Read Philippians 3:17-21: 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.
This passage we have before us this morning comes on the heels Paul talking about himself, how Jesus is his righteousness through faith and how that radical grace has propelled him to not pursue anything else with more intensity but to attain all that Christ Jesus has prepared for him. Let’s review over what Paul has just said to us:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus…
This gives us a little glimpse into where Paul may be headed this morning; basically, Jesus is everything and there is nothing in this world that is worth giving ourselves to in any way that would rob from the glory due to the High name of Jesus!
He purchased my salvation! He robed me with a white robe of righteousness! He absorbed my blood stained clothes and clothed me in beautiful white robe! He sealed me with His promise by His Spirit and forever dwells in me! He is making me more like Himself day after day! He remains faithful even when I am not! He is coming back again to reclaim His lost sheep to dwell with Him forever! He holds all things together and in Him and for Him all things were created! This is our Jesus!! You get me?
Now Paul is inviting us into this radically different life when he says: “Brothers, join in imitating me…” literally, mimic me. To casual readers, this could sound totally arrogant in our day and age. But notice what Paul says after this statement: and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
The “those” Paul is talking about is probably understood to be Timothy and Epap (2:19,25). Remember that these excellent men had followed the example of Christ by not seeking their own interests but rather the interests of others (cf. 2:4, 20, 21).
Modeling godly men and women who have gone before us is of grave importance. It is how good athletes become great, good musicians become great, good writers, and dancers, and mothers, and teachers all become great by being learners and having great models to watch and observe and follow after their way.
Consider Hebrews 13:7: Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Observe those godly leaders whom God has placed around you and consider their outcome of life, and model them. This is a good thing. It seems arrogant, but look at it in perspective to the rest of life. We all mimic mentors and people training us at jobs, parenting, school, sports, etc. This is how God set it up.
Who are you imitating? Who’s influencing you? What kind of crowd are you running with? You running with Tim’s and Epap’s? Or are you running with the dogs and cannibals (3:2)? We must choose our friends and mentors wisely.
And for you leaders, “it is of greatest importance that…[you] not descend to be professionals — that we constantly desire to know Christ and “the power of his resurrection” and the fellowship of his sufferings — that we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call” with all our being. Those who pursue Christ will produce those who pursue Christ. And it is only those who continue to run after Christ who will stand firm.” 1
The Problem: We are all worshipers, but the problem is that we worship wrongly. We were created to worship and imitate God, but instead we worship and imitate what He created. This always leads to destruction.
Paul is so concerned with imitating godly men and women because there are enemies of the gospel that Paul has warned them about who are in grave danger: 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. These guys are the exact opposite of Paul’s above examples.
Their lifestyles mocked the gospel and the life of accepting suffering was foolishness to them and sacrificing for Christ’s sake was a joke. They are enemies of the cross; claiming the benefits of the cross, but not living in the power of it. Paul uses such strong words to oppose these opposers with 4 strong phrases. He says:
v. 19a: Their end is destruction. (cf. 1:28): “These people had faces and names familiar, and even beloved, to the Philippians. Nevertheless, their cross-denying behavior…is destructive to their souls and to others who follow them.” 2
v. 19b: their god is their belly: Essentially their appetite for lustful glutenous and sexual delights made gods out of good things that God gave to man. Their pursuit of worldly comforts and pleasures have drowned out their necessity for the cross of Jesus Christ.
“Today the professed Christian whose own physical and personal needs come before the Lord, whose bodily comforts (what and where he eats, how and where he lives, and what he spends to satisfy his own pleasures) displace the cross, had better take note because his god has become his belly. Beware of any pleasure that impedes the passionate pursuit of Christ.” 3
v. 19c: and they glory in their shame: This refers to the sexual excesses and exploitation of our bodies and others’ bodies. The word shame to a first century Jew or Greek would bring to mind shame of nakedness (with their bodies). This brings to mind:
1 Cor. 5:1-2, 6: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you…. 6 Your boasting is not good! Bragging about their sin because of misapplied grace. This is an offense to the gospel. Playing with sex by the means of your own rules, forsaking God’s great plan!
v. 19d: with minds set on earthly things: Their whole disposition in life was driven by the sinful culture or worldview, without any consideration of God being the Creator and sustainer of all.
This all smells so much like the words of John in 1 John 2:15:17: 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
John gives us 3 things to focus on in this passage: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The first two are pleasures, things we don’t have/want, and the third one is possessions, things we do have:
– lust of the flesh (raw carnality/what my body wants, crude or cultured)
– lust of the eyes (image/what we want people to think of us)
– the pride of life (cars, job, house, education, power, money)
The Greek first century world was driven by these three things: power, pleasure, possessions which are all fueled by pride. This all starts in the heart, internally, yet we focus on the external. We put out the outward fires, but the problem is a huge forest fire destroying our heart. Outwardly, we look great, happy and content. Inwardly, we are withering away with discontentment, anxiety and sadness. What we thought would make us happy is working out to be our destruction (Phil. 3:19a).
