Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Avoiding the Enemies of the Cross (Living as Citizens of Heaven, part 2)

As we move to the next point we find Apostle Paul weeping. Surprising that it appears in a letter labeled as “an epistle of joy”.

Phil. 3:18 “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears

What shakes your emotions?
What makes you cry?
When the issue is about something we hold dear, that shakes our emotions.

For a death of a distant relative, we may shed some tears, but not as much as the tears we shed for the death of a brother.

We may feel some grief over the tragedy of a stranger but not as much as for the tragedy of someone we call as best friend.

Part of following the example of apostle Paul is to identify the things that are close to his heart. What causes his joy? What are his passions? What grieves him? What are the things he treasures most?

Romans 9:2-3 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race...

Acts 20:30-31 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

2 Cor. 11:28 I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

Writing to the church in Corinth, he says: For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. ( 2 Cor. 2:4)

It seems clear to me that the emotional attachments of Paul are about the salvation of the lost, spiritual service, and church affairs. How about you? Where do you most intensely display your emotions?

If you are a father, the head of your family, I would understand if your priorities are on raising your children. You make every effort in securing a bright future for them. That is natural for any good father.

If you are a student, I would understand if your priorities are on your studies. That is natural for any good student, especially if your parents are the one paying for your tuition. They expect the best from you at school, and you must.

Whatever your vocation is, you must be emotionally attached to it, or else, you would only be dragging your feet daily. But I urge you, in view of Paul’s example, to check how much affection do you have:
For the salvation of the lost?
For spiritual service?
For church affairs?

Do you have any affection for these things or do you exist 24 hours a day without even thinking about these things.

Well, that’s just a prelude to point #2. We have to pay attention to the next point because the Apostle shed tears as he wrote it. That means it is very important to him. Our text even says that this instruction is not something new to the Philippians. Paul instructed them about this oftentimes in the past.That’s how important it is. What is it?

In the previous post, we saw that Paul wants us to follow the steps of the model citizens of the kingdom. The reason why he wants us to carefully choose our role models is: If we don’t we may end up imitating the bad ones.

There are many of them says Paul, and he calls them the enemies of the cross. For Apostle Paul, the cross stands as a metonymy for the whole gospel message:

1 Cor. 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

So when he says enemies of the cross, it means they are hostile to the message of the gospel.

The Identity of the Enemies of the Cross

Some commentators say that the enemies of the cross in this verse are the same ones in 3:2. But I am of the opinion that the people in 3:18 are a separate class. The dogs referred to in 3:2 are Judaizers, those who demand Gentile converts to observe Jewish customs like circumcision and dietary laws for acceptance before God. In short, their rejection of the gospel is in the content. They are denying that one’s acceptance before God is by grace through faith alone. Their gospel is a gospel of works. But in the context of Phil 3:18, the problem of this class is not doctrine but lifestyle; their error is not legalistic righteousness but licentiousness.

Further Descriptions

a)Their Destiny is Destruction
This is another proof that they have rejected the gospel. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. And salvation is the opposite of destruction (John 3:16). This indicates that this people are walking a path not threaded by true Christians:"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14).They prefer the easy life. They go with the crowd. They don’t want to join the true Christians in the other path, persevering along the constricted way. All they want is comfort.. Friends, is that all you want in this life? Is the word “sacrifice” still in your vocabulary? Beware! It is one of the marks of those who are on the way to destruction.

b) Their god is their belly (NKJV); stomach (NIV)
The belly stands for “The wants and appetites of the belly serve as both metaphor and motivation for the wicked and make it the seat of avarice and passion”(Dictionary of Bible Imagery).

They are “sensualists who indulged various physical appetites without restraint" (H. Kent, EBC).

They are "men who catered to the flesh, gluttonous, grossly immoral people" (W. Hendriksen, NTC).

They bow down before the altar of greed. The deity they worship is their appetite for temporal pleasures: daily feasting; designer clothes; latest gadgets; even sexual pleasure.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. In contrast, these enemies of the cross believe that the chief end of man is to store up treasures on the earth.
“The chief end of man is collecting shoes”
“The chief end of man is collecting luxury cars”
“The chief end of man is collecting Barbie dolls”
“The chief end of man is collecting sexual partners.

Rom. 16:17-18
: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

Please understand that I am not against riches. There is nothing inherently wrong with possessions. Job, the holiest man in his lifetime was a rich man before tragedies came upon him. And by the end of the book, God restored his riches and even more that what he possessed before. Do you know what is the difference between Job and these enemies of the cross. Job could sincerely say what they couldn’t : “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”(Job 23:12). They could not sincerely say what Job sincerely said because they are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”. (2 Tim. 3:4)

How many among us could pray with sincerity Prov. 30:8: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”? . Why did Agur prayed such a prayer? Is it because riches are evil? No. It is because Agur knows the condition of our heart: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, `Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (30:8-9). He knows that riches will only lead him to destruction because he is too weak to handle it.

