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When Corrupt Role Models Abound

In the previous post I mentioned a few of the so-called “role models” in our society who ought to be ignored rather than imitated. Well, there were quite a few back in the first century as well, and Paul describes them for us in Phil. 3:18-19. Continue reading . . .

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk 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 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. 3:17-21).

In the previous post I mentioned a few of the so-called “role models” in our society who ought to be ignored rather than imitated. Well, there were quite a few back in the first century as well, and Paul describes them for us in Phil. 3:18-19. But remember this: there are people today, professing Christians no less, who fit the profile that Paul sets forth in these verses. So don’t think for a moment that this was only a problem for the Philippians back then. It’s our problem as well.

Paul describes them in five ugly phrases. But before I explain them, notice three other things.

First, Paul says there are “many” of them (v. 18a). They aren’t few and far between. They were everywhere in the ancient world, and they are everywhere today. Beware!

Second, their presence and influence moved Paul to “tears” (v. 18b). It’s hard to know what it is precisely that caused him to weep. It may have been the destructive influence these people exerted on the Philippian Christians and other believers whom Paul loved. Or it may be that Paul actually wept for these very individuals who lived in such immoral and destructive ways. Perhaps he wept for their salvation. Perhaps he was heartbroken and devastated with the thought of where their lives would ultimately lead them.

Third, a lot of debate has swirled around the attempt to identify these people, with little success in my opinion. But there is every reason to believe that these were professing Christians; not truly born again, but claiming to be; people who infiltrated and were active in the church in Philippi. So, in case you’re wondering, is it possible that people like this might exist at your church? The answer, sadly, is yes. In any case, let’s take note of them.

(1) They “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (v. 18b). What does this mean? Please note that they aren’t merely enemies of Christ, but of his cross. They didn’t deny that Jesus was crucified. They simply hated and resisted what it meant. They were offended by the idea of a crucified Messiah. They were offended by the suggestion that they were so sinful that nothing short of death on a cross was necessary to save them. They were offended by a salvation that was all of grace and excluded what they believed was the merit of their own good works. They were offended by the cross because it stands as God’s repudiation of all human wisdom and power and pride.

There are “enemies of the cross of Christ” today as well. Perhaps none are more dangerous or misguided than those who mock and ridicule the concept of penal substitutionary atonement, calling it “cosmic child abuse.” There was a time when only atheists or theologically liberal critics denounced substitutionary atonement. But now we hear it from those who say they are evangelicals!

(2) “Their end is destruction” (v. 19a). This statement clearly tells us that Paul viewed them as only professing believers. They are not born again. They will ultimately suffer eternal condemnation.

(3) “Their god is their belly” (v. 19b). These aren’t people who through grace and self-discipline have brought their fleshly appetites under control. Quite the opposite. They are given to such self-indulgence that they’ve effectively enthroned their own fleshly desires as god of their lives. They don’t serve Christ except when it’s convenient and will gain praise from others (cf. Romans 16:17-18). Whatever their bodies crave, they feed. Whatever sinful inclination they feel, they embrace. Whatever immoral hunger their souls may sense, they indulge. When the fleshly appetite cries for satisfaction, they bow down and obey it. They in effect worship their own passions and desires and lust.

(4) “They glory in their shame” (v. 19c). Whatever is shameful, they glorify! The very wicked and perverse behavior that ought to bring conviction and shame, they promote and praise and take pride in! It’s one thing to sin. We all do that. But it’s another thing when, rather than feeling conviction and pursuing repentance, a person elevates and promotes and flaunts their sin.

(5) Their “minds” are “set on earthly things” (v. 19d). They don’t simply “think” on earthly things. They are obsessed with them. They are fixated on the here and now to the exclusion of eternal and heavenly realities.

If I were to stop there, I can well imagine you might react by saying, “Sam, what a downer! How horribly pessimistic! Man, I came to your blog today for some encouragement and all I’ve read is how many rotten, self-absorbed jerks I should avoid!”

I understand. So did Paul. That’s why he turns immediately to speak words of indescribable hope and joy.

To be continued . . .

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