by Al Maxey

Issue #325 ------- November 9, 2007
Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.
Aesop {6th century B.C.}

An Attitude of Gratitude
Reflective Study of Col. 3:17

"Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. ... Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name" [Psalm 100:1-2, 4]. One of the recurring themes in the OT psalms is gratitude. The people of God are a very blessed people. Therefore, it is only natural that they should demonstrate this wealth of blessings with lives lived in daily thanksgiving for His marvelous grace. Singing and shouting, laughing and leaping, and various other emotional, demonstrative expressions are only natural to those who are keenly aware of the unmerited favor of their God. Noah Webster [1758-1843; noted as the "father of the modern dictionary" and also a translator of the Bible in early colonial America] defined the word gratitude as "a feeling of thankful appreciation for favors or benefits received; warm, appreciative response to kindness; thankfulness."

The apostle Paul knew very well the vital nature of this emotion in the lives of disciples of Christ. In Colossians 3:12-17, he seeks to focus the hearts and minds of his beloved readers upon the fact that, as "those who have been chosen of God," they are to display those qualities in their lives that visibly reflect that blessed reality. He attempts to do the very same in his companion passage, which is found in Ephesians 5:15-21. Most reputable biblical scholars and interpreters recognize that these two passages are not limited to a "worship service," but rather provide spiritual guidance applicable to all areas of daily Christian living. Dr. F. F. Bruce "appropriately points out that 'the NT does not contain a detailed code of rules for the Christian. ... Codes of rules, as Paul clearly explains elsewhere, are suited to the period of immaturity. ... What the NT does provide is those basic principles of Christian living which may be applied to all situations of life as they arise'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 216-217]. The Pulpit Commentary takes the very same position, stating that within these two passages from the pen of Paul one may find divine guidance "for all the practical activities of life" [vol. 20, Colossians, p. 155]. "Herein is the widest description of the Christian life" [ibid, p. 193]. "Into every nook and cranny of the new life the consecrated spirit is carried. The meanest matters are thus lifted into heavenly light, and our God reigns over all. There is to be no exception to consecration" [ibid, p. 181]. The qualities enumerated by Paul must "permeate the entire life," as R.C.H. Lenski points out in his commentary on Colossians [p. 179], and The Expositor's Bible Commentary further notes that "the context is not restricted to that of the church's liturgy," but "such gratitude to God is to cover every circumstance" of one's daily life [vol. 11, p. 73].

In Colossians 3 the apostle Paul starts out by addressing himself to those who "have been raised up with Christ" [vs. 1]. We have died, figuratively speaking, to the old fleshly nature, have been spiritually resurrected, and have now "put on the new self," a renewal in which earthly distinctions are past, and in which we're all truly being transformed into the image of His beloved Son [vs. 10-11]. Jesus Christ, "who is our life" [vs. 4], should be the example, pattern, and standard of our daily actions and attitudes. Therefore, we should set our minds upon those things that reflect the glory and reality of the heavenly realm, rather than that which is base and sordid [vs. 2]. "Immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed ... anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech" [vs. 5, 8] are all to be cast aside. Instead, our daily lives should be characterized by "a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" [vs. 12]. We're to "bear with one another and forgive each other" [vs. 13], "and beyond all these things" we are to "put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" [vs. 14]. We are all called to be One Body in Christ Jesus, and thus we must allow peace to be the rule and standard that we seek to promote in the family of our heavenly Father [vs. 15]. Such a spirit is applicable to all our relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children, even masters and slaves [Col. 3:18 - 4:1].

Wherever we are, whatever we're doing, we are to be a thankful people -- living, breathing, vibrant examples to the world about us of the power of an attitude of gratitude. This enormous truth is stressed three times in three verses [vs. 15-17]. We're called to live in peace in One Body, "and be thankful" [vs. 15]. The word of Christ richly dwells within us, therefore use this power effectively to speak to and admonish one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (which can be done anywhere, anytime), and let this truly come from the depths of your heart. Such feelings as these may also be expressed worshipfully as we pour forth the devotion of our hearts, either individually or collectively, in praise to our Father -- and this does not even have to be done audibly, for God "hears the heart," however it does have to be done "with thankfulness in your hearts" [vs. 16]. So, in other words, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, make sure it is done "in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" [vs. 17]. This entire chapter is really about spiritual attitudes reflected in/by godly actions. Against such attitudes and actions there is NO restrictive legislation [Gal. 5:23b -- see: Reflections #36].

