Summary: Lent 2: Paul warns the Philippian believers of a certain group of people he refers to as enemies of the Cross. In this warning, Paul refers to the destruction that awaits the enemies of Christ and the blessed Citizenship in heaven for the believer.
Beloved, I want you to know that there are forces that would call you away from Christ. The enemies of the Cross would like nothing better than to deceive people and lead them away Christ. Misery loves company – and so satan and his followers look to see how many can be deceived into becoming one of their number. But of the enemies of Christ, we know that God has time and again in scripture spoken of their demise. Paul repeats that sentence today: “Their end is destruction… (Philippians 3:19a)
Destruction… The dictionary defines destruction as: “The act of destroying; a tearing down; a bringing to naught; demolition; ruin; slaying; devastation.” In using this word to describe what happens to the enemies of Christ, Paul sets in place a contrast that is vivid and stark. He wants believers to understand that what is at stake is not a philosophy or a collection of teachings. The faith that God has called us to is not just about a code of ethics. He needs for the believer to see that what hangs in the balance is life for those who are in Christ or destruction for those who are enemies of the Cross.
Who are these enemies of the Cross of Christ that Paul is talking about? We can’t be absolutely sure of their identity. But the enemies of the Cross who concern Paul are actual people. Verse 18 tells us that Paul has warned the Philippian brethren about these enemies of the Cross often.
The thing that characterizes their behavior is their propensity to on the one hand identify with Christ while at the same time emptying the Cross of its power and meaning. They come with an earthly wisdom. They come pointing to the Cross. But they suggest that the Cross is only a starting point to which to our own human effort must be added. To them, Christ saying, “It is finished,” means only that He had done his part and now it is time for us to do ours. In this, they denigrate the Cross and the Savior.
Paul describes these folks as people whose, “…god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19b) These are people who, even though they claim a type of faith, are deeply self-centered. Their appetites and desires come first. They value the things of this life more highly than what God promises to his children. They are deeply rooted in this world. They find their fulfillment in what the earth offers rather than in Christ. Their delight – their glory – is in the things that that moth and rust do eat away at the expense of the simple means of grace and salvation God offers in Christ. And so in this behavior, again they show themselves enemies of the Cross.
I suppose that at one time or another each of us could be described in the same way as these enemies of the Cross. We’ve certainly let the things of this world become an allure to us, haven’t we? We’ve taken our eyes off of Jesus because we’ve found the glittering lights more attractive. We’ve neglected God’s Word, his forgiveness and his sacraments in favor of an extra hour of sleep or in favor of other things – things of this world? Why? Because our god is our belly; because we have minds set on earthly things; because there is a part of our nature that is at odds with God. And that makes us enemies of the Cross of Christ too.
And so the words that Paul speaks to us today call us to see the danger. Paul loves the Philippian believers and wants them to avoid the same condemnation that the enemies of the Cross will receive – destruction. He encourages them - and us - to look at the example set by those led by the Spirit of God. Imitate them, he says. You see, by imitating the good example set by Paul and many other believers throughout history, we too learn how to keep our eyes on Jesus and not on this world.
Think of the influences that have most shaped your life – perhaps mom or dad? - Maybe a friend or a teacher or a co-worker or a boss? Think of their influence in your life. They shaped what you value – what you think is good and bad – maybe even how you dress and talk. Because of our tendency to look to others, Paul points us to solidly grounded Christians and tells us to imitate them. Live like them in order to learn how to put yourself in a position to be blessed by the living God.
There is a sense of caution as we look to other people as examples of Christian living. We look at others and imitate others informed by God’s wisdom and by an understanding of his Word. Many a believer has been led astray by a wolf in sheep clothing. And so in the middle of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian believers is the implicit understanding that we imitate others who’ve been shaped by God’s Word.