Pastor Kyle McIver
When my wife, Allie, and I were expecting our first child, our oldest daughter Ella, we listened through a five or six part series on parenting together. The series itself was wonderful and we learned a lot from it. But there was one story they told that I still remember really well. The husband and wife who taught this class together talked about a time when their kids were young and they would sit down at the table together to eat dinner. And as they’d built this habit of eating together, one of their sons began acting in a strange way right before they’d start eating. They would get this little guy in his high chair and he would start shouting at them. “Ay-man! Ay-man! Ay-man!” And these parents were confused! They had no idea what he was saying. This went on for a while, until one day they finally figured out what was happening: their son was saying “Amen” when he was hungry, because the last thing his Dad said every night before he got to eat was “Amen” at the end of his prayer. And while this is a funny story, it illustrates something for us: the power of imitation. These parents didn’t mean to teach their son to shout “Ay-men!” at them when he wanted food. They probably didn’t even realize how well he was paying attention when they sat down to pray before meals. But he was watching, and he was listening, and he was learning. And this points to something true about all of us: we are, at our core, imitators. We see and hear and experience things, and we learn how to move and speak and think as a result. Imitation is powerful, and we’re going to see this morning in our passage just how much attention we need to give to who we’re imitating, because the stakes are higher than you might think.
So here’s how we’re going to work through our passage. I’ve got three main ideas from the text this morning:
-Imitate the Godly (3:17)
-Who are the Enemies of the Cross? (3:18-19)
-Stand Firm in the Lord (3:20-4:1)
Here’s the movement: the role of imitation in the Christian life, the danger of deception and enemies of the cross, and our need to stand firm in the Lord.
Imitate the Godly (3:17)
Paul opens this paragraph with a statement that we might be a little uncomfortable with. “Brothers, join in imitating me…” Have you ever told someone straight out to imitate you? Is this arrogance in the apostle Paul? Does he want a bunch of mini-Pauls running around the world? Well, yes and no. He goes on to add that in addition to imitating him, we should “keep [y]our eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” So it’s not just Paul himself who he is calling the Philippians to imitate, it’s those who walk a certain way. Those who walk according to a particular example. Now as providence would have it, the last time I preached I had Philippians 1:27-30 where we saw what it looks like to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel - to live as a heavenly citizen. And it’s the exact same idea here. What Paul is saying is to find other Christians who are walking worthy of the gospel, and watch them! Imitate them! Spend time around them! Learn to be like them! We are imitators by nature - it’s one of the best ways we learn. Imitation then, needs to be part of the way we think about discipleship.
We can see how this is true by looking at both the positive and the negative sides of imitation. Positively, one of the ways we are formed into the image of Christ is to model ourselves after those are walking in a manner worthy of the gospel. That’s what Paul is saying here in verse 17, to imitate those people. And this is also true in the negative sense, in the sense that imitating others can also keep us from becoming something we should not be. It is a means by which we can be kept - prevented from falling away, which is exactly what we’re going to see has happened in the following verses. Our first point to imitate the godly then, is very closely linked with our second point (we’re basically going to handle these together) - these enemies of the cross - because it’s the other side of the coin when it comes to imitation. We both imitate in order to become something - more like Jesus - and we imitate that we might not become something else: enemies of the cross.
