“Where Is Your Head At?” (Colossians 3:1-11)
“Where Is Your Head At?” That, basically, is the question that comes out of today’s Epistle reading from Colossians 3. There St. Paul puts it like this: “Seek the things that are above,” and “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” On things above, or on things on earth? Where is your head at? Today God’s Word would direct us to set our minds on things above.
Our text today will tell us where not to set our minds, where we ought to set them, and why we need to set our minds there. So let’s go.
First, then, where should we not set our minds? Paul says, “not on things that are on earth.” Now it’s not that things on earth are unimportant, as though our life here on earth doesn’t matter and we should just walk around with our heads in the clouds, ignoring our calling and our responsibilities in daily life. No, that’s not it. That would not be the way of love. God has placed us in this world for a purpose, and he calls us to be a blessing to those around us. We have our various vocations to attend to: husband, wife, parent, child, pastor, parishioner, citizen, ruler, employer, worker. In sum, we are called to be a loving neighbor, a channel of God’s blessings to others. Indeed, our life in this world matters very much.
So what does Paul mean when he says that we should not set our minds on things on earth? Glad you asked, because he explains what he means in what follows: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” These sinful things that get in our minds and stay there--that’s what Paul is referring to. Notice that all of these things reside in the mind: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness. All “mind” things, but which then can play out in our lives in wrong actions, wrong conduct, wrong behavior. Paul then adds a few more items to the list: “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another.” You see, what starts in the mind proceeds to the mouth, and beyond that, to the deeds that we do. But they start in the mind, so that’s where we need to be aware of them and nip them in the bud.
Why is it so important that we not set our minds on these earthly, sinful things? Well, of course, by these things we hurt the people around us, we damage our relationships, and really, we end up hurting ourselves, damaging our psyches and going down destructive paths. Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, lying--these things are not good or healthy for human beings, even though we may think so at the time.
But then there’s something more. By these things we are also incurring the wrath of God, as Paul sternly warns us: “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” There is the reality of death and the divine judgment coming. Do we take this seriously? We should.
Jesus warns us similarly with the Parable of the Rich Fool. Now there was a fellow who set his mind solely on the things on earth and not at all on the things above. His covetousness consumed him. And, as Paul says, covetousness is idolatry. It displaces God in a person’s life. A covetous person is always thinking about what he can get, and not about God, who gives him all things. When covetousness gets in your mind, there’s always the desire for more, you’re never content, you never pause to consider the place of all this “stuff” in the bigger picture. Like the rich fool, you become very self-centered, very inward-directed.
But the rich fool did not reckon with the fact that you can’t take it with you. I’ve never seen a funeral hearse with a U-Haul attached. Death will come calling, one day, one night, and after that, the judgment. The rich man said: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” The rich fool set his mind on things on earth, and thus was not ready for that night.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” Now are you going to be able to do this on your own, stop these sinful things--covetousness, evil desire, and so on--stop them from coming into your mind? To “put them all away,” as Paul says? Not hardly. You don’t have the power to do that on your own. Your sinful nature clings too close. The world around us saturates us with these things, the devil tempts us with them, and our own sinful flesh desires them. We like to set our minds on these things. That’s our problem. Who will deliver us?
God does. God has. It happened in your baptism. There God buried you and raised you back up. There your sinful self went to die, in a watery grave. A new self emerges. Paul said as much in chapter 2 of Colossians: “You have been buried with Christ in baptism, in which you were also raised with him.” And now in Colossians 3, Paul says the same thing: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” And again: “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self.”
Your old self, the old you, would set its mind on things like covetousness, sexual immorality, anger, and so on. But that self is dead and buried. You’ve been baptized. You now are a new you. In Christ. The heavens are opened to you, through Christ. You’ve got a new life, an eternal life, because of Christ. And that changes everything, including your mind. Get used to the new reality; it’s a beautiful thing.
Set your minds on things above. Because it is from above that your new life has come down. For us men and for our salvation Christ came down from heaven, the only Son of God sent to redeem us from our sin and death, and deliver us from the wrath and judgment to come. Jesus did this, for you, by being lifted up on a cross, suffering the wrath and the judgment we all deserve. Now you are forgiven. “You who were dead in your trespasses, God made alive together with Christ, having forgiven us all our trespasses, nailing our record of debt to the cross.” Yes, from above comes the solution to our problem of sin and death and judgment.
From above you have been born again--born from above, born of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. And it is to the above, to the heavenly reality, that your life is heading. For that is where your head is, namely, Christ, the head of his body, the church.
Where is your head at? Your head is Christ, and he has risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God. This is why we set our minds on things above. Because that is where Christ is, and “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Paul writes: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
Right now Christ is seated at God’s right hand, the place of all honor and authority, and he is ruling all things for the sake of his church. Christ loves his church. He has not abandoned us or left us as orphans. No, he cares for all of us with a love that surpasses all the love we can imagine. This puts all of our trials and travails in perspective. When we set our minds on things above, where Christ is, we gain strength to carry on, amid all the sorrows and setbacks of this life. Ailments and adversities, heartaches and hurts--they cannot overcome us and drive us to despair. We know our life is hid in Christ. We can turn to God in prayer, casting all our cares upon him, knowing that we have access to the throne of grace through Christ our Savior. God will help us to put away and put to death all the earthly, deathly things of the old life that would seek to dominate our minds. God will help us to live in the new way, to put on the new self, which is being renewed day by day in God’s image. Think about these things, my friends, and you will be setting your minds on things above.
And there’s more, more to come. For from above, Christ will come again, in glory, to raise us up from death and restore this earthly creation in perfect wholeness. A new creation. For eternity. That’s what’s coming. Think about that. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
And so we come back to our opening question: Where is your head at? Your head, the head of the church, is Christ Jesus our Lord. He is our life, both now and forever. And he has come down from above to save us from wrath and judgment, and now is raised up on high, and from there he will come again to take us home to himself. So set your mind on Christ and where he is. This will expand your horizons to the heavens. Oh, you still can attend to your daily duties--much better, in fact--but you will not be consumed with those earthly, sinful things that lead to death. God will do this for you. Remember, you are baptized.
Where is your head at? As a baptized child of God, your head, your mind, is set on things above, because that is where Christ, your ever-living head, is. Yeah, think about that!
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts--and minds--in Christ Jesus. Amen.