Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the patter we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! Philippians 3:17-4:1.
Two phrases stand out as fulcrum points here. First, we have Paul encouraging his readers to follow his example and the believers who adhere to the pattern he and his partners gave them. Second, he makes it clear the pattern is the method by which they should stand firm in the Lord.
I would love to know exactly what that pattern looked like lived out according to Paul and Associates. Words are not meaningless but they don’t convey many of the nuances which would clear up some of the debate 2000 spiritual rabbit trails bring up. Actually, I think Paul does a good job describing the pattern to the Philippians, but I’m curious to know how it applies in specific situations he doesn’t address.
Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the principle of remembering our citizenship is in heaven while making a living and coping with the earthly realities. Since I’ve read many of his other letters with similar instructions but more practical guidelines, I don’t believe he is telling us stop living in the world or making a place here. I do think he’s warning us not to get too attached to our “stuff” here because it’s a temporary situation.
It’s not hard to picture the type of people who live as enemies of the cross, although I’d still not like to be the one to name them very often. Making a judgment call about anyone’s spiritual status is dangerous at best and down right detrimental at worst. Still, we must understand this truth in Christ so that we are not the ones living as His enemies; for as Paul says elsewhere: all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial; all things are permissible, but I will not be ruled by anything. If we call Jesus our “Master,” then our lives must demonstrate the truth of this.
Paul called himself a slave of Christ; and it’s only within this context that we can read any statement in which he calls Jesus “Lord” or “Master”. Unless we get this concept, we will misunderstand where we stand in the general mix. If we get off on one little point, it can mean being off in a big way later on. Anyone who knows basic Algebra or Geometry understands that even a small degree of deviation from the line means separation from it pretty quickly. The smallest deviations are hardest to detect, however, since they move seemingly parallel for such a long time. Give this deviation a few years to travel and we end up with a pretty big space between the original line and where we end up.
It’s one of the reasons I believe in humility where the Bible is concerned. Everybody struggles so much to grasp even the simplest concepts Scripture poses for our instruction that I believe we need to stop worrying about how far we or anyone else might be from the truth. It’s safe to just assume we are off in several ways and the different perspectives within the body of Christ forces us out of a complacent acceptance of our own spiritual superiority.
Again, in another place, Paul claims we live as aliens in this world. In his POV “alien” would mean someone from another country not probing egg-headed beings from space; to the Philippians he makes the argument for their citizenship in heaven. Anyone whose god is their stomach would find this truth a little disturbing, since a person would be known by their tribal or national affiliation. So much of a person’s identity in Paul’s era wrapped itself up in national or tribal associations that someone without a country, tribe or family was either looked down upon or ostracized all together. Anyone who claimed no loyalty to a group would be seen with more suspicion than someone from an enemy nation because mainly outcasts or criminals claimed such status.
Where we get our identity from tells those around us who we are. No matter what anyone wants to believe about our job title, marriage status or whatever else people ask about at parties, our identity derives directly from our affiliations. Who we are connected to sometimes matters more than what we do. For instance, say a man is related to the president of the United States as a nephew or cousin but works as a janitor, he will get respect from not only his peers but anyone who finds out about it just because of this connection. It doesn’t matter that he’s probably not well off or traveling in powerful circles; just the fact he’s related to someone that powerful gives him a certain amount of notoriety.
Our citizenship is in heaven, so our identity comes from there. If we are preoccupied with “earthly” things, we misrepresent our country of origin. When I go visit another country, I am an American still. My accent, relationships and a host of other verbal and non-verbal cues tell everyone where I come from and to whom I belong. But when I begin to blend into the population, take on their mannerisms, speak their language, support their economy and generally become nationalized, I am no longer strictly an American but something of an expatriate. I can still do all this without betraying my country; however, the moment I do anything that goes against my country of origin’s interests, I become a traitor. Even if I don’t renounce my American citizenship formally, going against its policies, traditions, or interests in that place betrays my claims to belong.
Now there are many who set up a host of rules and regulations for belonging to the Christian faith, and I’m not sure I want to argue for or against all these. Let’s just suffice it to say, the Bible makes it really simple to be a member. 1 John 2:3-6 makes it abundantly clear what it means to belong to Christ: We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did. Simple, eh?
No, I guess it’s not, because we have 2500+ denominations out there to prove how many ways we can interpret what it means to “obey His commands” as well as a host of arguments and discussions over which commands we must obey.
Yet I do believe there is a simple rule for us to follow: Imitate Jesus. That might sound confusing, but really it takes away a lot of backwash from the water of life. When Jesus says (as Matthew 18:15-20 records it) to confront sin a certain way, then we do it that way. If in the same context He tells us to treat a brother or sister who will not be reconciled like a pagan or tax collector, then we must look first at how He treated these people instead of imitating the world around us—even the religious world to which we belong gets this wrong. If Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners by going to their houses and eating their food, then I doubt He means for us to cut them off completely from our lives.
Do you see the difference? The world accepts others based on sameness, agreement or capitulation; the Body of Christ accepts others based on the cross. To live as an enemy of the cross is not only to be a glutton or sinner, but to continue in the world’s values. If while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, then how should we demonstrate our citizenship to the young believers and those outside the body of Christ? If Jesus demonstrated His love for us by dying for us before we even belonged to Him, then how should we treat those around us?
There are limits to this, of course, like I won’t attend an orgy of gluttony and/or sex just to show an unbeliever I care about him/her. But I will come to his/her house at a time which is mutually benign because we are friends. At the same time, those who betray the faith by continuing in unrepentant sin (and this knowingly), I am to have nothing to do with till they repent. I know that sounds harsh, yet I can’t help but believe this was Jesus’ way of supporting the idea of refusing to enable someone’s destructive habits rather than punishing them. In psychology denying someone support for their destructive lifestyle is considered wise. Cutting them off completely is not good, though refusing to bring them into the inner circle where they might infect others with their bad habits is considered wisdom.
This is, of course, just a few examples of where the pattern comes into play. As our understanding of the pattern grows, so does our practice of it. God doesn’t hold against us when we can’t grow all at once. If He did, none of us would be make the grade, quite frankly. So if He doesn’t expect such an instantaneous change, neither should we.
The pattern Paul gave to the churches he established in Jesus’ name follows firm moral boundaries which include mercy, grace, rebuke, gentleness and a host of other positive traits. We stick to morals not just because they are right (which they are) but because they are the essential ingredients to love. We marry one person not because the Bible forbids multiple sexual partners but because this is the essence of love—it’s how we’re designed. Understanding the reason for something strengthens the resolve of those who follow a teaching. When we do so out of legalism, our moral stance becomes cold, calculated and harsh; when we do so out of love, our morals uplift, glorify and minister healing (minister here meaning “serve”).
Paul makes it abundantly clear only those who follow this pattern will stand in the end.