Friend or Foe?
by Tom McLemore
In Philippians 3:17-21, Paul wrote, “Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
When Paul speaks of enemies of the cross of Christ, what do you imagine? Do you think of philosophers giving speeches about its foolishness? Paul said that Christ crucified was folly to the philosophic Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). Do Jewish rabbis publishing pamphlets about how offensive it is come to mind? Paul wrote that Christ crucified was a stumbling block to Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). Perhaps you call to mind politically correct protesters and courts swayed by public opinion trying to remove the cross from public view? These indeed are foes of the cross, but we may doubt that they are the only kind of enemies Paul has in mind in Philippians 3:17-21.
Who, then, are the enemies of the cross of Christ Paul had in mind? I dare say that he had in mind Christians who live as enemies of the cross. And Paul provides a dossier of such enemies of the cross of Christ. Their lives are directed by appetites (“whose god is their belly”). “For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites...” (Romans 16:18). Their lives are characterized by sin (“they glory in their shame”). They are proud of their sins. Perhaps they are libertines, using grace as a license to sin and completely misunderstanding the nature of Christian freedom. They are arrogant rather than mournful, and their boasting is not good (1 Corinthians 5:2, 6). Like pagans, they not only do sinful things but approve those who practice them (Romans 1:32). Their lives are focused on the temporal (“minds set on earthly things”).
Why does this kind of living make one an enemy of the cross of Christ? In every way it is inimical to the accomplishments and meaning of the cross. Christ died so we could be unselfish and overcome the lusts of the flesh. Christ died to liberate from the flesh and from self. “And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15).
The death of Christ on the cross was on account of sin. Christ died as an offering for sin, so that we, united with him in his death, might no longer serve sin, but God and righteousness (Romans 6:1-14). Christ died on the cross to open the way to heaven to us and to enable us to live on a higher plane (Colossians 3:1-3).
Would you be a friend of the cross of Christ? If so, it is not enough to wear cross jewelry, to display the cross, to hang paintings of the crucifixion in your home, to merely sing about “The Old Rugged Cross,” to crusade for the right to display religious symbols, or even to be touched by the contemplation of Christ’s sufferings, etc. There are many who do these things, but they are enemies of the cross of Christ.
What is required is a life shaped by the cross? We behold such a life, shaped by the cross, in Paul and those like him. The cross was his “rule,” directing his life. In his life, he sought to reproduce the selfless attitude and sacrificial actions of Christ crucified (Philippians 2:5ff.; 3:10). He said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The cross was his glory (Galatians 6:14). The cross filled his mind. The cross was his focus.
Like whom are you trying to be? What is at stake? For foes of the cross, “their end is destruction.” For friends of the cross, their commonwealth is in heaven. Which will you prove to be, friend of foe?
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