Enemies of the Cross (3:18-19)
So that was our first point, to imitate the godly - those who are walking in a manner worthy of the gospel. In our second point here, like I just mentioned, we have the other side of the coin, those we need to beware of, people who Paul calls “enemies of the cross”. We’re going to walk through Paul’s description of what an enemy of the cross looks like, but I want to make one observation here before diving into those characteristics. Look at the first part of verse 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)”. Paul is thinking about these people who are enemies of the cross, and he shedding tears. He’s crying. Why? What about these people moves Paul to tears? I think what’s going on here is that Paul knows these people. He has specific people in mind as he writes this. And these people were likely part of the church in Philippi at some point. They once claimed to be Christians, and now Paul says they are enemies of the cross. That’s strong language, and we need to slow down and hear the warning in these words. Listen carefully and think deeply as we unpack how Paul describes an enemy of the cross. Because evidently, these are people who had heard the gospel, and outwardly responded positively to it. They’d begun learning more about Jesus and enjoying fellowship in the church. And now they are enemies. This stands as a warning to us: beware, lest you too be found to be an enemy of the cross. Keep a close watch on your life and doctrine. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Don’t fall back on church attendance or religious performance or being enrolled at a Christian university. Christians persevere - we have to cling to Jesus every hour of every day until we die. We have to trust his work and seek his grace continually. That’s the only way! And we can have confidence in this because we live by faith in the Son of God. Trust his promises - he will keep you. But if you think you can profess faith in Jesus and then coast, then you’re in danger. This passage is a warning for you.
Now let’s look more closely at the enemies of the cross described here. To do that, we’re just going to walk through the descriptions of them, which is what verse 19 is - four characteristics of a person who opposes God and the gospel of his Son.
Their end is destruction… This one is clear, and it’s also the hardest. It’s weighty and it’s sobering. Every single person ends up in one of two places: heaven or hell. Eternal life or eternal punishment. There is no middle ground. And what we see here is that people who walk as enemies will end in destruction. They are outside of Christ and will not inherit eternal life. They will suffer the punishment for their own sins against a holy God for all of eternity. And when we pause and really think about this, we begin to feel the horror of what it will mean for people to stand before God guilty and unshielded from his justice. We will all stand before God guilty one day. But for the Christian, our guilt is absolved, our debt paid, our punishment taken by Another, and God’s wrath toward our sin already dealt with. That is the refuge we have in Jesus. All I want in that moment when I stand before God is to be hidden in Christ. I am guilty. I know that all I deserve is hell. I shudder to think about what it will be like to stand before a holy God as one who has defied his authority and broken his law in more ways than I could ever count. But as I shudder, I am covered with comfort. Because Jesus will be there. He will plead my cause with his own righteousness. And then the verdict will come down: “not guilty!”
But now let’s paint that picture the other way. You stand before God in all of his holiness and every evil thought, foolish word, and selfish act you’ve committed is called to account. There is no arguing - the record is right. Not a single sin is missing from God’s account of your life. You stand under a crushing weight of guilt that you’ve brought upon yourself. And in that moment of panic, there is no one to save. No deliverer. No refuge. The sentence is rendered: “guilty!” And a horror washes over you that will never be lifted. You will pay for your sins forever. This is what it means for someone whose end is destruction. God is just. And those who do not take refuge in Jesus will bear the just punishment for their sin without end.
I think we understand Paul’s tears now. Remember that Paul knows these people he’s talking about. He knows where they’re headed. He feels the horror of being found guilty before God with no refuge - no hiding place, no one to save. And he weeps for them. And so should we. We should pray earnestly and seek the salvation of those around us with tears in our eyes, because they stand under an infinite penalty, and we long for them to take refuge in Jesus.
As we move on to the next phrase, I want to note up front that these next three descriptions are all linked together. There is a common thread, so we’re going to hit each one more briefly and then summarize them together.
...their god is their belly…
This phrase is getting at our appetites, our consumption as people with physical bodies. Food and drink, while a good gift from God, can become idols. False gods that people worship. Masters over their lives as they are enslaved to their desires for food and drink. I think some of us may have more of a food and drink problem than we realize. It’s easy to miss because indulgence has become the norm. Without realizing it, we can become slaves to our desire to eat or to drink. Think about comfort food - we call it comfort food for a reason, don’t we?! It’s good! One of my favorite things about the upcoming holiday season is the food! But try to stop snacking, or eating more than you should - it can be incredibly difficult. And what if we can’t stop eating? What if we are constantly eating more than we need to? What if food has become our refuge, our source of comfort? What if we are given to drinking excessively? Then we aren’t stewarding our bodies well, and we’re enslaved by these desires. Food addiction, drinking excessively, being enslaved by the desire to consume - this is what marks somebody whose god is their belly.
