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Enemies of the Cross

Philippians 3:17-21

It’s a short passage. But it contains the seeds of warning which need to be heeded by every church congregation. Warnings which are for imitation of the good and destruction for the evil. In this concentrated form, we will take it piece by piece.

Imitation in Succession

(Phil 3:17 NIV) Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.


At first this seems arrogant. Is any man so good that he can be held up as an example? And should you recommend yourself as an example? But consider what Paul says here:

  • First, this example is already being followed – that’s why he says “join with.” So this is no new practice, but something which apparently has developed in normal course.
  • Next, it is not just Paul who is to be imitated – as if he were the only one worthy of it – but also those who live according to the pattern given.
  • The imitation is not of Paul and his mannerisms, but rather the “pattern” – the word means a mold, or an impression – so we should imitate the master pattern, not the idiosyncratic habits of one man.
  • One reason we need to be encouraged to do this: such people are to be humble, not bragging about their lives. Since they won’t brag (and others will) we need to be reminded just who we should be imitating.
Walking the talk

One reason this is recommended is to keep the examples in question on their toes! If you profess to be a Christian leader, you need to know that you will be imitated or despised as a hypocrite. (I’ve had both). If you’re talking the talk, you better be walking the walk.

But if you are, then you will be a good example. Think not? Consider two passages with regard to elders:

(1 Pet 5:1-3 NIV) To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: {2} Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; {3} not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

(Titus 1:6-9 NIV) An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. {7} Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. {8} Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. {9} He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

I put it to you: if such a man is around, is he not worthy of imitation?

Successive imitation

The correct principle of imitation is this: follow me as I follow Christ.[1] If you see something sinful, in mercy and charity correct it in me. If you see something which is neither sinful nor blessed, but “just me” – don’t worry about it. If you see Christ in me, imitate that.

But there are some you should not imitate.

Enemies of the Cross

(Phil 3:18-19 NIV) For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. {19} Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

I must begin with a severe warning: this is not as trivial as it sounds. The question is not one of good works; the story is not one of attendance at church; the story is simply: will you take up the Cross?

(Mat 10:37-39 NIV) "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; {38} and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. {39} Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The answer to this is buried deep within your heart: is your heart set on things above, or on things here, with a little service to God thrown in? Let’s take the test first (two questions) and examine the results.

Who is your God?

Paul phrases it: their god is their stomach. We might say their appetites instead, for it means anything which you must have in preference to the kingdom of God – whether you realize it or not.

  • The simplest form is “too much.” One may be a glutton for food – but also for money, for possessions (house and car), for sex, for any of this world’s appetites. If you have to have “more,” you have the problem.
  • But there is a more subtle case.[2] Sometimes the “too much” becomes “too elegant.” Only the finest will do. Quantity doesn’t matter – but the quality is all important. Only the finest wines, the finest car, the finest house – these become our gods, and we pride ourselves on not having “too much.”
  • Even more subtle, perhaps, is “too new.” I must have the latest fashion, the newest fad. Is the anorexic look in? Then I must starve myself, and how righteous I feel about it.
What do you brag about?

If you listen to a man long enough (for most of us, 30 seconds will do), you will find out his prides and pleasures. It’s particularly true if he’s speaking “man to man.”

  • Some who call themselves Christians will – as soon as the women have left – brag about their sexual conquests. That’s an obvious sign.
  • More subtle is this: they complain – about how much money they spent on something. Moaning and groaning about how expensive the mortgage payments on your new mansion are … well, you get the idea.

The best illustration of this came from a cartoon of three Christians praying.[3] One cried out, “Oh Lord, the persecution is terrible.” Another cried out, “Oh Lord, the famine is desperate.” The third cried out, “Oh Lord, the Audi is running a little rough.” As my mother often asked me, are you bragging or complaining?


This might not seem so serious except for the statement of their destiny: destruction. These are the ones that Jesus said were going to be on his left, sent to hell fire – and complaining of the injustice of it all as they go.

Indeed, we might look at it and think that we are infested with the agents of Satan. And we are.

(2 Cor 11:13-15 NIV) For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. {14} And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. {15} It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

But take heart, Christian. By their fruits you will know them.

Is the matter serious. Indeed – see this: Paul tells them this with tears, he weeps over such people. If you see such, restore them gently and with compassion, for it is God’s will that none should perish.

Citizens of Heaven

Paul now reminds them of their heavenly citizenship:

(Phil 3:20-21 NIV) But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, {21} who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

This passage would have had a certain ring to the Philippians. Philippi, you will recall, was a Roman colony. It was an outpost of the Roman Empire in Greek territory. In the same sense the church is an outpost of heaven in this world. As such, we are the citizens of heaven.

  • Citizens have certain benefits. We are privileged, for example, to approach the throne of grace with our requests.
  • But we also have responsibilities. No one likes “the Ugly American.”
Awaiting our Savior

By frequent repetition the Scripture makes it clear: our Lord will someday return in power and glory. We need to recognize the seriousness of this:

  • This will be the triumph of righteousness. All those who have persisted in sin will be faced with their sin. This will be a horror to the unrepentant.
  • This will be the triumph of justice over those who have oppressed others – by whatever name they have labeled their oppression.
  • For the Christian, it will be the time of reward for good works. We must not forget that it will be the time of punishment as well for those who have earned it, and have not accepted the grace of God. For that reason, we must not omit the spread of the Gospel.
Transformation of the body

The principle is rather clear. If you live for your body now, your body will not be raised then – and vice versa. But what do we really know about this transformation?

·         Precious little, actually. We are told that we will be raised, and that we will be like Christ. Other than that, no details are given.

·         But from the earliest days of the church, only one interpretation has been handed down: the physical resurrection of the body.

·         This means that our eternal destiny is not just to float around on clouds in heaven, but to be raised from the dead in physical form.

·         Whatever it means, it is going to be glorious, for our Lord will accomplish it with the power given him.


·         There are examples of godliness walking around before you – imitate them.

·         The central issue: did you take up the Cross, or do you live for this world?

·         The central result: when He returns, we will rise.



[1] 1 Corinthians 11:1-2

[2] I am indebted to C. S. Lewis for this point.

[3] I think from the Wittenberg Door

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