keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (3:1b, 2)
The present tense of zēteō (keep seeking) indicates continuous action. Preoccupation with the eternal realities that are ours in Christ is to be the pattern of the believer’s life. Jesus put it this way: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Paul is not advocating a form of mysticism. Rather, he desires that the Colossians’ preoccupation with heaven govern their earthly responses. To be preoccupied with heaven is to be preoccupied with the One who reigns there and His purposes, plans, provisions, and power. It is also to view the things, people, and events of this world through His eyes and with an eternal perspective.
The things above refers to the heavenly realm and hones in on the spiritual values that characterize Christ, such as tenderness, kindness, meekness, patience, wisdom, forgiveness, strength, purity, and love.
When believers focus on the realities of heaven, they can then truly enjoy the world their heavenly Father has created. As the writer of the hymn “I Am His, and He Is Mine” expressed it,
Heav’n above is softer blue
Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.
When Christians begin to live in the heavenlies, when they commit themselves to the riches of “the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:26), they will live out their heavenly values in this world to the glory of God.
In 3:2, Paul gives instruction on how to seek the things above. He says, Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Set your mind is from phroneō and could simply be translated, “think,” or more thoroughly, “have this inner disposition.” Once again, the present tense indicates continuous action. Lightfoot paraphrases Paul’s thought: “You must not only seek heaven, you must also think heaven” (St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [1879; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959], p. 209; italics in the original). The believer’s whole disposition should orient itself toward heaven, where Christ is, just as a compass needle orients itself toward the north.
Obviously, the thoughts of heaven that are to fill the believer’s mind must derive from Scripture. The Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge about the character of God and the values of heaven. Paul describes that preoccupation as being “transformed by the renewing of [your] mind” (Rom. 12:2). In it we learn the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and praiseworthy things our minds are to dwell on (cf. Phil. 4:8).
Such heavenly values dominating the mind produce godly behavior. Sin will be conquered and humility, a sacrificial spirit, and assurance will result.
2. Not the things that are on earth. He does not mean, as he does a little afterwards, depraved appetites, which reign in earthly men, nor even riches, or fields, or houses, nor any other things of the present life, which we must use, as though we did not use them, (1 Cor. 7:30, 31,) but is still following out his discussion as to ceremonies, which he represents as resembling entanglements which constrain us to creep upon the ground. “Christ,” says he, “calls us upwards to himself, while these draw us downwards.” For this is the winding-up and exposition of what he had lately touched upon as to the abolition of ceremonies through the death of Christ. “The ceremonies are dead to you through the death of Christ, and you to them, in order that, being raised up to heaven with Christ, you may think only of those things that are above. Leave off therefore earthly things.” I shall not contend against others who are of a different mind; but certainly the Apostle appears to me to go on step by step, so that, in the first instance, he places traditions as to trivial matters in contrast with meditation on the heavenly life, and afterwards, as we shall see, goes a step farther.
2 How is it that the assembly might fully pursue Christ and the things of Christ? The answer is provided in part by the admonition here. Paul commands the congregation to think about (“set your minds on”) “the things above” and not the things on earth. The apostle would not have embraced the notion of “mind over matter” (nor would he have supported the popular slogan “if you don’t mind, it don’t matter!”), but for Paul the mind was no small matter. Though this is the only time the verb phroneō (“think,” GK 5858) appears in Colossians, matters pertaining to the mind permeate the first two chapters of the letter (1:6, 9–10, 21, 28; 2:2–4, 8, 18, 23; cf. 3:10, 16). Paul did not want the assembly to be “inflated without cause by [a] fleshly mind” (2:18 NASB; cf. Php 3:19). He wanted them to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Co 2:16b; cf. Php 2:5), for as Paul puts it elsewhere, “the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Ro 8:6 NASB). Paul does not indicate as much here, but he would have wanted the Colossians to do what he instructed the Romans to do, namely, to “be transformed by the renewing of [their] mind” (12:2). Spiritual thoughts are to be characterized by that which is true, honorable, pure, lovely, attractive, excellent, and praiseworthy (Php 4:8).
The spatial dualism the apostle employs in 3:1–2 is not intended to drive a wedge between the material and the spiritual, as the “philosophers” were wont to do (so, rightly, Lincoln, 638; Vaughan, 209); rather, this metaphorical language is employed to admonish the Colossians to pursue and to ponder the One “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). Caird, 202, notes that “their minds are to be filled with ideas inspired by the regnant Christ, their thinking so controlled and determined by his mind … as to leave no room for the influence of a worldly mentality.”
