Too Heavenly Minded?

I was admonished by a pastor once, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.”  At the time perhaps my head was in the clouds, or I was “over spiritualizing” a topic of discussion.  But many years have passed since then and I haven’t really thought about it until recently.  I read an interesting discussion on a SouthernGospel.com forum in which it was suggested that being too “spiritual” or heavenly minded is a matter of doing things that are seen as offensive, such as taking too much time to say grace, annoying others with your faith instead of being winsome, assuming a position of superiority or judgementalism over other believers, etc.  While I understand that words can have connotations beyond their normal use, and that the meanings of words can be tweaked to fit certain playful applications, such as double entendres, in the case of dealing with this popular proverb, I want to know exactly what is in the mind of a person who says it.

I have come across a familiar piece of Scripture (cited later) that has resulted in my taking a fresh look at this saying.  First of all, there is no verse in the Bible that says, “If you’re too heavenly minded you won’t be any earthly good.”  So, this statement reflects a non-Biblical opinion.  Equally, the terms “heavenly minded” and “earthly good” also represent non-Biblical value judgements.  In this context, being “heavenly minded” can mean anything religious.  And “earthly good” can mean anything that works to one’s advantage in a practical sense.  Similar sayings that rely on pragmatic results for proving worth are “Smart is as smart does.” and “But does it put food on the table?”.

So, the value of being “heavenly minded” is being weighed against the value of having any “earthly good”.  Here, the sole criteria for evaluating “spiritual” thinking is whether or not it produces anything considered useful or advantageous.  This judgement is made by the observer.  The word “too” indicates that being “spiritual” or “heavenly minded” is OK, up to a point but that in excess, it becomes harmful.  Like drinking alcohol, it needs to be moderated, balanced.  But since the “heavenly minded” person is unaware of when he’s being “too” spiritual, others must make that judgement for him.  The fallacy here is that each observer has his own idea of what exactly constitutes too much heavenly mindedness.

As I thought back to that pastor who had “corrected” me, I began to feel quite bad for him, because Scripture gives us a very different lesson.  An interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus is recorded in Matthew 16:21-23.  When Jesus told his disciples that he must, “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”, Peter rebuked him and said, “Never, Lord! … This shall never happen to you!”  Previous to that, in verses 15-19, Jesus had told Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this [from verse 16 that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God"] was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

But now, only a few verses later, as Jesus hears this same, blessed disciple rebuking him, he turns his back on Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  Peter was concerned for Jesus’ well-being.  He didn’t yet understand how Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection would offer salvation to the world.  He was so focused on human wisdom he was being a stumbling block to Jesus.  Peter was so worldly minded he was of no spiritual good, the exact opposite of what he had been in verse 17, when Jesus told him his understanding came from God, not man.

Given that these two examples are polar opposites, we will not always have such extreme choices.  However, they do serve to clarify our options.  Do you prefer the wisdom of man or the wisdom of God?  Would you prefer being heavenly minded and of no earthly good, or worldly minded and of no spiritual good?  For me the choice is clear.  I would rather “have in mind the things of God” that they may see my good deeds and praise my Father in heaven (paraphrasing Matthew 5:16).

“Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  (1 Corinthians 1:20)

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”  (1 Corinthians 1:25)

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”  (1 Corinthians 2:12)

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, for they are spiritually discerned.”  (1 Corinthians 2:14)

“Do not deceive yourselves.  If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”  (1 Corinthians 3:18,19)

 

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About retiredday

I am Michael D. Day, a regular, everyday guy -- retired. I stand for God-given freedom, which means I think for myself. I believe in being civil, because the Bible teaches that we should love our enemies. But I also believe in saying it how I see it, and explaining just why I see it that way, sort of like 2 Timothy 4:2.
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12 Responses to Too Heavenly Minded?

  1. Sean D. says:

    The scriptures do tell us to not be “overrighteous” in Ecclesiastes 7:

    16 Do not be overrighteous,
    neither be overwise—
    why destroy yourself?
    17 Do not be overwicked,
    and do not be a fool—
    why die before your time?
    18 It is good to grasp the one
    and not let go of the other.
    Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.

    The saying, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good”, simply echoes the caution in II Corinthians 13: 1-3 that says,
    “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

    It simply means that if you aren’t applying your faith here on Earth, loving people and showing compassion, because you’re too caught up in piousness, then you aren’t following the example of Christ and you are accomplishing nothing truly good.