1 Tim.6:9-10: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Every time the lottery jackpot hits 9 digits, crowds fall in line. Do you regret that you can’t fall in line because you are a Christian? That should not be the case. Instead, you should praise God that he has rescued you from such an empty way of life.

c) Their glory is in their shame
In Ephesians 5:8, We are exhorted to live as children of light. We are further exhorted here not to associate with the works of darkness but rather to expose them. Why? Because their works are shameful. Yet these enemies of the cross are not ashamed of their lives. They glory in their shame. They are proud of what they are doing.

Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil”.

Have you heard about the prosperity preachers? They teach that God’s will for a Christian is to prosper. They teach that there is something wrong with your faith if you are poor or if you are sick. Preachers are often accused of not practicing what they preach. Well, these people are not like that. They preach self-indulgence and they practice self-indulgence. And they are proud in what they are doing. They have the audacity to twist scripture to justify their self-indulgent lifestyle.

Frederick Price, one of these teachers, said: “ The Bible says that He has left us an example that we should follow his steps. That’s the reason why I drive a Rolls Royce. I’m following Jesus’ steps.”

d) They set their minds on earthly things

They have no vision of eternity. They have no excitement for the Father’s house. Their affections are set on what’s in the world. We must avoid these people, lest we learn their ways.

Earthly-mindedness is fatal. We must treat it as a vicious enemy. No wonder the bible warns us against it (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). There was a man named Demas who was one of Paul’s ministry partners. Aside from Paul, he was also rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mark and Luke (Philemon 23-24). But his end was tragic. In the last letter that Paul ever wrote, he reports: “for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world… “(2 Tim.4:10).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Imitating Model Citizens (Living as Citizens of Heaven, part 1)

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

The first lesson from our text on how to live as a citizens of heaven is to Imitate Model Citizens.


Our ultimate model is Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5; 1 Cor. 11:1). But the excuse of many is that they are disadvantaged because Jesus is God. He is perfect. He cannot sin. We cannot really imitate him 100% because we are sinners and we are imperfect. So okay, in this text we have someone who struggles with sin as much as you do. We have someone who is imperfect as much as we are. He calls himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim.1:16). He says that nothing good lives in his sinful nature (Rom. 7:18). We have just eradicated the mismatch!

What are the things in Paul that we should imitate? Well, there are many things and aspects in his life that are worthy of imitation. But the problem is I do not have the time nor the skill to go through all the biblical data on Paul. So we have to limit our self to the immediate context of our text.

Verses 12-14: 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

To understand this, we have to be aware that Paul is using one of his favorite imageries: sports specifically running in a race. So we have to leave the citizenship imagery for a while and follow Paul's imagery from sports.

He runs with maximum effort
I surveyed the lexicons for the definition of the word translated as press on in verse 12.

defines it as: "to move rapidly and decisively toward an objective"

Louw & Nida defines it as: "to follow with haste, and presumably with intensity of effort, in order to catch up with, for friendly or hostile purpose"

I also check the word translated as “straining toward” in verse 13.

Louw & Nida: “In Php 3.13 is used figuratively to suggest intense effort as well as firm purpose”.
BDAG: “to exert oneself to the uttermost”

What’s common in these two words is maximum effort. He is very determined to win.

I Cor. 9:26-27 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave …

The Apostle had two events in mind from the Isthmian games: running & boxing.

How does he run? Not aimlessly/not uncertainly. He has a clear purpose and that is to win.

How does he fight? Not a man beating the air; not shadow boxing. In every punch he throws, he has a clear target.

"I beat my body and make it my slave" …. We must make this body a slave or else this body will enslave us. This body does not like pain. This body doesn’t like training. What this body wants is comfort.

We love sports heroes who give their all. Have you watched a boxing match where a fighter does nothing but move away from his opponent from round 1 to 12? Thirty six minutes of running away. He rarely punches. All he wants is the last sound of the bell. On the contrary, there are fighters who are bathing with their own blood, with one eye swollen and yet continues to attack as a warrior and in the end manages to secure a split decision.

You love players who are deprived of substitution by their coaches from 1st quarter onwards. Exhausted, yet when they hear the “last 2 minutes” announcement, they are renewed with fresh strength. You love those who would leap towards the benches even if they know they will be hurt just to save a ball out from being out of bounds.

Copying Paul's Mindset

That is how Paul plays. That is his mindset. All his strength is invested in one goal—that is the heavenly call. So in verse 15 he urges his readers to have the same mindset: "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things".(NIV). This mindset must not be for Paul alone but for every mature Christian. This is a call to imitate him in his principles. And in verse 17, he repeats his call to everybody to imitate him: "Join with others in following my example" (NIV). So the next time you read the Pauline letters or even the data in Acts, don’t just admire the man— we should imitate the man. Take note of his prayers, his priorities, his work ethic, even his theology. What makes him glad? What makes him cry? What makes him mad?

