The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached in May, 2022*
Sermon Audio: Two Ways to Live (Phil 3:17-4:1)
Have you ever felt stuck about a decision that needed to be made? Where to go for dinner? What kind of car to buy? What outfit to wear? How to approach your boss about that problem? What to do in the face of your children’s persistent discipline issues? Life is full of decisions that have to be made, and the more serious the decision, the more paralyzing the choice can be. What do we need to make good decisions? Well, we need information and wisdom and then we have to simply make a choice. Information about the options before us, wisdom to weigh the two, and decisiveness to move forward with one and not the other. We all know what its like to make a decision, only to later regret it—the restaurant made for a disappointing date night; the exciting business venture tanks; the diet plan didn’t do anything for us. What did we lack? Either good information or the wisdom needed to analyze the information well.
During the pandemic when our family was feeling pretty stir crazy, we planned a short little vacation and we failed to read reviews very carefully. I took cursory glances at pictures of the house online and thought it looked fine. The house we stayed at was billed as a cabin in the woods, which sounds great, but in reality felt more like a “we might get murdered here and no one would find us for a long time.” We walked inside and my oldest son found a random dish towel hanging from a hook on a wall in the dining room and asked, “Dad, why is this here?” I moved the towel aside and behind the towel was either the remnants of a ketchup bottle that exploded onto the wall, or evidence of a crime scene. Needless to say, it would have been nice had we looked more thoroughly at reviews of our destination before we arrived.
This is likely why services which provide reviews have become so popular. Don’t want to waste your time with a bad movie? Look up a review. Worried about whether that new piece of technology is worth it? Read a review. We love reviews because they give us insider knowledge—an authoritative voice of someone who has been to the Air BNB, who has used that doctor, who knows and can tell you what the experience was like. But, I’m sure you’ve had moments where you were given an inaccurate review, or someone told you bad advice about something: Go see that movie, it’s incredible! You guys should totally go out, you’d really hit it off! And the more serious the decision being made, the more necessary it is for us to have reliable information.
What if we had someone who could provide fool-proof, 100% certain information about the most important decision in life? Here in our text today, we have just that. The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so speaking on behalf of God, is going to give us an overview of the most important decision you or I can make in our lives: what you or I do in response to Jesus Christ. If you take a bad vacation, you can take another one; if you make a poor business investment, you’ll recover. But if you make the wrong decision about Jesus? That’s it. There is no do-overs. You get one shot with your life. You either receive Christ as your King and Savior who has died to purchase you, to forgive your sins and reconcile you to God, and fall down before Him in worship, or you don’t. And here, Paul is going to lay out the consequences of these two options. What does that look like? What affect do these two choices have on your life? Turn with me to the book of Philippians:
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Phil 3:17-4:1
The Power of Example
Paul opens this section with an encouragement and a warning. First, he encourages us to keep good examples before our eyes, and then cautions us of bad examples. He tells us, “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us,” (Phil 3:17). We have spoken of this before, but Paul understands examples to serve as a critical function in the Christian life. Christianity is not calculus. It is not something that you can sit down with a book, alone in a room, and figure out all by yourself. It is something that needs to be demonstrated. And Paul says we should look at his example, and follow it, as well as keep an eye on others who do the same. Note why Paul concludes this, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ,” (Phil 3:18). Why should you have good examples? Because there are so many bad examples. And these bad examples don’t leave Paul shaking his fist in anger, they don’t leave him laughing, they don’t leave him with a cold indifferent shoulder shrug—they leave him weeping. Why? It becomes evident when we compare their life with the Christian life.
Two Ways to Live
In verse 19 Paul paints a description of what these enemies of the cross are like, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things,” (Phil 3:19). Here Paul gives us four characteristics of enemies of the cross: (1) He tells us their end, (2) their god, (3) their glory, and (4) and their mindset. If we move backwards through them (because I think it results in a natural progression), we can actually see how Paul counters each point with what marks a Christian. Remember: Paul isn’t only giving us these characteristics to identify what a non-Christian looks like, but as a warning for us, lest we follow in their path. So as we listen, we should seek to see if we identify any of these characteristics in ourselves.
