In his letter to the Colossian churches, the Apostle Paul instructed the believers as follows: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." [Col 3:1-3].
I often wonder if we truly understand what Paul is teaching, as well as the radical changes that must take place in our lives if we are to have our hearts and minds set on things above rather than on the things of this world. When we observe the priorities, values, and lifestyles of many who identify themselves as Christians in the United States, we certainly have cause to be concerned, for much of the fruit coming from their lives reveals hearts and minds that are set on this world, rather than on things above.
I truly believe that in order for us to keep our hearts and minds focused on things above and away from earthly things, we must spend all of our time doing three things when we aren’t sleeping, eating, working, or doing necessary household chores. Those three activities are as follows: (1) Read the Bible, (2) pray, and (3) serve others with the talents God has given to us. This should be our lifestyle, and it should be the lifestyle that we teach our children.
Many men, women, and young people in the United States who identify themselves as Christians spend 99% of their free time pursuing the world and earthly things with no thought whatsoever to spiritual things except for one hour on Sunday morning. Their lives are given over to sports, hobbies, entertainment, and recreational activities (what Paul would call ‘earthly things’) with nothing left over for 'things above,' which is where their hearts and minds should be set all of the time, according to Paul. On Sunday morning God gets the leftovers.
Jesus, His Apostles, and the early Church fathers clearly demonstrated by their lives and all that was within them that they were focused on Heaven and nothing more. They refused to allow themselves to become distracted from God’s purpose for their lives by the meaningless things of this world that have no eternal value whatsoever. Not only these, but we see that the women as well knew where their true citizenship lied and lived their lives accordingly.
In the book of Acts, for example, we read of a disciple named Tabitha who ‘was always doing good and helping the poor.’ When she died, the widows she had helped stood around Peter, weeping and showing him the robes and other clothing this precious woman of God had made for them while she was still with them. If all of the creative juices in the world flowed through my brain right now, I still would not be able to imagine Tabitha frittering away her time with three-hour daily workouts, party planning, soccer coaching, or serving on a committee in order to find better ways to use plastic. Are these things sin? Absolutely not! But if we have only a few hours of free time in any given day, should that precious time be spent pursuing earthly causes or working for Heavenly causes? Tabitha’s mind was obviously set on things above, and she wanted to spend her time doing those things which would glorify God, show His love to others, and bring her rewards in Heaven.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul praised women like Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, and others who ‘worked very hard in the Lord.’ These were women who gave themselves completely to Christ and His cause and did not waste their time on things which had nothing to do with that cause. The Holy Bible is filled with men and women like these, who recognized where their true citizenship lied and who spent their time, talent, and energy doing those things which pertained to that citizenship.
Brothers and sisters, have we forgotten why we’re here? Do we understand what it means to be ‘aliens and strangers’ in the world? Do we understand what it means to be citizens of Heaven who are in the world, but not of the world? Do the words, "Come out from among them and be separate" mean anything to us? Too many in the Church today think that this separation from the world simply relates to matters pertaining to sin, but it applies to every area of our lives, including our priorities, values, and the way in which we spend our time.
The Apostle Paul taught that our hearts and minds were to be set on things above, not on the things of this world. How consumed with Christ and His Kingdom are we, not only in our thinking, but in the way we live? If my heart and mind are to be set on things above, then how can time be wasted on earthly things, such as sports, hobbies, entertainment, and recreational activities? Is this what we’re here for? Are these the holy tasks which Christ has assigned to us in order to advance His Kingdom? Have we forgotten the Parable of the Talents, in which the Master warns His Church about the consequences of exercising poor stewardship of the time, treasure, and talents He has given us to advance His cause?
You have two hours of time in which to coach a soccer team or cheer your child on the football field? Would you not do better in the sight of Christ to spend those two hours with that same child volunteering at a soup kitchen or bringing blankets and food to those who live in the street? You have two hours a day in which to jog or have coffee with your girlfriends? Would you not do better in the sight of Christ to spend those two hours visiting the sick or cooking a meal for an invalid that you may show him or her the love of God?
You, who spend 20 hours a week or more redecorating your kitchen or remodeling the bathroom, will you take your house with you when the time comes for you to leave this world? Would you not do better in the sight of Christ to take that same hammer and box of nails and use it to make badly needed repairs in the broken down home of the widow who lives in your neighborhood? You, who spend 20 hours or more every week watching television shows, playing golf, pursuing hobbies, or surfing the Internet, have you exhausted all means available to you in which to show others the light and love of Christ that you have 20 hours to spare doing things solely for yourself? If you do, then teach the rest of us your secret.
