COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, 19whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame; who set their mind on earthly things.” (Phil 3:17-19, NKJV)
There is an element of sobriety missing in contemporary Western religion. Somehow the nature of spiritual life has eluded the religious masses. This condition conflicts sharply with the words of this Epistle. You will notice the total absence of humor, light-heartedness, and casualness in this letter (as well as all of Scripture). Believers are to take note of this difference, and follow those whose lives are in keeping with the very nature of salvation. The Spirit will now tell us of those whose base of operation and focus of life is this world. He will speak candidly about them, telling us what motivates them. He will even declare their destiny. He does not use polite and tolerable words because the situation He is describing is one of great gravity.
NOTE THOSE WHO WALK EXEMPLARY
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (NIV). The “example”of which he speaks has grown out of the frame of mind described in verses 7-14. The heavenly perspective impacts directly upon the lives of those possessing it. Individuals “pressing toward the mark” think differently. They see things from a different outlook. Their vision has affected their speech and their manner of life. The lives of such people are bent around their quest for glory and their fervent desire to “know” and “win” Christ.
There is another aspect of Kingdom life that is revealed in this verse. Contrary to the manner of this world, spiritual life is selfless life. It does not focus on the person, but upon the cause for which the person lives. Although unusually advanced in spiritual understanding, having received uncommon“revelations” from the Lord (2 Cor 12:1-7), Paul does not draw attention to who he is, but to how he lives. He is an “example”–someone to be followed.He is not to be followed because of his Apostolic office, or the authority he has received. Nor, indeed, does he urge men to follow him so that he might gain a great name. Rather, it is because he is on the heavenly course–the only one that is sanctioned by God and leads to ultimate blessing. It is not a way he contrived of himself, but one revealed by God (Isa 35:8).
It is not by coincidence that Jesus used this precise language concerning Himself. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). It is also affirmed that, in suffering for us, our Lord left “us an example, that we should follow his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Earthly dignitaries do not place a high value on being an “example.” In our own country, there have been countless leaders who were miserable examples of how persons ought to live. Yet, they were honored for their political, educational, or
Paul is urging the people to “follow” him to glory–not to prison or Ephesus, or even Jerusalem. He is an “example of believers,” as he urged Timothy to be (1 Tim 4:12). He is an example of how men ought to live, like Job was “an example of suffering affliction, and of patience” (James 5:10).
In this case, an “example” is not someone who has mastered life–a sort of self-disciplinarian. Rather, it is someone in whom Jesus has taken up residence. It is the person who has not quenched the Spirit, and therefore, through whom the Spirit is expressing Himself.
Notice how Paul does not allow our vision to remain upon him–even though he is an example. He acknowledges others who also walk in harmony with heaven and Divine purpose. Such individuals are to be “marked,” or taken note of. There are people in this world–even around us–who are living unto God. They live and move, and have their being in Him. They are in quest of heaven, and refuse to mesh with this present evil world. They are not noted for occasional jaunts into the religious arena, but dwell in heavenly places. Such people are always about their Father’s business, finding delight in what repulses those of this world. Take due note of such people. Be encouraged to join them in a relentless effort to reach the “mark of the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.” “Join” with them in living according to the pattern.
THE ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST
“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (NIV). Would to God we were only around people who were counting everything loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. But that is not the case, and we dare not approach life as though it were. It is the role of the man and woman of God to apprize the saints of those who wear Jesus’ name, but do not have His life. Just as during the time Philippians was written, such people are all about us. The Spirit is not speaking of idolators, drunkards, and murderers–that unreligious multitude that admit they have no part in Christ. No! These are people who say they are Christians, and want to be known as such.
Jesus called such people “false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matt 7:15). While they bring a false message, they themselves are to be avoided. They are destructive, robbing the saints, and pulling them down into the very realm from which they were once delivered. Of them, Peter said, “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Pet 2:18-19, NKJV).
