Teaching series from Colossians

The Path to Spiritual Maturity (Part 1)

Colossians 3:1-4

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Brief setting of letter (MAP). Paul is helping the Colossian Christians toward spiritual maturity (1:28) – a lifestyle of love for God and other people. His instruction and counsel so far has been: “Stay away from religious ‘short-cuts’” because they are blind alleys that will lead you away from true spiritual maturity (2:16-23; BRIEFLY REVIEW RITUALISM, MYSTICISM & LEGALISM).

Now in 3:1-17, Paul explains the proper path to spiritual maturity. This path may seem impractical – even counter-intuitive – but it unleashes God’s power to radically “renovate” our lives (3:11). We will fill in part of this path today (3:1-4), and then fill in the rest of it (3:5-17) in the next week or two.

“The things above”

Read 3:1-4. You can see that “the things above” are crucially important. What are these things? They don’t refer to physical things – the sky, sun, moon, stars, etc. They refer to the things that originate from God – specifically, the things He says about who Jesus is and what God has provided for us through Jesus.

They include the fact that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) who He has conquered death and has full authority (3:1b).

They also include the fact that those who belong to Jesus have been given spiritual life (3:3) and are fully resourced through Jesus’ death on the cross (2:10-15 – complete forgiveness, deliverance from sin’s authority, and deliverance from demonic domination). GOSPEL: God gives you all this the moment you receive Christ.

They also include the promise that those who belong to Jesus will reign forever with Him when He returns at the end of the age (3:4).

These are the “things” that are the most true and real. They are “hidden” now – not known by physical sight, but by revelation from God’s Word (1Cor.2:12). But one day they will be evident to all.

By contrast, there are “the things that are on earth.” What are these things? They don’t refer to physical things – trees, mountains, oceans, animals, other people, etc. They refer to the religious and philosophical “truths” that don’t originate from God, but that originate from fallen humans and deceiving spirits (read 2:8). They contradict what God says about who Jesus is and what He has provided for us.

In context, these things refer to the religious blind alleys of 2:16-23. They also refer to the lie that self-indulgence (2:23) – living for self – will lead to health and fulfillment (see 3:5,8,9).

Paul is saying: “If you want to grow toward spiritual maturity, you must cultivate a mental focus on what God has provided for you through Jesus.” This is what Paul teaches in Rom.12:2a (read and explain). Paul uses two different verbs to describe related-but-distinct aspects of this focus. We need both of these, so listen very closely...

“Keep seeking the things above”

“Keep seeking” (zeteo) means “to inquire into; to find out by thinking, meditating, reasoning.” Jesus uses zeteo when He asks His disciples: “Are you deliberating together about (what I said)” (Jn.16:19).

This command is in the present tense, which emphasizes that this is something that we are to continue to do. So Paul is saying: “Keep increasing in your understanding of God’s provision through Jesus.” Keep inquiring into this, keep thinking about this, keep reasoning about this, keep meditating on this. He is describing an insatiable spiritual curiosity – similar to (but far more important than) the curiosity that drives a scientific researcher to discover more and more about the subject of his research.

Implicit in Paul’s command is the assumption that what God has given us through Jesus is so vast that we can never fully comprehend it, and that it is so precious that we can never fully appreciate it. But this increasing comprehension and appreciation of God’s gift is right at the core of a spiritually healthy life. This is what deepens our confidence and security in God and His love. This is what increases our gratitude to God. This is what fires our motivation to follow and serve God.

Conversely, to lose this curiosity, to settle for the understanding you already have, to cool in your appreciation of this treasure so that you take it for granted is the most common cause of spiritual sickness in the Christian life. This is what opens the door of your heart to envying other people. This is what leads to lusting for more money, possessions, prestige, etc. This is what leads to using other people in various ways, and to disposing of them when they disappoint you.

How can we “keep seeking the things above?” Several things are very helpful to me:

Pray for God to open the eyes of your heart to see what He has given you (Eph.1:18,19a). These things are not merely cognitive concepts; they are spiritual truths that require spiritual illumination. How often do you ask God for this?

Start listening to quality teachings and read quality books on this subject. Ask your friends and/or study center staff for suggestions. When you find one that really speaks to you, deeply digest what it has to say by re-listening and re-reading. What was the last teaching/book that you did this with?

Regularly discuss this subject with Christian friends who have the same aspiration. “What provisions in God’s Word have been arresting you lately?” is a great question to keep discussing. Such conversations will stimulate you in the best sense of the word. They will lead you to great teachings and books. They will lead to great prayer together. Who is in your life that you can do this with?

