Seek the Things that Are Above
Colossians 3:1–4 – Colossians: Made Alive in Christ
8th Sunday after Pentecost – July 15, 2018 (am)
A couple of weeks ago we identified 2:6-7 as the theme verses of Colossians, capturing the heart of this brief letter we’re studying: 6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Who among us wouldn’t want to live like that—exhibiting the very life of Christ Himself, His patience and gentleness, His confidence and conviction and even zeal for all that is true and right and good, His peace of mind and heart that comes from knowing He’s experiencing all the fullness of God even when the world around Him is in upheaval, and is increasingly unhappy with Him personally? Who among us wouldn’t want to live like that?
For those who’ve truly received Christ Jesus the Lord, it would be hard to express how we desire to live any more clearly than these verses do. The Spirit of God has made us alive in Christ (2:13). God the Father… has qualified (us) to share in the inheritance of the saints in light; he has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (1:12-14). And as a result of this dramatic, life-changing, soul-satisfying, eternity-altering work He’s done in us, our affections are reoriented away from the things of this world and toward the things of the world to come. As a result of (receiving) Christ Jesus the Lord, we’re invaded by a divinely-initiated hope of glory (1:27), hope of (eternal life)!
But as we await that coming Day, there is still enough of this world within us that we will actually lay hold of things we can see and touch, things we feel like we can control ourselves, to keep our lives on the course we believe will be the most satisfying to us. And we help one another identify those things: all the way from the right kinds of food, to the right presidential candidate, from the right toothpaste and household cleaning agents, to the right education choices for our kids, the right clubs and camps and colleges to ensure their success, and the right balance in our banking and investment accounts to pay for that education with enough left over for us to retire at the right age and the preferred standard of living.
Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all what we choose to do in each of these areas. I’m just pointing out that our sense of fullness in life—which was a high priority in Colossae, and has been in every village and town since then, right up to our own— our sense of fullness in life can be linked more by these visible, tangible, measurable realities than it is to the rich and eternal blessings that come to us by faith in Christ Jesus the Lord. Now it doesn’t make much sense to cling to these old-world standards of fullness once Christ has come bringing new-world fullness with Him. But as it was in Colossae so it is today, we cling to them anyway! Why? Because we have a hard time giving up control. On some level we really do believe that our children’s best hopes for the future are secured more by our making sure they go to the right schools and take the right classes and play for the right teams and so forth, than by our committing them to the Lord and helping them receive with trust and with joy the opportunities and experiences and struggles and set-backs that He places before them. We struggle to put to death (5) our plan for this life, our desire, our longing and ambition, and just walk in (Christ Jesus the Lord) (2:6), rooted and built up in him, established in the faith in him, abounding in thanksgiving to him (2:7). We so struggle to believe that our fullness of life will truly be realized if rely solely on being rooted and established in him that we become vulnerable to being (taken) captive by any philosophy or empty deceit (2:8) that promises to deliver what we most desire.
This philosophy and empty deceit is linked to the elemental spirits of the world that Paul refers to (2:8, 20), meaning the way the world operated before the incarnation of the Son of God, before Jesus came guaranteeing fulfillment of the promises of the new world. So, the question now is: how much sense does it make for us to keep clinging to standards of satisfaction that are anchored to this world when the promised Rescuer has come? He has introduced the fullness of the new world, the infinitely enhanced satisfaction that reflects the way things ought to be, the they were created to be and the way we long for them to be, the way things will be again once His salvation is finally and completely delivered!
As Paul put it in last week’s passage (2:20-23): If you died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch,” human efforts! These have an appearance of wisdom, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. It seems like they should work, but they don’t deliver what they promise! Self-imposed standards don’t produce fullness of life! And if (we) died to (them) with Christ, died to this world by receiving Jesus’ death as the means of our reconciliation with God, why, as if (we) were still alive (to) this world do we submit to (these) regulations—these standards, these pursuits that promise satisfying life by human effort?
Now, in this week’s passage Paul uses a similar structure to take us on to the next step of the gospel. 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. If you died with Christ to the (ways) of (this) world, then don’t keep living according to its (ways). And if you have been raised with Christ (to enter the coming new world), then set your minds on things (of that world)! Live in light of who you are in Christ, and who you will be in him for all eternity! Enjoy the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory! (1:27) Let’s walk through this vv.1-4 in three steps.
