Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sayings and mottos that sound pious but aren't. #5: You're so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good

Yesterday I wrote about adopting a heavenly perspective. I think about heaven all the time and I believe it is important for our Christian walk to do so. In addition, it gets under my craw when I hear people say "He's so heavenly minded that he's of no earthly good."

Some sayings sound legitimate on their surface. They sound pious. They sound biblical. Like this one: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". Only problem is, that one isn't in the bible. At all.

It is sometimes hard to tell what truly is Christian and what merely sounds Christian. Charles Spurgeon wisely said, "Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right." So what sayings are right, and what sayings are almost right (AKA 'wrong')? Let's look at the following sayings which have become such cliches.

Some of these mottoes are:

1. "Let go and let God"
2. "I don't use commentaries because they're men's wisdom. I only use God's Word when I study."
3. "We can't know for certain what the bible means, I'm not that smart"
4. "Pray big because we have a big God."
5. "He's so heavenly minded he's no earthly good"

For this last piece in the series about falsely pious sayings, I'll let Randy Alcorn do the talking. He was a pastor for 13 years and he started Eternal Perspective Ministries. He has written 40-odd books, many of them on heaven. One of his most famous books is a scriptural look at Heaven. Another book I've enjoyed of his is "We Shall See God", a devotional book of Charles Spurgeon's classic thoughts on heaven, interspersed with explanations from Alcorn.

His essay is free to reprint, according to Mr Alcorn's website, as long as the identifying information is at the bottom. Here is Randy Alcorn on being heavenly minded and whether that's any earthly good.

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Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. — Colossians 3:1-2

It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. — C. S. Lewis

(You can also listen to the 5-minute audio version of this blog, excerpted from the 50 Days of Heaven audio book.)

Over the years, a number of people have told me, “We shouldn’t think about Heaven. We should just think about Jesus.”

This viewpoint sounds spiritual, doesn’t it? But it is based on wrong assumptions, and it is clearly contradicted by Scripture.

Colossians 3:1-2 is a direct command to set our hearts and minds on Heaven. We set our minds on Heaven because we love Jesus Christ, and Heaven is where he now resides. To long for Heaven is to long for Christ. To long for Christ is to long for Heaven, for that is where we will be with him. That’s why God’s people are “longing for a better country” (Hebrews 11:16).

In Colossians 3:1, the Greek word translated “set your hearts on” is zeteo, which “denotes man’s general philosophical search or quest.” The same word is used in the Gospels to describe how “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10, emphasis added). Zeteo is also used to describe how a shepherd looks for his lost sheep (Matthew 18:12), a woman searches for a lost coin (Luke 15:8), and a merchant searches for fine pearls (Matthew 13:45). It is a diligent, active, single-minded pursuit. Thus, we can understand Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3:1 as follows: “Diligently, actively, single-mindedly pursue the things above”—in a word, Heaven.

The verb zeteo is in the present tense, suggesting an ongoing process. “Keep seeking Heaven.” Don’t just have a conversation, read a book, or listen to a sermon and feel as if you’ve fulfilled the command. If you’re going to spend the next lifetime living in Heaven, why not spend this lifetime seeking Heaven so you can eagerly anticipate and prepare for it?

The command, and its restatement, implies there is nothing automatic about setting our minds on Heaven. In fact, most commands assume a resistance to obeying them, which sets up the necessity for the command. We are told to avoid sexual immorality because it is our tendency. We are not told to avoid jumping off buildings because normally we don’t battle such a temptation. Every day, the command to think about Heaven is under attack in a hundred different ways. Everything militates against thinking about Heaven. Our minds are set so resolutely on Earth that we are unaccustomed to heavenly thinking. So we must work at it.

What have you been doing daily to set your mind on things above, to seek Heaven? What should you do differently?

Perhaps you’re afraid of becoming “so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good.” Relax—you have nothing to worry about! On the contrary, many of us are so earthly minded we are of no heavenly or earthly good. As C. S. Lewis observed,

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.

We need a generation of heavenly minded people who see human beings and the earth itself not simply as they are, but as God intends them to be. Such people will pass on a heritage to their children far more valuable than any inheritance.

We must begin by reasoning from God’s revealed truth. But such reasoning will require us to use our Scripture-enhanced imaginations. As a nonfiction writer and Bible teacher, I start by seeing what Scripture actually says. As a novelist, I take that revelation and add to it the vital ingredient of imagination.

In the words of Francis Schaeffer, “The Christian is the really free man—he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

Schaeffer always started with God’s revealed truth. But he exhorted us to let that truth fuel our imagination. Imagination should not fly away from the truth but upon it.

You may be dealing with great pain and loss, yet Jesus says, “Be of good cheer” (John 16:33, nkjv). Why? Because the new house is nearly ready for you. Moving day is coming. The dark winter is about to be magically transformed into spring. One day soon you will be home—for the first time.

Until then, I encourage you to find joy and hope as you meditate on the truth about Heaven revealed in the Bible.

Why not ask God to make your imagination soar and your heart rejoice?

Thank you, God, for the gift of imagination. In a world where ideas are so often grounded in quicksand and are contrary to sound doctrine, help us to be firmly based in your Word. Help us to be saturated in its teaching. Thank you for promising us “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” in your eternal Kingdom.


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Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 39085 Pioneer Blvd., Suite 206, Sandy, OR 97055, 503-668-5200, www.epm.org

2 comments :

  1. Another popular saying is, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." But, this motto happens to be biblical, and thus, trustworthy. It comes from Matthew 26:41.

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  2. Not if it is being used to justify fleshly behaviour. THe apostles were obeying Jesus, but their flesh was so exhausted from their distress it shut down. Big difference if you think you are trying to overcome sin and figure you can't because the 'flesh is weak'. This is NOT biblical.

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