Most importantly, memorize and regularly meditate on key biblical passages on this subject. Meditation is mentally “chewing” the very words of God so that your soul digests their nourishment. Spurgeon said: “Meditation is of great value in opening up truth and leading us into (the Bible’s) secrets... He who would be rich in these treasures must dig into scripture as one who seeks for choice pearls. You must go down into its depths, and you must rummage there until you get at last to the treasure... Cultivate much, then, the habit of... meditation, because of the way in which it opens up the truth.”

Take a small passage like this one (Col.3:1-4). Keep writing it down, or listening to it, or repeating it until you know it by heart. Then say it back to God throughout the day or for several days, turning it into prayer. Turn its promises into prayers of thanks: “God, I thank You that I have been raised up with Christ. Thank You that I have died and my life is hidden with Christ in God. Thank You that when Christ appears, I will appear with Him in glory.” As this brings to mind related promises, thank God for these also. Turn its commands into prayer requests: “God, help me to keep seeking these things. Give me renewed thirst to do this. God, help me to set my mind on these things. Teach me how to do this.” As this brings to mind other related needs, ask God for these also.

I wish I knew how to convince my brothers and sister to memorize and meditate on biblical passages about God’s provisions! This is a vanishing art among American Christians (and I fear among Xenoids), and we are forfeiting incalculable spiritual blessing because of this. Read Ps.1:1a,2,3. Don’t you want your life to be like this? Build the habit of biblical meditation!

So “keep seeking the things above” is foundational to growth toward spiritual maturity. And just as foundational is Paul’s command in 3:2 – “set your mind on the things above”...

“Set your mind on the things above”

“Set your mind” (phroneo) means “to direct one’s mind to a thing; to choose to adopt or maintain a point of view.” This sense of phroneo implies a mental battle with opposing points of view that are contradictory and must be rejected and/or replaced (thus, “not on the things that are on earth”). This command is also in the present tense, so it is also something that we are to continue to do. So while “keep seeking the things above” emphasizes the need to keep increasing your understanding of God’s gift, “set your mind on the things above” emphasizes the need to keep identifying false thoughts and replacing them with the truth about what God has given you.

Paul describes this as “mental combat” in 2Cor.10:5 (read). How aggressive this language is! We are not to passively allow false thoughts and feelings to take us hostage; we are to vigilantly monitor our thought-lives, and to attack these lies and take them prisoner to the promises about God’s provisions through Jesus.

J. I. Packer describes what this “mental combat” looks like in his comments on Romans 8: “Think of what you know of God through the gospel, says Paul, and apply it. Think against your feelings; argue yourself out of the gloom they have spread; unmask the unbelief they have nourished; take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel; let evangelical (gospel-centered) thinking correct emotional thinking.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones also describes it: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you... You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself... You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself... exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope in God’—instead of muttering in this depressed unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God has done and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

What will help us to “set our minds on the things above?” Here are things that have been very helpful to me:

Ask God to reveal to you ingrained lies (Ps.139:23,24). He will usually answer in two ways. As you read and listen to God’s Word, He will cause certain promises to “light up” and then challenge a cynical or despairing response to them (e.g., Col.3:12 vs. “I’m a loser;” “Rom.8:28 vs. “God can’t forgive and/or redeem my bad choices”). As you talk with Christian friends about this, they will often have insight into lies you tend to believe (e.g., “Negatron” when adversity or disappointment hits).

When you become aware of an “intruder” lie, verbalize it to God and then attack it by agreeing with what He says. “God, it seems like this adversity will crush me, but Your Word saysthat (quote 1Cor.10:13). I choose to believe what You say, Lord. Help me as I choose to move in this direction.” “God, I feel like I will always be a prisoner to this sin, but Your Word says (quote Rom.8:2). I choose to believe what You say, Lord. Help me as I choose to move in this direction.”

When you realize that a lie has a “stronghold,” tell your Christian friends about it and ask them to pray daily with you/for your deliverance. Then go on the offensive by laying down a rolling barrage by praying a key related passage daily, asking God to renew your mind in this area (e.g., Ps. 23 before getting out of bed).


NEXT WEEK: Colossians 3:5-17 – “The Path to Spiritual Maturity – Part #2”

SUMMARIZE. At the heart of growth toward spiritual maturity is this kind of ongoing application of God’s Word in our thought-lives.

DISCUSSION: What are other practical ways to “keep seeking” and “set your mind on” the things above?

Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p.236.

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Eerdmans, 1982), pp. 20,21.