Seeking and Thinking Upon the Right Things

With the new year ahead of us, many people are making all sorts of New Year’s Resolutions—new diets, new Bible reading plans, new commitments to exercise more. We have all heard of the truism: “You are what you eat.” In many ways, this statement is true! If you feed your body well, you will generally have better health and more energy. If you feed your body a steady diet of junk food, then the results are somewhat predictable. But think with me for a second about this saying’s spiritual counterpart: “How we think effects how we behave.” Perhaps in this new year, we as Christians could use a little re-focusing on how we think.

Consider the truth of Romans 6:11: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11, ESV). If we think about the reality that we as Christians have died with Christ on the cross to the power of sin, then we can find victory as we strive to live holy lives. This sort of thinking will have a serious impact on the way we live our lives.

In a sense, we are living corpses. We are dead to ourselves and alive in Christ (Col. 2:20). We have been buried with him (Col. 2:12), have been raised up with him (Col. 3:1) and have been seated with him in the presence of God the Father (Col. 3:1). If we can get our heads around what this means, it will have a huge impact on the way that we live life now.

Colossians 3:1-3 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1–3, ESV)

In this blogpost, I’d like to look a little more closely at this idea of seeking the right things and how that affects our thinking as Christians.

Background

As we begin, it would be helpful to take some time to remember the situation the church of Colossae faced. They had this false teaching that was spreading what was a mix of Jewish ceremonialism and a false teaching that would later be called Gnosticism.

Jewish ceremonialism demanded that they follow all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament, while failing to see that those ceremonies pointed to Jesus Christ (Col. 2:16-17).

Early Gnostic mysticism demanded ascetic living, angel worship, and visions while simultaneously taking the focus off of Christ (Col. 2:18-19).

One form of Gnosticism failed to see the symbolism of the Old Testament ceremonies and rituals that pointed to Jesus Christ, while the other form placed the focus on lesser beings and self-affliction to gain greater access to God. Both forms of this false teaching led the people away from God through rituals, ceremonies and false philosophies. The motivation for seeking God was man-made traditions and rules. And both failed because they did not address the heart and the mind.

So, Paul, in these four verses (Col. 3:1-4) turned from these false teachings to the true motivation given for pleasing God and living a victorious Christian life that replaces man-made rules and traditions. This brings us back to the truth I stated at the beginning: How we think effects how we behave. In Colossians 3:1-4 we find two keys that will unlock for us the real motivation for living for Christ that deals with the heart and the mind before it deals with the flesh.

1. Seek the Things That Are Above (v. 1)

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1, ESV)

Paul begins by giving to us the counter to the false teacher’s approach that he has just finished discussing in Colossians 2. “If then” is a conditional statement that really could be translated “Since.” Since you have been raised with Christ. What has happened as a result of being raised with Christ? We died to sin according to Romans 6. And according to Colossians 2:12, we were buried with Christ in baptism (“having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (ESV))

The very next verse (Col. 2:13) adds that not only did we die to our sins with Christ, but we were also made alive together with him at his resurrection. Paul once again reminds his readers of this fact in 3:1. Since we have been raised with Christ, Paul is saying, seek the things that are above. Really, Paul’s grammar tells us that he means, “Keep on seeking!” This isn’t a one-time deal. We are to keep on seeking. Paul is saying that since we are those who are truly spiritually alive, who have our lives in Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us place our goals, aspirations and dreams upon those things that are above, where our lives are at—with the Savior who is not on earth, but sitting at the right hand of the Father.

Whereas the false teachers were placing their sights upon earthly goals, Paul says that what we ought to seek is far above—in heaven. In other words, our values system changes when we see ourselves as being alive with Christ in heaven. We stop seeking primarily after the things on this earth because our lives are not here on earth, but in heaven with Christ. Our attachment to earthly things will be evaluated with this truth. We will have a different standard of value for material possessions because we have treasure laid up in heaven. We will not be concerned about gaining honor from men, because we are enthroned with Christ—and there is no greater honor than that. We will not seek after earthly power, because we have all power in Christ. We will not chase after fame because we have already gained the loving approval of our heavenly Father.

All of these things that men seek after are earthly things and the one who grasps the reality of what he or she has in Christ will not seek after them with the same hungering and passion as the unredeemed man. We may need and use earthly things while we are here, but we will not spend an inordinate amount of time or energy chasing them because we see their true value in the light of what we already have in Christ.

2. Set Your Mind on the Things that Are Above (vv. 2-4)

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:2–4, ESV)

Like the command in verse 1, this is also given in the same tense and could be translated, “Keep on thinking on the things that are above.” Keep on thinking about heavenly things. Some people say that some Christians are “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good,” but I think that the real problem is that too many Christians are not heavenly minded enough to be any earthly good. Our eyes are on this world and not on heaven.

Paul reminds us why we ought to have this heavenly focus in verse 4. Christian, you are dead, he writes. You are no longer a citizen of earth. Sure, you need to live here for a few more years, but this planet is not your home. You are a visitor. Don’t unpack your bags! You are an alien, a foreigner in a strange, distant land, so don’t get too comfortable! This isn’t your home. Your old life—it is gone! You died. You are no longer the same person. You died and have been reborn a different person. So, don’t focus your mind on the things on this fallen earth, rather think about the things in your true home where Christ is.