...they glory in their shame…
This next phrase is also characterized by desire, but what’s in view here is sensual or sexual desire. Paul gets at this same idea in more detail in 1 Corinthians 10. He points us back to the people of Israel and says this, staring in verse 6: Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test… So Paul is saying that we have this example from Israel’s history that we are to look at, remember, and dwell on, that we might not desire evil as they did. That’s what is in view here with this phrase, “glory in their shame” is someone who desires evil, who is ruled by their sexual desires - because for this person God is not God, sex and self are god. And this attitude is rampant today! You hear this called “freedom” and “liberation,” but don’t be taken in: to worship sex and self in this manner is to glory in your shame - to give ourselves over to sexual desire and fulfillment as our highest form of happiness is slavery. It is a perversion, a twisting of God’s good gift of sex. When this happens, God is ignored, and sex is turned into an idol. We worship it. But it’s not freedom, it’s slavery. And it’s everywhere today. And it’s heartbreaking.
...with minds set on earthly things.
The Bible often talks about “earthly things” to make a contrast. The things of earth, God’s created world, they are good. This is not a condemnation of the created world or enjoyment of created things. Rather, this is meant to be a contrast - “earthly” representing the negative, whereas “heavenly” would be the positive. This phrase is following in step with the previous two characteristics in that the mindset, the focus of this person, is earthly, it’s sinful desire. Sinful desire rules their lives. And that’s the common thread in these last three descriptions. Whether it’s food or sex or anything else, sinful desire reigns, leading to sinful action and life lived in rebellion against God. It is impossible to serve two masters, and these people are serving their own sinful desires rather than Jesus, making them enemies of the cross.
These are hard truths. They have sharp edges. They carry a heaviness, a gravity. And if we step back and look at our first and second points together here, no wonder it matters so much where we are looking - who we are imitating. We’re either modeling our lives after those who walk worthy of the gospel, or we’re becoming more like those who live as enemies of the cross. So one of the most practical applications from this passage this morning is to find those people who are worth imitating, and imitate them. We are to look carefully how we walk, how we live, and imitating those are walking faithfully is a tremendous grace from God for us.
Stand Firm in the Lord (3:20-4:1)
Now we’re going to get to Paul’s main point in this passage. He’s called us to imitate the godly, he’s explained what it looks like to fall away and live as an enemy of God, and now he has an exhortation for the church: stand firm. Here’s how Paul says it in 4:1: therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. Now when we see the word “therefore” in our Bibles, it means there’s a connection being made. The call to stand firm flows from what was just said. Part of the ground for the call to stand firm is the gravity of what it looks like to be outside of Christ, to be an enemy of the cross. Warnings like are a powerful means of God’s grace to keep us close to Jesus. We hear the warning, we feel it’s severity, and we run to Jesus! But there’s more here than just a warning, and that’s what we find in verses 20-21: but our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.
In contrast to people who are enslaved to sinful desires, Christians are citizens who serve and wait for the return of the King. There’s so much good news here for us. God’s grace explodes out of these verses! Let’s look at “citizenship” again. This is an identity. Jesus has made us something completely different. We were dead, now alive. We were enemies, now children of God, and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. And as citizens, we need to stand firm. But what do we need to stand firm against? We stand firm against the spiritual forces of evil in this world and the lingering sin in our own hearts. That’s the fight. And this is where “citizenship” is so sweet - it is a rich, gospel image, that cuts right to the heart of our battle again temptation and sinful desires. See, all of us have sinful desires. Right? All of us. But having sinful desires does not make you God’s enemy. So what’s the difference between someone who has sinful desires - like everyone does - and someone who is ruled by their sinful desires?
