Are you an enemy of the Cross? – Friday, 31st Week in ordinary time – Philippians 3:17-4:1
In Chapter 3: 1 Paul was winding down his letter when news came to him of the Judaizers who were instigating the Philippians and disturbing the faith. Paul never suffered fools easily and lashes out at them calling them ‘dogs’ and ‘mutilators of the flesh.’ It is to this end that he calls the Philippians to, “join in imitating him.”
On the face of things, that statement sounds a bit over the top. Paul who spoke of humility in Chapter two now seems to be a bit egoistical. But that’s not the case really. In the face of false teachers Paul was saying look for a good example. It is not that Paul is without sin for he has even told us in his epistles of a ‘thorn in his side.’ What that is, we will never know but Paul admits to his failings. Here he becomes a concrete example to the congregation and not only him, he points to others in the community when he says, “and mark those who so live,” by the good example.
While Paul presents himself and members of the community as good examples to follow there were also the bad examples. Hurdles to the mission are a given but Paul also faces the reality of the ‘enemies of the cross’ (verse18). Note that Paul is specific when he says these enemies are “many.” A reality that exists today too.
At the time of Paul, the enemies of the cross were the adversaries who are preaching circumcision as means of salvation. They denied the efficacy of Christ’s costly sacrifice on the cross. They could have also been Gnostics who tried to intellectualize Christianity and make it into a philosophy. Paul had to contend with people like this in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and Romans 6, who thought that salvation comes without repentance and conversion, and who thought that as long as your soul was saved, it didn’t matter what you did with your body.
Verse 18 is very poignant. We are told that “Paul weeps for these enemies of Christ.” Here is a man who never wept through his many and varied sufferings. He weeps for the souls of those who have rejected the message of Christ or who have distorted the truth of the Gospel. These enemies of Christ are doomed to destruction.
Paul lays three reasons for their destructions. First, they have made god their belly. This is not a reference necessarily to a greedy life but rather to their dietary prescriptions that they imposed on themselves an on others. They foolishly thought that what they abstained from, would save them. It is not what goes inside a man that one should bother about but what comes from within. The Judaizers focused on the externals and God looks at the heart.
The second reason for their destruction was they “were glorying in their shame.” This is a clear reference to their misplaced priorities. They had made circumcision the centre piece of their spiritual life while God wanted the heart circumcised. This glory that they revelled in was the very cause of their shame. Finally, says St Paul, their mind is set on “earthly things”. These enemies of the cross were concerned about pleasing man, they wanted to get along with the world. All the three accusations of Paul ring home even today!
This last line is the bridge to the big ticket statement that Paul desires to make. He declares that “our citizenship is in heaven and it is from there that the Saviour is to return.” Paul is asking us to pull out our spiritual passports. He is not asking if we have a short term visa to heaven (not that Peter grants one). He is asking us if we are proud passport holders of the Kingdom of God. Paul is no fool when he is writing this. The Philippians lived under Roman rule and Roman citizenship was the ‘get on to any airplane and visit any nation’ passport.
Many of us have made ‘mother earth’ our home, building treasure where moth and rust get to. Paul is reminding us that this earth is just a temporary home that serves a temporary purpose.
There is a reason why Paul is so passionate about his heavenly citizenship, not because it was ‘tax free’ . Remember, Christ paid a price with his blood to secure us this citizenship; But Paul is passionate because only our saviour can do and will do something that no powerful earthly Caesar could (even though they considered themselves divine). Jesus is the only one who can “transform our bodies.” Think of that and if that truth sinks in your heart, embrace the cross.