The particular phrase in Col. 3:17 with which the legalists are enamored is -- "in the name of the Lord Jesus." This phrase, when linked with the preceding statement -- "whatever you do in word or deed" -- makes their hearts palpitate with excitement, for they see it as an endorsement of LAW governing our every action. When this is combined with a belief that the passage before us has a "worship service" in view, these legalistic patternists are practically on cloud nine! They now have their "proof-text" for the establishment of LAW regulating everything said or done inside our church buildings on Sunday mornings from nine 'til noon! And rest assured: they will indeed seek to legislate, limit and lord it over everything that takes place inside that building during those "worship services." And if the inspired Scriptures never actually mention some of their limiting laws ... no problem! They have the assumptions and deductions of men drawn from the silence of God to fall back on (their infamous "law of silence"). And as for those "innovations" which they themselves might choose to include in said "worship service," they can always appeal to the equally appealing "law of expediency." This particular law, of course, only applies to their innovative preferences, not to those of others with whom they differ.

As a singular, yet rather stunning, example of this abuse of Colossians 3:17, I would refer you to the web site of Brian A. Yeager, a very vocal critic of mine for a good many years. Brian is the preacher for the Sunrise Acres Church of Christ, which is a militant Non-Institutional group in El Paso, Texas (a city about 90 miles south of where I live). El Paso is a fairly large city with at least a dozen or more congregations of the Churches of Christ, and yet underneath the address of the group for which Brian preaches he has placed the following statement on his web site: "Sadly, the only sound congregation in town." This gives you some idea of the mindset of this man and his little band of disciples. As a devoted legalistic patternist, Brian A. Yeager sees Colossians 3:17 as a mandate pertaining to authority for all practices of a local congregation, particularly with respect to the use of their building. Eating in the building is a sin -- as per Col. 3:17. Fellowship halls are a sin -- as per Col. 3:17. And on and on they go. Indeed, Yeager has devoted a special page on his web site to Fellowship Halls, on which he shows pictures of the sinful fellowship halls of various apostate congregations. Cuba Avenue Church of Christ, where I serve as the pulpit minister and one of the elders, is shown first. At the top of this web page is the statement: "They built these with the Lord's money by whose authority?" Under this is the statement: "There is NO AUTHORITY -- Colossians 3:17." Again, this is just one example of the extremist views of the legalists when they take a passage of Scripture and twist it to their own purposes.

Rather than curse the darkness, however, let's light a lamp! We need to carefully, prayerfully examine this verse in the epistle to the Colossian brethren to determine exactly what Paul had in mind. We have already examined the context of the verse, but now we need to explore the significance of the phrases in the passage itself so that we might gain greater insight into the message intended for the readers (both then and now). Paul introduces the verse with this phrase: "Whatever you do in word or deed" [NASB]. The NIV phrases it this way: "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed." Clearly, Paul is being all inclusive in his instruction. Whatever you should happen to do: whether it be in what you say or in your actions. This leaves very little room for exclusion, and certainly has far more than the so-called "five acts of worship" in a Sunday "worship service" in view. This statement literally "stands for all the practical activities of life" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, Colossians, p. 155]. "Here is the widest description of the Christian life. It covers 'word and deed'" [ibid, p. 193].

Paul next states that whatever we do, whether it be in word or deed, it is all to be done "in the name of the Lord Jesus." Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann writes, "All of our words and deeds must flow from true faith in Jesus, the Redeemer, and must be spoken and performed to His glory: all our words and actions being expressions of our thankfulness" [Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 2 -- The NT, p. 334]. Kretzmann continues: "The love toward God and Christ which rules in the hearts of believers naturally finds its expression in a life of service toward their neighbors, ... and all out of reverence for Christ, who did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister" [ibid, p. 286]. Thus, at least in part, Paul seems to be suggesting that when we live our daily lives in godly service unto others, as per the example of our Lord Jesus, we live our lives in reverence unto Him, glorifying Him, in both word and deed. We visibly lift high His name to all those about us when we live as He lived and when we love as He loved. All that we do in life is done in His name, not ours; to His glory, not ours. And we are thankful, indeed grateful, for the opportunity to do so, acknowledging such to our Creator -- "giving thanks through Him to God the Father" [Col. 3:17]. Or, in the words of the apostle Paul in his companion passage to the Ephesian brethren -- "Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the reverence of Christ" [Eph. 5:20-21]. Here again we see the concepts of gratitude and reverence joined together.