What We Are Supposed to Do – 1-2
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, there it is, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Pursue the (ways) of heaven. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. As Paul wrote earlier: (we have been) raised with (Christ) through faith in the powerful work-ing of God! (2:12) (He) made us alive together with (Christ), having forgiven us all our trespasses (2:13). And he disarmed the rulers and authorities that seek to (take us) captive, to enslave us to the (ways) of (this) world. He put them to open shame, exposed them once and for all, by triumphing over them (at the cross) (2:15). Christ, the victorious King, is seated at God’s right hand! There is our hope! There is our power to (stop) the indulgence of the flesh (2:23) and find the fullness of life! The power of the gospel, the power of God displayed in the resurrection of Jesus is ours when we’ve received Christ Jesus the Lord (2:6) by faith! It doesn’t immediately remove our vulnerability to being (taken) captive by the empty deceit of human (effort) (2:8). But it (delivers) us from the domain of dark-ness and (transfers) us to the kingdom of (God’s) beloved Son! (1:13) It (redeems) us from slavery to the (ways) of (this) world and frees us from them through the forgiveness of our sins! (1:14)
So, our response—what we are supposed to do—is to give all our attention to (this) new world into which we’ve have been raised with Christ (1). We turn our attention, our gaze, to Christ Himself, Who is seated at the right hand of God (1). He is our Deliverer, our Lord, our King. He is our Source of joy (1:11) and satisfaction and fullness! He is our life! (4) So, we no longer have need of gratifying ourselves (5-7) or defend-ing ourselves (8-11) or exalting ourselves (12-14). Rather, we have been freed by the resurrection of Christ Jesus the Lord to walk in him, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith and abounding in thanksgiving (2:6-7; cf. 15-17). So, we set (our hearts) and minds on that freedom. We orient our lives around it. Christ is our strength. Christ is our guide. Christ is our example. He is our healer, our joy, our satisfaction. He is our wisdom and knowledge (2:3). Christ is our all because Christ is (our) life! (4) That’s what we are supposed to do!
Why We Are Supposed to Do It – 3
We’ve already alluded to it in several different ways, but we’ll say it again here with clarity and efficiency. We seek the things that are above, we set (our) minds on (them), not on things that are on earth, not on the (ways) of (this) world, 3 For (we) have died, and (our) life is hidden with Christ in God. We are citizens of that new world. (Our) life is in Christ, in heaven! (Our) life is no longer here! Like Paul wrote to the Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal.2:20). The life we now live in the flesh is lived for the glory of God alone, the proclamation of the gospel alone, the modeling of Kingdom love alone. And if we lose our life in that pursuit, we’ve lost nothing of great value, not because life in (this) world is worthless, but because in Christ the loss of our life in (this) world lands us finally and fully in the next. Our life doesn’t end! It actually improves! Infinitely! We have been raised with Christ and our life is now hidden, protected, with Christ in God! (3) We can’t lose this blessing, this status, by going to the wrong school, or playing for the wrong team, or consulting the wrong doctor, or investing in the wrong mutual fund, or retiring at the wrong age! It is secured by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and it can’t be taken away! It is hidden with Christ in God!
When It Is Supposed to Pay Off – 4
So that, 4 when Christ who is (our) life appears, when He returns in all of His glory, then (we) also will appear with him in glory. Our hope of glory (1:27) will finally be realized. Our hunger for it will finally be satisfied. We will be swept up and included in the greatest glory in time and eternity! In Christ all throughout this life we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2Co.3:18). But when He returns we will become partakers of the divine nature (2Pe.1:4), having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, while we are here we should make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and… knowledge, and… self-control, and… stead-fastness, and… godliness, and… brotherly affection, and… love, Peter writes. For if these qualities are (ours) and are increasing, they keep (us) from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2Pe.1:5-8). And further, they show us the fruit that is born of (seeking) and (setting) our mind on the things that are above (1-2). And they tell us how to be ready for the Day our Lord appears.
So, make no mistake: when we (receive) Christ Jesus the Lord (2:6) we (die) with (Him) to the (ways) of (this) world, but we are also raised with (Him) into a wholly new life! That new life is empowered by His resurrection, and it accomplishes resurrection in us. It breaks in to our inner being here and now causing us to be born again, as Jesus put it (Joh.3:5-8), enabling love for God and obedience to His Word. And ultimately this resurrection promises us a new physical body: upon His return (Jesus) will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him… to subject all things to himself (Phi.3:21).That is our future (4). That is our hope (1:27) here and now. It is our only hope for stopping the indulgence of the flesh (2:23) in whatever form we struggle with that. It is our only hope for (clothing ourselves) with the character of Christ (12-14) which is our calling in this life. It is our only hope of entering in to the fullness of joy that awaits us in Christ.
So, if you have not received Christ Jesus the Lord, I invite you to do so now.
And 1 if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Now, for those who have received Him, let us now remember His death with thanksgiving for all He has done for us in it—for all of the love He has expressed.