We human beings are social creatures. That’s not a bad thing. God quite intentionally designed us to be social beings. In Genesis 2:18, God comments on the fact that it isn’t good for human beings to be alone. And throughout the Bible, time and again, God insists that it is vitally important for human beings to be in close, supportive, caring relationships with other people. It is a part of our essential design.
This social nature does, however, make us prone to want to fit in with whatever group of people we consider ourselves to be part of. Of course, we all claim to want to be our own unique, distinctive selves. But the truth is we all want to be unique and distinctive in just the same way that everyone in our group is unique and distinctive. In other words, as I said, we just want to fit in with our group.
This reality can present followers of Jesus with something of a challenge. Jesus makes it quite clear on several occasions that his people are to be a sent people. One of the first things Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection was this: “So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” This is a theme that Jesus had laid out for them throughout his ministry. He called them “apostles” which means in Greek “send ones” (Luke 6:13). He gave them the experience of being sent out—Luke 9:1-6 & 10:1-12. He laid it out for them in his great prayer on the night of his arrest. “Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (John 17:18). Those of us who are followers of Jesus are meant to live out in the wide, unbelieving world.
And yet we are to be a distinctive people. In that great prayer in John 17, Jesus says that his people are to be in the world but not “of” the world. That means that we are meant to live in the non-believing world but not to derive our identity from it. In order to be Christ’s distinctive people in the world, we have to overcome our tendency to fit in. We have to become willing to be strange, abnormal in the world’s eyes. Our hearts and minds cannot be shaped by the same things that shape the hearts and minds of the non-Christian people of this world.
And that brings us back to Colossians 3 in this ongoing study of that wonderful section of the New Testament. I think we can say that Colossians 3 is one of the places where the apostle Paul reflects most deeply on what it means to be a person who is in the world but not of the world, whose identity is built on something different from what this world has to offer.
Look at Colossians 3:2. Here’s how the New International Version translates it: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Here’s how the old Phillips version reads: “Give your heart to the heavenly things, not to the passing things of earth.” The Greek words that Paul uses that are translated “set your minds on” or “give your hearts to” aren’t easy to bring into English. He isn’t just referring to a set of ideas. He has in mind a whole way of thinking about things, a distinctive way of understanding the nature of the world, a different way of recognizing what is important and valuable. He’s talking about a distinctive orientation to life. Sometimes this is called a “worldview.”
Paul identifies two influences on us that shape our way of understanding the world: “that which is above” vs. “that which is of this world.” But this world is wrecked; it’s bent away from God. The effect of this broken world on human understanding was and continues to be devastating. This is how Paul says it in Romans 1:21: “Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened” [HSCB]. This fallen world twists our minds and hearts and so distorts everything about how we approach life. I’m not saying that we are as bad as we could be, nor am I saying that everything we do is bad. But this brokenness has a distorting effect on every aspect of how we orient ourselves to life and has a powerful effect on how we live our lives and how we relate to the people around us. Paul will be exploring that effect in depth in the rest of this chapter.
Instead of letting this world shape our way of understanding life, Paul wants us to be guided by “that which is above”. And what is it that is “above”? Well, he’s just told us that in verse one. What is “above” is Jesus Christ, who is enthroned above. He wants us to allow Jesus Christ to shape our hearts and mind; he wants us to let King Jesus be the one who organized our way of thinking, living, and relating.
We were made for God’s way of thinking, living, and relating. And when we let him be what shapes us, we find that we are living the lives that we were designed for and meant for. We will have joy and fullness of life.
So here’s my question for you: what is the real influence in your life that shapes your thinking, living, and relating? Is it the things that come from this world? Or is it Jesus Christ? And I want you to approach these questions in a very down-to-earth, practical way.
What are the voices that you listen to most? What are the day-in-and-day-out influences that you allow to speak to you, persuade you, tell you what to think? A lot of people think that one hour of worship a week and twenty minutes of sermon a week is all they need to develop God’s way of thinking. If that’s what you think, then—forgive me but—you are a fool. You give yourself a few minutes of the Bible and then you spend hour after hour of television and internet, day after day of cable news and social media. You tell me what is going to have a greater influence on your way of looking at the world, your way of living in the world, and your way of relating to the people around you.
Cable news and politicians will not give you the mind of God. We need deep serious time spent in God’s word and in prayer. We need wise, humble, godly teachers. If your Bible teachers and preachers are telling you the same things your favorite politicians are telling you, then your Bible teachers and preachers have sold their souls and are feeding you the things of this world.
The things that are from above won’t sound like the things this world’s leaders are saying. The things that are from above will cause you to be out of step with all of this world’s thinkers and politicians. You shouldn’t fit in with any political party or any worldly organization. You may find some overlap here and there, but if you are perfectly in step with some political party then you are absolutely out of step with God.
Here are some practical suggestions:
Stop watching cable news, and I’m talking about all cable news networks. They have one goal and one goal above all others: to make a lot of money. They do that by sucking you into watching them all the time. They do that by making you angry and making you afraid. Fear and anger will never lead you closer to God.
Watch the basic news to be informed. Check out lots of different news sources, not just the ones that tell you what you like to hear. Always be willing to be persuaded to change your mind.
Reduce your television viewing in general. Cut way back on the time you spend scrolling through Facebook and other social media. Be very selective about what you let into your social media feed. Spend a lot more time in the Bible and in prayer and in other spiritually healthy reading. Take control of the influences that you allow into your life. Decide what voices you will give your time to.
“Give your heart to the heavenly things, not to the passing things of earth.” Colossians 3:2 [Phillips]
© 2022 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved; use with attribution.