Summary: This is as severe a condemnation as you can find of those who confess to be Christians. They claim to be Christians, yet they contradict their profession by their lives.
Title: A Warning Against Those Who Serve Their Own Desires
• “Special Notes” and “Scripture” are shown as endnotes.
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.
Scripture (Philippians 3:18-19, NIV)
18For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
In verses, 18 and19 Paul makes it clear that he is not simply talking about Christians who have the wrong beliefs, but those who are not actually Christians at all. Although the error of these false teachers is disguised as a form of religion, Paul with an aching heart and with tears repeats what he had told the Philippians before that such “are the enemies of the cross of Christ." His reference to his frequent warnings apparently goes beyond this epistle itself and may refer to his instructions to them when he had been with them previously.
Having referred to these people as “enemies of the cross of Christ,” the apostle announces a fourfold indictment: (1) he describes their end as being destruction, that is, eternal punishment; (2) their “god is their stomach,” a description that better suits the antinomian party than it does the legalizers, although the same description is given of people who sow dissension (Rom. 16:18); (3) their glory is their shame, that is, their shameless conduct is a matter of pride to them; (4) they “mind earthly things,” living only for the things of this life.
(3:18) For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
There are certain church leaders in Philippi who follow Paul’s lead. The rest of the Christians in Philippi would also have profited by doing the same. For, unfortunately, many live, whom he has often mentioned, but now he does so with tears because now he marks them as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Those are not men who rejected the doctrine of the atonement; they are lovers of self-indulgence, not of self-denial. Neither the Judaizers nor the “perfectionists” seem to be in Paul’s mind. Everything he says about these people points to their having been Christian people, possibly Gentiles, who turned their Christian liberty into unchristian recklessness; lack of self-control.
Who were these “enemies of the cross of Christ,” and in what sense were they “enemies of the cross of Christ?” (see Note 7) Some regard them as the Judaizers see note #1 of 3.2, whose emphasis on legalism see note #2 undermined the effect of the cross. And there were other things that made the Judaizers “enemies of the cross of Christ: (1) The cross ended the Old Testament religion; (2) When the veil of the temple was torn in two, God was announcing that the way to God was through Christ (Heb. 10:19-25); (3) When Jesus shouted, “it is finished!” He made one sacrifice for sins; (4) By His death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished a “spiritual circumcision” that made ritual circumcision unnecessary (Col. 2:10-13). Everything that the Judaizers advocated had been eliminated by the Death of Christ on the cross!
Furthermore, everything they lived for was condemned by the cross. Jesus had broken down the wall that stood between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-16), and the Judaizers were rebuilding that wall. They were obeying carnal [fleshly] ordinances (Heb. 9:10), regulations that appealed to the flesh and were not directed by the Spirit. But the true believer crucifies the flesh (Gal. 5:24). He also crucifies the world (Gal. 6:14). Yet the Judaizers were minding “earthly things.” It is the cross that is central in the life of the believer. He does not glory in men, in religion, or in His own achievements; he glories in the cross (Gal. 6:14).
Others view them as antinomians, (see note #3) which went to the opposite extreme from the Judaizers, and thus ended the whole sacrificial system. By their lawless lives, they too were enemies of the cross and the new life that should issue from it.
It is not likely that these men were simply pagans, of whom nothing better was to be expected. In all probability, they were professing Christians, but ones whose lives were so reckless and shameless that it was clear to Paul that they had never been saved. Presumably, they were not actually members of the Philippian Church [The character of the entire Epistle would have been different if “many” such people were in that congregation], but because there were such men in the Christian world as a whole, they posed a danger to every church (Rom. 16:17, 18; 2 Pet. 2:10-22). Paul had already warned of them, perhaps in former visits or letters, and felt real anguish when the churches were threatened with preaching false doctrine or living false lives. Those Paul warned against were perhaps involved in budding Gnosticism and they trusted in their own attainments and not in the sufficiency of Christ alone. All who do so are not children of God, so they await destruction. The word here translated, “destruction” does not mean annihilation, but rather ruination by separation from the presence of God in eternal judgment.