Monday meditations: Col. 3.2

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. Col. 3.2

Those of you who know me know that I am not a big King James Bible guy. I think most people are as able to read it with understanding as are able to read Shakespeare (without notes) and get all the humor and play on words and all that is going on. Have you read King Lear lately?

But sometimes the old KJV gives us a gem and I think this verse is one case. If you look in the newer translations, the word “affection” has been replaced with “think,” which is an accurate, yet generic rendering of the word in question. As all the other words in this verse are self-explanatory, let’s focus on this word phroneo and see if we can’t find something worth meditating for the week on.

A good way to get a fuller idea of a word like this is to look to other places where it is used. In 1 Cor. 13.11, Paul uses it when he says, “When I was a child I thought like a child…” Here it seems to convey a state of thinking more than an act of thinking. He was a certain kind of thinker. In 2 Cor. 13.11 (odd numerical parallel), Paul uses it to encourage the Corinthians “to live in harmony,” which is the English way we render the more literal euphemism, “be in like-mindedness.” Again a state of (common) thought. We also find phroneo in Mark 8.33 (and the parallel in Matt. 16.23) where Jesus rebukes Peter (who had unwisely rebuked Jesus): “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” One last example. Paul also uses this word in Phil. 2.5: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus…”

From these examples, you can see that “think” by itself is a pretty weak rendering of Col. 3.2. It makes it sound as though Paul were just throwing out ideas for the Colossians to ponder in their leisure time: “Hey, think about this if you get the chance.” Or asking their opinion on something trivial: “Hey, what do you think of my shirt?” The meaning goes well beyond this.

At the risk of treading into even deeper waters (than a Greek word study already has us in), we can also consider the noun cognate of this verb: phronesis, which is an important word in the history of Greek thought, especially for Aristotle. “Phronesis is the capability to consider the mode of action in order to deliver change, especially to enhance the quality of life. Aristotle says that phronesis is not simply a skill, however, as it involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine that end.” (Wikipedia: phronesis)

Now I am not suggesting that Paul necessarily had all this in mind when he gave the command in Col. 3.2 (it is in the imperative btw), but I agree with the KJV translator here that a better word was needed, one with more gravitas than just “think.”

I encourage you to spend some time this week with Col. 3.2. In memorizing it, you can go with the KJV or you might try something like “Phroneo on the things above, not on the things of earth.” Ponder what it means for you in your life to have a mind on the things above, to be above-things-minded, to set your mind on things above, to have a things-above-mindedness. Think about what Aristotle had to say about phronesis and see if any of that applies for you here.

Above all, pray and ask the Spirit to guide you into having this sort of mindedness, to set your affection in this direction. Also think about why Paul issues this as a command, something he expected his readers to do.