2 Aim then at what is above, says Paul; set your minds on that and let it give character to your outlook on everything. The Gnostics also believed in aiming at what was above. They were seriously concerned with living on a higher plane than this mundane one. But Paul has in mind a higher plane than theirs. Go in for the higher things (he says)—higher things than the principalities and powers which dominate the planetary spheres, for Christ has ascended far above these.15 Don’t let your ambitions be earthbound, set on transitory and inferior objects. Don’t look at life and the universe from the standpoint of these lower planes; look at them from Christ’s exalted standpoint. Judge everything by the standards of that new creation to which you now belong, not by those of the old order to which you have said a final farewell.
2 The exhortation of v. 1 is reframed in v. 2 to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” There are two differences in this reframing of v. 1: the term “seek” (zēteō) becomes “set your minds” (phroneō), and “things above” is contrasted with “earthly things,” a cosmological parallel to “flesh” (2:11, 13, 18, 23). Paul likes the term phroneō, one often connected with “will” and “heart” in the Old Testament (e.g., Prov 6:32) and with wisdom in the classical Hebrew sense (Deut 32:29). A notable instance of this term is when Jesus reveals to Peter that Peter has in mind the things of “men” (Matt 16:23). For Paul it is a theo-moral term: how one thinks, shapes how one lives. Thus, flesh mindedness leads to flesh living, while Spirit mindedness leads to Spirit-drenched living (Rom 8:5; cf. Gal 5:10). This second group becomes Spirit-ually wise in their relations of humility and love and harmony (e.g., 2 Cor 13:11; Phil 1:7; 2:2, 5; 3:15; 4:2; Rom 12:3, 16). The opposite is the way of discord, violence, and fractured relationships: that is, “their minds are set on earthly things” (e.g., Phil 3:19).
We need to connect “earthly things” to the stoicheia (2:20) and to the skia (2:17), that is, to the specific items Paul uses to illustrate the teaching and behavior of the halakic mystics (e.g., Col 2:16, 18, 21). They are “earthly” not simply because they are pagan or Jewish. Rather, they are “earthly” because they are not under the rule of Christ and instead are under the sway of flesh, sin, and the powers (1:13; 3:9, 10). The vertical dualism here does not exhibit traces of Platonism or some kind of Gnosticism but instead a kind of apocalypticism that various authors, including Paul, shared in the first century CE. That new worldview revolutionizes one’s perceptual and practical world (see 2 Cor 5:16).
2. In similar vein Paul continues, On the things that are above set your minds, not on the things that are upon the earth. This admonition is very practical. It means that the Colossians are urged to ponder and yearn for113 the things that are above, as previously defined. Now a minister who seeks to help his people in their struggle against immorality should not preach a series of sermons on the theme Immorality, going into all its sordid details. If he does, his sermons might do more harm than good. Instead of banishing the evil he may be creating a taste for it. Let him, instead, preach one sermon on Immorality but an entire series on The Glory of Service Rendered to Christ and His People.
This positive method of overcoming sin is characteristic of Paul’s teaching. Note the following:
“Overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21);
“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14);
“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16); and
“For the rest, brothers, whatsoever things are true … honorable … just … pure … lovely … of good report … be thinking about these things … and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8, 9).
The same truth is illustrated in Col. 3:12–17. This is the only effective way to “put to death the members that are upon the earth” (3:5–9a), as is also clear from 3:9a, 10.
3:2. Coupled with our new motivation is a new mind. Believers are exhorted to set [their] minds on the same things their hearts were set on—things above. Paul expands his thought here by including the negative contrast—not on earthly things. This does not mean that believers are to live in a kind of mystical fog or neglect the affairs of earth with endless contemplation of eternity. This means that believers are not to be concerned only with the trivialities of the temporal. We are to be preoccupied with the things that get top billing in heaven. Heavenly values are to capture our imaginations, emotions, thoughts, feelings, ideas, and actions. The believer is to see everything, including earthly things, against the backdrop of eternity. With a new (resurrection) perspective on life, the eternal is to impact the temporal.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 128–129). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (p. 206). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 322–323). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (p. 134). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 McKnight, S. (2018). The Letter to the Colossians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (p. 293). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (Vol. 6, p. 141). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 327). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.