by Dave Hinkley
Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr), 19th century poet and physician is quoted as saying: “some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” This quote usually gets brought out by Christians who are frustrated by injustice in the world around us, and particularly frustrated by brothers and sisters who they feel aren’t doing enough about it.
The problem with this way of looking at the faith is that it flips the order of the two greatest commandments. The good of our fellow man is part of our purpose as God’s people, but it is our secondary, not primary purpose. Our primary purpose is to worship God. If Christ is not the reason for our love for our fellow man then we are not practicing true religion.
Of course we are to also be earthly minded. The Christian will be salt and light in the world – salt as a preservative and flavoring agent, and light as a prophetic and corrective agent. But the Christian’s hard work for the good of the world is only a byproduct of their devotion to Christ. It is precisely heavenly mindedness that makes a person salt and light. Indeed, the degree to which a person is salty and bright is the degree to which their mind dwells upon the excellencies of Christ and the glory of being united to him in the next life.
We are not those who place our hope or security in the stability or strength of the empires of this world. We work for (vote for, pray for, give toward, etc) the benefit of our society because we treasure the true King, who has left us here and will return. He expects us to do these things while we wait for him, but he also commands, for our own good, that we not plant our hope here on earth.
1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 says: For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.
If peace and security on earth is the apple of our eye we end up blinded and not ready for Christ’s return. The people in this passage are surprised by sudden destruction because their worried eyes look first to what is around them and not first to Christ. They spend more time on cable news or twitter than in prayer. As the cultural pressures mount around us, let us not be distracted from the reality that Christ is coming back to earth and he is coming sooner than we know.
Verses 5-8 say: For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
The sleep here Paul is referring to is the same worldly mindedness that is only concerned with peace and security. However, believers in Jesus belong to the day; we are awake, not asleep. Thus, we fight to have a heavenly outlook on the events of the world, on our relationships, on all that we do. This fight requires equipment, and thankfully, we have love for God (and his people!) and faith in Christ to guard our hearts. We also have the hope of salvation, the hope of the second coming of Jesus Christ, to guard our minds.
How does the hope of Christ’s return guard your mind? What worry or disappointment can get through this steel: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (v.9-10)?
Who is it who needs to know the comfort of the world to come? You, for sure; the lost, for sure; but don’t forget about your brothers and sisters in Jesus! They are going to get anxious and get over-occupied with earthly “peace and security.” You’re supposed to help them. Verse 11: Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Holmes’ quote would lead us to believe that it was Martha and not Mary who chose the better portion. The truth is there is no earthly good without heavenly mindedness. When Christ comes again he will make all things new, and this is the security we should build our lives upon.