If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3

How much attention do we give – and should we give – to this instruction? Is this optional, prescriptive, or a command? How prevalent is this theme in the Scriptures? Two things come to mind:

  1. Under the Old Covenant, the nation of Israel was commanded to remain separate from the surrounding nations, lest their worship and obedience to God be compromised.
  2. Under the New, Jesus’ prayed for His Father to sanctify (i.e., set apart) those that He had been given – a continuation of the Old Covenant theme. We are to be “in the world”, but not “of the world”. There seems to be a fine but hard line between these two conditions.

What are the “things on the earth” Paul refers to in his letter to the Colossian church? Are they limited to the previously mentioned world philosophies and religious legalism? What about the list of personal sins that follow?

Bringing this matter forward, what would the Holy Spirit lead Paul to say about our world? What new “things on the earth” has mankind created? Should we be concerned about the set of our minds in regard to sports, news, social media, online gaming, DIY YouTube videos, etc.?

Beware of the first answer that comes to you. It is likely your carnal mind trying to distract or otherwise deter you from considering the matter. It does that… regularly. Just tell it to shut up.

Here are a few related, but admittedly random, questions to help you stay on track:

  • Is my body and its health a “thing on the earth”?
  • If I were not interested in my favorite sports team, would I know to be interested?
  • In any given moment, can my mind be set on things on the earth and also on things above?
  • How does opportunity cost play into this matter?

Now for some related passages:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

There are modes and levels of thinking that will cheat Christians out of the spiritual revelation and wisdom promised to them. Paul encourages a higher level of thinking.

These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:23

Paul makes it clear that the answer here is not self-imposed religion, false humility and neglect of the body; the issue is the indulgence of the flesh. We can simply ask ourselves, “Is this activity satisfying to my flesh?” That’s the first test. Here comes the second.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men… Colossians 3:23

The value of every activity is measured by its worth to the Lord. Should we be we comfortable with our lazily considered assumptions? Can we know without soberly asking, “Is this time producing value for my Lord? Am I redeeming the time He has invested in me?”

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Colossians 4:5

As we interact with the world, we must do so in wisdom, recognizing that we are a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17). The affinities brought forward from our carnal life must be considered suspect – and examined before the Lord (2Corinthians 10:5).

Ignorance has Its Consequences

It is one of those curious things about the English language that ignorance and ignore mean different things. However, ignoring something important can lead to ignorance; and being ignorant about the set of our mind is a dangerous place to be (Romans 8:5-6; Philippians 3:18-19). So, please allow me to press the point further.

I have two primary concerns:

First, we do not count the cost of lost opportunity. Opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen (dictionary.com). For example, what could be done with the day spent going to a football game, or the three hours watching it at home? Even fifteen minutes spent reviewing game stats or injury reports could be invested in fellowship with our Father in heaven, or encouraging someone in our spheres of influence.

Secondly, we fail to soberly consider that participation in seemingly harmless things on the earth gives license to our carnal mind; and that these activities have connections to evil spirits and attitudes. An example of the former is the fan who goes from watching a game with family and friends to reading everything about the team he can get his hands on. The evil connections include the drunkenness and gambling associated with sports entertainment.

I suspect there are quite a few arguments against this degree of asceticism. Let’s consider the most popular ones, starting with:

“We watch the game with family and friends for bonding around something we all enjoy.”

It is amazing how often this reasoning (or some form of it) is used – particularly given its weakness. Why not invest our bonding time serving widows and orphans? Or feeding the hungry? Is it really “being Christ” to get more excited about a football team than serving our King?

I know, these are some difficult questions! They call us to a higher plain – a departure from our comfort zone – to be “in the world” in a much different way than we are accustomed to.

Someone might counter:

“We watch the game with our non-Christian friends for the opportunity to witness to them, to be Christ to them, and to share the gospel. They would not miss the game to minister with us.”

How do we know? Have we asked them? Have we explained why we want to serve others instead of entertaining ourselves? We might be surprised with their response. Even secular humanists appreciate the values of service and sacrifice.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume the “being Christ to them” is a true intention for many. How does that happen during the excitement of a football game? How often does our primary objective get lost in the entertainment? Who, really, is affecting whom?

We would do well to ask ourselves: Is there any harm in following a favorite team or watching a football game? For me personally, the answer has been a resounding “YES”.

Is the answer the same for everyone? I am not the person to say. Each person must hear from the Lord for themselves. This requires an honest and courageous conversation.

The biggest question of all: Will we allow God to search us, and know our heart; to try us, and know our anxieties; and to see if there is any wicked way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting (Psalms 139:23-24)?

Any Distraction will Do

Allow me to close with an obvious but necessary observation. Our carnal mind does not need the Dawgs to distract us. It will use any number of things on the earth. I will forego the long list. Offending the Dawg Nation is enough for one article.

Seriously, the desire of my heart is for our Father in heaven to get back what He lost in our rebellion; for His Son to have His bride (and soon); and, for every one of His followers to invest every moment they have on earth towards their eternal reward.

My generation has wasted way too much of our lives on the world’s distractions. I long for the generations that follow us to learn from our mistakes. We need to lead them down the difficult road. That is what disciple makers do.

So, where do we start? What things should occupy our time? Paul’s letter to the Colossians suggests we should be spending more time together, setting our minds on things above (vv. 3:12-17). This battle is too difficult and dangerous to go it alone. We must start with our platoon. Acts 2:42-43 speaks dramatically regarding the outcome we can expect:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

God bless you with faith and courage to overcome the distractions of this world and help others do the same.

Humbly yours and forever His,