May 24 – Enemies of the Cross

Many walk, of who I have told you often, and now tell you weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.

Philippians 3:18

The most dangerous enemies to the cause of Christ are not those who openly oppose the gospel, but those who pretend to be friends of Christ, claim to identify with Him, and in some cases, reach positions of spiritual leadership.

Being on guard against hidden enemies is a constant theme in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). He also predicted that in the last days “many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matt. 24:11).

The apostle Paul was constantly dealing with the influence of false teachers. He warned the Ephesian elders: “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:31). Do you want to know how to acquire the ability to discern enemies of the cross? Know the Word. If you don’t know the Word, you are open to being misled.[1]

3:18 Just as verse 17 describes those whom believers should follow, this passage tells of those we should not follow. The apostle does not identify these men specifically. Whether they were the Judaizing false teachers mentioned in verse 2, or professed Christian teachers who turned liberty into license, and used grace as a pretext for sin, he does not say.

Paul had warned the saints about these men previously, and he does so again with weeping. But why the tears in the midst of such a stern denunciation? Because of the harm these men did among the churches of God. Because of the lives they ruined. Because of the reproach they brought on the name of Christ. Because they were obscuring the true meaning of the cross. Yes, but also because true love weeps even when denouncing the enemies of the cross of Christ, just as the Lord Jesus wept over the murderous city of Jerusalem.[2]

18, 19. The apostle supports his urgent appeal by continuing, deeply moved, For many are pursuing a walk of life, of whom I told you often and now tell you even weeping (that they are) the enemies of the cross of Christ. The wicked life of these persons who wished to be regarded as Christians belied the confession of their lips. They deceived themselves, exerted a most sinister influence upon those who listened to them, kept unbelievers from becoming truly converted, and dishonored God. They may have been traveling “missionaries.” They were numerous—note the word many—, from which, however, it does not follow that they constituted a considerable proportion of the membership of the Philippian church. If that had been the case, the apostle could not have praised this church in such glowing terms (see Phil. 4:1). Nevertheless, they were a real menace. Paul, while present among the Philippians, had often warned against this class of deceivers. He considers them not just enemies but the (note the definite article here) enemies of the cross of Christ. If the friends of the cross are those who show in their lives that they have caught the spirit of the cross, namely, that of self-denial (Matt. 20:28; Luke 9:23; Rom. 15:3; Phil. 2:5–8), then surely the enemies of the cross are those who manifest the very opposite attitude, namely, that of self-indulgence. The friends of the cross do not love the world. In fact, the world is crucified to them, and they to the world, and this because they glory in the cross (Gal. 6:14; cf. 5:24). The enemies of the cross love the world and the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15). They set their minds on earthly things (Phil. 3:19).

Because of his great love for the Philippians the apostle actually weeps when he reflects on the fact that these enemies of the cross are trying to seduce the members of the first church established in Europe. He weeps as did Mary of Bethany because of her brother’s death (John 11:31, 33; see N.T.C. on John 11:35), and as did Mary Magdalene on the morning of Christ’s resurrection (John 20:11). One of the secrets of Paul’s success as a missionary was his genuine, personal interest in those whom the Lord had committed to his spiritual care. Because his love for them was so real and tender, his heart was stirred to its very depths when danger threatened them. Besides, the apostle was not only a man of penetrating insight and rugged determination but also of profound, surging emotion.

