“So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” The Apostle Paul, Colossians 3: 1-2
Studying Paul’s letter to the Colossian church this past week, I came across the above verse. It is one which is well-known to me. I’ve read it many times. Looking at it very casually over the years, the verse seemed to hold a nice greeting card thought, one that seemed more sentiment than prescription. But this time, words stood out. First, I wondered: what does Paul mean by “search for things above”?
Paul wrote this letter in prison. His limbs were likely aching from the dampness. His eyes, possibly bleary with cataracts, saw dark figures of vermin looking for morsels of bread he may have dropped. The torch in the cavern flickered dark images onto the wall in front of his cell. Looking above his circumstances, Paul warns the Colossian church, with words preceding the above instruction, of placing faith in the temporal:
“If you died with the king, coming out from the rule of the “worldly elements,” what’s the point of laying down laws as though your life was still merely worldly? “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” Rules like that all have to do with things that disappear as you use them.”
Paul goes on to point out the pretense of these man-made rules: “They may give the appearance of wisdom since they promote a do-it-yourself religion.” Instead of a religion of here-today-gone-tomorrow works, Paul was pushing these Christians to live in the resurrection life they had received. Good works would flow out from them. And he knew that no DIY secular religion would honor King Jesus. So, in order to help them come out from “the rule of ‘worldly elements’”, Paul placed them under the rule of King Jesus. Paul wrote, “So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above…”
Two things popped out at me reading the above verse. I mentioned the first. The second: Paul writing “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Immediately I remembered where I had heard something similar before.
“Look!” Stephen said. “I can see heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!”
These words are found in Acts chapter 7. There we find Stephen forced to address the Assembly of religious leaders. He provides the audience with a marvelous summary of Israel’s history. Stephen ends his discourse with some piercing words and the words above. The crowd would never forget those words, even though they covered their ears and yelled at him at the tops of the voices. So unsettled and angry was the crowd that they took Stephen out and stoned him to death. This was all done before a witness, a young man named Saul.
Who do you think Saul/Paul had in mind when he wrote, “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.”? We don’t know for sure if Paul was in the Assembly that day Stephen spoke. Even if he wasn’t he would have been very aware of what was said. Paul was the Assembly’s appointed Inquisitor. He was ordered to stop the insurgents called “Followers of the Way”.
Paul, the witness and persecutor, was now Paul the prisoner and fellow sufferer in Christ with martyred Stephen. His relationship with King Jesus had taken him to new personal lows. But, Paul searched for things above and found them. They sufficed. Paul saw King Jesus sitting at God’s right hand.
What about our search?
Have you watched the TV series The Curse of Oak Island? Over the many episodes I’ve watched, the Lagina brothers search for buried treasure. In their search they have looked at maps. They have been to the library and to France. They have sifted dirt and information. They found both material fragments related to the historical period of the treasure and fragments of information also related. They have talked to many people who have knowledge of the island and the treasure. And, they dug and dug and dug. They are relentless in their pursuit of the treasure. They have a hope in what they do not yet see but visualize. What they do see are milestones that point in the direction of the fulfillment of their hope.
Have we stopped searching “for things above”? Have we stopped digging deep into the Word? Have we thrown away fragments of our character that would have pointed us to hope realized?
Does our search involve Scripture reading, studying Greek and Hebrew and history, praying and visualizing? Does our search involve hours and days and months and years looking for the pearl of great price? If you are looking at yourself and people’s reactions to you online then you will not find the treasure. Looking at the “worldly elements” won’t reveal it. Searching is lifetime, long-haul hard work. That is the Indian Jones adventure and romance of life. Except, we chose fantasy and the illusory.
In TV commercials one can see someone talking into an impersonal box. The ‘intelligent personal assistant’ box is connected to a search engine which is tied into a data cloud which is linked into a data storage island somewhere. But “the box” does not have the answer to life’s most pressing questions. As an engineer, I hold no grudge against technology. I just know that technology will not “search for things above.” You are responsible for that.
Many will use a search engine like Google to find information related to a certain topic. Now, consider searching “for things above” for answers to all of life’s “topics”. These ‘topics’ would include “Why is there pain and suffering?”; “How do I go on?”; “Who should I marry?”; “What about my wayward son? “How will I afford this surgery?”; What hope do I have when I can’t see things getting better?”; “What is my raison d’être?”; “What is God’s will and how will it be done on earth as in heaven?” Back to Paul and his words to the Roman churches about searching questions and seeing results.
“We were saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait eagerly — but also patiently.” Romans 8:24-25
So, hope means waiting for what we do not yet see. But, are you uneasy when you can’t visualize the person you are talking to? Then learn to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of the father, with all authority in heaven and earth. Still struggling with searching “for things above”?
“In the same way, too, the spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought to, but that same spirit pleads on our behalf, with groanings too deep for words. And the Searcher of Hearts knows what the spirit is thinking, because the spirt pleads for God’s people according to God’s will.” Romans 8:26-27
In prison and on the road, Paul tapped into resurrection life – into “the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Paul was well aware that earthly and evil forces would love for us to remain in our petty, self-serving and secularly pious ways, embracing “worldly elements.” The Evil One wants us to focus only on ourselves and our material concerns. The Evil One does not want us to look above. Remember Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert. The Evil One wanted Jesus to acknowledge him, in effect, as the top Search Engine of the World. A ‘search engine’ that offered the world to his web-surfing devotees.
“Then the devil took him off again, this time to a very high mountain. There he showed Jesus all the magnificent kingdoms of the world.
“I’ll give the whole lot to you” he said, “If you will fall down and worship me.”
“Get out of here, you satan!” replied Jesus. “The Bible says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and, serve him alone!”
The Searcher of Hearts – the only Authoritative ‘search engine’-sits at God’s right hand. We are told to “search for the things that are above” where our king “is seated at God’s right hand”. What are you waiting for? There’s a seat waiting for you.
“This will be my gift to the one who conquers: I will sit them beside me on my throne, just as I conquered and sat with my father on his throne.” Revelation 3:21