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Enemies of the Cross

July 17, 2011

The Text

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Philippians 3:18 ESV

A Closer Look at the Text

Since the beginning of time on this earth, God has had enemies. The serpent in the Garden of Eden declared himself as God’s enemy by questioning God’s Word and calling God a liar (Genesis 3:1-4). Throughout the Old Testament God had enemies, as the psalmists observed from time to time (e.g., Psalm 81:15). Idolaters. Philistines and Canaanites. Pharaoh. Satan.

When He walked on the earth, Jesus had enemies, including the Pharisees. And to some extent the Romans. And others. Eventually, of course, Jesus’ enemies will be His footstool (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:42-43; Hebrews 1:13; 10:13). In the end times, such enemies of Christ as the beast, the false prophet the devil, and death itself will be thrown one by one into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20, 20:10 and 20:14).  Paul remind us that death itself will be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Who are the “enemies of the cross of Christ” referred to in Philippians 3:18? In Philippians 3:19, the immediately following verse in this book of the Bible, certain characteristics and consequences of these enemies of the cross of Christ are described. But before we get to those characteristics and consequences, it’s helpful to ask, generally: What does it mean to be an enemy of the cross of Christ?

In this passage, Paul is not talking about people who hate Christians, or attack Christians openly and aggressively. He’s not talking about the New Atheists, or old Atheists, or communists, or anyone else who would oppress or ridicule or harass Christians. Nor is he necessarily talking about false teachers or outright apostates, although they can probably be included. Instead, Paul is talking here about “false walkers.” People who hold themselves out as Christians (and who are often actively part of the church).  But who aren’t walking with the humility (Philippians 2:1-8), the devotion to Biblical truth (Philippians 3:2), and the Christ-like demeanor that Paul himself was striving to emulate (Philippians 3:17)

Paul had to remind the Philippians to “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). Otherwise, the Philippians followers of Christ might have been distracted by those in their midst (including leaders, teachers, and those with worldly authority or influence) who were not walking in this manner. This project of discerning and taking note of the radical Christ-walkers (and ignoring those who were not so fully committed) was extremely important to Paul. So much so, that it caused him to weep.

Paul is more distraught about the subtle but devastating damage that would-be Christians (“tares” or “weeds” as Jesus called them at Matthew 13:24-30 & 36-43) could cause among radical believers (“wheat” in Jesus’ parable), than he is about anything else. He once referred to such would-be Christians as “wolves” and pleaded – with tears – that the church elders at Ephesus to be alert about such enemies in their midst (Acts 20:28-31). Paul’s distress is emphasized by his admission that he writes these words “with tears.” In fact, the word klaiō is translated “weeping” in the NASB; the Greek word connotes wailing and audible grief.

Paul likewise shares Jesus’ revulsion of lukewarm, comfortable, worldly co-travelers (Revelation 3:15-17). These well-liked, good-looking, well-spoken, smug, self-focused and self-satisfied sort-of-Christians might actually be believers, or they might not be. More likely, they are better described, in the words of Kenda Creasy Dean and her colleagues as Christian-ish and vaguely Jesus-y moralistic therapeutic deists. They look good going to church. They are often really nice. And, they “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” As examples of Christian living and demeanor, they are to be largely ignored rather than looked up to. Paul instructs us to turn out attention elsewhere, that is, to those who walk according to the example of Paul as he followed Christ.