Paul’s Deeply Emotional Nature

Various phases of the apostle’s intensely emotional personality are exhibited in the book of Acts and in the epistles. Here was a truly great soul! What he did he did with all his might, never in a merely detached manner. Having formerly persecuted the followers of Jesus, after his conversion Sorrow, hearty and profound, walked with him (1 Cor. 15:9; 1 Tim. 1:15). That to such a bitter persecutor Christ had revealed himself as a loving Savior baffled him. He just could not get over it (Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:16). It caused his heart to overflow with lasting, humble gratitude! For this and for other reasons his epistles are full of magnificent doxologies (Rom. 9:5; 11:36; 16:27; Eph. 1:3; 3:20; Phil. 4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15; 2 Tim. 4:18) which are the spontaneous utterances of the man who wrote, “For the love of Christ constrains us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Having been “laid hold on” by Christ, the apostle in turn was eager to burn himself out for the salvation of others (1 Cor. 9:22; 10:33; 2 Cor. 12:15). His heart ached intensely because so many of his own people (Israelites) were not saved (Rom. 9:1–3; 10:1). Anxiety for all his churches pressed upon him daily (2 Cor. 11:28). How fervent and touching were his prayers for them (Eph. 3:14–19; 1 Thess. 3:9–13). How he loved them, so that he could write, “We were gentle in the midst of you as a nurse cherishes her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we gladly shared with you not only the gospel of God but also our own souls … For now we really live if you stand fast in the Lord” (1 Thess. 2:7, 8; 3:8). How earnest were his pleadings (2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 4:19, 20; Eph. 4:1), and how tactful! Though for their own good he was able to rebuke the wayward very sharply (Gal. 1:6–9; 3:1–4), even this was a manifestation of the love of his great, throbbing heart. Is it any wonder that, when occasion demanded it, out of the eyes of a man with such an ebullient spirit and loving heart there welled forth fountains of tears (Acts 20:19, 31), so that not only here in Phil. 3:18 but also in 2 Cor. 2:4 these are mentioned? And is it at all surprising that, on the other hand, on one occasion the tears of his friends, because of his imminent departure and the afflictions in store for him, well-nigh broke his heart (Acts 21:13)? Truly Paul’s weeping when he writes about the enemies of the cross of Christ is as glorious as is the joy, joy, joy that sings its way through this marvelous epistle!

Speaking about these enemies of the cross of Christ Paul continues, whose end is destruction. This is their appointed destiny, for God has ordained that “their end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:15). This end is the fruit of their wicked lives (Rom. 6:21). It is the wages earned by their sin (Rom. 6:23). Destruction, however, is by no means the same as annihilation. It does not mean that they will cease to exist. On the contrary, it means everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46), for this destruction is an everlasting destruction (2 Thess. 1:9). This destruction begins even in the present life, but is climaxed after death. Paul continues, whose god is their belly (cf. Rom. 16:18). Instead of striving to keep their physical appetites under control (Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 9:27), realizing that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temple, in which God should be glorified (1 Cor. 6:19, 20), these people surrendered themselves to gluttony and licentiousness. They worshipped their sensual nature. In this they were prompted, no doubt, by causes such as the following: immoral background (cf. 1 Peter 1:18), wicked pagan surroundings, licentious incipient gnosticism (see N.T.C. on 1 Tim. 4:3), perversion of the doctrine of grace (Rom. 3:8; 6:1), and, last but not least, evil lusts within the heart (James 1:14). The apostle further characterizes them as those whose glory is in their shame: Their pride was in that of which they should have been ashamed. Not only did they carry out their wicked designs, but they even boasted about them. They were the persons who set their minds on earthly things. Being carnal, “after the flesh,” they pondered the things of the flesh (Rom. 8:5). Now the mind of the flesh is “enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7), and these people were “the enemies of the cross of Christ.” In a parallel passage the apostle shows us what these earthly things were on which these people set their minds, namely, immorality, indecency, lust, evil desire, greed, evil temper, furious rage, malice, cursing, filthy talk (Col. 3:2, 5, 8).[3]

Fleeing from Enemies

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. (3:18–19)

The apostle warned that in pursuing the spiritual prize of Christlikeness it must be recognized that there are many examples to be avoided. The enemies of which Paul warned do not appear to have been openly hostile to the Christian faith. Like their evil master, Satan, they were deceptive, disguising themselves as messengers of Christ, angels of light, and servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13–15). They became part of the church, possibly even in leadership roles. Their subtlety made them exceptionally dangerous.

The New Testament constantly warns of the danger posed by false teachers. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). In the Olivet Discourse He added, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Matt. 24:4–5). Acts records the false teachers Simon Magus (Acts 8:9–24) and Elymas (Acts 13:8–11), while Paul dealt with Hymenaeus and Alexander at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:20). The apostle warned both Timothy (1 Tim. 1:4) and Titus (Titus 3:9) to avoid false teachers who dabbled in myths and genealogies. Both Peter (2 Peter) and Jude wrote of the danger of false teachers. John also warned his readers to beware of false teachers:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:1–3)

In his second epistle he added, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).

