We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you... For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
—Colossians 1:3-6a,9-14, NIV
Paul gives thanks for the Colossians’ faith and love.
Paul could have said, “I give thanks for your doctrinal mastery,” or “I give thanks that your theology is orthodox and pure,” or “I give thanks that you have the right church polity,” or “I am so relieved that you do communion the right way,” or “I am so grateful that you are ethically and morally beyond reproach,” or “I give thanks that you are working to change the laws to make them equitable.”
What motivated Paul to give thanks was the fact that the Colossians trusted God and were caring people. In light of that, what should our priorities be?
Our faith and love are a consequence of the Christian hope.
Once when I returned to Florida to visit my parents (back when they still lived in their own house), a neighbor dropped by to chat for a moment. I was horrified: he looked much older than his years and he had become a bitter man. When he left, I remarked to my mother how much he had changed and expressed my regret that such a nice person had deteriorated so badly. My mother had a ready explanation. He’s had bad times and his religion doesn’t teach an afterlife, she said. He has no hope.
Occasionally people warn me about going for walks at night or leaving my house unlocked, but I shrug the warnings off. I’ve been beaten up by thugs before. I’ve been robbed by a burglar before. I am on good terms with the Management of the Universe. I have full confidence in God’s ability to make things right, so I do not have to live in constant fear and dread. I can content myself with reasonable precautions, because I know that God will not permit any injustice to be permanent. Even if I am killed, I know that it will be made right.
I used to have a neighbor with triple locks on all the doors and an extensive alarm system. They spent hours each week just locking and unlocking doors, and turning the burglar alarm on and off. They could not understand how I could go four years without even locking my house, and they used to cite statistics about how many houses in the neighborhood were burglarized. (My rejoinder is that all the houses that were burglarized were locked, so what difference does the lock make?) I am unmoved. I am perfectly safe, because nothing a thief can steal has any enduring value.
The faith and love move Paul to pray that the Colossians will receive knowledge of God’s will through wisdom and understanding.
There are two ways that we know God: through wisdom and through our intellect. We gain greater knowledge of God by studying the Bible and through intellectual contemplation; we also gain greater knowledge of God by perceiving His role in our everyday life. The insights of wisdom combine with the results of our studies to give us greater and greater knowledge of God.
The knowledge of God strengthens us with endurance and patience.
The hallmark of the faithless is impatience and panic. The more we know about God’s mercy, power, and grace—both from our studies and from our experiences—the more patient we are and the more adversity we can endure.
It pleases God when we bear fruit in the form of good works, when we develop a close relationship with Him, and when we give Him thanks.
It is necessary for a Christian to do good works, not to earn salvation, but to show our gratitude for already possessing it and to prove our stewardship.
We have ceremonies and awards for employees who perform well, because we know that the prospect of a reward motivates people to perform. Likewise, if the possibility of reward is excluded, performance suffers. If you do not believe that you could possibly win the prize, you won’t put forth much effort in the competition. If you truly have faith that Jesus will reward you for your stewardship, it is easy for you to do good works, even when there is no immediate reward. If you do not have faith that Jesus will reward you, you will not do good works unless there is an immediate reward.
Therefore there is a direct relationship between the quality of your faith and the quality of your life. (As Jesus says, a good tree bears good fruit.) If you wish to assess your spiritual maturity, you have only to examine what sort of life you lead. Your actions are consistent with your values, your priorities, and your faith—or the lack thereof.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the trees apart, but when they bear their fruit, it’s easy. Apple trees don’t bear pears, and orange trees don’t bear limes. You can tell the tree from the fruit it bears. Examine therefore your life to determine the state of your soul.
We can thank God, because He has already saved us.