Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Enemies of the Cross

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)
Paul has spoken of good patterns for living the life of faith in Jesus the Messiah, a life lived with and for others. The Lord Jesus is the prime example, but Paul also offers himself, as well as Timothy and Epaphroditus and others, as worth imitating.

However, Paul also knows of a different sort whose example leads in exactly the wrong direction. He calls them enemies of the cross of Messiah. They work against what the Lord Jesus came to do. Not so much by their doctrine (though that may be part of it) as by their manner of life — their “walk.”

“Enemies of the cross” is Paul’s assessment of how they live. Then he describes them in a way that seems to work back to front, from their end to their beginning.
  • Their path leads to destruction.
  • Their belly is their god.
  • They glory in behavior they should be ashamed of.
  • They set their mind on earthly things.
But who are these people Paul describes? Some think they are the Jewish legalists, the “dogs,” “evil workers” and “mutilators” he warned about earlier. Perhaps that is so, although the language he uses would need to be stretched quite a bit to fit legalists. However, the ones he warns about here seem to go in the other direction, into licentiousness. Either way, they are ultimately focused on themselves. Paul has dealt with such before, as in his letter to the believers at Rome.
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16:17-18)
They do not come as pagans or as those who are outside the Church — the Philippian believers would have already known to beware of those — but they present themselves as believers in Jesus. However, something important is missing, something is very wrong about them. They set their mind on earthly things. That is where the problem begins: their mindset, their attitude, their focus. They see no further than their own short lives, so that is all that really matters to them. They live for their own pleasures, no matter how base or shameful. They are focused on themselves and what they can get out of it all.

It begins with being fixated on earthly things and it leads ultimately to ruin. Perhaps that is one reason why Paul works back from their end to their beginning, as a caution to the believers at Philippi about beginning down the same road by doing things out of “selfish ambition or conceit,” or looking out only for their own interests and not also the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

The antidote to a mind set on earthly things is to have the mind of Christ, who teaches us to see beyond ourselves and this present life to a greater time and a greater glory. If we let Him work in us, He will lead us into humble servanthood, to share in the fellowship of His suffering as well as the power of His resurrection — and that is a very good ending.

Focus Questions
  1. What is the relationship between what you believe and how you live?
  2. How does a self-focused life work against the cross of Jesus?
  3. How does a self-focused life lead to destruction?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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