Sadly, because of apathy toward the truth and shallow biblical knowledge, the church today lacks discernment. It is astonishing and disturbing to see the things Christians believe and the people they follow. A lack of consistent and long-term precise biblical exposition from the pulpit has led to a lack of precise biblical thinking and discernment. The tragic result is the widespread victimization of the church by enemies of the Cross of Christ. (For a further discussion of the lack of discernment in the church, see John MacArthur, Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994].)

Unlike the godly examples of verse 17, the walk (daily conduct) of the false teachers is not to be imitated. Some see the phrase of whom I often told you as a reference to 1:28. More likely, however, it refers to warnings Paul gave the Philippian church when he was with them in person. He gave a similar warning to the elders from the Ephesian church:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. (Acts 20:28–31)

Paul warned the Philippians that false teachers are enemies of the cross of Christ. But he did so not with gladness, but with weeping. This is the only place in the New Testament that Paul speaks of himself as crying in the present tense. He was a sensitive, passionate man, and the plight of lost sinners or the threat to his beloved congregations often brought him to tears (cf. Acts 20:19, 31; Rom. 9:2; 2 Cor. 2:4). Paul was heartbroken as he recognized the havoc the false teachers could cause in the Philippian church. He no doubt also wept over the false teachers’ fate (cf. Rom. 9:2). The damnation of the enemies of the Cross, their destructive impact on the church, and the reproach they brought on the cause of Christ caused Paul grief.

Paul described the false teachers as enemies of the cross of Christ. The term cross is not limited to the actual wooden instrument of death (1 Cor. 1:17–18, 23; 2:2; Gal. 3:1; 6:14; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20; 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24), but signifies Christ’s atoning death in all its aspects. The false teachers were against salvation!

Paul did not label the specific enemies of the cross of Christ who were troubling the Philippians. There are, however, only two options: they were either Jews or Gentiles, or both. The Jewish false teachers who identified with the church were known as the Judaizers (cf. Acts 15). They argued that the gospel alone was insufficient to save; circumcision and keeping the Law were also necessary. Paul forcefully denounced them in 3:2 as “dogs, … evil workers,” and “the false circumcision.” Though they thought of themselves as the sheep of God’s pasture, the Judaizers were actually mangy, scroungy mongrels. Their spiritual descendants—those who add works to salvation—plague the church to this day.

Since Paul did not specifically identify these enemies of the cross as Judaizers, they may have been Gentiles. Some Gentile false teachers held to the dualistic philosophy prevalent in contemporary Greek thought. Those heretics, forerunners of the dangerous second-century heresy known as Gnosticism, taught that spirit was good and matter was evil. Since the body is made of matter, it is intrinsically evil. Salvation ultimately involves not the redemption of the body, but deliverance from it. Thus, since the body is incurably evil, it does not matter what one does with it. Its desires can be satiated; a person can be a glutton, a drunkard, a homosexual, or an adulterer. All those things, the heretics taught, were inconsequential, since they affected only the body, not the spirit. The Judaizers added to the gospel; the Gentile false teachers subtracted from it.

That same spirit of antinomian libertinism lives on today. There are those in the contemporary church who teach that saving faith need not result in a life of holiness. Since Jesus’ death paid for believers’ sins, they argue, it does not matter how they live. Some even teach that all who profess faith in Christ are saved—even if they later become atheists.

Paul gave four marks of the enemies of the cross in verse 19.

the doom they face

whose end is destruction, (3:19a)

Having rejected the one and only truth of salvation—the cross of Christ—all false teachers face the same fate. Their end (the Greek word telos refers here to their ultimate destiny) will be eternal destruction (torment, punishment) in hell (Matt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:9). The Judaizers deserved this fate because they added human works to the cross of Christ. To believe the truth about Him but also to believe that human works are necessary for salvation is to be damned forever. The Gentile heretics deserved their fate because they stripped the cross of Christ of its power to transform lives. The result is a dead faith, unable to save (James 2:14–26).

the deity they serve

whose god is their appetite, (3:19b)

