The Hebrew writer is challenging the disciples he’s addressing to pursue holiness (12:14). Holiness is wholeness. It is being responsive to God in every area of our lives. As Jesus talked about, it is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). This doesn’t happen accidentally or incidentally, so they are to make every effort toward this end. Understood in this context, these words are not an aside or digression, but rather part of a crescendo the writer has been building toward throughout the letter.
To stoke the fire even more, he wants them to come to grips with all they have through Christ (v. 22ff). Unlike Israel, they are part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken (v. 28). The appropriate response to this is to be thankful and to worship God with reverence and awe.
Worshiping God with reverence and awe sounds fitting in light of the truth that He is a consuming fire (v. 28), but thankfulness seems a little, well . . . ordinary. Many of us tend to see it as occupying more of a supporting role. After all, we’re supposed to be thankful, we are, and that’s that—right? We’re ready to move on to something else—something more spiritual.
Maybe it’s worth taking closer look at gratitude.
The word thank, thanks, thankfulness, gratitude and grateful are found about 150 times in the biblical witness. That’s not a big number compared to other characteristics like love (688), faith (458), peace (249) or joy (242), but numbers don’t always tell the whole story, do they?
Gratitude is an attitude toward God in response to His goodness toward us. This attitude will manifest itself in specific behaviors to be sure, but it starts in the heart with the open-eyed acknowledgement of the blessings we have received from our Father. Gratitude is the seed whose fruit is unlimited.
It was Abraham Heschel who said, “It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” Gratitude makes the soul great not because it is seeking greatness, but by acknowledging its indebtedness to God, it points to His greatness. It sees God’s goodness, that “He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love . . . He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:8,10). It sees not only this but a thousand other ways in which God actively blesses and sustains our lives. Put it all together and gratitude should form the foundation for who we are. We love because He first loved us.
So then, just as you received Jesus Christ as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
What do you suppose he means by that?
But there’s more to say about this gratitude.