We must look closely at the life of Paul so that we could likewise say at the end of our lives: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:6-7)

“and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (verse 17).

Earlier in this epistle, Paul mentioned two other men who also serve as models in the faith.

Timothy in Phil.2:19-22: "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel."

Timothy in 1 Cor. 4:16-17: "Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church."

Epaphroditus in Phil 2:29-30: "Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me."

When you find a few good men

Verse 17 says that we should take note of those who excel in the Christian life. We should observe their lives carefully for the purpose of following their footsteps.

Hebrews 13:17: "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

Though they are not many, God by his grace provided enough of them.The writer of Hebrews spent some time recalling the lives of some of the Old Testament saints in chapter 11. By the time he arrives at verse 32, he says "And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets..."

Likewise, I do not have enough time for this blog to write about the faith of Polycarp, Athanasius, Augustine, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, B.B.Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Walter Martin and other great saints in the history of Christianity.

Though we don't seek intercession from the dead as Roman Catholics do, we do treasure the contributions of those who walked in faith in ages past. The lives and the faith of those who have walk before us must inspire us to run, to persevere and to fix our eyes on Jesus.

1 Thess. 1:6-7: "You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia."

The text we read indicates that the ordinary folks in Thessalonica are models too.As they have imitated Paul’s gang, they became a model for other churches. I'm so glad to hear that. That means that we don't have to be in the league of the Spiritual elite in order to become models. Ordinary folks like us can live the Christian life and be models for others too.

The best thing about this race is that we are not competing to eliminate each other. Rather, someone’s good performance serves as an inspiration for others to persevere. When you excel in your Christian walk, you don’t only bring benefit upon yourself. Others will be encouraged and be inspired by of your Christian walk. And in that way you help others. Brethren, let us help one another by fixing our eyes upon Christ.

The last time I checked, our life expectancy as Filipinos, is 70 years. Some of us may die earlier.

As much as possible we want to be with our kids. As much as possible we want to minister for a long time. But life is very short.

Sometimes by faith, I ask the Lord for things that require long term answers. But honestly, because of my physical condition, I don’t expect that I would last long. My life's longevity is in question.

"by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead" (Hebrews 11:4)
This verse is precious because it reveals that by living a life of faith, we can still minister to future generations.

John Macarthur comments on this verse: "The primary meaning of Hebrews 11:4, however, has to do with Abel’s speaking to later generations of believers and potential believers."

Leon Morris comments: "He is dead, but his faith is a living voice"

Let them say:”Nang buhay pa si Tatay, ganito yung pananampalataya niya. Gusto ko siang tularan."

Let them say: "Nang buhay pa si Ninang, ganito siya mamuhay, gusto ko siyang tularan."

>Nang buhay pa si Lolo, ganito yung paninindigan niya, kaya ganito rin ako.

By living as citizens of heaven today, we shall inspire others, even the generations not yet born.

Let us imitate model citizens of the kingdom, and be models for others too.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Introduction: Living As Citizens of Heaven

There is an old song which goes: "This world is not my home/I'm just a passing through/ My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue/The angels beckon me from heaven's open door/And I can't feel at home in this world anymore."

Our stay here is only temporary. Even if we shall die at the ripe old age of 95, that is still nothing compared to our eternal destiny. We will not spend 10,000 years in heaven; not one million years; not one billion years but all eternity. We are only passing through in this world, our real home is the Father’s house.

Another point the song makes is that our treasure is not here—it’s beyond this world. “ But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt 6:20). The things we call our own in this planet will not last long; and whatever thing you posses that lasts long cannot survive the eschatological Day of the Lord, the period in the last days when God will pour out his full wrath upon the wicked. Peter the apostle writes: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” (2 Peter 3:10).

The last point from the song: “And I can't feel at home in this world anymore”. I’m not comfortable here. I am a stranger in this place. The values and principles of the people around us are very different from ours. The things they treasure are different from the things we treasure. Their pursuits—their ambitions – their goals in life are very different from ours. When you sit with them, you can’t feel any pleasant affections for what makes them happy. Oftentimes, your heart is grieved when they manifests their sinfulness. You will hear from their own mouth their perversity and it reveals that deep in their heaqrts, they are hostile to God.

We will not be happy with them. Why? Because we are strangers in this place.

1 Pet 1:1- “To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia”

1 Pet. 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world…

On their part, they think we are out of our mind! “they are astonished when you do not rush with them into the same flood of wickedness” (NET)

That’s a well written song! How I wish I always feel that way but honestly I don't. In moments of weakness, I forget that I am a citizen of heaven. There are moments in my life when the world looks so attractive.

The Bible’s warning against worldliness would be useless if our hearts are totally immuned from worldliness. There are times when the world pulls us to itself like a powerful magnet. In this series of lessons, we will go to Philippians 3:17-21 to learn from Apostle Paul on what it takes to live like citizens of heaven.