“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. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:1-4)
For the past few months, we've been talking about the book of Colossians, and lately we've focused specifically on Colossians chapter 2, which describes Paul's purpose in writing to the Colossian Christians.
The church in Colossae was likely built by one of Paul’s disciples named Epaphras, who had probably learned the gospel from Paul when he was teaching in Ephesus during his second mission trip. After learning from Paul, Epaphras went to Colossae and taught the gospel that he had learned, and as a result a church was built there.
But when Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he heard from Epaphras that some new teachers had come to the church and started to teach things that were not based on the gospel. Rather, their so-called spiritual knowledge that Paul described as “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Col 2:8) came from “human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world” (Col 2:8).
Using their knowledge, the new teachers tried to deceive, judge, and disqualify the members of the church. Because of this, the gospel of Christ was in danger of losing its genuineness.
That’s why Paul decided to write the letter to the church in Colossae. He said,
“I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Col 2:1-4)
This was Paul’s purpose in writing to the Colossians. He really wanted them to know the full riches of complete understanding of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, so that they wouldn’t be deceived by any fine-sounding arguments or teachings other than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, in chapter 2, Paul focused on explaining who Jesus really is, who the Colossians were in Him, and how the gospel is superior to the false teachings they had heard.
Paul said that they could only be brought to fullness in Christ because the fullness of God lives in bodily form in Him. Then Paul reminded them of the spiritual reality they had in Christ—they were buried with Him and raised with Him through faith.
After that, Paul explained two victories the crucifixion of Jesus brought them. First “the charge of our legal indebtedness” (Col 2:14) was canceled, taken away, and nailed to the cross because Jesus opened up the new way for us to become righteous before God by His blood, which can only be obtained by faith in Jesus, not by works of the law.
Second, “the powers and authorities,” which refers to the elemental spiritual forces of spirits of the world, were disarmed when Jesus triumphed over them on the cross.
What Paul was saying is that the two sources of false teachings—human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world—had already been rendered powerless on the cross.
These are the two victories of the cross that we should also keep in mind in order not to be deceived or swayed by teachings other than the gospel but have stronger faith in Jesus based on true knowledge of Him.
How to Live out Our Faith in Jesus
Now, let’s move on to the next part of Colossians. In chapters 1-2, Paul focused on who Jesus is and the spiritual blessings and fullness He has brought us.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). “All things have been created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16) “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Col 1:19).
And “once [we] were alienated from God” (Col 1:21), “But now he has reconciled us by Christ’s physical body” (Col 1:22). Moreover, Christ is “the glorious riches of this mystery” (Col 1:27) “that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.” (Col 1:26)
Christ is “the mystery of God in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3), and “He is the head over every power and authority” (Col 2:10).
This is Jesus Christ whom we believe in. The more we think about who Jesus is, the more we come to realize that everything we need for our salvation is found in His name alone. Christ is the start, fulfillment, and end of God’s whole plan for the salvation of all humanity.
What’s more, Paul says that we’re united with Christ through our faith in Him. We were buried with him and also raised with him through our faith. Moreover, we are “seated with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).
If we’re in Christ, we experience death to sin and resurrection in God. These are the precious blessings we have in Christ to which nothing in this world can compare.
After explaining all these things, Paul talks about how this knowledge and the truth of Jesus Christ should be applied and lived out in our lives, especially in the various relationships we have while living on earth.
This is one of the common characteristics found in Paul’s other letters as well. Paul’s objective is not only for the readers to have proper knowledge about Jesus Christ and His gospel, but also for them to continue to live out their faith.
So, in Paul’s letters, the teachings about Jesus are always followed by what it means to live a life that aligns with the gospel. For example, after explaining the gospel in his letter to the Romans, Paul said in Romans 12:1,
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship.” (Rm 12:1)
And in Ephesians, after revealing what “the mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4) is, he wrote,
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Eph 4:1).
These verses imply that believing in Jesus Christ requires believers to adopt a new way of life that’s worthy of the gospel. That’s what Paul also emphasizes in the latter part of Colossians.
He starts this part by saying, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” (Col 3:1)
This refers to what he wrote in the previous chapter, in which he explained the spiritual union we have with Christ. He said that we “were circumcised by Christ” (Col 2:11), referring to the spiritual circumcision of our hearts in order to put off our past selves ruled by our sinful natures and desires of the flesh.
Paul also said that we were buried and raised with Christ through faith, which means that we died to sin and were made alive with Christ. That’s the new self we come to have in Christ.
Then, if we really believe that we are united with Him in His death and resurrection, what kind of life should we try to live out in Him? How can we show our oneness with Christ to others through our lives? Paul answers the question by addressing the kind of life we should pursue in five types of relationships.
1. Relationship with Christ (3:1-8)
2. Relationship with the Church Community (3:9-17)
3. Relationship with Family (3:18-21)
4. Relationship with Masters and Servants (3:22-4:1)
5. Relationship with Outsiders (4:2-6)
First, Paul talks about how we should live in our relationship with Christ. Then he discusses the relationships we have with those around us, including fellow members in the church, family, people at work, and outsiders. Today, I want us to focus on the first relationship—our relationship with Christ.
1. The Relationship with Christ (3:1-8)
Let’s read Colossians 3:1-4 together again.
“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. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4)
Out of all the relationships we have while living on earth, the most important one is the one we have with Christ. Christians’ main goal is to make every effort to maintain their relationship with Him.
