TEXT: Colossians 2:6-8; Psalm 100
I want to talk this morning about the difference 18 inches can make. 18 inches… a foot and a half. Maybe you have heard the quote from British politician Andrew Bennett, “The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.” I want to talk about that journey this morning, at least in spiritual terms. In the Colossians passage (actually in both our readings!) we have a description of head-knowledge and we read of the difference that heart-knowledge makes when it comes to God and Jesus Christ. And, at least in these scripture passages, the prime quality of that heart-knowledge of God is thankfulness or gratitude. And I’ll go ahead and give away where it’s all headed so you can notice along the way: teaching helps us know about Jesus, but gratitude moves us to follow him. Let’s look at Colossians 2…
The Gratitude Difference (Colossians 2:6-8)
There’s a lot that could be unpacked in the Colossians 2 passage. There are all the action words: received, walk, rooted, built up, established, see. At the heart of that receiving and rooting, establishing and building, is instruction. We can’t know Jesus if we don’t know Jesus. So it is vitally important to teach the faith, pass it on to our children, learn from God’s Word, and study the teachings of and about Jesus. But that is not an end in itself. With that kind of instruction, Paul challenges the Colossians to now WALK in Christ, in faith. That is – live it out, serve the Lord, follow Jesus. And what is the chief characteristic that leads to that life-change? It’s there at the end of verse 7: gratitude. In fact, not just a little, but “overflowing with gratitude.” That’s what makes this faith thing work. Otherwise, the most we become is walking encyclopedias, full of facts and information. But gratitude over the story of God – that’s what moves us and stirs us to action.
I appreciate having gratitude named. It would be very frustrating to end a class or sermon full of information and say, “Now go FEEL this… get it in your heart!” How do you do that?? According to this, at least one way is gratitude. Now what if you aren’t feeling grateful? That’s ok; one of the amazing things about gratitude is that we can start the ball rolling with two simple words: THANK YOU. Gratitude is one of the few things that is both a statement and a feeling. Of course you can fake it and be insincere, but in my experience if you at least give it an honest try and express the thanks, the heart-felt gratitude will often follow.
Now I do want to mention the last part (v. 8). It offers a good warning: be careful that no one captivates you with empty promises. Rather, be captivated with God’s love in Christ. Said another way, I think it likely that something will win over our heart, our affections, our involvement. Be alert to the things that promise what only God gives. Again, it is a both/and… it is vitally important for our faith to be tied to learning God’s Word and story, to thinking with our head, to understanding the message. If we go on heart alone it is easy to be deceived. So Paul knits both together here: head and heart, thought and feeling, teaching and grateful response. It may be that if you are new to faith, you need to work on the knowledge part more. But I have found that for those who have been in church for a long time, it’s often the heart that needs attention. We attend worship, Sunday school, and Bible studies week after week, year after year. Our heads are full! Are we ready to take that 18-inch journey again from head to heart?
Lest you think this passage just an unusual standalone, let’s look at Psalm 100. I originally chose it as a good Thanksgiving Psalm, but as I looked at it with the head/heart dynamic, I saw a very similar pattern to the one in Colossians.
Grateful Song (Psalm 100)
The Psalm begins with emotion and heart-stuff. It begins with shouts from joy and serving from gladness. We are invited into God’s presence with joyful singing. Then verse 3 talks about knowledge: “Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” That’s all head knowledge, but it’s pretty deep head-knowledge; it has to do with our core identity and where we came from. But notice that when the Psalmist returns in v.4 to coming into God’s presence, worshiping, or serving God, we again see “thanksgiving” and “give thanks.”
To say that another way, I don’t think scripture separates out head-knowledge and heart-knowledge. They are meant to go together. If anything, Psalm 100 has them woven together even more tightly than Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Nonetheless, it seems to be the particular fruit of heart-knowledge that leads us into God’s presence and into following and serving Him.
Many folks set aside time on Thanksgiving to reflect on those things for which they are thankful. Whether that’s in a formal (and sometimes awkward) go-around-the-table format or simply in the quiet of your private prayers, it’s a good thing to do. And here’s the connection I’d make with today’s scripture: I believe we are moved by the things for which we are thankful. And those things move us.
I can read and study about God’s mercy and learn something about mercy, but if experience and am thankful for God’s mercy, I will be more likely to show that mercy to others.
I can read and study about God’s love and learn something about love, but if experience and am thankful for God’s love, I will be more likely to show that love to others.
I can read and study about how Jesus came among humanity to humble himself and become a servant of all; if I am grateful for God’s coming all the way down to the human experience, I will be more likely to follow Jesus where he leads me.
That’s the implication of these passages today: gratitude makes a difference! Examine what you are truly thankful for and see if gratitude is not one of your primary motivators.
That’s God’s invitation this Thanksgiving: to learn about Him and for it to make a difference in your life and those you touch. And gratitude is what helps us make that 18-inch journey from head to heart. Gratitude is what fuels our faithfulness. Amen.
- Great Are You, Lord (Ingram, Jordon, Leonard)
- Beautiful One (Hughes)
- OFFERING (Gwen Ingram, Bobby White): Love Lift Us Up
- We Give Thee But Thine Own (SCHUMANN)