Am I saying that we do wrong when we engage in these activities? Absolutely not! But when we make leisure our lifestyle, and we do these things at the expense of our relationship with Christ and our service to Him, then there's a problem. Truth be told, if many of us served our employer like we serve the King of Heaven, we'd be out of a job.
What I am about to present is a hard saying. If we think that the Israelites of the Old Testament days are the only ones who are guilty of prostituting themselves before their Heavenly Husband with idols and the things of the world, we are severely shortsighted and blind.
In the sight of Christ, the Church is even more guilty of prostitution with the world for we have been given the Holy Spirit of God in which to overcome the world and live for Him. The Jews in Old Testament times did not have this power, for it had not yet been given. Therefore, what excuse can we offer up to God? We, who have the written Word available to us, grace from Heaven, and the Spirit of the Living God in order to live Christ-centered, Christ-filled, Kingdom-seeking lives, what excuse can we offer up to the Most High for our worldliness, apathy, lukewarmness, spiritual adultery, fruitless living, and empty heavenly bank accounts?
If we can allow weeks, months, and years to go by without even performing the tiniest acts of service for Christ because we are so busy engaging in the things of this world, how are we unlike the man in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents who took his talent and buried it in the ground?
If I were to forsake Christ this very day, bow down before a statue of Buddha, and call it my god and my king, it makes my head spin to think how quick many in the Church would judge me, call me an ‘idolater,’ and hurl their religious stones at me. It’s easy to recognize idolatry, spiritual adultery and prostitution then, isn’t it? But can we see these things in the way we personally spend our time, money, and talents? Can we see these things in the places where our hearts and minds are set? Are we able to discern spiritual prostitution with the world and idolatry in our own priorities and values? We see spiritual prostitution in a person who bows before idols, but not in the life of people who have given themselves completely to sports, exercise, hobbies, education, their child’s recreational activities, or other earthly pursuits.
Idolatry takes on many different forms. An idol is anything or anyone that takes the place of God in our hearts. If our lives are centered around anything but Him, we are guilty of idolatry and need to remove those idols from our hearts so that He will be first and foremost in our lives once more. Your marriage, children, education, job, house, and hobbies should not be given supremacy in your life. Your life should be centered around Christ, with all of those things taking second, third, fourth place, and so on.
In my life, I live by this motto: All for God and nothing for this world except that which is absolutely necessary. I don’t have the time to waste participating in sports, working out with friends, lounging in health spas, planning elaborate birthday parties, remodeling homes or serving on committees dedicated to the preservation of rocks, sticks, or maggots. I’m here to work, not for the kingdoms of this world, but for the Kingdom of Christ, for whose sake we are called to give up all things. He has given me a teaching gift, and I’m going to use as much of my free time as is possible exercising that gift for Him. I don't have time for activities which, at the end of the day, will not profit me or others spiritually or advance God's cause on earth. I have said "No" to countless invitations to different events over the years because to attend them would have kept me out of prayer or the study of God's Word. To participate in certain things would have kept me from being able to teach through writing.
If we want our hearts and minds to be set on things above, this means that we are going to have to make changes and choices in our lives. We're going to have to say "No" to a lot of things so that we can give ourselves more fully to Christ. What gift has God given to you? Are you using it for Him? If so, how much time and effort do you put into it? How much time is dedicated each day to prayer and the reading of God’s Word?
In the days of the Early Church, the Twelve Apostles gathered all of the disciples together and said to them, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables." [Ac 6:2]. These men knew what their calling was, and they weren’t going to allow anything to distract, hinder, or prevent them from fulfilling that calling. They were here to work for the Master, Who warned that He would soon be returning in order to settle accounts. They were not here for any other purpose than to do the work of the Kingdom.
If we are in Christ, just as they were, and if we are going to stand before the same Lord in order to answer for our stewardship on earth, should our commitment to Christ and His cause be any less than theirs? Are we guilty of neglecting prayer, the Word, and whatever holy service we’ve been gifted by God to perform in order to pursue earthly things which will profit no one in eternity or do anything to promote Christ’s cause on earth?
If we believe in the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, then it goes without saying that our priorities, values, lives, and the way in which we spend our time, talent, and treasure should line up with that belief as well. If they don’t, we have not yet come to understand what the Christ-centered, Christ-filled, Kingdom-seeking life of a disciple looks like, and we will be judged accordingly for our poor stewardship.
If our hearts and minds are set on Christ and His Kingdom, then everything else that takes place in our lives will revolve around the Lord as well. The closer we draw to Christ, the more we will find ourselves moving away from this world and its priorities. May the grace of God move us toward this closeness so that we will truly repent from our love of this world and set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is seated at God's right hand...
...and where they truly belong.
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