The Second Sunday in Lent March 16, 2014
148(1-8), 457, 605(1-3,5), 47
May the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ lead you to contemplate and appreciate the priceless gift that He earned for you—the forgiveness of all your sins and eternal life. Amen.
Dear fellow Christians:
Has anyone ever asked you the question that serves as our theme today? Usually, they add an “anyway” at the end: “Whose side are you on, anyway?” The question itself usually hints at betrayal. “I thought you were on my side, but what you just said or did makes me wonder.”
What if Jesus were the one asking the question of you? How would you answer? Obviously, we would all answer with a passionate, “Yours Lord!” Is that, though, what our day-to-day words and actions indicate? Do the friends whom we choose, the clothes that we wear, the way we manage all the time and treasures that the Lord has given us declare allegiance to our Savior or to something else? Would Jesus even have to ask, or would the answer be obvious? Jesus once said that we could not be friends with the world and friends with Him at the same time. It is a sobering truth, isn’t it?
Joshua once asked a similar question of the Jews as they entered the Promised Land. Our text for today does the same of us. It draws up sides and forces us to reexamine which side is ours. That text is found in Paul’ letter to the Philippians, beginning in the third chapter:
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
These are the words of God. When dealing with the Word of God we never need to be on our guard or skeptical, for here we have only truth and light. That our God would guide and strengthen us through these words, we pray: “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
How important do you suppose it is today for the Christian Church to clearly identify who is a friend and who is an enemy? Obviously, such things are necessary in the military. They have complex IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) systems that are designed to quickly and definitively identify who is a friend and who is an enemy. Our text seems to indicate that something along the same order is absolutely necessary in the spiritual realm. In fact, that is the sum and substance of our text, where we are not only encouraged to identify both friends and foes, but we are also taught how to do so and why it is so important. Surely, this is the kind of nuts and bolts practical advice that every single child of God ought to treasure.
First of all, then, just who are your true enemies? It is probably safe to say that gentle Christian folk don’t tend to think in terms of having enemies. Enemies—as the world thinks of enemies—are for the cut-throat movers and shakers of this world. The rich and powerful are the ones who have enemies, and that is often because they make enemies. Those who want to be something in this life are generally not afraid to grapple, claw, and scratch their way to the top while stomping on anything and everyone standing in their way. Folks like that just come to expect that they will have enemies, and generally, they do.
But what about those who care very little for the things of this world? What about those who live instead for the world to come—those whose “citizenship is in Heaven? [v.20] How or why should we be concerned with the identification of enemies?
It is precisely because we don’t tend to think in those terms that we need the warning of the Holy Spirit in our text. We need to be reminded of the facts of life as they apply to Christians living in a sinful world, a hostile environment.
So just who are our enemies? Pay attention here, because the answer may surprise you. Everyone can identify those who pose a physical threat as an enemy, or at least, a potential enemy. No one has any trouble identifying ax murderers and sexual predators, for example, as those whom you are probably not going to invite to backyard family cookouts. But that’s not the sort of thing Paul is talking about. He’s talking about “mutilators” of a much more dangerous sort.
Some of the history of the congregation in Philippi might be helpful here. The congregation was founded by the Holy Spirit during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey. You may recall how Paul first preached to some women as they prayed on the banks of the Gangites River. There were apparently so few Jews in the area that no synagogue had been established in Philippi, so those who worshipped did so at a spot along the river. The first converts to Christianity in this area were Lydia and her family with whom Paul later found lodging. The city, you may also recall, was thrown into an uproar by those who suffered economic loss when Paul cast the demon out of their fortune-telling maiden. On a subsequent visit, Paul was imprisoned and there met and converted the jailer and his family. The congregation eventually grew to be one of the most important in Macedonia (cf. Acts 16:11ff).
So who were the enemies against whom Paul warned? The pagan Romans? The unbelieving Jews? The Philippians actually had no trouble identifying such threats. The hatred and animosity of the Jews and Romans was painfully evident. Who then? Who was it that represented such a subtle yet deadly threat that Paul found it necessary to send this warning to his beloved Philippians? The problem was not those who had already identified themselves as enemies, it was those who had been identifying themselves as friends. The threat did not come from without, it came from within. This enemy wasn’t standing outside the locked front door, he was already hiding in the broom closet. To warn these young Christians Paul needed to make sure the Philippians knew where to look.
There was in Philippi a group that came to be known as the Judaizers. In general, the Judaizers were those who tried to blend Christianity with the religion of the Jews. What made the problem so difficult was that what these false teachers promoted seemed right, but in fact was a perverse form of the Jewish religion.
In reality, Old Testament Jews were saved the same way we are today—through faith in the Savior. The Old Testament faith looked forward to a coming event, while ours looks backwards at what has now been accomplished—same faith, different perspective.
