Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., is attributed with the quote “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” The same sentiment found its way into a song by Johnny Cash: “You’re shinin’ your light, and shine it you should, / But you’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good” (“No Earthly Good,” from The Rambler, 1977). The criticism that some Christians are “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good” is a catchy turn of phrase, but is it warranted?
The accusation that some Christians are too heavenly focused and therefore not paying enough attention to earthly matters is based on a false premise, namely, that love of God makes one less capable or less concerned with the practical affairs of the world. Being “heavenly minded” does not result in isolating oneself from the world, ignoring contemporary issues, or declining to be involved. Just the opposite: being heavenly minded results in attempting to please God, who has given us work to do in this world.
Committed, heavenly minded Christians have always tackled the social, environmental, and political problems of the day. Some of the most impactful people in history have been Christians whose faith moved them to action. As C. S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next” (HarperCollins, 2001, p. 134).
Devoted Christians such as John Newton and William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to abolish the slave trade in England. Christians such as missionary Amy Carmichael, philanthropist George Mueller, and journalist Robert Raikes rescued children in peril, founded orphanages, and established schools. History is full of Christians who positively impacted the world. Their motivation was not simply the need for social reform; rather, they were compelled to do what they did by their strong faith in Jesus and their heavenly focus. It is the very fact that Christians are “heavenly minded” that causes them to help others while spreading the life-changing truth of the gospel.
The Bible insists that Christians be focused on heavenly things: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). When Christians have their eyes set on Christ, they gain an eternal perspective, and they are of great “earthly good” as their faith impacts their lives and the lives of others (Colossians 3:2; Hebrews 12:1–3).
Scripture teaches that good deeds naturally follow when a person places faith in Jesus Christ (James 2:18). Christians serve the Lord and positively impact the world because of their hope of eternity with Him (1 Corinthians 15:58). True religion involves helping orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27), doing to others as we would have them do to us (Luke 6:31), giving to those in need (Proverbs 19:17; Acts 20:35), dealing honestly in business (Leviticus 19:11), treating animals humanely (Proverbs 14:21), and proclaiming freedom to those who are enslaved by sin (Ephesians 1:7). A truly heavenly minded Christian is one who lives out his or her faith in service to the Savior and who wants to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
It is the earthly minded who accomplish nothing of eternal value. People who are earthly minded are of the world and seek after its desires, which are not from God (1 John 2:15). Being earthly minded is short-sighted: “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). It is those who are focused on serving Christ and bringing Him glory who will make a lasting impact on earth and for eternity (see Matthew 6:19–21).