Sermon: Being Set on Things Above

Why should we be focused on the cares of this world when God has us in the palm of his hand and already seated in heavenly places with him?

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Good morning. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve talked about seeing with the right spiritual lens. Last week, I talked about making sure we had the right lenses on, so we could see clearly through the lens of the Holy Spirit. The week before, I talked about what we set our sights on, and I used the story of the Israelites entering the Promised Land––or rather, not entering the Promised Land because their sights were on the giants, not the giant fruit.

Today, I want to talk to you about something similar. Not so much about our sights, but more about our hearts. If our hearts are in the right place, it makes it easier to set our sights on the right things through the right lens. So, let’s talk about that today. If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Colossians, chapter three, and we’ll look at the first four verses.

As you’re turning there, I’d like to tell you a story by Martin DeHaan, who was the co-editor of Our Daily Bread. He said one time when he and his wife were traveling in another state, someone broke into their car after they stopped for lunch. With one look at the shattered glass, they realized that they had forgotten to put their GPS (global positioning system) out of sight.

With a quick check of the backseat, he concluded that the thief also got his laptop, passport, and checkbook.

Then came the surprise. Later that evening, after phone calls and hours of growing worries, the unexpected happened. When he opened his suitcase, tucked between his clothes was what he thought he had lost. “I couldn’t believe my eyes!” He said. “Only then did I recall that I had not put the items in the backseat after all. I had stuck them in the suitcase, which had been safely stored in the trunk of our car.”

Sometimes, in the emotion of the moment, our minds play tricks on us. We think our loss is worse than it is. We may feel like the songwriter David who, in the confusion of the moment, thought God had forgotten him.

When David later recalled what he knew rather than what he feared, his sense of loss turned into a song of praise (Ps. 13:5-6). His renewed joy foreshadowed what is now ours to recall: Nothing can rob us of what is most important if our life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).— by Mart De Haan

Let me read to you really quickly the Psalm he’s talking about. Psalm 13 is really short:

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Scripture: With that, let’s take a look at our scripture verse in Colossians this morning. Colossians 3:1-4:

Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

So, you see again how this relates to perspective. God wants us to keep focused on him and through him. In our first sermon, we talked about how we should focus on God when it comes to God’s calling on our lives and when it comes to what God wants us to do here in this church and through this church; in our second sermon, we talked about how we should make sure we’re wearing the right lenses so we can see things the way God wants us to see them; and today, we’re going to talk about seeing with our heart and mind steady on things above, not on earthly things. It isn’t just because that’s where we get God’s understanding or perspective, but because it’s where we belong as a child of God. We are not of this world, but we are of another, in the family of God.

And because of that, we need to keep our hearts and minds focused on things above.

You’ll notice this starts right off with the phrase, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” It does not say, “since then, Christ has been raised…” it says, “since then, you have been raised with Christ…”

That puts things in a whole different perspective.

Why do we often baptize the way we do? Why do we dunk, and when we do, why is it backward (usually)? Because it is symbolic of dying to ourselves and being raised again cleansed and covered with the Holy Spirit. It is a ceremony symbolizing what has happened to us spiritually.

Here, Paul and Timothy say to the church in Colossae, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” We died to our sins with Christ on that cross, and we were able to be raised into a new life with Christ as well. It isn’t just at the end of the age where it happens in a more literal sense, such as 1 Corinthians 15; it has already happened to us spiritually. We have already been raised into a new spiritual life, which is why we celebrate with the tradition of baptism.

WH Griffith Thomas said, “In the present passage our resurrection is associated with Christ’s because we are united with Him in such a way that, whatever He did, we are regarded by God the Father as having done also.”

So since we are free and forgiven, living a new life in Christ, Paul and Timothy finish this sentence with this charge to the church in Colossae, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

We’re to set our hearts on what? Paul didn’t get specific here, he just said ‘things.’ Now that is a whole big set of ‘things’ isn’t it? It means ‘everything.’ Set our hearts on everything that comes from above. No more living a worldly lifestyle, we are to set our hearts on things above.

In an article on, Matthew Van Luik said, “Since you have been raised with Christ, you now belong to a different world and that is why you cannot allow the focus of your life to be this world.

The focus of our life should be on Heaven. Our lives should be focused through the lens of the Holy Spirit. Our mind is often filled with things of this world. I mean, after all, we do live here. How many of you have been having conversations with everyone you know about the rising costs? Gas prices affect the cost of delivery, which affect the cost of products on the shelves, which affect the cost of doing business, and our pay is not going to go up because no one can afford raises, which means our pay is not going to go as far as it did, which means…we’re all going broke.

If your eyes were set on just those worldly issues, I don’t know about you, but I’d be worried. I’d be stressed. It’s tough enough to keep up, but now it just might be impossible. If my eyes were focused on this world, through the lens of human eyes, I’d have a lot of anxiety. But I don’t look to humanity for answers, I look to God.

As a child of God, I have a heavenly hope. God is my refuge and strength.

David said in the Psalms, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Going back to the idea of having been crucified with Christ, and having been raised with Christ, at the beginning of Ephesians 2, Paul said:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

And then he said this:6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

This phrase, ‘Heavenly places’ or ‘heavenly realms’ is translated from the Greek word epouranios, meaning “the sphere of spiritual activities.” So as Christians, we are not worldly. We are in the world, but not of the world.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

And the word, ‘world,’ again going to the Greek, is actually the word, ‘cosmos.’ We think of cosmos as being the stars and the planets, but it actually refers to the earth. Once we are God’s children, we are not children of this earth, we are children of heaven. That’s where we belong. So we are literally not of this world. But while we live here, we are still not to act like the rest of the world, we are to act like the representatives from the world in which we belong. Sounds kind of sci-fi to talk about us being aliens from another world, but that’s just how it is.

