A Song Which Defeats the Enemy
Imagine for a moment that your city is surrounded by enemy forces who aimed to destroy you. And you are aware that enemy sympathizers live and work in the city with a view to undermining the city's defenses. And suppose you discover that there is a song which the enemy and their sympathizers cannot tolerate or approach. Whenever they hear it, they pull back and run the other direction.
Isn't it certain that you would want to learn this song? And after you learned it, you would sing it when you went to bed at night and when you got up in the morning. You would sing it on the way to work, and whenever you were among strangers. And as your confidence grew you would even venture outside the city and sing it as you walked boldly through the enemy lines on your way to another town. The more deeply embedded in your mind the song became, the more steady and deep and serene and fearless your life would become. Others would see and hear and learn the song from you. And in the end you would conquer the enemy, and there would be no threat at all.
Satan, the Old Self, and the Weapon of Thanksgiving
Well, we are surrounded by the enemy—namely, Satan and his forces. He is "the father of lies" (John 8:44). His weapons are deceit and delusion. His aim is the destruction of your faith and love.
And there are enemy sympathizers inside the city of our own souls—namely, the desires of the old self.
And there is a song that Satan and his sympathizers cannot tolerate or approach—namely, the song of thanks to God.
So what I would like to do in this message is persuade you from Scripture that God has appointed gratitude as the one of the essential guardians of your soul, and to kindle in you a deep feeling of thankfulness to the Lord as we approach this Thanksgiving holiday.
Exposition of Colossians 2:1–8
We'll begin with a brief exposition of Colossians 2:1–8, and then illustrate the main point from half a dozen other related texts.
Paul's Struggles for the Colossians and Laodiceans
Paul begins chapter 2 by calling attention to how hard he struggles for the Colossians and Laodiceans: "For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not seen my face." We know from 4:10 and 18 that Paul is in prison as he writes. So the "striving" he refers to must be tremendous struggles in prayer (cf. 4:12), and perhaps writing and preparing Tychicus and Onesimus (4:7–9) to minister in his absence.
In verse 2 Paul tells us the reason why he is calling their attention to his struggles, namely, "that their hearts may be encouraged." Paul believes that if they know how he is suffering for them (verse 24—"my sufferings for your sake"), they will be encouraged and strengthened in their faith.
Knitting Hearts Together
How does this work? He says that it works through a "knitting together"—"that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love." I think he means, "as their hearts are knit together with his heart and with each other's." In other words, by telling them of his suffering and struggles for them, he hopes that they will feel themselves drawn to him (and to each other) with cords of love. So Paul is trying to create a beautiful quilt by sewing the hearts of individuals together with the threads of love, especially his own love as he suffers there in prison.
Stronger Affection and Stronger Understanding
But there is something very unusual about this quilt. When love knits hearts together into a beautiful quilt of unity, the result is not merely stronger affection, but also stronger understanding. This is one of the great and strange facts of Christianity: a deep and confident understanding of Christ comes not merely from thinking, but also from loving. Notice how verse 2 proceeds: Paul hopes that their hearts will be knit together in love, why?—"to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
In other words the way to get assured understanding about the mystery of God, namely, Jesus Christ the treasure chest of wisdom, is to have your heart knit together in love with other believers. The deepest and most certain insights into the character of God and the wisdom of God come into heads that are attached to loving hearts.
There is a good illustration of this in one of the courses that Tom Steller teaches periodically called Leadership Training Through Theological Reflection. These courses always deal with the heaviest doctrinal issues there are. But Tom told us on the staff several months ago that he is convinced that the best way to teach these things is in the context of a small group of 10–12 people who not only discuss ideas but share their lives as well. He is absolutely right because (as Paul says here in verse 2) the riches of assured understanding and knowledge of God's mystery, and the treasures of Christ's wisdom come into the heads of those whose hearts are knit together in love. Theology is a holy science, and its riches are hidden from unholy people. If you want to know God better, love your enemy.
Encouragement and Protection from Delusion
Now remember that all of this is intended by Paul to encourage the Colossians and Laodiceans. Verse 2 begins: "that their hearts may be encouraged." Their love for one another and their deeper assurance of understanding is all for the sake of their encouragement.
But now verse 4 shows what is behind this special concern that Paul has to encourage these believers. "I say this in order that no one may delude you with beguiling speech." So his immediate concern is to guard these believers from delusion. Someone is trying to mislead them. So how does Paul seek to guard them? He tells them (first) of his tremendous struggles on their behalf, in the hope (second) that this will knit their hearts to his and to each other's in love, and that out of this bond of love would grow (third) a deep and fully assured understanding of God, and that out of this love and understanding would emerge (fourth) a strong encouragement of faith, and that this encouragement would be (fifth) the power that guards them from the delusion of beguiling speech. Sacrificial struggle leads to love. Love leads to assured understanding of God. Assured understanding leads to strong encouragement. And encouragement guards from delusion.
Paul's Delight in Their Faith
Now we have almost arrived at our main point, but not quite. In verse 5 Paul expresses his motive for wanting them to stand firm and not be deluded: "For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ." Paul wants them to stand firm in their faith against deceit and delusion because he takes such great delight in their good order and firmness of faith. His whole ministry is aimed at this. The faith of his churches is his joy and glory.