The presence of such people were a source of sorrow to the Apostle. When he spoke of them, he did so “with tears.” This was not because he felt sorry for them, but because they caused great damage to “the house of God.”You will not find a syllable of sympathy in Scripture for those who contaminate the temple of God. Remember that false teachers like Hymenaeus and Philetus “overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim 2:17). There are religious men who “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” and “have taken away the key of knowledge” (Matt 23:13; Lk 11:52). These have adopted, and perpetrate, a “form of godliness that denies the power thereof” (2 Tim 3:5).
The seriousness of the condition of such ignoble religious leaders is found in the words, “they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” They stumble at the cross, which demands the mortification of the deeds of the body (Col 3:5). Not content to stumble at it themselves, they aggressively promote a cross-less religion. Their message does not have the cross of Christ as its center. Gospel preaching, after all, is nothing less than “the preaching of the cross”(1 Cor 1:18). Those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” do not hold forth reconciliation to God, the removal of sin, the destruction of the devil, and the spoiling of principalities and powers (all of which occurred at the cross, Col 2:13-15; Heb 2:14). Their religion is convenient, and easy on the flesh. Those who follow such oppressors do not feel uncomfortable in their sin. Nor, indeed, do they see any need to “abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul” (1 Pet 2:11). These people are also to be “marked,” or“noted” (Rom 16:17; 1 Thess 3;14). As “enemies of the cross of Christ,” they are also our enemies, even though they may appear harmless. Although difficult for many to hear, this is a message that must be sounded in our day.
THE DESTINY OF EARTHLY THINKERS
“Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” (NIV). The spirit is relentless in His attack upon religious pretenders–those who have nothing to offer, yet come in the name of the Lord. These are threats to the people of God, because they are not on the “highway” themselves. Now the Spirit will further identify them. His words will jar the complacent, or self-satisfied, soul.
“Their destiny is destruction.” Every major translation uses the same word to describe the destiny of those unwilling to walk “by the same rule”–“DESTRUCTION!” Synonyms for this word are damned, perish, andperdition. This destiny is appointed to them because they “defiled the temple of God” (1 Cor 3:17). This is not speaking of mere chastisement, but of the curse of the Almighty God. The Lord is not amiable toward those who claim identity with Him, yet refuse to have Him rule over them.
“Their god is their belly.” I prefer the word “belly” to “stomach.” The point in reference is not that of a craving for food. Jesus spoke of “living waters” flowing from the “belly” of those believing on Him (John 7:38). Paul also referred to those who, in causing divisions among God’s people, were not serving Christ, “but their own belly” (Rom 16:18). Thus, both believers and unbelievers are said to have a “belly”–an innermost part. For those who are not walking “according to the pattern,” the “belly” is the heart of the flesh, or sinful nature. They are serving self-interests, as opposed to Divine purpose.
“Their glory is in their shame.” In this case, “their shame” is what Christ circumcises from us in regeneration: “the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col 2:11-12). It is the part inherited from Adam, who is the first who was“ashamed” before God. The boast of such people is found in the realm of nature, not the heavenlies. The appetite is anchored to the flesh, not the Spirit. Their credentials and source of praise are found in the realm of shame. They boast in what God has cursed, and vaunt what is excluded from heaven. There is altogether too much of this sort of thing all around us. It is not confined to Hollywood, the business world, or the realm of entertainment. We expect glorying in shame to be found in those domains. The Spirit is expressing grief that such things are found in the professed church.
“Their mind is on earthly things.” Right here, we come face to face with a most critical issue. You will rarely find a Christian culture where having the mind on earthly things is considered a serious infraction of the will of God. If you are ever privy to the discussions heard in the average congregation,“earthly things” are generally dominant. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find such an emphasis spewing from the pulpit and theological classroom. But we must not miss the message of the Spirit. God is pledged to destroy such people! Unless our affection is voluntarily and eagerly placed on things above, there is no hope of being forever with the Lord. Being earthly minded is a condition that leads to damnation. Flesh cannot be cultured, dignified, or in any way made acceptable. Those who see it this way, will receive grace.
What we have just read is a vivid description of NOT walking according to the “rule” expressed by the Spirit. If a person does not “press toward the mark,” this is the only alternative way of life–and it is forthrightly cursed.