While we are here, we are to relate to people, but we are to act as God’s children. How do God’s children behave? Well, with a higher and different moral standard, but also with our spiritual gaze toward heaven.

Because we are God’s children, and because our true home is in heaven, we are in essence, already seated with Christ in the heavenly realm. It is where we belong, and it is where we are going to spend eternity. And it should be where our whole inner being is focused. In the heavenly realm, not on the earthly realm.

So our hearts should be focused on the things above. That means our hearts should be aligned with the Holy Spirit.

The very next sentence in Colossians goes more along with what we talked about in previous sermons––he said, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Why would Paul use the phrase “set our hearts on things above,” then the very next sentence say, “set your minds on things above?” Aren’t they the same thing? Isn’t he just repeating himself?

In a way, yes. Our heart and our mind are both parts of our soul, so in a way, he’s saying, set your soul on things above. But he separated the mind and the heart. Your mind and your heart are not quite the same. Jesus said in Matthew 6, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” Sure, our mind will be there, but Jesus wanted to focus on our heart––the seat of our emotions. Our treasure is what we love. When we use it as a verb––when we treasure something––that means we love it.

Do we love the world system? Do we love ourselves? Or do we love Christ? If we go 10 chapters ahead to Matthew 16, Jesus posed this question: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Many people gain the world and forfeit their souls. Some people think they can have both. It’s pretty hard to have both. You can be a success and still be a Christian, but to gain the whole world and gain Christ––the two are contradictory. Either you have the world in your heart, or you have Christ in your heart.

Jesus said, 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

So what does it mean, then, to set our minds on things above, not earthly things? says, “To set one’s mind on something is to choose to think about it, influencing one’s goals and guiding one’s course of action.”

The past few sermons have been on the issue of focus. We have to focus both our hearts and our minds on things above. I mentioned that the heart and mind are both parts of the soul, but what does the word, ‘soul’ mean?

In the Old Testament, a mortal person is a living soul rather than someone having a soul. Hebrew thought sees a soul as a unified being, a heart, mind and body [].

In the New Testament, the Greek word is psyche––I’m sure you’ve all heard that word before. It means the inner person, our self. In the Greek, the soul is basically our mind, our emotions, and our will. It is who we are as human beings. It’s our personality.

In other words, we have to have our whole person set or focused on things above while we’re physically stuck on earth.

Enduring Word Commentary says,

i. “The believer is to ‘seek the things… above.’ The word ‘seek’ marks aspiration, desire, and passion… In order to seek these things the mind must be set on them.” (Morgan)

ii. “Love heavenly things; study them; let your hearts be entirely engrossed by them. Now that you are converted to God, act in reference to heavenly things as ye did formerly in reference to those of earth.” (Clarke)

Missionary pilot Bernie May said,

One of the most difficult lessons to teach new pilots about landing on short, hazardous airstrips is to keep their eyes on the good part of the strip rather than on the hazard. The natural tendency is to concentrate on the obstacle, the danger, the thing he is trying to avoid. But experience teaches us that a pilot who keeps his eye on the hazard will sooner or later hit it dead center.

He summed it up by saying that experienced pilots focus their attention solidly on the track they want the plane to follow, keeping the hazards in their peripheral vision only.

When Christ and His interests are the focus of our lives, the lure of the old life remains in the corner of our eye, while we aim to land squarely in the center of God’s will. —David C. McCasland

The next two sentences in Colossians is, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

If we died to our old life, then why should we still be focused on it? Why should we still be focused on temptation or those things that will only destroy us? Why should we be focused on the cares of this world when God has us in the palm of his hand and already seated in heavenly places with him?

Our souls should be focused on God, and our spirits should be aligned with him.

Going back to the idea of a soul, we also have a spirit. The spirit is what connects us to God. That’s what gets cleansed when The Holy Spirit enters. It’s where we sense his presence and his leading. So we have a body, spirit, and soul.

All three need to be surrendered to Christ.


A Scottish preacher named John McNeill liked to tell about an eagle that had been captured when it was quite young. The farmer who snared the bird put a restraint on it so it couldn’t fly, and then he turned it loose to roam in the barnyard. It wasn’t long till the eagle began to act like the chickens, scratching and pecking at the ground. This bird that once soared high in the heavens seemed satisfied to live the barnyard life of the lowly hen.

One day the farmer was visited by a shepherd who came down from the mountains where the eagles lived. Seeing the eagle, the shepherd said to the farmer, “What a shame to keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard! Why don’t you let it go?” The farmer agreed, so they cut off the restraint. But the eagle continued to wander around, scratching and pecking as before. The shepherd picked it up and set it on a high stone wall. For the first time in months, the eagle saw the grand expanse of blue sky and the glowing sun. Then it spread its wings and with a leap soared off into a tremendous spiral flight, up and up and up. At last, it was acting like an eagle again.

Perhaps you have let yourself be comfortable in the barnyard of the world—refusing to claim your lofty position as God’s child. He wants you to live in a higher realm. Confess your sins, and “seek those things which are above.” You will soon be longing to rise above the things of this world. Like the eagle, it’s not too late to soar to greater heights again. – P R Van Gorder

It reminds me of this from Isaiah 40, and I’ll conclude with it:

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Let’s keep our hearts and our minds focused on the Lord.



This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen

Featured Image by Adam Derewecki from Pixabay


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