On Guard Against Deceit
In verse 6–8 we have basically the same argument as we had in verses 1–4 only with different words. Notice that verse 8 corresponds to verse 4. It's a warning against being deceived. Verse 8: "See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ." Verse 4: "I say this in order that no one may delude you with beguiling speech." Both verses warn the Colossians to guard themselves from traditions or philosophies or words that lead away from Christ.
Then verses 6–7 correspond to verses 2–3. Both of them show us how to guard ourselves from deceit. Verses 6–7 say, "As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." Notice four steps:
- First, they were taught the truth of Christ (verse 7 at the end: " . . . just as you were taught").
- Second, they received him (verse 6: "As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord . . . ").
- Third, they became rooted and built up and established in him (verse 7: " . . . rooted and built up in him and established in the faith . . . ").
- Fourth, they are to live a certain way (verse 6 at the end: " . . . so live in him"). And that way of life is defined at the end of verse 7: " . . . abounding in thanksgiving."
In verses 2 and 3 the deep assurance of our knowledge of Christ leads to strong encouragement that guards us from the deceit mentioned in verse 4. In verses 6 and 7 being rooted and built up in Christ leads to an overflowing gratitude that guards us from deceit mentioned in verse 8. If you were to ask me how the guardian of "encouragement" (in verse 2) relates to the guardian of "gratitude" (in verse 7), I would say that gratitude is the completion of encouragement.
It is possible to be encouraged and not be thankful. All of us have had that experience: something good happens to us and we feel a new breath of hope and joy, but we don't even give a thought to the Source of the encouragement, to thank him. I don't think that's the kind of encouragement Paul has in mind in verse 2. Surely he has in mind humble encouragement, the kind that is completed by gratitude to God.
Gratitude the Essential Guardian of the Soul
So my conclusion from Colossians 2:1–8 is that thankfulness is an essential guardian of the soul, and therefore we should guard ourselves with gratitude. Evidently we are fair game for the devil when we don't abound with thanksgiving. Unless the song of thanksgiving is being sung in our hearts the enemy outside will deceive his way into the city of our soul, and the enemy sympathizers within will make his job easy. So for the sake of your own safety, strive to fill your heart with thanksgiving! Guard yourselves with gratitude!
Romans 1:21 in Agreement
Let's look at one other text in Romans to confirm this truth and then focus on some practical implications. In Romans 1:21 Paul accuses those who have seen the evidence of God's power and deity in nature but have not responded with gratitude: "Although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened." In other words if your heart does not respond to God with gratitude, your mind with be darkened. You surrender yourself to the blinding work of Satan. Gratitude is the guardian of the lamp of the soul. If the guardian dies, the lamp goes out. Guard yourselves with gratitude!
Illustrations of Gratitude's Role as Guardian
Now let's go back to Colossians for several illustrations.
Watchfulness and Gratitude in Prayer
Look first at Colossians 4:2. Notice the connection between watchfulness and gratitude. "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." Or, more literally, "Being watchful in it BY thanksgiving." The idea of watchfulness is vigilance and alertness. You recall in the Garden of Gethsemane how Jesus admonished the sleepy disciples (Matthew 26:41), "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation." In other words guard yourself from temptation by watching in your prayer, by being alert and vigilant. But now Colossians 4:2 says that the way we watch is "with thanksgiving." Guard yourselves with gratitude!
When Satan deploys his forces against the church, he instructs them not to focus their energies on the prayerless believer but on the saint who perseveres in prayer. Whenever you go onto your face before God in prayer, it is as though you put your knee into a bee's nest of evil. They swarm out around your head and do all they can to divert your attention, and dampen your zeal, and discourage your heart, and diminish your faith. And so Paul tells us to watch out—not to give in, but to cover ourselves with a net that the bees can't get through. And he calls the net thanksgiving: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." Guard yourselves with gratitude!
"In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will GUARD your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6–7).
Gratitude in Our Interactions with Others
The guardian role of gratitude applies not only to prayer and the spiritual battles we fight there, but also to our daily interaction with people. We can see this in Ephesians 5:4. "Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving."
How can we guard ourselves against a foul or frivolous mouth? How can we guard ourselves against a mouth that is foul with criticism and bitterness and blaming and defensiveness and disparagement and resentment and complaining and sarcasm and disrespect and ridicule and cynicism? And how can we guard ourselves against a mouth that is just flippant and trivial and silly and petty? The answer to both questions is, Fill your mouth with thanksgiving.
When a group of people get together and the first people to speak, speak words of gratitude, the conversation seldom degenerates into muck-raking. The group is guarded from sin with gratitude.
Gratitude Versus Flippancy and Triviality
And suppose you say, "Well I am not smart enough to say any profound things, so I don't know how to keep my mouth from being trivial." Listen: flippancy and triviality is not a function of intelligence. I went to college at Wheaton with some geniuses who were enslaved to cynicism and flippancy. They seemed to be incapable of saying anything earnest or sober or serious or fervent. All was innuendo and clever repartee. And you wondered whether there was any real person in there or not. But they aced their exams.
You think you are not smart enough to empty your mouth of triviality? I'll tell you how. The next time you meet with a friend, look him or her in the eye and, without any little joke to blunt the earnestness of the moment, say, "I thank God for you." And the mood of that moment will be light-years apart from triviality. And that doesn't even require a high school diploma. It requires humility.
And that's why gratitude is the guardian of our souls.
Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God. Receive the wealth of his grace in Jesus Christ. Fill your mouth with thanksgiving. And guard yourselves forever with gratitude!