“With minds set on earthly things.” Paul tells Christians to, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” (Col 3:2), or elsewhere explains, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace,” (Rom 8:5-6). Paul is trying to warn us that if we set our minds on earthly things, things of the flesh, we are walking the path of death. A mind that is set on worldly things is a mind that thinks about, meditates on, and treasures what the world does.
But those in Christ? What do we set our minds on? We set our minds on “the things that are above” and on the “Spirit.” Philippians reminds us that, “But our citizenship is in heaven,” (Phil 3:20). If you’ll remember, back in Philippians 1:27 Paul told the Philippians to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The phrase “let your manner of life ” is actually all one word in Greek and it just means, “live as a citizen of.” So, the contrast Paul is making here is the same contrast the St. Augustine made in his classic work The City of God. There are two cities that you can belong to—the city of man or the city of God. Christians are those who belong to the heavenly city, so we set our minds on that city. Practically speaking, that means that we let the culture of the Kingdom of God impress itself upon us and shape and form out mental space. We meditate on God’s Word, we adopt God’s worldview, we interpret reality through God’s framework.
Enemies of the cross, however, have not seen the heavenly truths, the “things that are above,” so they operate within an enclosed, earthly frame. So, the values of our culture, of our own desires, become the grid through which we interpret reality. And this leads to what they value, what they glory in.
“They glory in their shame.” What does that mean? It means that they take pride in what should embarrass them, what should leave them ashamed. Paul explains to the Roman church that when we turn away from God our minds become darkened and we do shameful things with our bodies, especially when it comes to our sexuality (Rom 1:24-27). Shame is a tricky issue. We tend to assume that shame is unequivocally something to be avoided. But Paul makes it clear that there are some things that are dishonorable, shameful.
Human beings were made to know God, which means we were meant to have a mindset that was centered on him. When we fail to do that, what happens? What we love becomes twisted, and what should leave human beings ashamed can actually become something we are incredibly proud of. It is a tragic irony that “pride” has become a rallying cry of a movement that is based on doing shameful things with one’s body. But this can take other forms as well, it also looks like men who brag of how many women they have taken to bed, or looks like parents who feel proud of their career despite it leading to the sacrifice of their children. If your mind is set on earthly things, you will value and boast in whatever the world around you does.
What do Christians glory in? If the enemies of the cross “glory in their shame,” does that mean we glory in our honor? Do we glory in our self-righteousness, our prestige, our achievements? That would seem to be the natural opposite of “shame” wouldn’t it? No, Paul in contrast simply points us to Christ, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil 3:20). Earlier, Paul explained, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” (Phil 3:3). The only thing a Christian brags about, boasts in, honors is Christ alone. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Gal 6:14).
“Their god is their belly.” Everybody worships, and you what you worship, you are controlled by. What do the enemies of the cross worship? Their bellies. Meaning, they worship their appetites. What their body wants, they give it. Why? Because their cravings are their god. Basically, you have appetites, you have cravings, and you should indulge them. If you want something you should have it. So, do you want sex? Go have it. You want status? Do whatever it takes. You want to be a lazy sloth that lies on the couch all day? Indulge away. When your belly is your god, you live to satisfy your cravings, so you glory in your shame with a mind set on earthly things: if you want something, you should have it.
For Christians, of course, our god is not our belly, but our “Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil 3:20). As we considered last week, one thing Christians are to do is to discipline their bodily cravings and bring them under the Lordship of Christ (1 Cor 9:24-27). Jesus knows what is best for us friends, His law is for our good. He knows that handing ourselves over to our wanton desires and lusts will just destroy us. So, He—not out bodies and their cravings—is our Lord. But notice, He is not just our Lord, but also our Savior. Your belly won’t save you. Indulging your cravings won’t. It will leave you constantly looking for another high, another bed, another pursuit to distract you, with ever diminishing returns. Jesus isn’t like that. He will not dangle a carrot out on a stick with a promise of salvation some day. He can take you in your sins now, and redeem you wholly, save you entirely.
“Their end is destruction.” Where does this all end? Paul makes it clear that those who reject the gospel of Christ face “destruction.” He warns the Thessalonians, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” (2 Thess 1:9). Enemies of the cross of Christ do not want God, and so for all eternity, that is precisely what they will get—but it will not bring life. How could it? In God is the light of life. The only thing found away from His presence is destruction. CS Lewis poignantly reflects on Christ’s words to the reprobate, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt 7:23) what terror could it be to “banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all,” (The Weight of Glory).