The difference is which kingdom you belong to. Listen to Colossians 1:12-13: ...the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Either you are in the domain of darkness, or you belong to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. So when Paul says our citizenship is in heaven, he means that we’ve been qualified, delivered, transferred, redeemed, and forgiven. We are no longer slaves in the service of sin. We have been decisively delivered by Jesus. Jesus struck the fatal blow to Satan, the great enemy of our souls. Jesus bore the penalty of our sin so we no longer stand under condemnation. Jesus has given us a new nature so that sin no longer has the upper hand. And Jesus has given us a new desire for himself, which is a greater desire, that we might fight desire with desire. We fix our desires on Jesus so we can put to death the sinful desires of our flesh for an idolatrous consumption of food, drink, sex, and every other good thing in this world that we end up worshiping instead of Jesus. Look at what follows our citizenship in this verse, it says that citizens of heaven “await a Savior”. That’s our new desire - think about it. We wait for things that we want - remember Christmas morning as a kid? You couldn’t wait for that new toy you knew was under the tree! You were filled with anticipation! And the new “want” that we’ve been given is Jesus himself. We no longer worship food, sex, money, or possessions as our highest good and greatest source of joy - we worship Jesus! And therein lies freedom - worshiping Jesus is the greatest freedom we experience in this life.
So as citizens, we have everything we need to stand firm. Citizenship encompasses all of the benefits of the gospel in the person and work of Jesus Christ, given to us by grace. In being given this heavenly citizenship, you’ve been given an infinitely precious gift. And because of this - because of his grace and his gifts to us in the gospel, we can stand firm. We must stand firm.
Now there’s one more point of application I want to make for us this morning. The first came earlier - that we need to find and imitate those who walk worthy of the gospel. For the second application, I want to arm you for the battle that you fight every day. This battle is the battle of desires. Remember that verse from 1 Corinthians 10? Paul calls us to remember the Israelites sin and the severity of God’s judgment on them for it, that we might not desire evil as they did. I’ve talked a lot about sinful desire this morning. Enemies of the cross are ruled by sinful desire, and even those who are Christians still wrestle with sinful desires. Here’s the reality: our fight for holiness, our efforts to walk worthy, come down to competing desires. We want things that are sinful. We desire that which we should not. Every time you’ve sinned, it’s been because you wanted to. You wanted something badly enough that you were willing to sin in order to get it. So if we would follow Jesus, we have to engage in this battle of desires. And as you are wrestling with those desires, when sin seeks to overcome you and make you obey it, rather than Jesus, there’s a truth here we can hold on to, a truth that strengthens us in this fight.
Here it is: when Jesus comes, he is going to transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. That’s what 3:21 says. These bodies we have right now, they’re good. But they’re also weak. We feel a physical desire for things that are sinful over and over and over again. Our bodies feel like our enemies at times. Sin and the devil weaponize our own desires against us. But Jesus is going to change that. He is going to transform our bodies. He’s not going to do away with desire itself - that would be less than the fullness of humanity that he intends for us. Rather, he will transform our bodies, he will glorify them. He will make them like the body He has! And this new, glorified body, won’t have a single sinful desire. Not one, not ever. Our bodies will be fully and finally redeemed. So we have hope. We press on in hope, even when our desires are warring against us, because Jesus will get the victory over those desires. He’s given us right now a new desire for him that is greater than our sinful desires. And one day he will fully and finally put away sin from us by giving a new body full of desires only for that which is good and holy and right and enjoyable for all of eternity.
Which brings us to the table. This table reminds us to look forward. It reminds us that Jesus is coming back for us. We’re both remembering his death and looking ahead with eager anticipation to his return. And this meal is for citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, for those who have turned from their sin and turned to Jesus for forgiveness. If that’s not you this morning, please just pass the elements along as they come around. And please come and find me or one of the other pastors after the service - we would love to talk more with you about Jesus and how he delivers sinners from the domain of darkness into his kingdom.