Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Enemies of the Cross: Philippians 3:17-19

Last week, we examined the verses preceding these as we considered the marks of Christian maturity. We said there that mature Christians had a certain attitude – do you remember it: self-denying, Christ-prioritizing, righteousness-receiving, resurrection-pursuing, limitation-recognizing, past-forgetting, forward-reaching, onward-pressing. We said also that mature Christians had a certain standard and a certain example. Paul says in v17 that mature believers should follow his example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us (the us being the apostles and earliest servants of Christ). But he goes on here to say that you can’t just look to anyone and everyone to demonstrate what it means to walk in way that honors Christ. Many walk in a different way. They are not examples of the Christian faith – they are enemies of the Cross, and God’s people would do well to recognize them as such.

As we look at these verses today, I want to examine two things particularly about the enemies of the cross: First, the characteristics of these enemies; second, some practical implications concerning these enemies.

I. Characteristics of Enemies of the Cross (v19)

A. Their End is Destruction

Be sure of this, though they may appear prosperous, carefree, and in control of their own destiny here and now, their end is destruction. The Psalmist Asaph confessed his own struggles with this unsettling display of prosperity often seen in the lives of the godless. In Psalm 73, he says, “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” He describes them as, “always at ease, they have increased in wealth.” As he watches this, he says, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning.” Have you ever felt like that? Like, “What is the point in continuing to be faithful to God when I only get into trouble, while the wicked seem to be floating through life without a care in the world?” You’ve probably never felt that way – just me, right?

Oh, but Asaph comes to a realization. He says, “When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!” (Psalms 73:16-19, NASB).

Their lives look pretty good until you stop to consider their end. Do you remember what Jesus said in Mark 8:36 – “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Is there any earthly possession or pleasure worth pursuing knowing that it will lead to eternal destruction? Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man but its end is the way of death.” The enemy of the cross is cruising through life. Strutting, if you will. Seems to have it all together and all of it is on grand display. But his end is destruction.

B. Their god is their appetite.

It is not that they hunger for God. It is that their hunger is their god. But it is not just the culinary appetite that is in mind here. That would only mean that they were gluttons. The idea here is that whatever they desire in life—be it physical pleasure or material gain, fame, fortune—if they want it, they stop at nothing until they have it. If worship is all about sacrifice, service, and submission, then they only thing they worship is themselves. They obey and trust every hunger, every thirst, every desire, regardless of how carnal it may be.

We spoke last time about the self-denying attitude of mature believers. We said that a good test of this is to examine how often you tell yourself no. The enemy of the cross never tells himself no. He sees something he wants, he goes and gets it. She gets bored with what she already has, she goes to get something else. This might be a possession, a relationship, or an addiction. But the key to it is that the enemy of the cross never stops to ask, “What does God think of this?” or “How might I better use my time, talents and treasures?” The most important question is, “How soon can I have what I want?”

They are like the drunk in Proverbs 23. Here we are told that the wine goes down smoothly but it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper in the end. It causes the eyes to see strange things, and the mind to utter perverse things. And “you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of a mast,” referring to that seasick dizziness that sets the drunkard reeling; he has to keep hang one foot off the bed and keep it on the floor to remind himself that the room is not spinning. He says, “They beat me, but I didn’t know it.” He wakes up with these mystery bruises and can’t remember how they got there. But alas, he says, “When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.” You’d think he’d say, “Never again!” But oh no, instead he says, “OK, the rough part is over, now I can’t wait to do it again. The sooner the better.”

When you see someone whose god is his or her appetite, you are seeing an enemy of the cross. The end of that individual shall be destruction.

C. Their glory is their shame.

Their values are all inverted. The enemies of the cross are proclaiming as good those things that the Lord has declared evil, and calling evil the things God announces are good. They are like those denounced by the prophet Isaiah who said in Chapter 5, verse 20, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

Today we are surrounded by this – not only those who engage in godless activity, but who flaunt it. They are proud of their deviant behavior and put it on display for all the world to see. And our culture applauds them and calls them courageous, while calling those of us who stand opposed to their display of immorality narrow-minded and hypocritical. Listen, I would be hypocritical if I stood and said, “You sin and I don’t.” That is hypocritical. But the truth is that even though we all sin, it is what we do with that sin and what the sin does to us that is a determining factor for a person. Sin ought to produce shame in us. It ought to humble us and drive us headlong to the mercy of God for grace and forgiveness. It ought not produce pride and glory in us. But there are some whose consciences have been so seared by sin that there is no shame anymore. They think that because they don’t feel bad about their sin, that it must be OK, so they put it on display for all to see.