Appetite translates koilia, which refers anatomically to the abdomen, particularly the stomach. Here it is used metaphorically to refer to all unrestrained sensual, fleshly, bodily desires (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13). The false teachers were condemned because they did not worship God but bowed down to their sensual impulses. It could be a reference to the Judaizers’ emphasis on keeping the Jewish dietary laws. Or if the false teachers in view were Gentiles, it could refer to their unrestrained pursuit of sensual pleasures. Jude described such people as “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).

the disgrace they bear

whose glory is in their shame, (3:19c)

Shockingly, the false teachers boasted in the very things that brought them shame. This is the most extreme form of wickedness—when the sinner’s most wretched conduct before God is his highest point of self-exaltation. The Judaizers boasted in their “rubbish” (3:8)—as Paul himself had done before he learned to count all that “as loss for the sake of Christ” (3:7). The Gentile libertines also boasted—of their supposed freedom to pursue sensual desires. They were most proud of their worst perversions (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1–2).

the disposition they display

who set their minds on earthly things. (3:19d)

Their earthly focus offers evidence that the false teachers were not saved. James asked, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). The Judaizers focused on ceremonies, festivals, feasts, sacrifices, new moons—“things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:17). The libertines focused on the passing sensual pleasures of the world.

The enemies of the Cross, whether they add to the gospel or take away from it, are to be avoided, never imitated.[4]

Walking with the Living Christ

Philippians 3:16–19

Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

Have you ever noticed that the way a person walks quite often reveals his character? A proud person will walk erect, his head held high. A coward will often slink away or perhaps walk along with a smug, blustery air. Sometimes novelists make use of this fact to describe their characters. Heroes walk with confidence; villains slouch, sneak, creep, or swagger. The need to describe such forms of walking has enriched language. Roget’s Thesaurus lists dozens of English synonyms for walking. The Zulu language, according to Eugene A. Nida of the American Bible Society, contains at least 120 distinct words for similar ideas—to walk pompously, to walk with a swagger, to walk crouched down as when hunting, and so on. These truths are an acknowledgment that the way people walk reveals something of their ambition, state of mind, and values.

It is for this reason, perhaps, that Christians are called to an exemplary walk in the Bible. They are told to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1). They are to walk “wisely” (Eph. 5:15), “with respect” (1 Thess. 4:12), and “in the light” (1 John 1:7).

In Philippians Paul writes in the same vein, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Phil. 3:16–19). In these verses Paul speaks twice of the Christian’s walk and once of the unbeliever’s walk, teaching that the walk of the believer in Jesus Christ is to reveal the true nature of his calling.

Our Former Walk

The first thing that we must understand about the walk of the Christian is that it is to be different from the walk he had before becoming Christ’s follower. In other words, the standards you had before you became a Christian are to be replaced by new standards now. Why is it that Paul speaks here of those who are enemies of the cross of Christ? It is not simply because he knew such people and thought of them just at this moment in the writing of the letter. It is because he knew that this is the way we all were before we became followers of Jesus Christ, and he wished to stress it. He wanted his readers to know that their new calling was to be entirely different.

Paul says that the non-Christian is first an enemy of the cross of Christ. That means that he is an opponent of the Christian gospel. He resists it and wants others to resist it also. Second, his end is destruction. This means that his path does not lead to peace, happiness, success, or self-satisfaction—in spite of what unbelievers think—but to misery, discontent, unrest, and eventually to a permanent separation from God. Third, his God is his stomach. The old King James and the Revised Standard versions say “belly.” The New Scofield Bible says “appetite.” But the meaning is identical. The phrase points to one who is possessed by his own selfish appetite and who sees no need for God as a higher principle beyond it. Fourth, the non-Christian takes pride in things that should be his shame. This means that his values are reversed, and he finds himself declaring good what God calls evil and calling evil that which God calls good (cf. Isa. 5:20).

Moreover, these words are intensely practical. For this reversal of values matches our own contemporary standards. In our day America is preoccupied with sex and the self; it is committed to a materialism designed to satisfy the individual’s selfish desires. Our values are becoming so reversed that honesty is increasingly novel, chastity is despised and mocked, and a word in behalf of law, justice, or personal integrity is often ignored or laughed down. This is the way things are, but it should not be surprising. The Bible says that this is the natural walk of human beings apart from Christ—although Christian values or other high ethical standards sometimes temper it—and it is away from this natural walk and to Christ that God calls the Christian.