"There are various ways of interpreting 'do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 216]. The hardened legalists, of course, will accept only one interpretation of this phrase -- "in the name of," in their limited view, is a reference to nothing other than biblical Authority. Therefore, they will boldly declare that this passage simply means there must be "book, chapter and verse" for everything that is done with a church building and in a "worship service." This is why they quote Col. 3:17 when attacking fellowship halls and kitchens. As Brian A. Yeager said, "There is no authority" for such things. This simply means that they can't be found in the NT writings. Of course, neither can church buildings. The NT documents are silent about them also. The retort, of course, is that a church building is an "expedient," whereas a fellowship hall or kitchen is an "innovation." Oh, what games we play when we regard the inspired writings of the New Covenant as a legal code book. Thus, "authority" is established both by what is and isn't found there (the latter being the source of the greatest conflict, for in the presence of silence the legalists speak the loudest).

Yes, the phrase "in the name of" can have reference to the concept of authority. Few will dispute that fact. However, is Paul really seeking to establish regulatory LAW in this passage for all the many activities of one's daily walk with Christ Jesus? Or, is Paul simply seeking to direct our hearts and minds to various guiding principles for daily living? The context clearly suggests the latter, as most biblical scholars declare. To once again quote Dr. F.F. Bruce on this passage, "The New Testament does not contain a detailed code of rules for the Christian. What the New Testament does provide is those basic principles of Christian living which may be applied to all situations of life as they arise." Thus, the idea of LEGAL authority is foreign to the intent of Paul in this passage. We need to search for a different understanding of this phrase. After all, Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, in the classic work The Expositor's Greek Testament, states that this phrase "has different shades of meaning in different connections" [vol. 3, p. 364]. The context, therefore, is very critical in this determination of meaning and application. The Expositor's Bible Commentary states that the idea of authority is not the proper interpretation, but rather suggests that this phrase means to do all "as followers of the Lord Jesus. ... To act in the name of a person is to act as his representative" [vol. 11, p. 216]. For example, in John 12:13 we find a quote of Psalm 118:26 in which the people proclaim, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." As most scholars agree, this is a reference to the coming of the Messiah as the agent or representative of God Almighty. Similarly, we today are sent forth as the representatives or ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, in His name we proclaim His Truth so as to further His cause to His glory (and that of the Father).

R.C.H. Lenski observes that "the phrase does not mean merely 'with His authority'" [The Interpretation of Colossians, p. 179]. Rather, it points to our intimate union with Him, and the fact that all we do on a daily basis is to be done in light of, and with cognizance of, who and what He is, both to us, the saved, and to the lost. "We serve a risen Savior," as the well-known hymn states; we daily labor for the Lord ... in His holy name! Dr. Nicoll declares the phrase "expresses the idea of doing something in dependence upon Christ, or in regardfulness of what Christ is" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 3, p. 364]. "His Name is our banner, and under it all is done" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, Colossians, p. 181]. Undoubtedly, this is what Peter had in mind when he wrote, "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed ... If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God" [1 Peter 4:14, 16]. Serving as His representatives to a world engulfed in darkness, we, like our great Example, will suffer at the hands of those who oppose His cause. And yet, in that Name we represent, we each, through our daily Spirit-filled lives, glorify our God. Under the banner of His name we live lives of holiness, which serves as a testimony to the world about us. "The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness'" [2 Tim. 2:19]. This admonition is clearly seen in the overall context of Colossians 3.

As the representatives of His glorious name, how can we not be filled with an attitude of gratitude. Indeed, in the words of the Pulpit Commentary, "The Christian life ought to be a eucharist" [vol. 20, p. 193] -- i.e., a living expression of thanksgiving in every action of our lives. Is this not exactly what Paul has said at the close of Col. 3:17? -- "Giving thanks through Him to God the Father." The companion passage reads, "Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" [Eph. 5:20]. I appreciate the way The Message has phrased this verse: "Let every detail in your lives -- words, actions, whatever -- be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way." In short, our daily lives, lived in relationship with the Son, are a continual tribute to the Father. Indwelt and empowered by His Holy Spirit, being increasingly transformed into the very image of His beloved Son, we reflect His glory in our words and deeds. For such a privilege and blessing our hearts overflow with thanksgiving unto Him through His Son, whose sacrifice made our acceptance by the Father a reality. With this blessed appreciation in mind, and with a painful awareness of those legalists who would seek to reduce this precious passage to a proof-text for imposing their personal preferences upon others, R.C.H. Lenski boldly declared the following (for which I applaud him): "Apply all this to ourselves today over against all errorists who in new ways want to foist upon us all their human decrees and regulations for producing the complete Christian life. Away with fears about this and that" [The Interpretation of Colossians, p. 180]. Amen.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Baptist Missionary in Peru:

Dear Brother Al, There is no need to respond to this message, as I know that you are more than occupied with your writing and other ministerial responsibilities! I just wanted to say that I have already benefited from going back into the archives and reading some of your previous Reflections. They have greatly stimulated my thoughts and enhanced my fellowship with the Lord. I don't find very much fellowship with like-minded brethren in the work here in Peru, nor are there very many real opportunities to attend Christian conferences. So I really enjoy getting my own thoughts hammered and tested on the anvil of a deep thinker and servant of the Lord. I am also drawn by your gracious attitude and dealings with others, as well as the great depth into which you go to cover any subject, leaving no biblical stone unturned. Your world-wide congregation numbers in the thousands!! Praise the Lord for the Internet! Also, that was a most wonderful video you shared with us all. It did indeed bring tears to my eyes. I am not usually into drama, but the only word for that particular one is: superlative! Thanks for that link. I have already sent it on to family and friends.

From a Minister in Donetsk, Ukraine:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you again for your inspiring and scholarly Reflections. I have prayed for the brother in the Philippines and was excited to learn from the update in your last issue that things are going pretty smoothly there at the moment. I would like to read this brother's written defense. Would you please send it to me? Also, I was intrigued by the letter you got from the elder in Illinois. Would you please send me that as well? Thank you again, brother, for all your efforts, and may our wonderful Lord bless and use you for His glory.

From a Reader in Barbados, Caribbean Islands:

Brother Al, I have not responded to one of your articles in a long while, but I have been reading them with delight. May God continue to open your spiritual intellect as you respond to the many queries that are submitted. I sense your submission to Him and know that you will reject all of Satan's strategies to make you feel other than humble before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For we have nothing that we did not receive, for every good and perfect gift comes from God our Father. I continue to believe that you do share with us from out of your deepest convictions. Against this background, therefore, I have an issue that I would like to raise for your consideration. In recent times I have been attending a Bible study, the focus of which has been the humanity of Jesus. From out of this study the issue relating to the impeccability/peccability of Jesus has emerged. Please address for me, if you will, and if you feel it's worth the time, the following question: Could Jesus have sinned?

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I have been praying for the preacher in the Philippines, as well as the college and the church there. Please send me a copy of his written defense. I may need to use it at some point with my own biological family and church family. Also, I would like to have a copy of the letter from the elder in Illinois. Al, I appreciate your dedication and all of your studies of God's Word. I admire you for using your writing talent in this way. It is such a blessing to all of us!!

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Brother Al, Each time that I've received one of your Reflections I have wanted to write you and tell you how you've saved my sanity and given me hope!! I know there are so many others who feel the same way -- those of us who have for years had the same thoughts in our minds, wondering if we were doomed for thinking the way we do, yet knowing better in our hearts! Thank you for all you do, Al.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Bro. Al, Thank you for being a continual inspiration to me through your Reflections. I feel very fortunate in finding your web site some four years ago!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, It is such a blessing to look forward to receiving encouragement and enlightenment from your Reflections articles each Monday morning when I get to work. I deeply thank you.

From a Reader in Montana:

Brother Al, I have been very refreshed and comforted by reading your Reflections. My wife and I find ourselves trying to climb out of the "legalistic hole" within which we have found ourselves in the church in America today, and your thoughts have been many breaths of fresh air!

From an Elder in North Carolina:

Dear Bro. Al, Just a short note to thank you for all you do in general, and for our little congregation in particular. We've introduced your writings to lots of folks over the years, almost all of whom are now subscribers and fans. I hope that's a little heartwarming to hear, and perhaps even embarrassing! Imagine -- you are a writer with groupies!! Shades of J. K. Rowling!! Anyway, you have an open invitation to come our way any time. You'd be right at home. May God continue to bless you and yours!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, Thanks so much for sending the defense from the brother in the Philippines. My son could've written it. I prayed that he would remain "in the church" and try to work on improving the Churches of Christ, but he finally gave up. He seems to think it is hopeless until people my age are dead and gone, and sometimes I believe he just may be right. There are days, when I hear some of the things our ministers and elders say, that I really wish they had just an ounce of your insight!! Some of them are so intelligent, and yet I have to wonder -- do they really not think? Can tradition be sooo ingrained that it robs them of insight? I don't mean to rattle on ... you know these problems all too well. Blessings to you in your great Reflections ministry! Please keep up the good work, and thanks again for sharing your knowledge and wisdom with the rest of us!