This is important because it affects all our other relationships. If we fail to have a proper relationship with Christ, we will never succeed in having the good relationships with others that God wants us to have.
While talking about our relationship with Christ,
Paul urges us to “set your hearts on things above” (3:1) and “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (3:2). Then he says to “Put to death…whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Col 3:5) and “rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Col 3:8)
1) Set Your Hearts on Things Above (3:1)
First, Paul said, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1)
Here, the first command and the second command seem to be the same. We are urged to set our hearts and minds on things above. But even though the NIV uses the English verb “set” in both verses, the original Greek uses two different words here.
In verse 1, the Greek verb translated as ‘set’ in English is ζητέω (zeteo), while a different Greek verb φρονέω (phroneo) is used in verse 2.
Zeteo basically means “to seek after, seek for, aim at, or strive after,” while phroneo means “to think or to direct one’s mind to a thing.”
So, the New Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version translate the first verse as “seek the things that are above” (Col 3:1, NRSV, ESV) and the second verse as “Set your minds on things that are above” (Col 3:2, NRSV, ESV).
So, we’re urged to seek the things that are above. This first command is based on the fact that we were raised with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God. And as the NIV translates, the first command is about our hearts and our personal devotion to things above. It’s about a new direction of our lives.
Before we believed in Jesus, we knew nothing about eternal life in the kingdom of God. But the first change we experience when we truly accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord is the change in our perspectives.
In Jesus, we come to have a new perspective that we didn’t have before. Our spiritual eyes are opened, and we start to see what was hidden, what’s unseen, eternal, and glorious—things in the kingdom of God.
Christians are those who come to have a relationship with Christ, who is in heaven. And as Christians, our role is to make every effort to maintain this precious relationship by continuously seeking things above and approaching God’s throne of grace.
In other words, we must continue to set our hearts on things above. We’re to keep holding on to Christ every day—He is the center and the true source of our joy. We must make the decision to walk with Jesus in our daily lives by worshiping Him, coming to know Him through God’s word, praying, and giving thanks to Him.
As Christians, we should be more interested in things above, not things on earth. As Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33). That’s how we build a close relationship with Christ.
We should be careful not to love anything in the world more than we love Jesus. Because “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (1 Jn 2:15). We can’t love God and the world at the same time. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves by thinking that we can do both. We have to make a decision, remembering what Jesus said to the church in Laodicea, “because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rv 3:16)
We shouldn’t remain lukewarm before Jesus because to Jesus, being lukewarm is no different from being cold. So, before it’s too late, before we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we should make a decision about which way to go. And I want us to decide to follow Jesus by seeking things above without going back to the world.
2) Set Your Minds on Things Above
In order to do so, we should continue to focus our minds and thoughts on Jesus. As Paul said, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col 3:2).
As I said earlier, the Greek verb that’s translated as ‘set’ here is phroneo, which means “to think or to direct one’s mind to a thing.”
We’re to make an effort to know about things above such as the gospel of Jesus Christ, the coming of the kingdom of God, the glorious hope of resurrection, and more.
Here, things above are presented as the opposite of earthly things. But ‘earthly things’ doesn’t really refer to things we do on earth. It doesn’t mean that what we do with our bodies on earth isn’t important. Paul is not saying that we shouldn’t have any interest in what’s happening here on earth.
Here, earthly things are more related to our “earthly nature” mentioned in verse 5, which includes “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).
These are what we should put to death, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).
We need to keep reminding ourselves that we already died to those earthly things in Christ. But, they are still powerfully at work in our lives, preventing us from having a close relationship with Jesus.
That’s why we must try to fix our eyes on Jesus every day. Without this effort to set our minds on things above, we will soon find ourselves drifting away from Jesus and only thinking about earthly things.
So, today, we talked about two important commands related to maintaining our close relationship with Christ. Because He is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God, our interests must be in things above. So, we must seek things above and set our minds on things above.
However, these are not actually commands, but blessings. We wouldn’t even have known there are things above if God hadn’t revealed them to us through Christ. We can seek them because God has revealed them. We can set our minds on things above because God has allowed us to have His word of truth. And this is actually for us. It is for our good.
So we should be continuously reminded of the great blessings we’ve received by His grace so that we can cherish them more in our lives.
All right. We’ll continue to talk about how to have a proper relationship with Christ next Sunday. Let’s wrap up with prayer.
Heavenly Father, thank You for all the great privileges and blessings You’ve given us through Your Son, Christ Jesus.
We were dead in our sin and slaves to our evil desires without even knowing it, but You had compassion on us. Out of Your great mercy and love, You came to the world in human form and died on the cross.
Because Jesus died on the cross and was raised to life, we could also die to sin and live a new life in Him. Thank You, Lord, for the salvation You accomplished through Jesus Christ.
Now Lord, please open our hearts and minds and allow us to know what You’ve given us by Your grace. Please give us the desire to know and love You more so that we can continue to fix our eyes on Jesus, seeking and setting our minds on things above. Please continue to guide our hearts to Jesus Christ so that we won’t be shaken by our sinful natures or desires of the flesh anymore.
Please guard our hearts and minds and let them be focused on You so that in everything we do, we reflect who Jesus Christ is for Your glory.
We thank You and love You, Lord.
In the precious name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Today, we mainly talked about how to have a proper relationship with Jesus. Here are some questions I want us to think about.
1) What are some examples of ‘things above’ that you want to seek more? Why is it important to do so?
2) What are some practical things you can do to set your mind on things above, not on earthly things?