“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.”
Today’s Sunday worship service is the last Sunday worship service in 2013. First of all, we thank God for leading each of us, our church, our nation and the world in the year 2013 in his sovereign will and purpose. At this time, it is meaningful for us to reflect on our life of faith in 2013 and have a clear inner direction to live as pilgrims on earth in the years to come. In John Bunyan’s the Pilgrims’ Progress Part 2, there is a man with a muck-rake who looks no way but downward in a room with a muck-rake in his hand and rakes to himself the straws, the small sticks and the dust of the floor. There stands also one man over his head with a celestial crown in his hand to offer the man that crown. But the man neither looks up nor regards, but rakes the floor. To this man, heaven is nothing but a fable, and only things here on earth are counted substantial. Bunyan’s point here is that earthly things which were worthless like straws, sticks and dust can carry our hearts away from God. We also have experienced it. Maybe right now we are like the man with muck-rake. Now, with the following 2 questions let’s examine where our hearts and minds are: “What are the three things I am thinking about the most?” “What are the three things I love the most?” Knowing our thinking and loving, let’s answer the last question: “Am I searching for the crown or the straw? As we study today’s passage, let us newly identify ourselves and have a clear life direction.
Verse 1a says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” Here the subject “you” is the believers in Colosse. According to Paul, the Colossians have been raised with Christ. What does it mean? Had they already died and then been raised from the dead and had the resurrection body? Is this like one of those “Left Behind” movies? Are we left behind? Not at all. To know what Paul really meant, we must see Romans chapter 6:3-4. “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptizedinto Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into deathin order that, just as Christ was raised from the deadthrough the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” The Colossians already had died and been raised from the dead with Christ, just as the old Saul had died with Christ and the new Paul had been raised with Christ. When they repented and were baptized they were actually nailed to the cross with Jesus and buried with him. All of their sins were buried in the tomb with Christ. This is truly amazing. When we repented of our sins before God and were baptized, God looks at us as already having been crucified, punished and buried 2000 years ago. That is not all. If we were buried with Christ, we were also raised with him. We are new creation in Christ. We are now united with Christ. We are intimately connected with Christ.
So in verses 3-4 Paul says, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” We already died. Now our life is hidden with Christ in God. No longer is our life under the rule of Satan and under God’s wrath. Now Christ is our life. Everything that is in Christ is ours. What’s more, our future will be glorious beyond our imagination. When he comes again we also will appear with him in glory. Clearly we Christians belong to Jesus Christ and his kingdom. We are not of the world. Figuratively speaking, the world is like the cave tomb from which we already have been raised. We are citizens of the kingdom of God and wait for Christ’s coming. Our home is heaven. We are heaven bound. And we are the same hometown people. And we come to know each other on our journey to heaven, our eternal home. Since, then, having been raised with Christ, what is our personal responsibility in our life journey with Christ?
Now look at verse 1b-2. “…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.” In these verses the phrase, “set your hearts (minds) on things above” is repeated. We all know that it is impossible to stop thinking and doing earthly things. We still go to work or school, pay the bills, go grocery shopping and take care of some house chores. We have to take care of so many earthly things each day. Daniel Kim has to take care of his customers. Otherwise, his sales will suffer loss and his wife and child are a little bit affected. Even Apostle Paul made tents for living, while serving God’s mission. So then what does it mean to set our hearts and minds on things above? It means to have priority and affection to things above. Actually St. Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3:13-14 has the same meaning. He said, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” His life goal or focus was on things above. He struggled a lot to press on towards heavenly things, forgetting what was behind. He could do so because his heart was set on things above.
