Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” Colossians 3:2

We are no doubt all familiar with the saying “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good”. Normally this saying is intended as a criticism of those who seem to have their heads in the clouds and who are oblivious of the realities of life or, perhaps even worse, uncaring about them.

Sometimes the phrase is used as a criticism of Christians and their apparent lack of involvement in the issues of the day. And sometimes, it has to be said, the criticism has the ring of truth about it. The question must however be asked. If a particular Christian person is in fact uncaring and uninvolved in the issues of daily life, is the problem that they are too heavenly minded or is the problem in fact that they are not heavenly minded enough?

In Colossians 3:2 Paul commands all Christians to set our minds on things above. This is not a command to fill our minds with higher, more noble thoughts though elsewhere the Bible does urge us to think about whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely commendable and excellent (see Philippians 4:8).

The ‘things above’ in Colossians 3:2 are clearly heavenly things for they are to be understood in the light of the preceding verse where Paul says “seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). It is clear therefore that since Christ is at the right hand of God in Heaven, the things above in our text must refer to heavenly things. Paul is thus commanding us to be heavenly minded. 

Furthermore, the command to set our minds on things above is strengthened by the words “not on the things that are on earth”. Does Paul mean that we should not think about daily life and it challenges and spend all our time thinking about heaven? The context of Paul’s words suggests the very opposite. For when we read on, we discover that we are to put to death that which is ‘earthly’ in us, namely sexual immorality, impurity, passion (in the negative sense of the word), covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk and untruth (Colossians 3:5-9).

Thus for Paul the things of the earth are not the ordinary realities of everyday life such as family life or work (see for example Colossians 3:18-25). For Paul, the things of earth are those attitudes and patterns of behaviour which are unwholesome and destructive, both for ourselves and for our relationships with others. Bearing this in mind then we can say that setting our minds on things of the earth must mean being controlled by our fallen nature. And so we can conclude that to set our minds on things above must mean to be controlled in our daily lives by the new realities of our Christian experience.

This is in fact exactly what we find when we read Colossians 3:1-4 as a whole. For Paul reminds us of two things that are true for every Christian. First, every Christian has been raised with Christ, that is given new birth and new life by the Holy Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead. But second, and very important, every Christian has also died with Christ with the result that our lives no longer belong to ourselves but to God in Christ.

What this means in practice is that day by day we are no longer to live for ourselves and our own agenda as if we were still the controlling force for our life choices; rather we are to live day by day as those who belong to God, trusting Him both for the power to make good and godly choices and for the outcome of those choices. Putting it differently, since we belong to Jesus, we now need to live our lives modelled on the life that Jesus lived – a life of self-sacrificial love for the good of others. 

The question therefore becomes “would a life of self-sacrificial love for the good of others” be of any earthly good? And surely even the greatest sceptic would have to agree that it would. What a difference it would make in our personal relationships and in our country as a whole if people truly did not put themselves first, we givers rather than takers and were willing to sacrifice for the good of those who needed help.

This is in fact what being heavenly minded should produce. And since this is true, what we need is not fewer but more people in our country who are truly heavenly minded. And since this cannot be accomplished without the grace of God, the saving work of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, what we need is for the gospel of Jesus to grow and spread across our land and then for those who believe this gospel to live it out day by day.