When I was little boy, I went to a Christian camp in California called Indian Village. It was the first time that I had been away from home by myself, not counting staying over my grandparent’s house. I got so homesick at camp. I thought about the food at home and my toys and my bed. I especially thought about my mom and dad and my little brother. I was so unsettled, that I refused to take a shower for several days. That is until my camp counselor helped me get over the embarrassment by letting me shower after everyone had left camp for an activity and I was allowed to shower in my swim trunks. That teepee tent I slept in at night for a week was not my home, and I was not going to get used to it. I eventually settled down some and even had a good time, but I was ready to go home when the buses came!

Colossians 3:3 says that our real life is hidden with Christ, who is in heaven. Life is not here—it is waiting for us in heaven. We are somewhere between heaven and earth, as Jonathan Edwards said, not a part of either heaven or earth right now. Our feet are on earth, but our heads and hearts are in heaven.

What is our motivation for this change in our thinking? Verse 4 tells us that the motivation for living in this truth is that when Jesus Christ comes (and this is sure, although the timing is unknown), then our real life will begin, and we will really start living. We will appear with him in glory. Just as we died with Christ and were buried and were raised up with Christ, when he returns, we will share in the glory. We will see the unifying of this strange existence into one. Heaven will come down and we will no longer be torn between heaven and earth. We will then be with Christ in heaven where our hearts and minds are. Everything will be made right. We, as pilgrims, will finally be home.

What are you seeking after? Heavenly things or earthly things? If you are seeking after earthly things, you will eventually leave them all behind. You can’t take them with you, and even if you could, they would be worthless in light of the treasures of heaven.

What are you thinking on? Heavenly things or earthly things? Have you unpacked your bags and begun to settle in? Have you forgotten your true home? Are you home sick? You should be. You should have a mental picture of heaven and the Lord and it should be so vivid that you can’t be truly happy to remain here on this broken planet. May we all be like the Apostle Paul, who would stay here for the blessings that he could bring the church, but he would much rather go home to heaven (Phil. 1:21-24). Paul’s eyes were set heavenward. Where are yours?

Pastor Like Paul, part 6

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You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:10–12, ESV)

In this “Pastor Like Paul”series we looked so far at 6 ways we need to follow (or strive to be) a godly Christian leader:

  1. Follow the Same Doctrine
  2. Follow the Same Conduct
  3. Follow the Same Purpose
  4. Follow the Same Faithfulness
  5. Follow the Same Patience
  6. Follow with the Same Love

At verse 11, Paul builds upon this list with a capstone of leadership–being willing to follow Jesus in our suffering. From his prison, Paul reminds Timothy that he has followed Christ, and that Timothy and all those who would follow Jesus should also be willing to suffer as well.

But doesn’t that make Christians “lemmings?” Lemmings are small rodents that have been said to follow one another off a cliff to their deaths in some sort of weird instinct when their populations get too large. It has become a figure of speech to call people “lemmings” who thoughtlessly follow the crowd.

Interestingly, the idea of the lemmings jumping off cliffs as they follow one another is based upon a fraud. Encyclopedia Britannica reports, “For the 1958 Disney nature film White Wilderness, filmmakers eager for dramatic footage staged a lemming death plunge, pushing dozens of lemmings off a cliff while cameras were rolling. The images—shocking at the time for what they seemed to show about the cruelty of nature and shocking now for what they actually show about the cruelty of humans—convinced several generations of moviegoers that these little rodents do, in fact, possess a bizarre instinct to destroy themselves.”[1]

Why do I bring up lemmings? Because we are still talking about following the leader, and 2 Timothy 3:11-12 speak about following our leaders, both Jesus and the Apostle Paul into the very real possibility of persecution and suffering.

But just like lemmings don’t do this, neither do Christians unthinkingly thrust themselves to their deaths. We love life! But we know that this life is temporary, and that if we must risk this life to remain faithful to Christ, then the exchange is worth it.

For this post and the next in this series, we will see the need to faithfully follow Christ as Paul followed Christ, even to death if necessary. We will see this first, through the specific examples of Paul, and then through the universal principles of Scripture for all of us.

  1. The Specific Examples of Paul (v. 11)

my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” (2 Timothy 3:11, ESV)

My persecutions which you saw…

It is interesting that the Apostle Paul didn’t give an exhaustive list of all the places where he had suffered persecution, nor had he given the most recent places. Instead, it appears that Paul mentioned Antioch, Iconium and Lystra because these would have been the places where Timothy first encountered the severe persecution that Paul suffered for the faith as a young boy just setting out with Paul. Timothy may have been an eyewitness to the dramatic account described in Lystra, the city he was from. He may have heard stories told of how Paul had preached to boldly and survived a brutal stoning, walking back into Lystra after being left for dead (Acts 14:20). These early accounts would have been vivid reminders that persecution was not a rare thing that happened only to a few, but that it is normal for most Christians, and that Timothy should expect it.