We follow what our heart is set on. Warren Buffet is known as Wizard of Omaha, a legendary investor. He set his heart and mind on stocks day and night and he became like a wizard knowing how to invest and to make a big money. On the other hand, Mother Sarah Barry set her heart and mind on things above from her twenties till now her eighties. She is still struggling with her life-motto, “God’s grace is sufficient. Work hard for God’s glory on earth and rest in heaven with Christ.” Likewise, when our heart is set on certain things, we cannot stop thinking about those things. There are many people caught in between things above and earthly things. In the Bible a rich young ruler was an example. He had a desire for the things above as well as for his wealth. He came to Jesus to seek eternal life, but went away sad because he could not let go of his credit card and fat wallet. Another example is Judas Iscariot. He followed Jesus for three years, abandoning his former occupation. But he had another desire for Jesus’ earthly kingdom and glory in his heart. He could not fully set his heart on things above. In the end his desire on earthly things destroyed him. The truth is that our hearts and minds are very vulnerable and easily wavered. Therefore, we must set our hearts and minds on things above. We think about things above. We talk about things above. We meditate and pray on things above. We hear and smell on things above. We read and write on things above. We eat and drink and even sleep for things above. In short we fix our heart and mind on Jesus and heavenly things. We are united with Christ and Jesus is our life. In other words, we are married to Christ. Imagine a married man or woman is only thinking and talking about his ex-girlfriend or her ex-boyfriend. That is ridiculous and terrible. That is exactly what God feels when we turn our hearts and minds back to our old fleshly desires and earthly things. Our God wants us to give our hearts and minds to him. We all know that we are weak because we have sinful desires in us. So we often times experience that our hearts and minds are robbed by worldly affairs and our old self is at work. Figuratively speaking, our old self is like walking zombie. All these dead bodies were brought back to life and walking around just like a horror movie. Some of them were so much decayed and stinky but still walking around. But Paul reminds us today that our sinful flesh had been crucified long ago and we have been raised with Christ. So we should not listen to our old sinful flesh because it’s dead! We have the Risen Christ seated at the right hand of God, living in us and helping us. We live with this Living Christ. So setting our hearts and minds on the things of the world is what we do. Isn’t it natural? We remember Apostle Peter who went back to the Sea of Galilee to fish after denying Jesus three times. But although he was throwing the net as he had done before meeting Christ, his inner person was longing and searching for things above. When he heard the risen Jesus calling him, he jumped into the water and went to Jesus swimming as fast as he could. How can we hesitate to serve the One who shed his blood to restore our righteousness? How can we refuse to serve the one who never sinned but was made sin with all the sinfulness of ours? How can we reject to serve the One who raised us with him to inherit his kingdom and eternal life? We all have love and affections. We are all people of the heart with emotions and feelings. We also all people of the mind with reasons and wills. That is how God made everyone of us. Let us set our hearts and minds on the things above so that although our feet are on earth, our hearts and minds are in heaven. Now then, specifically what are earthly things and what are things above? The answer for the first question is in verses 5-9. Look at verses 5-9. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices…” These are earthly things or earthly nature. Simply put, they are sins: The first group of sin in verse 5 is related to desires that the natural man craves and seeks to satisfy, even in secret, without any help from others—sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. The second group of sin in verses 8-9 is related to sins that occur while people interact with each other—anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language and lying. Paul used the very strong words: “Put to death” and “must rid yourself of.” In plain words, they mean “kill” or “chop off.” We must kill them completely and chop them off mercilessly. They are our old sinful nature. Now the answer to the second question, “What are things above?” is in verses 12-16. Look at verse 12.“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Here pay attention to the verb “clothe.” It requires our daily effort. After killing our sins, then we must clothes ourselves with Christian virtues such as compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. In addition, we must bear with each other and forgive others (13). And most of all, we must put on love that binds them all together (14). We must also put on the peace of Christ (15), the word of Christ (16), giving praises to God (16) and thanksgiving to God (16-17) Jesus spoke about all these virtues in the sermon on the Mount. Verse 17 is the culmination of setting our hearts on things above. Look at verse 17. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever we do, whether we serve students with one to one Bible study or forgive someone or bear others’ weaknesses or write the reflection or have an eating fellowship or doing something else, we should do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God. Christ must be revealed and God be glorified in all we do. In this way, we must have the image of Jesus in us. By setting our hearts and minds on things above, we must be disciplined and sanctified and become like Christ. No doubt, when we struggle to set our hearts on things above, the Holy Spirit will transform us into Jesus’ people, heavenly citizen, new-creation-people in Christ and with Christ, our very life. May we make a decision to set our hearts on things above and live a Christ-centered life in 2014. Amen.