Some Observations about the Text

The “cross of Christ” represents the Gospel. After all, the Gospel, or “good news,” is based on the cross of Christ. On that cross, the Son of God was subjected to all of the shame, the pain, the rejection, the loneliness, the dread, and the spiritual emptiness that is the just and proper consequence of sin. My sin, your sin, our sin. Sin, or, more properly, rebellion against the authority and love of God, had to be dealt with (John 3:16). Enemies of that good news (Gospel) are those who would deny or trivialize this event, or, its significance. Religion is one of the most common and convenient ways to deny the power of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Rules-based oppressive religion is an enemy of cross of Christ. The most common denial of the Gospel is religion. “Religion” means any system by which people strive to reach up to God by their own strength. Usually this means by trying to “be good.” It can include any system of rituals, patterns of behavior or ethical rules that are designed make a person morally acceptable or to improve their “karma.” Jesus railed against the religious leaders of his day, calling them, among other things, a brood of vipers (Matthew 3.7; 12.34; 23.33). The Pharisees and other religious leaders actually believed that they could “earn” their way to a holy and perfect God by somehow impressing Him with their legalistic rules and rituals. Today’s rule-following religious folks who expect God to “weigh” their goodness and virtue against their supposedly “trivial” bad habits and occasional slip-ups, are today’s Pharisees and Judaizers. As Martin Luther once said, a person who thinks about God in this way presumes to “present a flattering appearance in God’s sight and to render himself peculiarly acceptable to Him.” God is not in the business of weighing good and bad in order to determine winners and losers. He never has been. What’s He’s looking for are sober, thoughtful and humble people who who are willing to honestly examine themselves and their own lives, and who are — through the intervention of the Holy Spirit — able to come to the realization that in the light of God’s perfection and holiness, they can never be good enough. The Old Testament reveals God’s standard of holiness. Only Jesus Christ can live up to that standard. Everything else is garbage (Philippians 3:8). That’s what the cross of Christ is all about.

No-rules (or minimal-rules) mushy “religion” is an enemy of cross of Christ. Many if not most people in North America and Europe don’t believe in absolute moral standards – faith-based or otherwise – anyway. They don’t believe that there is such a thing as moral truth. Some people identify with a religion, but are quick to acknowledge they don’t actually believe that God exists (half of the “Catholics” in France are atheists!) If they do accept the proposition that God exists, they are quick to draw their own parameters around Him, and decide for themselves what and how they’d like Him to be. Mostly, this means that they want and expect God to be a divine ATM: they can or ought to be able extract benefits (including money, of course) from Him upon demand, but don’t really owe anything back. Most especially, they don’t owe Him any concern or fealty in regard to such outdated notions as limitations on moral behavior, or the avoidance of self-indulgence. They reduce God from the awesome and holy and majestic Creator of the universe, to, an idol. A puny ATM-like deity that serves them rather than the other way around.

Walking as an enemy of the cross of Christ. This brings us back to Paul and his impatience with Judaizers (those would would “dumb down” the radical project of following Jesus Christ so that it resembles a mere rules-based religion), and his impatience with those who prefer to live as comfortably and as carnally as they reasonably can (as if there were no absolute moral parameters at all). The former group imposes self-derived rules upon themselves and others with a sense of self-righteousness; the latter group ignores as much as possible the sobering and very serious implications of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. To walk as an enemy of Christ, is to deny the truth, the timelessness, the terror and the totality of what it means to a true follower of Christ.
Finding Balance in Following Christ
Walking as a follower of Christ. To be a follower of Christ — to imitate Him and honor Him and hear His voice and represent Him to a hurting and lonely world — means to find a balance (i.e., His balance) between a licentious, carnal lifestyle of “no rules,” and an uptight, prideful adherence to a strict set of legalistic protocols. “Just right” living as a follower of Christ does not look the same for every believer; but the zealous, singleminded focus on Him and His Word, and a love for His church, does.

Gospel Apologetics

I admire followers of Christ who put buffer zones around themselves. Brothers in the Lord who install Covenant Eyes or similar software on their computers, so that they can allow themselves to be accountable to their wife or another brother for every website they visit. Sisters in the Lord who “go silent” whenever the slightest hint of gossip turns up in a conversation. Christians who avoid speaking even such lame euphemisms as “sheesh” or “jeez” or “darn” so as to tame the tongue and keep from using even slightly vulgar or inappropriate language. What they eat or drink, how they speak, how they spend their money, the bars and movies they avoid … so many aspects of their lifestyles are God-honoring. These habits also help to “avoid the near occasion of sin.”

Folks who allow their lifestyles, their demeanor, and their habits to be noticeably different from the mainstream of culture in these ways, are more likely to be asked “1 Peter 3:15 questions,” such as: why don’t you do this or that, drink this or that, see this or that movie, gamble at this or that casino, vacation at this or that place, etc.?

I admire lifestyles that elicit such questions.

I know that the answer to such questions is NOT “because those are the rules that are required of every Christian.”

I also know that the answer is NOT “because then God will love me” or “because God will accept me” or “so that I can go to heaven.”

Instead, the answer will reflect something more along the lines of 1 John 4:19: We love Him because he first loved us.

Click here for an MP3 for the audio of an “Enemies of the Cross” adult bible fellowship discussion.

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