Besides poor grammar, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good” communicates that thinking about heaven and living in anticipation of arriving at heaven is a negative thing. As with any group of words, the context in which these words are given help determine the actual meaning.
The context which this phrase normally appears in is something similar to the following:
- A new believer decides he is not going to hang out with his old friends. He makes this choice even though he has not yet told them about their decision to follow Christ. Then, a well-meaning Christian explains that they must share the gospel of Christ and cannot shrink away from those who do not yet know him. “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good,” he or she may say to convince the new believer of his need to become evangelistic with his old friends.
- A mature believer tends to spend time praying in solitude. This mature believer has not honestly shared the gospel of Christ with someone since before they can remember. A well-meaning person of the faith will then explain that the mature believer must go out and get to know non-Christians. “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good. Get out there and help people now!”
This phrase is also often stated in reference towards people who are content to know they can go to heaven. Consequently, life change stops and these “contented” individuals rest in their confidence of salvation through Jesus Christ. They simply have what they need, a ticket to heaven, and cease (or never begin) to spread the gospel of Christ to those who desperately need to hear it.
The Issue with “Don’t Be So Heavenly Minded that You’re No Earthly Good”
The problem with this phrase, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good,” is it communicates that an anticipation of heaven is a bad thing. It communicates that a focus on arriving at heaven once this life ends is almost a distraction from what we are to be doing in the here and now as we follow Christ. It carries a negative connotation: “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.”
Maybe we should reconsider our phrasing of the idea we are trying to communicate. I do not believe those of us who use this phrase are attempting to discourage the hope of heaven, after all, this hope has been given to us through Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus gives eternal life to those who follow him. We also understand this eternal life is experienced in the reality of heaven.
So what should we do?
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Instead of telling people, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good,” maybe we should explain to people and teach them more about the kingdom of God. Maybe we should say, “let’s consider what is best for God’s kingdom.” Maybe instead of barking at people (unintentionally albeit – but the “don’t be so heavenly minded” phrase still comes off a bit rude), we should come beside people and help them think through the present and future aspects of the kingdom of God.
What is a Kingdom of God Mentality?
A kingdom mentality includes the anticipation of heaven, but its dual reality makes us focus on what we can do here and now to help grow God’s kingdom. A kingdom mentality understands that the experience of eternal life starts the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. While our experience of eternal life starts in the here and now, it will also run on for all eternity. God’s kingdom is a present reality, something that has been initiated on earth. However, the completion of His kingdom rule is still yet to be fully realized.
Consequently, a kingdom mentality recognizes the eternal rule of God. He is the sovereign LORD; He is the complete, total, and absolute rule of everything throughout time past, time present, and time future. As followers of Christ, we live underneath the rule, reign, and government of the Most High God. We serve Him, and we are to fulfill what He has required of us to do in this life.
Therefore, while we are living out our eternal life in the balance of heaven and earth, we should encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ with a positive message. We should avoid attempting to elicit a change of actions with a negative statement. Let’s instead turn our phrase around and elicit a change in action with a positive encouragement. Let’s follow the teachings of our Lord and set our hearts to be sure that we communicate the correct message in the best way possible.
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
1 Thess. 5:14