    • retiredday says:

      I really appreciate your comment. You are looking at it differently than I am, and that’s fine. I think it’s a matter of dealing with the limitation of semantics. My understanding of your Ecclesiastes reference is that being “overrighteous” or “overwise” is a matter of pretense, such as acting “holier than thou”, or a matter of hypocrisy, which like legalistic or pharisaical “righteousness” addresses the letter of the law while ignoring the Spirit of the law, which is God’s love. (I really liked your reference to II Cor. 13:1-3.)

      The way I see it is that being “heavenly minded” is qualitative, while the modifier “too” is quantitative. In a purely literal sense, I do not believe one can be “overrighteous”. If we are to be Christ-like, how then can we be too Christ-like? If our “heavenly mindedness” is authentic, we can never be “too much” so. It’s only when we put on a false show of righteousness that we are in error.

  2. Jack says:

    Hi, retiredday. Interesting article. OK, I’ll bite–here’s a comment. :)

    I think this “proverb” does refer to balance. I disagree that balance is not needed in the area of spiritual things. Although I do agree that it is impossible to be too Christ-like in the biblical sense, it is possible to become religiously unbalanced. Here are some examples:

    1) You read the Bible 3 hours a day, and spend 4 additional hours a day praising and thanking God and praying, such that you have no time left to love or help others. Is that really healthy?

    2) in a more realistic example, let’s say you do find time to love and help others. But let’s say you go to church 4 times a week, and Bible study two other nights a week. The only thing you ever read is the Bible. You don’t read any other books or magazines or newspapers. You only listen to religious music. You have no regular hobbies such as gardening, tennis, etc. The only thing you ever talk about is God and “spiritual” matters, and are incapable of even discussing benign things like the weather. Is that really healthy?

    3) Whenever you wake up in the morning, before getting out of bed, you spend 10 minutes praying to God about which shoe you should put on first. Is that really healthy? ;)

    4) Whenever you go out to eat at a restaurant, before eating your dessert, you go to the restroom and spend time praying and seeking God’s will about whether you should have vanilla ice cream or chocolate ice cream. Is that really healthy? ;)

    I think the whole saying refers to becoming a “religious fanatic” or “religious nut.” And yes, it is possible for a sincere, non-holier-than-thou Christian to fall into such a rut.

    Here are a couple of verses that speak to the area of balance:

    Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13 [Notice that this verse speaks of "deeds"--it's not good enough just to focus on God and things above; you also have to pay sufficient attention to things on earth as well.]

    Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? James 2:15-16 [I think a lot of Christians falter in this area. They are so full of "spiritual-speak" (as they say, talk is cheap), but they don't do anything practical to help those in need.]

    It may be mostly a matter of semantics, but anyway, God didn’t create us to develop only the spiritual parts of our beings and to neglect our intellect, natural talents, bodies, etc. So, I do think it’s important that as Christians we become balanced individuals who attract others to Christ, not turn them off.

    Hope this is helpful. :)

  3. retiredday says:

    Thanks for taking the time to give me your feedback. I agree that we can become religiously unbalanced, and you provided some excellent examples. However, to me being religious is not the same as being spiritual (heavenly minded). Jesus as a man who walked among us is our perfect example of heavenly mindedness and yet he was very down-to-earth. He related to people at their own level and yet drew them up to his.

    As far as prayer goes, I don’t see it as a distraction or as something we do instead of taking action. I don’t believe genuine prayer ever takes us away from things we should be doing. If we are truly communicating with the LORD when he needed us to do something, don’t you think he would say OK, prayer time is over, go and do such and such? Anyway, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to pray without ceasing. So while we are busy with our “deeds” we still need to be in prayer.

    God Bless you.

  4. Jack says:

    Hi. You’re welcome.

    OK, I think it is a matter of semantics. When I think of “heavenly minded,” I don’t necessarily think of “spiritual.” To me, “heavenly minded” almost implies having one’s head in the clouds and being quixotic. And I definitely agree that being religious is not necessarily the same thing as being spiritual.

    “As far as prayer goes, I don’t see it as a distraction or as something we do instead of taking action. I don’t believe genuine prayer ever takes us away from things we should be doing.”

