box that it came in, and with the big shiny bow that was on top. She missed the point. She didn’t realize what the real gift was.

We might smile at a child who’s happy with a cardboard box. But what about us? We have received Christ, and in him we have everything essential. The fullness of God’s Son fills our emptiness. “We are complete in him.” He’s so much more than any other possession you have, or position you have, or anything else. When you have him, He’s the real gift. He’s the real reason we ought to live in thanksgiving.


2. the expression of thanksgiving: Our faith has a basis that is firm. We know what God has done for us in Christ—that’s settled and complete and eternal. The real test is in what we do with it. Do we now live in gratitude? In faith and obedience? There was a Christian brother who once said, “It’s not God’s faithfulness I’m worried about. It’s my own.” Because those who have received Christ have this calling: to remain in him, and to honour him.

So like Paul often does, in Colossians he follows up his doctrinal explaining with what we might call more “practical” teaching. What’s the application of all those words about Christ? In chapters 3 and 4, Paul works out the consequences of what he’s said. He writes, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above…” (3:1). But already in chapter 2, the apostle has something to say about this. And it’s a challenge to keep up with Paul’s comparisons and word pictures. He goes from walking in Christ, to being rooted in Christ, to being built and established in Christ. These are all ways that our thanksgiving gets expressed.

First, it gets expressed in our walking, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (v 6). Just a bit earlier, Paul prays that the Colossians would “walk worthy of the Lord” (1:10). It’s clear that he wants us to pay attention to how we walk. And walking is such a good picture for the Christian life because it’s something we do every day. We’re walking at home, at school, at work. Our “walk of life” is the normal pattern of our living. What kind of steps are we taking these days? Stumbling? Meandering? Slow steps? Tired steps?

If we’re walking, the Spirit says, we have to go with Christ. If you know him, then Christ must be your guide. He’s right beside you all day long—so where do your feet take you? And what do you say along the way? Who do you trust to keep your way secure? Through his Spirit, Christ is the constant companion of our life. So do we walk “worthy of the Lord?” If you have received Christ, so walk in him!

A second image for our life in Christ is from the field of horticulture: “If you have received Christ Jesus the Lord… [be] rooted in him” (v 7). We all know that a plant is only as strong as its roots. You’ve probably all seen this, on the coastline, or in the mountains: big trees, growing out of what seems to be sheer rock. Somehow they’ve been able to send down their roots, into the cracks and crevasses, and they’ve been able to draw from some hidden source of water. They cling to the rock, and as long as they do, they live. Because they’re rooted, they’re strong.

So for the Christian: We need to cling to Christ. As a tree sends its roots deep into the earth, so our faith should be deep into Christ. A well-rooted Christian knows the one who saved him. You know his power, his faithfulness, his goodness. If you only have a superficial connection to Christ, you’ll be knocked over by temptation, by trouble, or simply by time. But the deeper your roots go into Christ, the stronger your Christian life will be. A well-rooted Christian bears fruit, the fruits of “virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love” (2 Pet 1:5-7). That’s the harvest that God is seeking. And it begins with being rooted in him.

We walk in Christ. We are rooted in Christ. And we are “built up” in Christ—a third image, this time from architecture. If you’re constructing a building, there’s a steady growth in the structure. Piece by piece, floor by floor, it comes together. So in Christ. If we believe in him, if we have our foundation on him, we’ll also be built up. Our faith gets stronger. Our love improves. Our hope becomes more sure. The tough thing is that it’s not always a progress that you can see. We wonder, “Am I really improving as a Christian? Have I been built up at all?” We get discouraged, because we don’t see amazing leaps in sanctification. We haven’t turned into blazing hot Christians overnight. But the Spirit’s work in us is progressive.

Think of how they’ll video-record a building being constructed over many months. Driving by on your way to work, you don’t always notice the progress. You might even think  everyone’s gone on strike. But then you watch a time lapse view of the building’s construction these past months: cranes whizzing around, floors slowly being added—sure enough, it’s getting built, higher and higher! We should do the same with our life in Christ. Look at it in “time-lapse.” See if there’s been growth. It’ll take a lifetime, but be sure the Spirit is continuing the good work He started.

For our part, we have to stay on the job. The Spirit urges us to be “established in the faith.” Keep being built up. Get built through the bricks and mortar of prayer. Get built through Christian fellowship, through daily meditation on the Word. For if faith is living, then there will be a living spirit of gratitude.


3. the continuation of thanksgiving: We’ve been saying that a Christian is only as strong as his connection to Christ. If you’re walking with him, and well rooted in him, and built up in him, we can expect good results. There will be obedience and good fruit. Receiving Christ also means, finally, that we will “abound… with thanksgiving” (v 7). Literally, the Spirit says here that we should excel in thanksgiving. That’s actually an unusual combination of words: to excel in thanksgiving! Why is it unusual? We think that those who excel have a reason for pride—they deserve some recognition. Some people excel at writing novels, or playing sports, or selling houses. You can make a name for yourself by being really good at something.

On the other hand, “thanksgiving” goes hand-in-hand not with praise, but humility. They don’t give out prizes for gratitude, like Most Valuable Thanker, or Top Appreciator. Instead, if you’re thankful, you’re obligated to others. Your thoughts are lifted from yourself, because you’ve received something, and 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 be. The greater the gift, the smaller our gratitude can feel. Someone gives you a valuable present. Someone makes a great sacrifice for your cause. Or maybe someone even saves your life, pulls you from a car wreck or a burning house. How small any words of thanksgiving can seem! In human terms, gratitude always puts us in a lower place. That’s exactly our position before God: weak, helpless, dependent. He’s given us everything in Christ—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.” The LORD says, “It doesn’t matter that you’ve received everything, and that you’re dependent on me. Just be really good at giving me 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.

Here’s the ongoing challenge. Because we all still fight the remnants of the sinful nature, those tendencies to be critical, or discontent, or jealous. So often we’re full of anxiety and care, and we doubt God’s promise. We’re quick to find some reason to grumble. You might look at your life, and say, “I’ve prayed so often, but God didn’t hear me. I feel like 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’s hard to excel in thanksgiving when you feel empty.

But then we go back to thanksgiving’s foundation. If there’s anything to be thankful for, it’s our new life in Jesus Christ. We are complete in him: forgiveness, renewal, the promise of glory. We could mention many other blessings—and we should—but not before Christ. Not at the expense of Christ. Don’t obsess over the cardboard box and the shiny bows. Take all that away, and enjoy the real gift. Speak of God’s glory, tell of his mercy, rejoice in Christ.

“Abound in thanksgiving.” Abound, with a heart that’s full of praise. If we’re thankful, we say it. We show it. We pray it. We sing it. Later in Colossians, the Spirit exhorts us, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (4:2). Notice how vigilance is tied to thanksgiving. That’s because each day we need to notice God’s goodness, we need to see his mercies which are always new. And then if you are grateful, the Spirit says we have to let that spirit of gratitude become intertwined with the whole of our Christian life, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17).

God knows perfectly well that we can’t bring anything to repay his goodness. All that we have has come from him in the first place—He’s the fountain of all good. But if we see that clearly, then we’re left with just one task. It’s why we’re here. To abound with thanksgiving. So let’s get really good at it. Shine in your praise. Excel in your gratitude. Let it continue every day. Since you have received Christ, continue in him, and abound with thanksgiving!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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