In the third chapter of his epistle to the church in Colossae, the Apostle Paul makes an interesting assertion:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 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.”
(Colossians 3:1-3 ESV)
Did you catch that? “For you have died.” Paul is telling all believers that we are dead. What is Paul getting at? How are we to take this? It’s pretty obvious it’s not a death threat. No, he states it rather matter-of-factly as if to say the sky is blue, the grass is green, and we are deceased.
What are the implications of such a statement? We know from our marriage vows and the teaching of our Lord that once one partner dies, the surviving partner is no longer under any obligation of marriage. Death frees us from contracts and covenants.
So, if we are dead, we are no longer under any obligation to this world. My mother and all of my grandparents are dead. It would be foolish of me to expect anything from them. They will not show up for Thanksgiving or send me a birthday card anymore.
If we are dead, we presumably have no cares in this world anymore. Material goods mean nothing to us. Money, fame, fortune, all of it seems to instantly disconnect at death. It may matter to those left, but the deceased do not seem to care.
Paul declares our demise in order to justify his previous statement. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Why? Well, you’re dead. No reason worrying about that promotion anymore, mate, you being dead and all….
Set your minds on things that are above. What is “above?” Metaphorically speaking, God, heaven, angels. I’m pretty sure Paul isn’t encouraging us to set our minds on becoming astronauts or airline pilots.
We should set our minds on God, and we should do so in a very particular way, as though we are dead. I have never been dead (though I was “mostly dead” once according to my wife) but it seems that the dead, at least all of them I have seen, are quiet, still, and generally solitary. Sounds kind of like a monk or a hermit. Reminds me of a story from the Desert Fathers:
Abba David related this story about Abba Arsenius. One Day a magistrate came, bringing him the will of a senator, a member of his family who had left him a very large inheritance. Arsenius took it and was about to destroy it. But the magistrate threw himself at his feet saying, ‘I beg you, do not destroy it or they will cut off my head.’ Abba Arsenius said to him, ‘But I was dead long before this senator who has just died,’ and he returned the will to him without accepting anything.*
May we also learn to rest in peace, because only by being dead are we prepared to be raised with Christ.
* Ward, Benedicta, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection,” Cistercian Publications, Trappist, KY: 1975, p. 14