    Well, it shouldn’t. But that’s what I think the whole phrase “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” is trying to convey. I think it’s basically saying that a lot of folks acquire a warped view of what serving God is really supposed to mean and neglect the spiritual as it applies to earth.

    “If we are truly communicating with the LORD when he needed us to do something, don’t you think he would say OK, prayer time is over, go and do such and such?”

    Yes, but imbalanced folks cannot hear Him. It’s like someone who needs a hearing aid. Maybe they’re communicating with you, but they can’t hear a word that you say.

    “Anyway, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to pray without ceasing. So while we are busy with our “deeds” we still need to be in prayer.”

    I don’t believe that “pray without ceasing” literally means 24/7. There is a difference between “continually” and “continuously.” I think the Bible means “continually.” Here’s what a dictionary says about the difference:

    “In precise usage, continual means ‘frequent, repeating at intervals’ and continuous means ‘going on without pause.”

    IOW, we should devote our whole day to God and always do our best to be mindful of Him, but obviously I don’t think He literally expects us to devote every moment to prayer.

    ————————————————————————————
    Oh, I thought of one more common example of religious imbalance. :) It’s related to the others I described in my previous post, but I think it deserves its own special classification. I like to refer to these kinds of Christians as “kum-ba-yah” Christians. So what is a “kum-ba-yah” Christian? Somebody whose praise for God is so syrupy, gushy, and overdone as to be downright nauseating. In addition, this kind of person is basically always going around to everybody else and saying “Smile!!!” Here are some examples:

    “I was walking in the forest this morning, and when the sun broke through the trees, I beheld the glory of the Lord! A squirrel came across my path, and I just started praising and marveling at the Lord for His goodness to create such loving, adorable creatures who can be eternal witnesses to His glory. And then I saw some leaves on the ground arrayed in such beautiful colors, and I was reminded of our Glorious Creator who fashioned them to show forth His exceeding handiwork! Then I looked at the shirt I was wearing, which is made of cotton, and I realized that the All-Knowing One created the plant which would be used for my very own clothing. He had designs for this plant even before the universe was made, in loving attention to what He knew His beloved children would need in order to clothe themselves. Indeed, my own humble shirt was destined to proclaim the glory of the Lord!!!!!!”

    Let’s say someone has just died and the “kum-ba-yah” Christian knows about it. Here’s his or her response: “I’m sorry about your loss. But just know that THE LORD, the Mighty One of the heavens, will turn your burden around for an exceeding weight of glory. Give it all up to him, praise Him, and He will exalt you!!! He will shower forth blessing upon blessing on you, use your life for His glory, and YOU WILL praise Him!!!! This but light and momentary burden of yours is to be used for your good and for the splendor of His eternal righteousness!! Praise the Lord!!!!”

    What is wrong with ‘kum-ba-yah” Christians? Two main things are: 1) They completely lack sobriety, which the Bible commands us to have. They’re too busy “exulting in the Lord” to have any. 2) The Bible tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. But “kum-ba-yah” Christians are way too busy rejoicing in the Lord and living in “la-la land” to ever have time to weep with anyone who weeps. Overall, I think “kum-ba-yah” Christians are imbalanced, self-centered, and just not “real.”

    Anyway, I think we’ve given decent coverage to “religious imbalance.” :)

    God bless you too.

  5. retiredday says:

    As I wrote in my article, I consider being heavenly minded as having in mind the things of God. J. Vernon McGee, discussing 1 Thessalonians 5:17, commented that “pray without ceasing” doesn’t mean you’re to stay on your knees all the time, but to constantly maintain an attitude of prayer. Sometimes understanding Scripture is simply a matter of common sense. Continually and continuously are English words, which my dictionary lists as synonyms of each other. Both have been used in translating the Greek word adialeiptos, which means without intermission, incessantly and assiduously.

    As to what you call “Kum-ba-yah” Christians, Jesus had much to say about the Pharisees, who similarly demonstrated “religious imbalance”. However, be careful not to paint with too broad a brush. We are judged by the same standards we use to judge others (Matthew 7:1, 2).

  6. Jack says:

    Hi. I’ve looked in 3 different dictionaries. They all have a couple of different definitions for “continually.” I think the “recurring regularly or frequently” makes more sense, using, as you said, common sense. As for the Greek word, here are some more definitions of it:

    “88 /adiáleiptos (“without unjustified interval”) refers to what happens regularly, without implying “always” or “uninterruptedly.”