This is the true meaning of conversion. Some people speak of conversion as if it were synonymous with justification or being born again. Actually it means to turn around. It implies not only regeneration but discipleship as well. Before you believed, you were going down a path that led away from God. It led to destruction, as Paul says. Then God saved you. He reached down and in grace turned you around, reversing your values to his values, and setting you on a path of his choosing. Because of this reorientation “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). If you are to walk as a Christian, you must begin with this primary reversal of your standards.

Walking with Others

A second important thought about the proper walk of a Christian occurs in Philippians 3:17. Paul writes, “Join with others in following my example.” Here the apostle to the Gentiles says as clearly as he can that the walk of the believer must always be a walk with, and therefore in harmony with, other Christians.

The same truth is taught in verse 16, although it is somewhat hidden by the English translation. Paul’s charge to the Philippians to “walk by the same rule” (kjv) is conveyed in a phrase based on the colorful Greek word stoichein, which means “to walk in a row.” The masculine noun of this word means a “row,” as a row of houses, a rank of soldiers, a wall of trees, and so on. The feminine noun stoicheia was the word used for the alphabet since it is composed of an orderly row of letters. In all these instances the words imply an ordered and harmonious arrangement. Hence, when Paul speaks in this way to Christians he is implying that their life together should also be harmonious. The successful walk of the Christian depends not only on his own goals or on his own doctrine; it also depends upon the success of his walk with other Christians.

One of the illustrations of C. S. Lewis makes this transparently clear. Lewis imagines the church of Jesus Christ to be something like a fleet of ships sailing in formation. To sail well they need a common goal, a common destination. Spiritually this means that the goal must first be set for the Christian by the Lord Jesus Christ and that the Christian must always be conscious of it. Then, too, each individual ship must be in order. This corresponds to the Christian’s personal morality, and it is also essential. Third, each ship must be managed in such a way that it does not collide with the others or get in their way. This last point is the one made in this part of Philippians. The ships must sail together, or, as Paul would say, they are to sail by the same rule, minding the same thing.

None of this means that the Christian ceases to be an individual before God, of course. But it does mean that he must be conscious of the other individuals. He must be concerned for them and cooperate with them in common Christian objectives.

The Lord’s Company

Then we must also walk with the Lord, for we take our orders from him and not from one another. The ship sailing in formation does not take its directions from the ship beside it but from the admiral on the deck of the flagship. Similarly, Christians must take their orders from the Lord Jesus Christ.

This will not come through a mystical experience. It will come only through a knowledge of God’s Word. The psalmist had learned this and said, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:1–2).

Think of the blessings that are promised to an individual as the result of a personal and prayerful study of God’s Word. First we become Christians by exposure to the truths in the Bible. Peter said that we are “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). He is using the facts of sex as an image, saying that the Word of God operates on our heart as the male sperm does on the ova in the uterus of a woman. The uterus is our heart; the ova is faith. The sperm of God’s Word penetrates our hearts to bring forth the life of eternity.

Has God’s Word done that in you? Nothing else will do it, not the word of a person, however wise, not philosophy, not history, not science. In John 3:6 God’s Word says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” If you are to experience the divine life, you must experience it in the only way it can come—through the Bible as the Holy Spirit penetrates your heart through Scripture. This is the first great blessing of Bible study.

The second is our sanctification, for it is by a study of the Bible and fellowship with God that we are made increasingly as he would have us to be. John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” The verb “to sanctify” means “to make holy”; so when Jesus asked God to sanctify his followers through God’s truth, he was praying that they might become holy through a study of God’s Word. Unfortunately, Christians often seek holiness anywhere but by God’s Word. They seek it through reading other literature, by attending religious services, by special emotional experiences, even at times through mysticism. Sometimes these things are helpful—some of them more than others. But they are not the straight path to an upright and holy life. God’s methods of sanctification are all wrapped up in Scripture.

Third, the Word of God is the primary means by which God reveals his will to us. God’s Word contains unshakable facts and great principles, and through these God teaches us that certain things are his will for us and other things are not.

