“Set Your Affection on Things Above”

The Second Commandment in the Epistles

4 min

We have been looking at the second commandment and considering the subtle danger of idols pulling our affections away from our chief allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am to set my priorities and affections toward God, forsaking all forms of idolatry.

These words of practical application are drawn from the exhortation that the Apostle Paul gave to the believers at Colosse. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1–2). 

The second commandment calls our attention from the graven images and man-made gods of earth to the invisible Creator in Heaven. In a similar manner, Paul’s exhortation urges us to look away from the things of earth that distract us and to look upward to the throne of God, where Christ is seated. Rather than looking at what we see with our physical eyes, the Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to look with eyes of faith and see that the He is central to all of life.

Paul encouraged those who are “risen with Christ” to “seek those things which are above.” This instruction was not a call to mystical asceticism or to a type of false piety that denies the importance of physical realities. In this second chapter of his letter to the Colossians, Paul explained the beautiful mystery of the incarnation. He said of the Lord Jesus that “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (verse 9).

Paul was writing about priorities. He encouraged believers not to make an idol of earthly priorities and earthly affections. When Paul wrote “set your affection on things above,” he used the Greek verb φρονέω (phroneo) for set. This interesting verb means “to think about, to regard, or to savor.” The Lord Jesus in His rebuke to Peter used the very same word: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:23, emphasis added).

Just as Peter made this mistake, so can each one of us make the same error. How very easy it is to fall back into “savouring” the things of men or of this life on earth rather than the things of God! What do you savor? What occupies your mind in your idle moments? What topics make your eyes sparkle in conversation? Sometimes those who know us best, such as our wife and children, know that we “savor” the things of earth rather than the things of heaven. Sadly, those watching us may follow our pattern and thereby miss the highest good of seeking first the Kingdom of God.

Paul’s epistle calls us away from these things of earth and to set our priorities upon the things of heaven. He used these verbs in the present active imperative, meaning “seek and keep on seeking” heavenly values, and “set and keep on setting” your affection on things above. Each one of us faces a constant struggle to keep the right priorities, and we must vigilantly be on guard against the subtle influences of idolatry. The Scriptures can aid us in determining if our affections are focused on things that counter the truths of God’s Word. Even a well-meaning friendship can turn us away from the things of God if that friend brings us to a place of compromise and a tolerance of evil.

After setting before us the importance of right priorities, Paul gave some encouragement in the next two verses. “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). The Lord Jesus Himself is our life. We are crucified with Him, and now we live with Him. His priorities are our priorities.

On the basis of this reality, Paul’s epistle urges us to practical obedience. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Again, we are back to the second commandment. We must be careful that we do not set up idols in our hearts—idols of earthly values and priorities that pull our hearts away from “the things which are above.”

Having addressed the negative, Paul further gave some practical advice on the positive side in chapter 3. He encouraged believers to “put on the new man” (verse 10). He taught that we were to cultivate “humbleness of mind” and “meekness” (verse 12). He called believers to forgive each other “even as Christ forgave you” (verse 13). He wrote in verse 14, “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” The apostle exhorted husbands to love their wives, wives to honor their husbands, children to obey their parents, servants to serve their masters. In all these domestic duties, Paul encouraged, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men (verse 23).

When our priorities are right, everything else in life falls into place. May God give us all the grace to “set our affections on things above.” On Thursday, we will look at the life and testimony of a successful Christian businessman, still living today at the advanced age of 107, who took these words of Scripture to heart and learned in daily life to set his affections on things above.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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