Previous | Next

January 1972 · Vol. 1 No. 1 · pp. 33–35 

The Preaching Lab

John Regehr

1. I had been asked to speak on thanksgiving. I did not wish to deal with the traditional theme of harvest (A personal hang-up about the “usual”). Since I had just had several very painful experiences, I contemplated talking about thankfulness at a distance to myself. But that would violate my best understanding about preaching. Therefore, I must speak about thankfulness and pain, or perhaps thankfulness in the midst of painful relationships. Several texts came to mind: Psalms “I will yet thank him.”; Paul “in everything give thanks.”; Paul “In everything God works for good.”

Now for shaping some outline which would cover significant areas of our human experience, both the congregation’s and mine. How about a) the thanks that bubbles over in joy, and b) the thanks that comes as the whisper of faith when darkness and loneliness press painfully.

2. I remembered that Colossians 3 had much to say about thanksgiving. I read 3:12-17 several times. Three expressions began to protrude. “ . . .be thankful, . . .sing. . .with thankfulness, and. . .give thanks.” Would the text allow itself to be structured with these expressions as pivot points? The first seemed to follow hard upon a discussion of difficult relationships (vs. 12-15). The second emerged in the context of Christian fellowship (v. 16), and the third retreated into the broad context of our daily life (v. 17).

3. The text was speaking directly to one of my initial concerns, and was saying something significant for the other. Also the text was suggesting a structure by which to shape the sermon. The text determines the length of each of the three sections of the sermon, and disciplines my thinking about each of the areas. In this way I guard myself against using the preaching session for an occasion to push my pet ideas.

4. Two little struggles arise: Shall I allow the text to shape the sermon, and to determine the time given to each part? Shall I allow the text to discipline my thought and feeling in those areas which touch my own recent experience closely? I submit myself to the text, and determine that I want to be a servant of the text, i.e. a servant of the word of God.


  1. Being thankful in the midst of difficult relationships
    1. We had dreamed that all would be heavenly now.
      1. After all, we are in Christ (vs. 1-4).
      2. After all, we have turned our backs on evil (vs. 5-9). {34}
      3. After all, we have become members of a new community (vs. 10-11).
    2. But the New Christian relationships are not automatic (12a).
      1. They require our own real effort,
      2. but our effort presupposes what God did:
        1. we are chosen
        2. we are holy
        3. we are beloved.
      3. God’s action enables our effort.
    3. The new self-image now shapes our relationships (12b).
      1. We can exercise compassion—the gut response to people’s plight.
      2. We can exercise kindness—the deed that substantiates compassion.
      3. We can exercise lowliness—doing kindness upwards.
      4. We can exercise meekness—not manipulating through lowliness.
      5. We can exercise patience—the continuing in meekness even when we are alone.
    4. What if others do not practice these attitudes? (v. 13)
      1. Some, instead of compassion, practice self-indulgence;
        instead of kindness—self-interest;
        instead of lowliness—self-importance;
        instead of meekness—self-assertion;
        instead of patience—self-pity.
      2. We must be forbearing—holding off the judgment.
      3. We must be forgiving—not allowing the sin of the brother to remain a barrier.
      4. A humbling note: we must forbear each other and forgive each other. There is so much of sin in us even when we seek to practice the virtues, that we need to be forgiven constantly.
      5. The pattern of forbearing and forgiving is God himself.
    5. Love binds it all together—love insists on keeping those within the fellowship who need to work through their difficult relationships.
    6. This makes for peace:
      1. A working relationship within the fellowship;
      2. A working relationship in the task—outward.
      3. Peace is the umpire—it calls fair and foul play with reference to our working relationship.
      4. Each is free to achieve his full potential because each is free to contribute and receive.
    7. Surely we can be thankful for such a fellowship (15b).
      1. Life has found its depth in the relationship of love.
      2. Life has found its meaning in a relationship of peace.
      3. We are grateful for what is, even though imperfections stare at us.
      4. We are grateful because of what is possible. {35}
      5. Gratitude works retroactively—it actually helps to achieve that for which we have said thanks.
  2. Singing with Thankfulness in the Christian Fellowship (v. 16)
    1. The Word of Christ is to dwell among the people of Christ.
      1. We want to hear the words he spoke.
      2. We want to hear the Word about him.
      3. The Word wants to dwell among us.
    2. Two ways by which this becomes reality:
      1. Instruction regarding how the Word relates to life:
        1. teaching—insight into the word;
        2. admonishing—applying the word to each other’s life.
      2. Personal response of the heart in singing:
        1. psalms—the Old Testament;
        2. hymns—the New Testament early church formulations;
        3. odes—personal experience of joy, faith, hope, and love.
    3. Surely we can do this with thankfulness in such a fellowship.
  3. Giving thanks in the multiplicity of daily life (verse 17)
    1. The full scope of life is summed up in two words: word and deed.
    2. It is important that the inner being be made new so that we can become free in our words and deeds.
    3. Words and deeds must be consciously associated with Jesus Christ. I speak and act in his name. This makes for perfect freedom. For that freedom I can be thankful.
    4. Every situation is consciously related to the purpose of Christ.
      1. In everything God works for good;
      2. therefore, I have no sense of abandonment in any situation;
      3. therefore, I can give thanks in everything.
Dr. Regehr is Associate Professor of Practical Theology at MB Bible College, Winnipeg.

Previous | Next