The little Christian congregation in Philippi was, arguably, one of the nearest and dearest to Paul’s heart. There was a special bond between the Apostle and these people. Much like we see between Jeremiah and Jerusalem and Jesus and God’s people. That is why Paul wrote to them with such a clear warning and encouragement and consolation as we see in our text for today. It is a three-fold word for them: Look out. Look In. Look Up!
We begin with His warning: Look Out for the World! 18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
There are “enemies” who hate Christ’s cross, who hate the Gospel. And sometimes they are not outside of Christ’s church, but in it. The sad truth is that there are many deluded people who think they are Christians but are not. Many who think they are following the way of Christ, when in reality they are making Christ follow their way of thinking and doing. Instead of holding their lives up to the light of the cross they cover Jesus up with the inclinations of their own desires. Jesus, for them, is the person who would approve of whatever approach they have taken, and whatever doctrine they put forward. Especially if it means better living now and more material blessings for His chosen few! Such enemies of the cross glory in their own shame because the way in which they think about reality focuses merely on what they experience on earth.
When Paul speaks of their highest desire and good being their stomach He could be talking about those who spend so much of their time avoiding or eating only certain foods as a religious and righteous obligation. Do this! Don’t do that! You’re not a real Christian unless you … On the other hand, he could just as well be talking about those who find their meaning only in gluttony and loose living. Both false doctrine and immoral living cause people to hate the Gospel, to be fleshly minded, to glory in what is ultimately only shameful and to be minded only about earthly matters.
For far too many, despite all the Christian veneer, their sole object in life, the sum and substance of their thinking and planning, is eating and drinking, the gratification of their sensual appetites, of the desires of the body. Their so-called liberty is nothing but bondage to sensual lusts. They think only of carnal things, of matters pertaining to this world. Outwardly a coat of Christian varnish, ceremonies and morality, and at the same time all the amusements and pastimes of the unchristian world. Such men and congregations are a steady menace to all sincere Christians.
So how, then do we avoid falling victim to their poison? How do we keep ourselves from becoming like them. You know as well as I do the power and the persuasiveness of the world. To answer that, Paul goes on to speak words of encouragement. Look Into God’s Word!
17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Where does the Christian’s heart lie? Paul is no Gnostic. He is not saying that material things are sinful per se. But when physical things, money, fame, etc. become one’s god, heaven is lost. Yet, Paul was a prime example of an unbelieving, anti-Christian Jew (full of works righteousness) who became an ardent believing Christian because of the Word.
Jesus, the Word made flesh, is coming again from heaven to reclaim us as His own – just as He did Saul. He reclaims us for living on His earth, in the callings to which He has called us. It is a fine balancing act, not being too quick to abandon this world and her needy people we can help, but also not getting so caught up in the here and now that we stop longing for Him, and for His return, which will consummate all His plans for us. This earth is the Lord’s, and he shares it with his children. We dare never abandon either our country or our culture to the squatters, whose only end is destruction, but must always bear witness to our claim that this vineyard earth really belongs to God’s family. Nonetheless, Paul here insists that our citizenship is in heaven: God our Creator has planted the feet of his human creatures firmly on earth, but he wants us to have our heads in the clouds; that is, to have the mind of Christ. He commands our ultimate loyalty.
That contrast afforded by the lives of true Christians is marked: For our citizenship is in heaven, whence we also expect the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians’ thoughts are directed heavenwards, because we are citizens above. Our home, our interests, are in heaven; that is our true fatherland, our home country; there our citizenship is assured us. And we believers look longingly up to heaven, because we wait for, and expect, our Lord God and Savior to come from their for us, and to lead us back their with Him again. There the place is prepared for us, where we shall live forever.
And that leads into Paul’s words of consolation. Look Up to the Lord! … 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 4:1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Note, here at the end, how Paul calls them “brothers” as he did at the start. There he used the word to tell them to be joint imitators of himself. Here he uses it to give a parting consolation. He calls them his crown because they are his prize, the jewel of his eye. That little congregation, much like our own, was a symbol of the victory God had given Paul. The example of God’s Word in action and Faith in Holy living.
For we, like the Philippians before us, are on our way, not to destruction, but to new bodies and everlasting life. He does not promise escape from the body but its re-creation. An old design, a new model. This text is a call to live trusting in the one who recreates us through His own death and resurrection.
That new body is not identical with our present body. There is a change, but not a destruction of personal identity. He will change the aspect, the form of that body. That is the final goal of sanctification, so far as our physical body is concerned, that it be cleansed from its frailty, from its sinful condition, the result of the Fall. The body itself, subject to death, sinks into the grave and becomes a prey to corruption and worms. But that is not the end. Christ will, on the last day, change the form of the Christians into the likeness of His glorious body. ALL sinfulness, all weakness, all the consequences of sin will be purged out of our body.
Christ’s people have in Him a place to stand that is firm because it is grounded on the very action of God. The Creator has come in human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth to recreate His fallen human creatures. Because He has done this, we have the solid ground of Calvary and Joseph’s tomb under our feet. From Calvary we can see forever; through the tomb we see all the way to God’s throne. Secure in Christ, we can afford to shed tears over those who are racing toward their own destruction, and we can care for God’s earth and fight for our country and our culture, with heads in the clouds and hands in the midst of his creation. Looking Out for the world. Looking Into God’s Word. And Looking up to Christ.