What Paul is trying to say to us is that the way we live (our appetites, desires and motives), the things in which we find comfort and joy, and our character when no one is looking all tell which worldview we are living by or believe to be true.
Many of us as believers live this way. We know God, we have been purchased and redeemed by His love, but do not experience Him. We live in recognition that there is a God, yet see no connection between that belief and how we go about our daily affairs.
We never consider or factor God into our decisions, or pattern our lives after His values. Consequently, we believe in God but behave and live life as if He doesn’t exist.
It’s a dichotomy, a split between what we say and what we do. It explains the chasm between what many people say they believe and how they live out their lives. Statistics about our culture bear this out:
Many of us believe God exists:
– Almost 9 out of 10 (88%) Americans claim to believe in God (Gallup, 2007)
– More than 3 out of 4 Americans (77%) claim to be Christian (Gallup, 2009)
Yet few of us live like God exists:
– Less than 1 in 10 (9%) of people hold to a basic Christian worldview, including a Biblical understanding of Jesus, Satan, salvation and heaven (Gallup, 2009)
– Slightly more than one out of ten people (13%) attend (or are apart of) a Bible-believing church (ARDA, US Census 2009)
Many Christians speak of feeling disconnected from God and discouraged with life because they have come to believe that it isn’t possible to genuinely experience God or that a great move of God will change our life as we know it. We’ve lost sight of the “good news” of Jesus being a reality now, not just in the future. This destroys the beauty of God in our lives and to the world.
The Answer: You are a citizen of heaven. You await a savior to give you all your heart has ever desired. He will transform your lowly body. You will reign with Christ!
Look back at Phil. 3:20, this is where it gets good. Paul says: 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.
So Paul moves from the earth dwelling enemies of the gospel, to the kingdom dwellers who have a citizenship in heaven and live differently because of it. Do you see the problem and answer in this passage?
v. 20a: But our citizenship is in heaven: This takes us back to Phil. 1:27 when Paul tells the Philippians to let your lives be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel. ”In 1:27 it is the verb politeúes-the, and here in 3:20 it is the noun políteuma. Both are built on the noun polis, which means “city.” All kinds of English words come from this: police, metropolis, political, politician.” 4
The reality of Paul’s words means that there is a city that you are aligned with (citizens of) more than you are a Roman. This is a direct assault against patriotic love for nation being supreme over your love and loyalty to God and His kingdom. These are fighting words for the “Don’t mess with Texas” mentality in Philippi. Paul is making a clear and HUGE statement here!
v. 20b: and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: With eager expectation, we long for (wait for) the return of Jesus Christ, the one who saved us. This is the name that is highly exalted, by which every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
We wait for this glorious King…v. 21: 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: The outcome of the great and glorious King who is coming will be the transformation of our lowly, sinful and broken bodies into the likeness of His glorified body. Our future bodies will be like His post-resurrected body that the 500 witnesses gazed upon, talked to, ate with… Jesus!
All this is done and is enabled by the same power that Christ used to subject “ALL” things to Himself. There is a sure-ness, an absolute-ness to what God can promise because of His power. Only Christ Jesus can command our destiny, our future. It’s all about Jesus!! Let’s all live like we believe it:
Lesslie Newbigin took the pastorate of a tiny church in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of London when he was 80. Here in 1987, he talks about how the Indian, Muslim and Caribbeans in the community around where he is pastoring are easier to talk to about the gospel than the typical Westernized American. It is a good reminder of the upward battle we have to witness to the gospel to people who have become immune to it.
“To the Muslim the gospel is shocking but at least it is significant. To Hindus and Sikhs it is something really worth listening to – even if one finally decides that it is just another version of the ‘religion’ which is common to us all. Many of the Afro-Caribbean people in our inner cities are devout Christians whose faith, hope and love put most of us to shame.”
“But for the majority of the natives, the Christian story is an old fairy-tale which they have put behind them. It is not even worth listening to. One shuts the door and turns back to the TV screen where endless images of the ‘good life’ are on tap at all hours. How can this strange story of God made man, of a crucified saviour, of resurrection and new creation become credible for those whose entire mental training has conditioned them to believe that the real world is the world which can be satisfactorily explained and managed without the hypothesis of God? I know of only one clue to the answering of that question, only one real hermeneutic of the gospel: a congregation which believes it.”
May the body of Christ provide you with many examples to follow.
May the lives of the enemies of the cross be cause for tears and alarm.
May the wonders of your citizenship and your future dance in your soul.
May you live by and believe the gospel in your daily life.
And may you “stand firm” in your pursuit of “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14).5