This is nothing new. Near the turn of the third century AD, Hippolytus of Rome spoke out against the Simonians of his day, saying that they “actually congratulate themselves on their promiscuity, because they say that is what is meant by perfect love.”[1] Paul saw it in his day; Isaiah saw it in his. In fact, if you go all the way back to Genesis 4, you find Lamech boasting in vv23-24:

Lamech said to his wives,
"Adah and Zillah,
Listen to my voice,
You wives of Lamech,
Give heed to my speech,
For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me;

If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold."

Just six generations removed from the garden of Eden, we find a man whose glory is his shame. He, like many others, are enemies of the cross.

D. Their minds are set on earthly things

You have perhaps heard people criticized as being “so heavenly minded that they aren’t any earthly good.” That is kind of catchy, it has a little ring to it, but I am not sure how sound the theology is. It seems to me that according to the Scriptures, the more heavenly minded I am, the more earthly good I am. So, we are given the admonition in Colossians 3:1 to keep seeking the things above, and in 3:2, to set our minds on the things above. Not only this, but he says that we should not set our minds on the things that are on earth.

This does not mean that we are unconcerned about the events of the world, nor the lives of people we encounter as we live our lives. Rather, it means that we should not obsess or become fixated on the objects and affairs of this world because it is all temporary. The things of this world are passing away, and if we invest our entire life’s efforts on the things of this world, then we will have nothing of eternal value to look forward to in glory.

We are surrounded, day in and day out, with folks whose only thoughts are for the things of earth. They have no concern for eternity. Heaven or hell never enter their minds. They are just obsessed with how many possessions, how much fame, or how much pleasure they can acquire here on earth. And though I do not think it is possible to be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good, I do think it is possible to be so earthly minded that you are not any heavenly good. God can’t use you in this life, and you have nothing to look forward to in the next. The enemy of the cross has a mind like this – it is fixed only on the things of earth. One commentator renders it this way: “Their whole orientation is earthly. … What determines [their] whole pattern of living … is ultimately the earthly sphere of sin. They are concerned with values that pass away—they have neither divine origin nor eternal worth.”[2] Eternity isn’t even on their compass. If they think of heaven at all, it is not the biblical heaven, but some place full of merely carnal pleasure – eternal golf, or eternal sex, as opposed to eternity in the glory of Christ.

No soldier whiles away the hours contemplating the bliss of the enemy’s camp. The thought of that place horrifies them, it disgusts them. These are enemies of the cross. Therefore they are unconcerned of the affairs of the Cross-Purchased Kingdom. Their fixation is on this earthly realm. The eternal holds no attraction for them. … Enemies of the cross.

Well, this is who they are. They are a far cry from the self-denying, Christ-prioritizing, righteousness-receiving, resurrection-pursuing, limitation-recognizing, past-forgetting, forward-reaching, onward-pressing attitudes of mature Christians. They are the earthly-minded, shameful-glorying, appetite-worshiping, destruction-pursuing enemies of the cross. And as such, we need to recognize them by their characteristics, lest we begin patterning our lives after them.

II. Practical Implications of the Enemies of the Cross (v18)

Several things Paul mentions here in this verse deserve our attention as we think about the enemies of the cross.

A. There are many of them.

Many walk this way he says. You want to know why people act the way they do, and talk the way they do, and say and think the things they do? It is because they are enemies of the cross. We err when we expect them to think and act like mature Christians. If we only impose our morality on them, we have unrealistic expectations because Christian morality can only be exercised through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. If He does not abide in the person’s heart, that person is not saved, no matter how clean they may live. There are many people who commit no gross acts of immorality, but who are lost nonetheless because they do not know Jesus and have received neither the righteousness that He imparts in justification nor the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Our mission is not to transform the culture through moral legislation but to transform individuals through biblical evangelization. Only as the person is exposed to the Word of God and convicted of their sin can they surrender themselves to Christ as Lord and Savior and truly be saved.

Now the fact that there are many enemies of the cross says something else to us as well: We may find enemies of the cross within the church. Baptists have bled and died for centuries over the conviction that church membership is only for those who have been born again in Christ. I am not talking about church attendance. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend church. But when we speak of membership we are speaking of a family bond that unites believers in Christ. However, this conviction of regenerate church membership has been trampled under foot in the name of generosity and church growth, and because of a misunderstanding and misapplication of the world grace.

We have an obligation to take measures to ensure that those who call themselves members of the church are truly in Christ. I have a tremendous fear for our churches in these days that many have walked aisles and prayed prayers without truly repenting and trusting Jesus Christ for salvation, and have therefore been absorbed into church membership without being saved. So, if there are individuals who are members of the church who demonstrate these characteristics – their minds are set on earthly things, their glory is their shame, their god is their appetite – we need to confront them, not as cold and heartless judges of condemnation, but as compassionate friends who are concerned that their end is destruction.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the Corinthian church to ban one of their own from membership because he lives as an enemy of the cross. His motive is not condemnation, but redemption. He says it is so that their flesh may be destroyed in order that their soul may be saved. We should not be afraid to take sin seriously. In our culture today, no one takes sin seriously. We as the church of Jesus Christ must take sin seriously, beginning with personal introspection of our own lives, and then corporately as a church. If an individual lives as an enemy of the cross of Jesus Christ, we should hesitate to allow him or her to claim identification with the church of Jesus Christ which was redeemed by that cross. If by chance you have been an active church member (or an inactive one for that matter), but you realize you are not saved, do not let your ego and pride stand between you and the grace of God. Make things right with Him immediately by giving yourself fully to Jesus.