My persecutions which I endured…

The word for “endure” means to bear up under a burden. Paul’s body was undoubtedly covered in scars and deformities from the many hardships and persecutions he had endured for the sake of Christ.

But there was no way that the Lord would ever give Paul more of a burden than he would give him the ability to endure it. Paul’s body was a record book of his faithfulness to proclaim the gospel everywhere he went. He bore up under the burden gladly because he understood the message of the cross is life to those who would believe.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9, ESV)

My persecutions which the Lord rescued me from…

Paul’s survival was attributed to the Lord alone. He didn’t give glory to God for delivering him sometimes, or even mostof the time, but “from them allthe Lord rescued me.”

This word “from” at the end of v. 11 in the ESV, is translated “out of” in the NASB and KJV. But there can be confusion when we use the words “out of” or “from” because we can understand this idea in two ways. We might mean that God rescues his children from ever having to be involved in persecution or suffering.

But we might also mean that God rescues his children when they are in the midst of persecutions and suffering. In other words, they are experiencing it, and yet God will continue to be with them and they shall be saved, but not yet.

When we look at Paul’s life, we recognize that he had both experiences, where he was delivered unharmed by his persecutors, and those where he barely made it out alive after surviving painfully through an ordeal.

Paul is imprisoned, and he does not expect that he will be released. In fact, in 2Timothy 4:6-8, Paul wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6–8, ESV)

In verse 6, Paul clearly believes that he is going to be put to death, which he was. But v. 7 shows that he still has confidence in the Lord, that the Lord will carry him across the finish line of the race of faith. And then in v. 8 he envisions the awards ceremony where the crowns are given to the competitors, and Paul full expects that he and all those who trust in Christ will receive the reward of eternal life.

In those three verses we can understand what Paul was teaching Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:11, that whether it is out of the persecution or even through the persecution, the Lord will deliver him from the suffering he has faced.

Now we might read this and come to the conclusion that these things were true for the Apostle Paul, but that they may not be true for you and me. But there was a reason that Paul was telling Timothy these things. There was divine purpose in this letter.

Gordon Fee “insists that it was the Apostle’s intention to underscore that Timothy had known from his earliest days that persecution was a part of faith in Christ and that he should therefore not lose heart in his current sufferings.”[2]

Remember that Paul has mentioned the pattern from v. 10 that Timothy had followed, and Paul was commending him for this, and encouraging him to keep on going in this same direction. It is no different when we come to the matter of persecution and suffering. Timothy was to follow Paul’s example as well.

To aid him in doing this, Paul laid out three universal truths that state work together with Paul’s personal examples to show that Paul was not the exception. We will see that in tomorrow’s post.

[1]https://www.britannica.com/story/do-lemmings-really-commit-mass-suicide

[2]Kitchen, John, The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors, 408.

Pastor Like Paul, part 5

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“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,”–2 Timothy‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The Christian faith depends upon not only faithful discipleship, but on faithful disciples who continue in the pattern they have received. In their last four posts in this series we looked at 5 ways we need to follow (or strive to be) a godly Christian leader:

  1. Follow the Same Doctrine
  2. Follow the Same Conduct
  3. Follow the Same Purpose
  4. Follow the Same Faithfulness
  5. Follow the Same Patience

You can read part 1 here,  part 2 herepart 3 here and part 4 here. In this post we will look at “the greatest of these…”

6. Follow with the Same Love

The KJV uses the word “charity” here, which doesn’t mean what you give to less fortunate people, but a selfless act of love that is shown to others in the spirit of God’s love for us. This is that word Greek word for love known as agape.

The best way to define what Paul meant by follow his love, is to define his live by his own words and life. So, I compiled a list of ten features of love as described and modelled by Paul.

  1. Love is shown at the cross: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, ESV)
  2. Love includes patience: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant” (1 Corinthians 13:4, ESV); “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:2, ESV)
  3. Love must be pursued: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1, ESV); “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22, ESV)
  4. Love must be our motivation: “Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14, ESV); “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;” (2 Corinthians 5:14, ESV)
  5. Love confronts sin: “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV); “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15, ESV)
  6. Love forgives: “So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Corinthians 2:8, ESV)
  7. Love sacrifices: “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” (2 Corinthians 12:15, ESV) ; “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8, ESV)
  8. Love discerns truth from error:And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,” (Philippians 1:9, ESV)
  9. Love unifies Christians: “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:2, ESV) ; “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14, ESV)
  10. Love works hard in service:remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, ESV)

That, my friends, helps us put the cookies on the lower shelf when we say, how can I show someone love, doesn’t it? Love is practical, painful and it must be pursued. Paul told Timothy, that he needed to continue to follow his example of loving in these ways, and so do we!

Brothers, we are leading others. The question is, where are we leading them? Are we leading them toward Christ, or away from him? Are we setting examples in our faithfulness, patience and love, or are we showing them instead an example of faithlessness, impatience and selfishness? If we fail we will not only feel remorse over wasted time, but we will also recreate our poor example in others, and worst yet, we will stand before the Lord and give an account for how we led others. May God help us to set the pace for those around us to follow Christ with their whole lives, just as we seek to do the same.