There’s an old saying that goes, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” Is it the case that the more we focus on heaven, the more we neglect the world around us? At least historically for followers of Jesus, this has not been true. C.S. Lewis wrote,
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. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven.
Sociologist Rodney Stark argues that the hope of eternal reward gave the early church the ability to care for society in unprecedented ways. This was especially demonstrated by the Christian responses to various plagues that struck the Roman empire. When all others fled for the hills, it was the church – armed with nothing more than heavenly minds – that cared for the diseased and dying. The belief in a God of love together with the hope of eternal life hasn’t historically resulted in negligence on the part of the church. In fact, the very opposite is true! When we lose the hope of heaven, and abandon the promises of Scripture, it’s then that we begin to live selfishly.
The apostle Paul made it absolutely clear that believers are supposed to keep their eyes fixed on heaven. He wrote, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:2) In Paul’s mind, fixing our eyes above doesn’t result in laziness, but in godliness. As he continued his words in Colossians 3, he explained that God’s heaven-gazing children are to live lives of compassion and service (verses 12 and following). The connection between our heavenly hope and godly living is also picked up by the apostle Peter:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet. 3:11-14)
Our lives today should be characterized by the virtues of heaven. The fruit of the Spirit of the age to come can already be tasted in this present evil age. The love which we experience in fellowship today will be one of the few things that we’ll get to carry into eternity (1 Cor. 13:8-13). As we set our hope on heaven, and more specifically on Christ who awaits us there (Heb. 12:2), we experience the transforming power of God that frees us to lay aside our sins, and seek the good of our neighbors.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity Pg. 134
See Stark, Rodney The Rise of Christianity Chapters 4 and 8.