Paul starts to apply the facts he has explained thus far in the letter. Chapters 3 and 4 explain how to live in light of the truths of Chapters 1 and 2. In the first eleven verses of Chapter 3, he explains what truly does fight against fleshly indulgence, in contrast to the man-made rules of the false teachers that he ended Chapter 2 warning against. The false teachers preach self-abasement and severe treatment of the body. The gospel preaches dying with Christ to the sins of the world and living with a mind set on Him. The believer does not need to abuse himself to avoid the sins of the world. The believer needs to keep seeking the things above where Christ now sits.
Paul already said believers have been buried with Christ and raised up with Him (2:12). He also said that followers of Christ have died with Him to the world and therefore no longer worry about man-made rules that have no real power (2:20). He now returns to the truth of our being raised with Christ and uses it as a contrast to the empty teaching of the false teachers.
Since we have in fact been raised with Christ – something that happened in the past when we believed – we should keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. We are no longer of this world – we died to it when we died with Christ. But that is not the end of the story. We did not just die to something, we were raised to something too. We were raised to Christ and His world. Thus we are to seek the things of His world – the world we are truly citizens of. Even more – we are to seek Christ Himself as He sits in the seat of authority (Ps 110) next to the King of our new world.
This goes right along with Christ’s words to the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount (which is fitting since the sermon explains how to live as citizens of the kingdom above) where He instructed them to seek first God’s kingdom (Matt 6:33). This was in contrast to worrying about material needs or storing up treasures on earth. The believer is to walk with his focus and treasure above, where Christ is.
And where Christ is, is key. We have been raised with Him, thus it makes sense to focus on the place where He is. The phrase where Christ is gives us the reason for our seeking. We seek to know the One we have been raised with and to know His kingdom. He rules at the right hand of God and we want to abide by His rule as well as enjoy the privileges of His rule.
We can enjoy the privileges of His rule because Christ’s place at the right hand of God shows more than authority. It also shows that we have access to the presence of God because He is there to present us holy and blameless before the Father (1:22). If we died with Christ and were raised with Him and now live in Him, then we have access to the Father through Him. We can come boldly before God because we come united with Christ. Our perfect High Priest can call us to the throne of grace (Heb 4:16).
So if we take Paul’s words here and add to them Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, it seems to be clear that seeking the things above means wholly focusing our lives on what is important in God’s kingdom. It means living with a desire to please the One who sits at the right hand of God and walking in a manner worthy of Him (1:10). It means we truly make Christ our life and put Him at the center of everything. It means we see things differently as we evaluate them based on what they mean ‘above’ instead of what they mean here. We live here but we are not OF here, thus we live with eyes that are focused above and not below, outward instead of inward.
To seek things above, then, takes us to the very summit of Christian experience in this life. It is daily to hold fast to Christ as the center and source of all our joys. It is to enter His gates with praise and come into His courts with thanksgiving. (R.C. Lucas, The Message of Colossians & Philemon; The Bible Speaks Today; 135.)
Verse 2 continues the thought of verse 1 and gives us some insight into how to accomplish the command of verse 1. We are to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. If we want to seek the things above we must set our minds on those things. We cannot have our minds set wholly in this world and expect to seek anything other than this world. This again goes along with Christ’s words in the SOM – we cannot serve two masters, we cannot store up treasures in two worlds, and we cannot seek two kingdoms (Matt 6). It is a choice – set your mind on things above or set your mind on things on earth.
This has nothing to do, by the way, with the practical aspects of life. Going to work, driving the kids to school, going to the grocery and getting the oil changed are not examples of setting our minds on the things of the earth. Paul does not call us to stop functioning in this world. He is talking about something much bigger than the mundane activities of our daily lives.
What does it mean, then, to set your mind? It has to do with the whole direction and focus of life. Priorities, goals, thoughts, concerns, what makes us happy, what satisfies us, what motivates us, what discourages us, what saddens us – all have to do with what we set our minds on. So if we set our minds on things above where Christ is, then it will affect our priorities, goals, thoughts, etc. And if we instead set our minds on things on earth – it will affect those things in the opposite way.
And we must understand that ‘opposite’ is the correct way to see this. We cannot set our minds on both the things above and the things on earth because they are in direct opposition to each other. It is impossible to focus on both. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4). Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world (I Jn 2:15-16).
That being the case, it means that this becomes a weapon against wrong thinking. How do we fight lust and worry and anxiety and general wrong-headedness? We set our minds on things above. How do we get our priorities straight and see the rewards of this world in their proper light and see others charitably instead of critically? Set our minds on things above. How do we live differently than the world and affect it with our radical perspective? Set our minds on things above.
