And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
This is one of those verses that appears everywhere. You see it on chalkboards, t-shirts, coffee mugs, even tattoos. It’s so present that it feels cliché—co-opted, even, by popular culture. Kind of a pithy proclamation of, “Hey, I’m not living for myself. I do everything for Jesus.”
It’s one downfall of our consumer culture. So many things—even biblical, God-honoring things—have been turned into knick-knacks. Their ubiquity depletes them of power. Seeing them often, we run the risk of blowing off this verse and others like it: “I can do all things through Christ,” or “For I know the plans I have for you,” or “With God all things are possible.”
But before they were bumper stickers and hand-painted on reclaimed barn wood, they were God’s very words. The Creator and Sustainer of the universe spoke them into existence. He whispered them to you and me through their appointed human scribes. They were breathed out for our good and God’s glory.
Colossians 3:17 says so much more than, “Hey, let’s live for Jesus” (though if that’s all it said, and if we pondered that message in and of itself, it would pack a mighty punch). In the context of Paul’s letter to the young church at Colossae, this verse is a call to live from a foundation of gospel-centrality. With the past, present, and future in mind, this verse calls us to live in light of the gospel.
Appreciate the Past: Give Thanks to God the Father through Him
The second half of the verse tells us to give thanks to God the Father through Jesus. We are reminded that God is indeed our Father. He is the one who gives “to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). He is the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:15). We are not self-created, nor self-existing. We have a Father who granted us life and gives us everything we need. He created us and sustains us. Through this verse Paul reminds us to thank our good God.
But not only is God our Father, he’s also our redeemer. When Paul says to give thanks “through him,” he means Jesus. We are to thank the Father through the Son. It is our faith and hope in Jesus, the beloved Son sent on our behalf, that grants us access to the Father. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said “for through him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18). We can approach our Father through the Son and thank him for life and salvation.
This posture of remembering who made us and remembering who saved us lays a foundation of gratitude. As we walk in awareness that we are not responsible for our own life and breath, nor our right standing before a holy God, we walk in humility and thankfulness. The routine acknowledgement that we exist and know God by grace alone leads to gratitude.
Act in the Present: Whatever You Do, in Word or Deed
The foundation of remembering and giving thanks, afforded to us through the Son from the Father, gives us the motivation and basis for how we are to speak and act today. We are creatures, brought forth by a good Creator who wrote us into his story and wrote our stories, as well. We thrive when all that we say and do flows from that ultimate reality and we suffer when we depart from it.
Paul reminded the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). As the blood-bought and adopted children of our Father in heaven, we are called to be his ambassadors, a reflection of him to a watching world. Jesus not only purchased our salvation, but the right to inhabit whatever we do.
We are vessels, jars of clay, living sacrifices. And, we do not belong to ourselves, but to our Lord in heaven. We have been “crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but Christ lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20). As we remember the past with gratitude, let’s live in the present, “working out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
Aim for the Future: Do Everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus
Finally, “everything” in this verse denotes a sum. What will be the sum total of our lives? What will our appreciation of the past and our acts in the present add up to in the end? The call to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus lifts our eyes to the future and requires us to ask ourselves, “What—or who—am I living for?”
Paul said in another letter to another church, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Who is getting the glory in our lives, God or us? He will not share his glory (Isaiah 42:8). How can we make sure we are living for him? Here are some ways:
- Evaluate your plans and dreams and goals and ask yourself, and the Lord through prayer, if they are aligned with his Word, his will, and his character.
- Put to death whatever is earthly in you (Colossians 3:5), waging war against your sinful habits.
- Put on new, godly habits such as compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other, putting on love, letting the peace of Christ rule in your heart, and letting the the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:12-16).
- Take all your thoughts captive so they obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
May God himself grant us fresh eyes to see his eternal Word. May we guard ourselves against becoming complacent and even cynical in our consumer culture, which commodifies Bible verses. Even when we see God’s Word sprinkled here and there—on a bumper sticker or a tattoo or a chalkboard—may we dwell on it and be transformed by it.
It is his Word, after all.