This leads to a second implication…

B. Ignore the example of the enemies of the cross.

Because there are so many enemies of the cross, we must be careful who we look to as spiritual examples. Paul’s admonition to look to him and other mature Christians as role models is based on the abundance of enemies of the cross. Notice the transition from v17 to v18. He says look to us … for many walk in this other way. There may come a point where you need to look at the people whose example you are following and say, “You know, even though he or she claims to be a Christian, they are not setting a Christ-like example, and I should look elsewhere for guidance in my faith.” For if you follow the enemy of the cross, you may find that you follow them all the way to their end, which is destruction.

The third practical implication is …

C. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the presence of enemies of the cross.

Notice what Paul says: “I have often told you.” This one sermon will not be enough. You will need a constant reminder to examine the tree by its fruit. Otherwise, we will let our guards down, and lose all sense of discernment and begin to allow enemies of the cross to unite with us, to serve alongside of us, and to even take places of leadership among us. Paul says, “I am telling you again what I have told you many times before – look at the life of the individual.” If their god is their appetite, their glory is their shame, their minds are set on earthly things, then their end is destruction because they are enemies of the cross, no matter what they may claim with their mouth. Our Lord Jesus Christ applied the words of Isaiah 29:13 to the religious elite of His day, saying, “This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me.” We must never forget this potentiality, and frequently remind ourselves to be on guard against it.

D. Our attitude toward the enemies of the cross must be one of compassion.

Paul says, “I am telling you this again, weeping.” The lostness we see in others often disturbs us; it frustrates us; many times it sickens and angers us. But until it drives us to weep with broken hearts for their condition, God will not use us to make a difference in the lives of these individuals. I get frustrated with lost people just like everyone else does. Sometimes they make me mad. But when I think that I was once there, an enemy of the cross like so many others, I thank God that someone reached out to me to speak the truth in love because their heart was broken for my sinful condition.

In particular, my heart breaks for two groups of enemies of the cross. The first group are the unreached people of the world who live in areas where there is little or no access to the gospel. If they woke up tomorrow wanting to throw themselves upon the mercy of God, they would not know how, because they have no missionary, no church, no Bible to which to turn. Of the 6.6 Billion people in the world today, 3.7 billion have little or no access to the gospel. They are found in 6,419 of the worlds 11,331 people groups. Their gods are their appetites, their glory is their shame, their minds are set on earthly things, their end is destruction. They are enemies of the cross. And whose fault is it? It is ours, for we have not taken the Great Commission seriously enough to step out of our comfort zones and take the gospel to them. This makes me weep.

I said there are two groups. That is one. The other is a group that is much different. The second group are those who are found week in and week out in attendance in every church in America, and many other parts of the world who believe that their religious activity is what is going to give them standing before God. They walked an aisle, they prayed a prayer, they filled out a card, but there was never a turning from sin and a trusting of the Savior leading them to salvation. Perhaps this is our fault to some extent in that we allowed them to affiliate with the church without insuring that they fully comprehended the gospel and the cost of discipleship. But with every unheeded call to salvation, their hearts grow colder and colder. They are active in church, but their gods are their appetites, their glory is their shame, their minds are set on earthly things, and their end is destruction. They are enemies of the cross, and are too proud or too indifferent to admit it. And for eternity the reverberation of our Lord’s words will ring in their ears as He says to them those haunting words of Matthew 7:23 – I never knew you. Depart from me.

Does that make you weep? It should. Perhaps today, someone present recognizes their need to abandon their trust in religious activity and turn in faith and trust to Jesus for salvation. Perhaps someone hears these characteristics explained and is shocked to learn that he or she is an enemy of the cross. Today, you can through God’s grace become His child if you will turn from sin, and humble yourself to trust fully in Christ to save you. If God is speaking to your heart about this, would you contact me so that we can discuss your transition from enemy of the cross to child of God.

Perhaps God is speaking to you about your need to compassionately confront someone: in your home, your community, your workplace, your church family. Do you love them enough to risk hurting their feelings that they might be brought to salvation? Do you weep over them? God may be burdening your heart about the unreached of the world. Perhaps He might use you to reach them. However God might be dealing with you, let your response to Him be one of faith and obedience.

[1] F. F. Bruce, NIBC: Philippians (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1989), 131.

[2] Peter T. O’Brien, NIGTC: Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 457.

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