“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” Romans 8:5
What do you think about when you’re not thinking of anything in particular? Generally speaking, what would you say is the prevailing or dominant influence in your thought life? There are times when we are very specifically thinking about something such as when we’re concerned about a certain problem, or when reading an interesting book, or watching TV, or writing a letter. But there are other times when our minds are not focused on any one thing exclusively. It’s at those times when it becomes apparent what we really set our minds upon.
Our verse makes it plain that one is either fleshly minded or spiritually minded. Now that is not to say that a spiritually minded person never contemplates matters of the flesh, or that a fleshly minded person never thinks about spiritual matters. The question is, where does one chiefly spend their time in thought… on fleshly things or spiritual things?
Jesus spoke about those who set their minds on the things of the flesh when He said, “Do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after” (Luke 12:29). He didn’t say we should never think about these practical matters such as food, drink and clothing, but that we shouldn’t be anxious about them. To be anxious is to doubt God who knows what you need and will provide. Worrying, fretting, being anxious, complaining, and grumbling are all symptoms of setting one’s mind on fleshly matters.
The Apostle Paul also spoke of those “whose god is their belly… who set their mind on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Certainly one who comes to mind in that regard is Esau. One day he came in weary from the field and wanted some of his brother Jacob’s stew. Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day” and Esau replied, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:31-32) What an exchange! Esau willingly and recklessly gave up the lasting blessing of his birthright in order to at best only temporarily satisfy his hungry belly with a mess of stew. How foolish! And yet, this showed that he chiefly set his mind on fleshly things, not giving any real concern for the spiritual and eternal. Many live their lives this way. They spend all their mental energies seeking those temporal and earthly things which can’t ultimately satisfy, “where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in steal” (Matthew 6:19), things which pass away with this world.
Now it can happen that one can be mightily stirred up to think of spiritual things. A serious, life threatening illness, or something heard in a sermon regarding sin which pricked the conscience, or some great fear can surely cause one to be more spiritually minded, to the point where they can hardly think of anything else. However, as time goes by and these troubles begin to go away, and if one’s habitual disposition of the mind is to be fleshly minded, then these convictions and resolutions often just diminish and even evaporate altogether. As the prophet Jeremiah put it, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23).
Jesus taught, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35). Commenting on this verse, the puritan John Owen wrote, “Every man hath a treasure in his heart; that is, a prevailing, inexhaustible principle of all his actings and operations. But in some this treasure is good, in others it is evil”.
In the light of all this, it can be seen that it is crucial for the Christian to cultivate his mind, which is the governor of the heart and soul. We are instructed to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). And we know that this renewal occurs as the mind is continuously fed by God’s word as it is preached, taught, read, meditated upon and prayed over. How wise is the Christian who not only reads a portion of Scripture each day, but has also developed the habit of turning those words over and over in his mind through the course of the day, seeking to understand and follow God’s mind and purposes, to draw closer to God in fellowship, and becoming more like Christ in the process. It’s like when one savors his food as he chews it to draw out every bit of delight and satisfaction in its flavor and texture. Likewise, the Christian is one who should guard against what he allows to come into his mind from the world through the eyes and ears. In order to avoid the snare of setting his mind on the flesh, Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look intently upon a young woman?’ (Job 31:1)
One of the catch lines in the current marketing campaign for a major credit card company is, “What’s in your wallet?” Instead, we should be asking, “What’s in your mind?” Remember, “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” to which the Apostle added, “to be fleshly minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (verse 6).
May God bless you.
Pastor Paul N. Wanamaker