And truly setting our minds on things above will radically change our perspective over time. Probably much more than we are even comfortable with if we are honest. If we actually look at all of life from the perspective of the kingdom above, NOTHING will look as it does now or as it will continue to look to the rest of the world. To really take on what Paul commands, we must be prepared to live strangely and perhaps dangerously in the world’s eyes. We will stand out in a big – and probably uncomfortable – way, because our view will evolve into that of a citizen of the kingdom of God, free of most of the concerns of a citizen of this world.
So we know it is an “either/or” proposition. But how to accomplish it? That leads directly into verses 3 and 4.
The reason we can/must set our minds on things above is because we have died and our lives are hidden with Christ in God. That we have died with Christ is a repeat of what Paul said before. We have died with Christ to the world, so it makes sense that we do not set our minds on the things of the world. However, he also says our lives are hidden with Christ in God. What he seems to mean is that we now live in Christ – our lives are completely centered on Him and enveloped by Him. There is no life apart from Him. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Gal 2:20).
While Christ lives in us and we live in Him, the full effect of that union has not been realized. So Paul says our lives are hidden with Christ. We died with Him and were raised with Him but we have not yet been glorified with Him. Thus our full salvation remains hidden. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (I Jn 3:2).
Thankfully Paul does not leave us there. He goes on to explain the end of the story. Our lives will not always be hidden with Christ. There will come a day when Christ will be revealed and we will be revealed with Him in glory. This goes back to the first part of the letter where he said our faith and love are based on the hope laid up for us in heaven (1:5). We have the promise of glorification with Christ and this promise should motivate us to seek the things above where Christ already is (Paul makes the same point in Phil 3:17-21). We will someday be with Christ, so we should seek the things that belong to the kingdom where we will someday live. It makes no sense to seek what is opposed to our ultimate home. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever (I Jn 2:17).
Notice the descriptive phrase after Christ in verse 4 – who is our life (some translations say your life). This is really the perfect way to describe the relationship with our Savior. He is our life. We are so identified with Him that we no longer see our existence as our own. We are not living – HE is living through us. This summarizes all that Paul has said thus far – we died with Him and were buried with Him and were raised with Him and now live in Him. Everything in our lives is about Him. We live to please Him in all respects and grow in our knowledge of Him (1:10) because He is our life (it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me).
So if we look at the text as a whole and compare it to what we already know from Chapters 1 and 2, it becomes clearer. We have died with Christ to the power of sin in this world. We have also been raised with Christ to the promise of an eternity in paradise with Him. And our death and resurrection in Him mean we no longer belong to this world, we are meant for the world above. Thus we must not set our minds and affections on a world we do not belong to, we must set our minds and affections on our real and eternal home. And since Christ rules and enables us to approach the Father in that home, we must set our minds and affections on Him. Not only that, but because He rules with the Father and has conquered sin, we CAN do all these things. We not only MUST keep seeking the things above; we CAN seek the things above.
Setting our hearts and minds on “the things above” and not on “earthly things” is both necessary and possible. It is necessary because our union with Christ means we no longer belong to the realm of this earth but to the heavenly realm; and it is possible because our union with Christ severs us from the tyranny of the powers of this world and provides us with all the power needed to live a new life. (Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon; Pillar New Testament Commentary; 249)
A Note on Verb Tense
If it seems like we so often fall short of the life Paul lays out here, it may pay to notice the verb tense he uses in his admonitions. In both imperatives he uses present tense. Keep seeking the things above. Set your mind on things above. This means that this is not a once and for all exercise. It is continual. It is something we need to do daily, hourly, minute-ly (short ‘u’, not long). We are to keep seeking and keep setting. We cannot ever stop, and if we have stopped we need to start right up again.
Our motivation for the imperatives is in the past, present and future. We died with Christ (past) and were raised with Him (past) and now live with Him (present) and will someday be glorified with Him (future). But the imperatives themselves are all right now and ongoing.
That means that regardless of where I am in life I can start seeking and setting. If I have totally blown it by seeking all the wrong things and setting my mind on all the wrong things, I can still turn it around and seek the right things and set my mind on things above. Since I can never stop, it also means I can always start (obviously this has limits – if my life is typified by seeking the wrong things continually there becomes a question of whether I am in the faith at all).
It also means there will never come a day when I can say I have it all together. I will never reach a point where I will not have to seek and set. I will keep seeking and keep setting all the days of my life. And this is true for all believers. No one has ‘reached it’, so everyone must continue.
So do not give up. Continually call to mind that we have died with Christ to the world and were raised with Him to a new life. Constantly meditate on the fact that our life is hidden with Christ and our identity is wholly in Him. Keep looking at our Savior sitting at the right hand of God interceding for us and presenting us before Him holy and blameless. And always use these truths as motivation to seek the things above and set our minds on things above.
Keep seeking. Keep setting. Never stop. Never ever stop. And don’t let the discouragement of what we sought yesterday make us give up seeking the right things today. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly (GK Chesterton).