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).

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