The point here, though, is to show you that the train the enemies of the cross of Christ is not an enviable one because its destination is not a place you want to go. Psalm 73 is a reflection of a faithful follower of the Lord who is frustrated that he has lived a life of holiness, but his life is filled with struggle and deprivation. Meanwhile, all the people who reject God seem to live a life of ease, they are rich, famous, and seem to have no consequences for their unrighteousness. And the psalmist confesses that he was envious—what’s the point of being godly! Now, that’s a problem—we don’t follow God so that we can become rich, famous, and indulgent. But here is part of what helped the psalmist:
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
We keep our hearts rightly balanced when we keep eternity in mind, friend. Maybe you are tempted to look at the non-Christians around you who scratch the itch of desire whenever it comes, who give themselves over to whatever craving, and maybe there is part of your mind that is actually mirroring the mind set of the world. And deep down you think, Man, that must be nice. Friend, in the same way a dream evaporates at the first eyeblink of consciousness, they are going to utterly destroyed. Do not envy those who glory in their shame. Turn instead to the path of life.
What is the end, the final state of a Christian? Consider, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself,” Phil 3:20-21. Our end is the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who will usher us into the kingdom of Heaven, where our citizenship lies, and there we will remain forever. But not only that, we will experience a transformation of our body.
In the previous point I told you that our bodies are not our god, Jesus is, so we do not hand ourselves over unconditionally to our bodily cravings. But this does not mean that our bodies are inherently bad. Quite the opposite. Psalm 137 tells us that the creation of your body should inspire fear and wonder in us.
But the Bible explains that our bodies are in need of redemption. Which means that (1) our bodies are in trouble, they are riddled with sin, but (2) they are valuable and can be repaired. Paul is telling us here that one day our bodies will be restored and renewed, transformed into the same kind of body that Jesus Christ Himself currently possesses. Look again at verse 21 where we are told Jesus, “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself,” (Phil 3:21).
What does that last qualifier mean? “By the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” That is saying that the power God is going to use to transform your body is the same power which He uses to govern the universe and the same power He will one day exert when every knee on heaven and earth and under the earth bows to Him and confesses that Christ is Lord. That is the firepower God is intending to use to transform your body, which is itself indicative of just how dramatic this transformation will be. We all acknowledge problems with our body, and we can think of ways a glorified body would be an improvement—no more back pain, no more illness, no more death, etc. But, if we’re honest, the power used here seems to outstrip what is needed. But that is likely because you and I have grossly underestimated what God intends for us.
If I tell you I am going to show up this weekend to help you out with some landscaping work at your house and am bringing some help with me and show up with another friend and a pair of shovels, you can easily begin to guess the scope of the work being done. But if I show up with a crew of over a hundred, with bulldozers and backhoes and flatbed trucks of supplies, you will realize that the scope of this renovation far exceeds any expectations you initially had. If God intends to use the same power with which he rose Jesus from the dead with (Phil 3:10-11), and the same power he is going to subject all of creation to Himself with, then you can be confident that the restoration of your body that God has in store far outstrips anything you can expect.
Just think of the many joys the created world and our bodies give us now. What will it be like when we have this newly renovated, glorified body in a glorified, remade creation free from sin? The apex of bodily pleasures now are considerable, but if that is in a fallen world, what will it be like in a sin-free world?
And friend, what will it be like to worship God with a sin-free heart? To enjoy Him? And because we have a body and He now has a body, that means that we will be able to experience communion with God bodily. We shall see him. Embrace him. Know him. Forever.
That is the Christian’s end.
And now, you have a choice. You have the information before you. Now, you simply need to evaluate it and then have the courage to decide. Paul’s words serve as an invitation. To those who do not yet know Christ, God invites you: you do not need to remain enemies of the Cross. You can come and receive the welcome and embrace of Christ. Exchange your worldly mindset for a heavenly one, glory in Christ not your shame, worship Him as the one true God, and enjoy His communion forever.
To the Christian, Paul speaks these words of exhortation: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Phil 4:1).