I have often been struck personally by how relevant Scripture can be to a particular problem. Take St. Augustine as an example. In his youth Augustine’s greatest problem was immorality, and although he wanted deliverance from his sins he knew that he did not want it until he had satisfied his sexual appetite completely. In his Confessions he tells that he prayed, “Lord, make me chaste,” while he knew that he was actually adding under his breath, “but not quite yet.” He wrestled with this hindrance to his belief for years. At last, while Augustine was near Milan in Italy, God brought him to the end of his resistance and spoke to him through two verses that were uniquely directed to his need. They were Romans 13:13–14. He came upon them quite suddenly by what the world would call chance. “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” God used these words to speak directly to the heart of St. Augustine.

Do you want to know how relevant the Bible can be to your life and how God can use it to reveal his will to you? Then you must spend time reading it daily. If you are a Christian, God has a path marked out for you. You will find it only as you discover his will for you through Scripture.

A final function of God’s Word, as we fellowship with him in it, is to keep us from the counterfeits of truth. Whenever the truth of the gospel is preached, the devil will immediately set about to erect a counterfeit beside it, an idol that looks like the real thing but that is dead because it omits the life-giving heart of the gospel.

The author of the Book of Hebrews faced a similar problem as he wrote to the people of his day. He was writing to people who had some knowledge of true Christianity but who were still clinging to a form of Judaism that taught that a person is made pleasing to God by good works. They knew some of the Bible, but they did not know it well. Hence, they were not only fooled by the counterfeits; they were also unable to receive the deeper teaching that the author of Hebrews wished to share with them. At length he says, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:11–14).

We are almost all in the first of those categories. There is much we need to know, but we do have the Bible. Shall we neglect it or not? Christian friends, let us fill up our souls with the Bible. For only then shall we continue to walk as we ought to walk with God. Only then shall we see clearly the way we should go.[5]

18 Paul now switches back to a negative example presented by those whose lives do not conform to the cross. Who they might be is irrelevant to Paul’s argument. They are believers who simply serve as a foil. The enemies are not those on the outside but those on the inside—those who bear the name of Christian but who live no differently from unredeemed pagans. Since Christ’s path to the cross was characterized by humility and obedience, the enemies of the cross are those who stubbornly refuse to humble themselves and accept low status, to live out the foolish wisdom of the cross and suffer for Christ. Their earthly orientation puts their belly, their own concerns (see 2:1–4, 19–21), above all others. The Philippians are not to become like them. If they do, Paul’s joy over them will turn to bitter tears.

19 Those whose lifestyles are just the opposite of the selfless life of Christ are destined for “destruction” (apōleia, GK 724)—the fate of outsiders (1:28)—and not resurrection glory, which is the destiny of believers. They are the antithesis of Paul’s description of Christians in 3:3. Instead of serving God in Spirit, they serve their belly as god. Instead of boasting in Christ Jesus, they glory in their shame. Instead of renouncing their confidence in the flesh, they set their mind on earthly things.

The reference to “belly” (NIV, “stomach”) is not a sardonic reference to Jewish opponents overly preoccupied with food laws. It refers, “by metonymy, to a greedy and dissipated lifestyle” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 931; cf. Ro 16:17–18). The satiation of one’s appetites becomes a measure of happiness. Athenaeus (Deipn. 97c) uses the term “glutton”: “you glutton, whose God is your belly, and with no whit for anything else”; Seneca (Ben. 7.26) derisively refers to persons who are “slaves of their bellies” (cf. Xenophon, Mem. 1.6.8; 2.1.2). In Paul’s words to the Philippians “belly” becomes a picturesque reference to “the flesh,” to a self-centered, self-indulgent existence controlled by illicit desires. Their own glory holds them spellbound, betrays the gospel, and destroys Christian community. Unable to discern the differing things (1:9–11), they choose what is shameful and what fails to bring glory to God. Rather than setting their sights on the prize and on the upward call of God, “they have their eyes fixed on their own navel; their god is themselves” (Collange, 138).[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 161). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1976). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, pp. 180–182). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 255–259). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Boice, J. M. (2000). Philippians: an expositional commentary (pp. 209–213). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 247). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.