To be a citizen means something. Imagine a line-up of various folks from around the world. We could tell something about their citizenship by how they talked, how they dressed, and by their general conduct. We could be wrong, of course, they may be recently immigrated and have retained the manners of their former country. The same can be said for us as well. Our mannerisms, our language, our clothing, and our conduct says something about our homeland. Now, consider this. Shouldn’t our citizenship in heaven through Jesus also be observable in our language, countenance, and conduct?
In this lesson of Walking Through Philippians Paul continues his thoughts on living by the standard of Jesus. Our last lesson ended with Paul’s encouragement, “Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.” (Philippians 3:17, NLT) That verse not only concludes one thought but sets the stage for Paul’s next warning and encouragement.
Enemies of the Cross
Paul’s thoughts again return to those who say they are preaching Christ but are really going in a completely different direction. Paul said, “For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.” (Philippians 3:18–19, NLT) It’s important to notice that Paul identifies their conduct and not just their preaching and teaching as being wrong-headed. It’s not only what is said but what is done that matters. Previously in Paul’s letter he mentioned teachers that were trying to pull non-Jewish believers into Jewish practices. This particular condemnation seems to go the opposite direction, focusing on those who push aside all law to become a law to themselves.
Paul mentions three specifics which demonstrate that these folks are enemies of the Cross of Jesus. Paul observed, “Their god is their appetite.” This could literally mean cravings about food but can also be seen as anything they desired. The problem was that their desires and appetites were what they wanted instead of what God wanted. The next thing Paul says is that “they brag about shameful things.” It could be that they were bragging about their successes, their past sins, or their current sinful activities. Recall that Paul had just spent time demonstrating the humility of Jesus. The word “brag” in the NLT is translated elsewhere as glory. They gloried in their shame and disgrace instead of giving glory to Jesus. The third conduct Paul points out is that they “think only about life here on earth.” Their thoughts are consumed with their own kingdoms. Their treasure was in the “here and now.” Jesus said, ““Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19–21, NLT)
In essence, these folks may name the name of Jesus but their conduct paints a completely different picture. Paul warns the Philippians that these folks are really enemies of the Cross and that they are headed for destruction. It doesn’t mean that they are irretrievably lost but that their course doesn’t end well. Lastly, Paul is not angry with them but is grieved to the point of tears. Even though Paul calls them enemies there is no call to go to war but one of following Jesus and grieving over these lost souls.
The idea of being a citizen meant something special to the Philippians. Keep in mind that although Rome controlled much of the known world it was not a nation as much as a city-state. Philippi was an important city in the Roman empire and they took pride being citizens of Rome. With citizenship comes benefits and responsibilities that differ from nation to nation and kingdom to kingdom. Think about where you live, what are the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship?
Paul wrote, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.” (Philippians 3:20–21, NLT) What would you say are the benefits of being a citizen of God’s kingdom? What are the responsibilities? Paul recognizes the tension we currently live in. We are citizens of heaven but we have not yet received everything that is included in that citizenship. We live in the “here-and-now” while our direction, desires, and conduct are of Christ’s kingdom.
Side by Side
To hear all that Paul is saying we must put the two thoughts side by side. On the one hand is someone whose is focused on what they want or need; on the other is someone who simply wants more of Jesus. On the one hand is someone caught up in their own glory, pride, and importance; on the other is the example of Christ’s humility. On the one hand is someone that glories in shame; on the other someone that follows Jesus example of enduring and despising shame for the sake of others. On the one hand is someone whose thoughts are consumed with what they can see, feel, hear, touch, and experience; on the other is someone who acknowledges the “here-and-now” but lives to see the day of fulfillment in Christ. Do you see why Paul identified these folks as “enemies of the cross” and called on the Philippians to follow his own example?
The most basic understanding of what it means to follow Jesus is on display in these verses. Who is Lord? Is it our desires and appetites or abiding in Christ? Which kingdom do we really live for? Following Jesus means accepting His redemption and His lordship. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20, NLT) Or you could think about it this way – We experience a slice of God’s kingdom here on earth right now as we follow Jesus and seek His lordship in our lives. In a way, the kingdom of heaven is already here right now because it is manifested in all who follow Jesus as their Lord.