The apostle Paul is thought by many to be the greatest theological mind of all the Bible’s Christian writers. He wrote 13 of the New Testament’s 27 books (14 if he was the author of Hebrews). He was tutored by the scholar Gamaliel, was an expert in the Law, a Roman citizen by birth, and at home in multiple languages (certainly Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Aramaic). In today’s academic terminology, Paul would have been equivalent to a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) at a minimum.
Yet this perhaps greatest mind of the first-century Church, this renowned New Testament theologian, unequivocally declared, “Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value]” (Col. 3:2, Ampl.).
An even greater example would be the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. While on earth He was (and to this day remains) the preeminent illustration of a heavenly-minded ministry bearing great fruit for God among the people of this earth. His target on earth was the souls of men and women. He came to earth “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). But in order to do that noble work, Jesus kept His mind consistently focused above, looking continually to God His Father for guidance (John 5:19f, 30; John 8:28; Luke 6:12, et al.).
In brief, contrary to the snarky, antiscriptural expression in our title above, Jesus our Lord and Paul the apostle were classic examples of heavenly-minded persons doing much earthly good!
Hebrews 11 is the Bible’s famous “faith” chapter, its most extensive teaching and illustrations of heroes of faith in God’s eyes — men such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and more. These godly men had a common characteristic: “…still living by faith when they died … [they understood that] they were foreigners and strangers on earth … longing for a better country — a heavenly one” (vss. 13, 16). They “agreed that this earth was not their real home but that they were just strangers visiting down here” (13, TLB).
This godly attitude — that we are “foreigners and strangers on earth” — is not easy to attain. But we must. The hustle and bustle of everyday life can blind us to the fact that our lives on earth are, as James called it, just “a vapour” (KJV) — “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). There’s an excellent old expression that says, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Our earthly life? “A mist” for the briefest of time in eternity’s perspective. Live for eternity! And to do that well, our mind must, as the apostle Paul wrote, be set and focused on the things above, not on the things of this earth.
One of the basic problems of mortal men and women is that we are continually drawn by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Drawn to what? To “conformity to this world” with all its sinful corruptions, attitudes, and carnal conduct that are contrary to the perfect holiness of God our Creator.
This world is not neutral! The Bible says that “friendship with the world means enmity against God … anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). It is an infinitely better thing to seek to emulate the heavenly mindset of God rather than the carnal mindset of this fallen world. The apostle Paul commands us to be transformed (rather than to be conformed to this world), to have our minds renewed, to get in sync with the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Ask yourself: Do you “think you are wise by the standards of this age”? Be careful and think about your answer. Remember who wrote that. It was the brilliant, well-educated apostle Paul. And he added this: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” This world in its fallen state is filled with those who, professing themselves to be wise, become fools.
Paul referred to the “standards of this age” as the measuring rod by which many people evaluate themselves and their supposed wisdom. Big mistake! Why? Because the self-congratulating “wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” I grew up in a northeastern USA environment in which education was held to be a high indicator of a person’s value and likely success. The problem is that much of what passes for “education” today is deeply rooted in the values of the world, and God’s values are strictly excluded from the public-sector classrooms. That is a tragedy.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not anti-education. I have two earned graduate degrees. But I have learned that those academic credentials mean absolutely nothing if my life in this world is not continually grounded on God’s truths, not on this world’s value systems.
Jesus said of His disciples (and that includes us today who serve Him) that we are IN this world, but we are not OF this world (John 17:11, 14, 16, 18). As Paul wrote, this world in its present form is passing away. Therefore, let’s “use” this world, without “abusing” it, without “misusing” it.
We are “in” the world. And since the Garden of Eden it is a fallen world. But Jesus came to earth, died for our sins, and rose again from the dead to redeem us from the consequences of our sins. And at His second coming He will complete the redemption when He renews the earth and raises His followers from all generations to eternal life with Him.
So although we are physically “in” this world, we must stay focused on God’s plans for earth, not our plans. Jesus has “sent us into the world” (John 17:18) for His purposes. He has given us His “Great Commission” to reach the world with the gracious, saving Gospel of His death and resurrection for the redemption of all who will come to Him in faith and repentance (Acts 20:21). We will indeed be of much “earthly good” if we keep our minds and hearts focused on heavenly things and on God’s plans for our lives.
We need to be very careful to ensure that even our best-intentioned thoughts actually line up with God’s Word and His plans. The apostle Peter is a great example. Jesus had just told His disciples that He was going to be killed. Surely Peter meant well when he cried out in reply: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Peter's response seems on the surface to be quite reasonable. Peter loved Jesus and wanted to defend Him from harm. But Jesus rebuked him! He turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! … You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Surely Peter’s words were well-intended. But he was entirely out of line with God’s intentions, with heaven’s ages-old plan for mankind’s redemption. Peter wanted to spare Jesus from suffering. But Jesus and His heavenly Father knew that He must suffer terribly to take the punishment due to our sins.
This is why we who follow Jesus must be committed to seeking God in prayer and in His Word the Bible. We must hear from God and follow His plans, purposes, and instructions for our lives on this earth. We must be diligent to allow God to speak into and to direct our lives, lest we be “thinking merely from a human point of view, and not from God’s.”
The man or woman not born again, and therefore “without the Spirit” of God, does not accept or properly understand the things of God. They are “discerned only through the [Holy] Spirit.” So the world of unbelievers in the midst of which the Lord’s people live is a population set on following the promptings of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Unrepentant unbelievers hear the things of God and “consider them foolishness,” to their eternal calamity.
By contrast, the Lord’s followers have the Bible, the Word of God, to guide us. And we have the Spirit of God to bear witness to our spirit concerning the things of God (Romans 8:16). As the Holy Spirit and the Word of God have their beneficial effect upon us, we find that “we have the mind of Christ.” His mindset was distinctly heavenly; so must ours be as we draw upon the infinite wisdom of His mind.
Contrary to the rude, mocking statement in our article’s title, the more heavenly minded we are, the more earthly good we will be. And we have God’s Word … God’s Spirit … and the mind of Christ to allow us to live godly, fruit-bearing lives on this earth, and then to go on to a glorious eternal reward in the presence of God Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ. In closing, be determined to be heavenly minded! You’ll be blessed both here in time and in all eternity.
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©2018, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.