If you had to pick a list of virtues that mark a consistent Christian, what virtues would make the list? I think there are many virtues we would naturally list (love, joy peace, etc.) and rightly so. But I remember noticing one that flew under my radar. And I only noticed when I began to memorize a passage in Colossians.
Excited about . . . a Laundromat?
I served at a camp one summer where you only had one day off a week. On your day off, you could leave camp property and venture into town. The town didn’t have much to offer, but it did have a restaurant (not that the camp food was bad…but…), an ice cream shop (and who doesn’t love a waffle cone?), and most importantly….a laundromat!
It’s the not-having-easy-access-to-a-washer-and-dryer that made a 22 year old get excited about a laundromat. Sure, you could do your laundry at 11pm on Thursday at the camp, but wouldn’t you like to be sleeping then? So once a week my wife and I would pack up our laundry and go to the laundromat.
To gain this epic opportunity you had to accomplish a weekly task. If you didn’t accomplish this specific task, you could not leave camp. The task was to memorize the weekly Bible verses. That summer the director chose Colossians 3:1-17 for memorization. Each week you had to memorize a few of the verses. By the end of the summer, you would complete the whole passage. Many of us worked hard to keep previous verses in our memory. To this day, I can rattle off verses 1-4 with ease, and I can outline the rest of that section from memory (the wording is a bit flimsy when I try to recite it). The basic flow of the passage is:
- 3:1-4, The Renewing of the Mind
- 3:5-11, The Putting off of the Earthly
- 3:12-17, The Putting on of Love
In vss.1-4, Paul contrasts two realities; the things above where Christ is in heaven, and the things on the earth. He urges us to set our mind/heart on these heavenly things as they are in line with Christ’s will. In vss.5-11, he details the sinful actions that are part of what is earthly. In vss.12-17, Paul describes the way life should look for the believer who lives according to heaven’s virtues.
One very good thing you could do this week in your devotions is to spend time thinking through (a.k.a., meditating) this description of the Christian life. It will surely bless you to consider how your current life looks in contrast to how Paul presents this new life. Many of these virtues are ones we are familiar with. These are the ones that make the “list” I referred to earlier. But there is one that didn’t make my list, and it might not have made yours. That virtue is thankfulness.
At the end of the section on the heavenly life, Paul brings this virtue up three times. In v.15, he urges the Christian to let Christ’s peace be a controlling feature in life, and then adds “and be thankful.” It can seem a little like an afterthought. As if he just tagged it on at the end. “Hey, pass me the salt…oh, and be thankful.” But I don’t think this is an afterthought. Notice in v.16 Paul urges the Christian to let Christ’s word be a controlling feature in life, and then he explains that our singing should be richly Biblical (side-note: does your song have much to do with God’s word?). Then he explains the manner in which we are to sing to God: with thankfulness in our hearts.
Paul finally exhorts the believer in v.17 to do ALL things–both speech and actions–in the name of Jesus. This means that whatever it is that you are about to do or say, you must be able to say that you are doing or saying it for Jesus. So let’s imagine you just robbed a bank. Did you rob that bank for Jesus? Hmm. Or perhaps you just blew up in anger at your friend. You know, the one who you have HAD IT UP TO HERE with? Did you do that for Jesus? Hmm. Get the picture? But look at the other aspect of living for Jesus. It is not just that we are supposed to do and to say all of that for Jesus. We are also to do and to say all for Jesus while giving thanks.
This is the third time the idea of thankfulness has come up in as many verses. Each time it was alongside of a separate command/exhortation. In fact, it’s almost like Paul is saying that Christians, while living the various aspects of the Christian life, should have a tone of thankfulness.
Reasons to Be Thankful
Looking back, it was this passage that convinced me that thankfulness is a decidedly Christian virtue. To be ungrateful is the opposite of the mind that is set on the things above. When you stop to think about it, Christians have much to be grateful for. We deserved punishment, but we have received pardon. We owed too much to ever pay back, but we were forgiven our debt freely. We hated God, but He loved us. We conditionally love others, but God unconditionally loves us. We had no hope to ever be acceptable to God, but Jesus made a way for us to be sons and daughters of God. We are pressed, but not crushed. We are struck down, but not destroyed. Our tent is dying, but one day will be glorified. We were enemies with God, but now we are adopted. Really, we have a lot to be grateful for.
So as you set your mind on things above this next week, also meditate on the many things that Christ has done for you. Perhaps this will change the tone of your speaking and doing to a tone that’s a little more grateful.
Keep studying God’s Word.