Over the centuries, however, the Jews had corrupted their faith, opting instead for a religion by which they tried to earn their passage to Heaven by their works. The result was that when Christ finally appeared, the Jews didn’t want him. Worse than that, they didn’t think they needed him. In their minds they were doing just fine all on their own. Some of those Jews, perhaps sensing that there was something different, special, important about Jesus of Nazareth, developed a perverse sort of religion by which one must not only believe in Jesus, but also supplement or augment that belief with certain works that the individual himself had to provide. The most notable was circumcision, and so it was that Paul came to label them “the mutilators.”
Is any of this starting to sound familiar? If it doesn’t yet, it almost certainly will in a bit.
It really isn’t hard to see how this perversion of the true Christian faith would resonate with the Jews. Many of the Jews had been raised on the idea that God’s love had to be earned by human action. They had been taught from childhood that only the wicked failed to celebrate the prescribed festivals, eat the proper foods, and offer the required sacrifices. To fail to circumcise your son, in their minds, was to exclude that son from God’s love and the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s what they’d been taught, that’s how they’d been raised.
While God certainly had commanded such things as symbols and reminders of the coming Savior, everything changed when that Savior finally arrived. Paul described all of these things as “a shadow of the things to come” (Colossians 2:17). The need for all such things ended—they found their completion—in Jesus.
That is why Paul had to identify the Judaizers as enemies. They probably didn’t seem like enemies. They undoubtedly seemed like good, moral, highly religious people who were just trying to do the right thing. I have little doubt that they were compassionate, conscientious, and moral—good people all in the eyes of society.
Yet, Paul described them as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” [v.18] Hear his words well. Allow them to sink-in. Struggle to come to terms with their full import: “Enemies of the cross of Christ!”
How could they be? How was that possible? The same way that it was possible for Jesus to have to say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). The “cross of Christ” is not just an object, it is the symbol that represents an entire religious conviction. “The cross” represents the simple truth that Jesus Christ alone saves. It was Jesus, not man, who appeased God’s wrath toward sin through His innocent death on that cross. In this way “the cross” stands in direct opposition to any and all work righteousness. To imagine that man must add anything at all to pay for his sins is to exist as an enemy of Christ Jesus and the cross that He alone could bear. “We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).
Our text says of such enemies that “their god is their belly.” [v.19] What in the world does that mean? Were they drunkards and gluttons? Maybe, but there is probably more, since such perversions would have been easily identified by God-fearing folk everywhere. While we tend to think of the heart as the seat of emotion, the people in Paul’s day thought in terms of the stomach or belly. Thus these enemies could very well have been very pious individuals who were nonetheless guided by their own gut instincts of what was true and right, rather than by the Word of God. To them it just seemed right that man must do his part and that idea became their truth, their religious conviction.
What were the stakes here? They couldn’t be higher, since Paul says of these enemies: “Their end is destruction.” [v.19] It is clearly time to sit up and take notice, for this is not only a question of Heaven or Hell, the Church today is being attacked by the very same enemies.
Though Paul took no pleasure in pointing out such adversaries—“I have often told you and now tell you even with tears…” [v.18 ESV]—he nonetheless felt the need to identify them repeatedly. The danger is that great. Across the ages he now calls out also to you and me. Today, if anything, the danger is even greater. Every Christian church today that preaches spiritual mush poses a clear and present danger to the true faith. Every church body that is guided, not by the Word of God, but by their own “bellies” or emotions and by whatever feels right, represents a threat to all who cling only to the truth of God’s Word and what that Word teaches. Make no mistake. Those who truly understand and trust in “the cross of Christ” could never allow that there are many paths to God. Every such instance is a denial of Christ and of the absolute truth of God’s Word.
Our text represents the New Testament equivalent of Joshua’s call, challenging you to identify which side you are really on. Friends, family, co-workers—anyone who adheres to something other than salvation by God’s grace through faith is Jesus Christ is here identified as an enemy of the cross of Christ. Harsh? Certainly. Bitterly frustrating? Clearly. Yet nonetheless true? Without question. Why else do you suppose Paul wept at the very thought? Denying the reality of the situation does nothing at all to help the situation.
This is exactly the sort of thing that Jesus was talking about when He referred to the sword that would divide even the closest family ties. Today, more than ever, we need to recognize that there are two sides in this struggle. All who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are enemies of the cross.
But don’t miss the point here. We are to identify them as such because they are souls that can and must be won. Our goal is not to defeat our enemies, but to win them over. How can we win over the unbelievers if we refuse even to identify who they are? How is it loving to allow someone, anyone, to die peacefully in unbelief?
Dear Christians, do not lose sight of the nature of the struggle we are in, nor of the very clear line between friend and foe that has been established by our God. Ignorance is not bliss and apathy damns. There is one narrow road to Heaven and that is through faith alone in Jesus Christ. In Him alone we have full and complete forgiveness for our countless sins. Because of Jesus Christ, we too will one day share in that glorious transformation described by Paul in our text.
Therefore “stand fast in the Lord.” [v.4:1] Because of your God-given faith in Jesus Christ, you are on the right side—the winning side—and you have the mandate to make that winning side even bigger. Identify God’s enemies, and by the power of the Word of God work tirelessly to turn them into true children of God and heirs together with you of eternal life. Amen.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.