by Mark Webb
The following is a excerpt from a very helpful essay by Mark Webb. He goes through some Scriptural references that thank God for the faith of the saints, a practice which acknowledges God to be the source of all faith, not our natural ability, desires, will or affections.
Several patterns exhibit themselves in Paul's writings. One of these is his well-known practice of greeting the saints with a salutation of grace and peace , with the addition of mercy in some cases. Another pattern, not quite so common, but clearly established nonetheless, is what caught my attention. It is Paul's practice of thanking God for the saints. For instance, in Eph. 1:15-16 he states "Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers." In this statement, Paul does not directly state why he is thankful, though we might deduce that it must spring from the fact that the saints evidence faith and love. Neither does he state to whom he is thankful. However, the fact that his thankfulness is connected with his prayers makes it rather obvious that such is directed towards God.
A parallel example is found in Col. 1:3-4. Here Paul declares "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints." Here Paul is more explicit. It is indeed God to Whom he is thankful, and, once again, his thankfulness springs from the fact that the Colossian saints are evidencing faith and love. Methinks I see a pattern developing here!
Can You Be More Explicit?
The fullest, clearest, and most precise expression of this pattern is seen in four of Paul's statements in the Thessalonian epistles. In I Thess. 1:2-4, Paul states "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God." Here, again, Paul makes it clear that God is the One he thanks and that his thanks involves the recollection of their faith, love, and hope. It is a statement almost identical with those in Ephesians and Colossians.
However, Paul adds additional information in I Thess. 2:13: "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." Paul fondly recalls what happened on his initial visit to Thessalonica. Though most did not receive his message, some did (see Acts 17:1-10). Most heard it only as the testimony of men, but a few heard it as and believed it to be God's testimony. That's what happened. That's what these men did. Yet notice that it is this phenomenom of man's reception of the Gospel that is the explicit "cause" for which Paul is thanking God! Paul chalks up to God's account man's initial reception of the Gospel, and subsequently thanks God for it continually.
Still more information is added in II Thess. 1:3: "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth." Here Paul expands his previous statements. He declares that he is "bound" (i.e. obligated or constrained) to thank God, not out of a hollow obligation or duty, but because it is "meet" (i.e. right or fitting) that he do so. How so? Not only is God to be thanked for the fact that a man possesses faith and love in the first place, He is also to be praised and thanked when that faith and love grows and abounds in the lives of Christians. God, then, must be responsible, not only for the initial presence of faith and love, but also for it's maintenance, continuance and fruitfulness in the face of various trials and afflictions (see II Thess. 1:4).
Perhaps you are saying to yourself: "Of course we thank God that the saints are saved and grow. He makes salvation and growth possible, and for that, we thank Him. But man himself is still the determining factor in both things." If you still harbor any doubts about my conclusions, or if you are wishing for an even fuller presentation of the matter in scripture, you need wait no longer. The final reference, II Thess. 2:13-14, settles the matter: "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here the whole panorama and scope of the matter is expressed. Again, he is "bound" to give thanks, and the reason this is so is clearly stated. It began in eternity past, when God chose them to salvation. It continued to Paul's initial visit in their mist, when God called them to this salvation through Paul's preaching. It continues now in their present experience of God's glory through Jesus Christ, and will eventually culminate in their entrance to glory. All of their salvation, from first to last, is due to God, and, therefore, all the praise, glory, and thanks is due to Him.
What shall we say, then, to these things? I trust that it's clear that I'm not wresting the words of scripture, but simply allowing them to speak in a most natural, unforced fashion. Were there only one such text, standing alone in the midst of others speaking in a contrary sense, perhaps we could simply ignore it or view it as an anomaly. But here a consistent pattern is set forth, drawn from a number of texts, with no contrary statements at all to be found!