“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 3:17-4:1).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Set a good example.” You’ve probably heard this before. “Parents, do you want your children to grow up in the Christian faith? Set a good example!” “Son, you’re the oldest. Set a good example for your brother and sister.” “Bosses, want to improve the attitude and atmosphere at work? Set a good example!” It works the other way, too. “Want to succeed in your job? Follow Jane’s example!” “Watch how Steph Curry shoots the basketball. Follow his example!” No matter what sphere of life, good examples are important to set and to follow.
St. Paul knew this well. Having explained several principles of Christian living, the apostle set himself and other mature Christians as examples to follow as we seek to put these things in practice. “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). By offering himself as an example, Paul was not boasting. He followed the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and he understood that setting a good example was a necessary part of his calling as an apostle and pastor (see 1 Timothy 3). Because the Philippians were surrounded by pagan immorality and by false teachers who wanted to deceive them, they needed good examples. So, in genuine concern Paul pleads with them to follow his example. We also would do well to ask ourselves what kinds of examples we follow and what kinds of examples we set for others.
Earlier, Paul had warned about the Judaizers, who taught that certain works they regarded as particularly holy and righteous had to be added to faith. Now he warns against certain “enemies of the cross” who went to the opposite extreme. Apparently, they too claimed to be Christians, but their openly wicked and sensual lifestyle contradicted the confession of their lips. To them “Christian freedom” from laws and restrictions such as the Judaizers wanted to impose could also be extended to mean freedom from all laws, including God’s unchangeable moral law.
This philosophy was no doubt appealing to these newly converted Christians who had been so used to the immoral lifestyles of the pagan world. Paul had earlier warned them against this lawless teaching. Now he warns them again. Indeed, it is because of his deep love and concern for their spiritual welfare, with tears he warns them against those who call themselves Christians but who stand for everything that is opposed to Christ.
Christians show by their lives that they have caught the spirit of the cross. Their lives are characterized by unselfishness, humility, and the unceasing desire to know Christ more deeply and to imitate Him more fully. Enemies of the cross are those who substitute selfishness and self-indulgence for love and humility. “Their god is their belly,” Paul says, “and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” “Belly,” here, represents all the desires and appetites of the sinful nature: such as greed, gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual immorality.
Instead of working to control their perverse appetites, these pseudo-Christians surrender themselves to those appetites. By regarding the satisfaction of their fleshly, sinful desires as the most important thing in their lives, they make their desires become their gods. Far from being ashamed of the kind of lives they are leading, they boast about them, even going so far as to claim that such living is consistent with their Christian confession. The apostle dismisses all such twisted claims with one terse phrase: “Their end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19).
We can readily identify with the apostle’s warning here. Like the Philippians, we also today are besieged with the lofty-sounding claims of modern, worldly-minded “Christians” who urge us to follow their example. Some shamelessly accommodate themselves to the thinking of the world and the satisfaction of their fleshy desires. These enemies of the cross not only defend but openly and boastfully advocate sins like adultery, homosexuality, and abortion—even though the Bible expressly condemns such things as abominations in God’s sight. They haughtily proclaim biblical morality to be irrelevant and out of date.
Even more dangerous are those “Christians” who show by their lives that they have made worldly things like money, possessions, and pleasure their gods. It is not very difficult even for those who really believe they are loyal followers of Jesus to become enemies of the cross in that way. We all need to regard all those temptations to live for ourselves and not for our Savior with the apostle’s sobering warning ringing in our ears: “Their end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19).
The enemies of the cross live for this world and its pleasures and sins. They are earthbound and world oriented. Such concerns, however, are unsuitable for us Christians, who live in this world but are not permanent citizens of the world. Our citizenship is in heaven. Our rights have been secured in heaven, and our interests are being promoted there. Our names are recorded in heaven’s book of life. To heaven our prayers ascend, and our hopes aspire. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are already enjoying the presence of our Lord in heaven. And one day, we and they will enjoy the fullness of this citizenship in the resurrection of our bodies.
As heavenly-minded believers, we do not want to let earthly concerns blind us to the importance of our heavenly citizenship. We want to use the time the Lord gives us now to prepare ourselves for the Savior’s return and our entry into the glory of heaven. So, we gather with our brothers and sisters to receive Christ’s gifts through Word and Sacrament. We share the Good News of salvation with those who do not yet know our Savior. We look for opportunities to serve our neighbor with acts of love and mercy. And we seek to model the Christian life to others.
“Therefore, my brothers [and sisters], whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1).
What tremendous comfort these inspired words bring us as we stand grieving at the graves of loved ones who have died in the Lord. What a powerful encouragement they provide for us to continue to serve the Lord with our bodies as we press eagerly forward to the goal of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.