    [88 (adiáleiptos) occurs in the papyri meaning "regularly, yet intermittent" – like a persistent cough (see Moulton-Milligan).]”

    “As to what you call “Kum-ba-yah” Christians, Jesus had much to say about the Pharisees, who similarly demonstrated “religious imbalance”.”

    Well, the Pharisees weren’t necessarily “kum-ba-yah” Christians. They didn’t really seem to love God, and weren’t all chirpy and syrupy. OTOH, I think that many “kum-ba-yah” Christians love God the best they know how, but are just imbalanced.

    “However, be careful not to paint with too broad a brush.”

    Huh? How would pointing out that a lack of sobriety/overemotionalism in Christians and a lack of empathy toward those who are hurting be considered painting with too broad a brush?

    “We are judged by the same standards we use to judge others (Matthew 7:1, 2).”

    Yes, and those verses are referring to unjust, hypocritical judgment. IOW, if we have a beam in our own eye, we shouldn’t be judging the speck in our neighbor’s eye. However, John 7:24 commands us to: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”

    • retiredday says:

      I do not wish to quarrel about words (1 Timothy 6:4). And let’s not argue about disputable matters (Romans 14:1). Basically, my post expresses the opinion that there is no such thing as “heavenly mindedness” as it applies to the common understanding of the popular proverb. I equate heavenly mindedness with “having in mind the things of God” and I consider “pray without ceasing” to mean never stop being heavenly minded, regardless of what actions we are taking.

      You, as well as many others do not agree with my position, and you have made your position clear. Let’s just leave it at that.

  7. Robert says:

    While a good and interesting perspective, clearly the author missed the point of the Pastors comment about being “to heavenly minded”. There are many people in the Christian community that remain so focused on driving their Biblical point, that they do more harm than good. The Pastors point was clearly one of meet people where they are, understand how their life may have shaped them into who they are, and then “DEMONSTRATE” the power of God through words and deeds. To often the church has lost site of this and by focusing to much on sin consciousness, rather than how the love of God changes lives. The main point is always do what is right, don’t deal in who is right. People fight over the who because of ego, never over what, because it represents the higher good for all involved.

  8. YoungGuy says:

    I’ve read all the comment. I’m a young guy thinking about this same issue, my thing was how can we be too heavenly minded that were no earthly good? Isn’t that the point to become heavenly minded? I came across this scripture. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2 NIV) I understand what people are getting at about the cliche but I think it’s the total opposite according to the scripture that we are and have to be heavenly minded. Now when we do things like really wanting to preach the Gospel to a place where people hunger like in one comment and not meet the need ALSO I believe that’s not due to them not being heavenly minded because they want to preach the gospel to people but its just not doing ALL that God told us to do its just half and that goes into not completely following God but Didn’t Jesus feed the people with 5 loaves and two fish then said I am the bread of life? We can think (heavenly minded) about Gods word but we have to demonstrate it to. The Kum ba ya people I don’t think anything is wrong with praising The Lord but their is something to be said about people who do it to be seen in the bible. Praying without ceasing? Isn’t praying just communication with God? Cant you pray in your mind? Isn’t being heavenly minded meditating on God word or even fasting aligning the lines of communication between God and your spirit man? So in that sense if your heavenly minded and your spirit is aligned with that of the will of the fathers aren’t you praying (communicating) without ceasing? dont know where the cliche came from but i think its a terrible one but what do I know I just a young guy. Please respond

    • retiredday says:

      “By George, you’ve got it!” From your comment, I glean that you completely understand what I was trying to communicate in my post. One of the things that is difficult in being a Christian is that we are spiritually reborn, but we must continue to trudge around in a fallen world. People naturally use clichés a lot when they try to communicate. But sayings such as the one about being too heavenly minded don’t really satisfactorily explain Christianity. I think sayings like that short change the meaning of our faith. Human language already has its limitations when we try to express infinitely perfect truth. We shouldn’t make things even more difficult by depending on trite sayings to explain faith.

      As you have read in these comments, different people have different definitions for “heavenly minded” and “earthly good”. Try not to let mindless chatter cause you to stumble. Matthew 5:48 tells us to be perfect, yet who of us has succeeded in that? All we can do is keep pressing on (Philippians 3:12-14). And give all glory, honor and praise to Jesus.

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