From a Minister in the Philippines:

Brother Maxey, Your most recent Reflections article is yet another product of a brilliant mind. Thank you for continuing to inspire us with your scholarship. Also, I am truly honored that you would recommend my "Response to the Charge of 'Liberalism'" to your many readers. I remain your "ading" (little brother).

From a Minister in Toronto, Canada:

Dear Brother Al, "The Divine Brain Child" was a fascinating study. I'll have to think about that some more. I remember reading years ago that the seat of emotions was in the liver, not the heart. Therefore, if that be the case, rather than saying, "I love you with all my heart," wouldn't it be more accurate to say, "You make my liver quiver?!"

From a Christian Church Pastor in California:

Bro. Al, Thanks for your outstanding report on the ongoing scientific research into human brain function and spirituality. Fascinating! As I read it, I immediately thought of Frank Morrison, the atheist who set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus, and through his research he became a believer, writing Who Moved The Stone?, a classic apology for the resurrection. So, let those unbelieving scientists do all the research they like. Those who are honest seekers for Truth will become believers in the face of the evidence their research produces. As our common friend John Clayton states: If you have a conflict between science and religion, then you've got either bad religion, bad science, or both. In light of this scientific brain research, I want to recommend an incredible book I just read. The author is Daniel H. Pink, and the book is A Whole New Mind -- Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future. It is fascinating and hard to put down; one of the best books I've read in the past ten years! Also, thanks for sending the document from the Filipino brother in which he responded to the charges of "liberalism" from his peers. As you said, he did an incredible job of expressing his faith and conviction clearly, fearlessly, and strongly. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of his relationship with the Bible college and with those who would presume to sit in judgment on him, I'm sure this brother will survive and flourish. God will be with him, and also with his Christian service. Thanks again for your contribution to the cause of the kingdom, brother. God bless you!

From a Christian Church Pastor in Indiana:

Bro. Al, How can I thank you enough for sharing that video?!! That was powerful. I am sharing it with everyone on my mailing list. Also, please send a copy of the letter from the elder in my home state of Illinois. Thank you!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, It did my heart good this morning to read the letter from our brother in the Philippines. God is good!! And then I watched the video. I kept telling myself that there was nothing here to cry about -- but then when Jesus jumped in and held back "sin" from His "child" (one of us) it just broke me!! What a blessing! I sent it to just about everyone on my email list.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Hello Brother Al, Wonderful thoughts on "The Divine Brain Child." The scientific study slightly reminded me of the Mind vs. Matter debate from the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God. I have read your book -- Down, But Not Out -- and appreciate and agree with your thoughts. I loved the video you referred us to, as well -- it made me cry!

From a Reader in Virginia:

Brother Al, Thanks for the link to that video. I used to really question the effectiveness of skit/drama within the church, but now I can see just how effective it can be, especially to our multi-sensory culture. Why do so many point fingers at their brethren just because they are actually trying different ways to get the Word out? The Gospel itself can never be changed, but there is every biblical precedent to present that Gospel in a culturally relevant manner!! I have watched that video ten times probably, and every time I get chills just thinking about our Savior! Thanks again!!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Bro. Al, I am one of your devoted readers. I thank you for the way in which you articulate the words of the Spirit who lives within each of us. I just want you to know that I have been richly rewarded by your writings. Actually, I must also admit that I am proud when others call me a "liberal." Whenever asked, I describe myself as a "liberal who is seeking to be a radical," because I believe our Lord Jesus was a radical. G. K. Chesterton said something to the effect that conservatism is founded upon the belief that if we just leave things alone they will remain the same. My experience teaches me that very few things ever remain exactly the same. Thank goodness Jesus is one who does truly remain the same today and forever! Even Truth does not change, but is rather perceived differently by each of us as we change ... and our change is inevitable. And certainly our response to Truth changes constantly as we each come to understand it more completely. Thanks for listening, Al, and thanks again for your blessed ministry. As they say, "Keep those cards and letters coming."

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