PHILIPPIANS 3, 17, 21. 17 Brethren, be ye imitators [followers] together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample. 18 For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. 20 For our citizenship [conversation] is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Savior, the LordJesusChrist: 21 who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation [change our vile body], that it may be conformed [fashioned] to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto him self.
ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN’S CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN.
1. Paulimmeasurably extols the Philippians for having made a good beginning in the holy Gospel and for having acquitted themselves commendably, like men in earnest, as manifest by their fruits of faith. The reason he shows this sincere and strong concern for them is his desire that they remain steadfast, not being led astrayby false teachers among the roaming Jews. For at that time many Jews went about with the intent of perverting Paul’s converts, pretending they taught something far better; while they drew the people away from Christ and back to the Law, for the purpose of establishing and extending their Jewishdoctrines. Paul, contemplating with special interest and pleasure his Church of the Philipplans, is moved by parental care to admonish them lest they sometime be misled by such teachers to hold steadily to what they have received, not seeking anything else and not imagining, like self secure, besotted souls who allow themselves to be deceived by the devil not imagining themselves perfect and with complete understanding in all things.
In the verses just preceding our text he speaks of himself as having not yet attained to full knowledge.
PURITY OF DOCTRINE ENJOINED.
2. He particularly admonishes them to follow him and to mark those ministers who walk as he does; also to shape their belief and conduct by the pattern they have received from him. Not only of himself does he make an example, but introduces them who similarly walk, several of whom he mentions in this letter to the Philippians. The individuals whom be bids them observe and follow must have been persons of special eminence. But it is particularly the doctrine the apostle would have the Philippians pattern after. Therefore we should be chiefly concerned about preserving the purity of the office of the ministry and the genuineness of faith. When these are kept unsullied, doctrine will be right, and good works spontaneous. Later on, in chapter 4, verse 8, Pauladmonishes, with reference to the same subject: “If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
3. Apparently Paul is a rash man to dareboast himself a pattern for all.
Other ministers might well accuse him of desiring to exalt his individual self above others. “Think you,” our wise ones would say to him, “that you alone have the Holy Spirit, or that no one else is as eager for honor as yourself?” Just so did Miriam and Aaronmurmur against Moses, their own brother, saying: “Hath Jehovah indeed spoken only with Moses? hath he not spoken also with us ?” Numbers 12,2. And it would seem as if Paul had too high an appreciation of his own character did he hold up his individual self as a pattern, intimating that no one was to be noted as worthy unless he walked as he did; though there might be some who apparently gave greater evidence of the Spirit, of holiness, humility and other graces, than himself, and yet walked not in his way.
4. But he does not say “I, Paul, alone.” He says, “as ye have us for an example”, that does not exclude other true apostles and teachers. He is admonishing his Church, as he everywhere does, to hold fast to the one true doctrine received from him in the beginning. They are not to be too confident of their own wisdom in the matter, or to presume they have independent authority; but rather to guard against pretenders to a superior doctrine, for so had some been misled.
7. “Yet,” Paul would say, “ I who am a Jew by birth have counted all this merit as simply loss that I might be found in ‘the righteousness which is from God by faith’.” Only the righteousness of faithteaches us how to apprehendGod how to confidently console ourselves with his grace and await a future life, expecting to approach Christ in the resurrection. By “approaching ” him we mean to meet him in death and at the judgment day without terror, not fleeing but gladly drawing near and hailing him with joy as one waited for with intense longing. Now, the righteousness of the Law cannot effect such confidence of mind. Hence, for me it avails nothing before God; rather it is a detriment. What does avail is God’s imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake, through faith. God declares to us in his Word that the believer in his Son shall, for Christ’s own sake, have God’s grace and eternallife. He who knows this is able to wait in hope for the last day, having no fear, no disposition to flee.
8. But is it not treating the righteousness of the Law with irreverence and contempt to regard it and so teach as something not only useless and even obstructive, but injurious, loathsome and abominable? Who would have been able to make such a bold statement, and to censure a life so faultless and conforming so closely to the Law as Paul’s, without being pronounced by all men a minion of the devil, had not the apostle made that estimation of it himself? And who is to have any more respect for the righteousness of the Law if we are to preach in that strain ?
11. Of the sensual papistical dolts at Rome, cardinals, bishops, priests and the like, it is not necessary to speak here. their works are manifest. All honorable secular authorities must confess they are simply abandoned knaves, living shameless lives of open scandal, avarice, arrogance, unchastity, vanity, robbery and wickedness of every kind. Not only are they guilty of such living, but shamelessly endeavor to defend their conduct.
They must, then, be regarded enemies of Christ and of all honesty and virtue. Hence every respectable man is justly antagonistic toward them.
But, as before said, Paul is not here referring to this class, but to eminent, godly individuals, whose lives are beyond reproach. These very ones, when Christians are encountered, are hostile and heinous enough to be able to forget all their own faults in the sight of God, and to magnify to huge beams the motes we Christians have. In fact, they must style the Gospelheresy and satanicdoctrine for the purpose of exalting their own holiness and zeal for God.
RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW OPPOSES THE CROSS.
12. The thing seems incredible, and I would not have believed it myself, nor have understood Paul’s words here, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes and experienced it. Were the apostle to repeat the charge today, who could conceive that our first, noblest, most respectable, godly and holy people, those whom we might expect, above all others, to accept the Word of God that they, I say, should be enemies to the Christiandoctrine?
But the examples before us testify very plainly that the “enemies” the apostle refers to must be the individuals styled godly and worthy princes and noblemen, honorablecitizens, learned, wise, intelligent individuals. Yet if these could devour at one bite the “Evangelicals,” as they are now called, they would do it.
13. If you ask, Whence such a disposition? I answer, it naturally springs from human righteousness. For every individual who professes human righteousness, and knows nothing of Christ, holds that efficacious before God. He relies upon it and gratifies himself with it, presuming thereby to present a flattering appearance in God’s sight and to render himself peculiarly acceptable to him. From being proud and arrogant toward God, he comes to reject them who are not righteous according to the Law; as illustrated in the instance of the Pharisee. Luke 18:11
14. I myself, and others with me, were dominated by such feelings when, under popery, we claimed to be holy and pious; we must confess the fact.
If thirty years ago, when I was a devout, holy monk, holding mass every day and having no thought but that I was in the road leading directly to heaven if then anyone had accused me had preached to me the things of this text and pronounced our righteousness which accorded not strictly with the Law of God, but conformed to human doctrine and was manifestly idolatrous pronounced it without efficacy and said I was an enemy to the cross of Christ, serving my own sensual appetites, I would immediately have at Mast helped to find stones for putting to death such a Stephen, or to gatherwood for the burning of this worst of heretics.
16. But you may say: “What? Do you forbid good works? Is it not right to lead an honorable, virtuous life? Do you not acknowledge the necessity of political laws, of civilgovernments? that upon obedience to them depends the maintenance of discipline, peace and honor? Indeed, do you not admit that God himself commands such institutions and wills their observance, punishing where they are disregarded? Much more would he have his own Law and the Ten Commandmentshonored, not rejected. How dare you then assert that such righteousness is misleading, and obstructive to eternallife? What consistence is there in teaching people to observe the things of the Law, to be righteous in that respect, and at the same time censuring those things as condemned before God? How can the works of the Law be good and precious, and yet repulsive and productive of evil?”
For indeed the words of the text are not our words, but his. True, law and government are essential in temporal life, as Paul him self confesses, and God would have everyone honor and obey them. Indeed, he has ordained their observance among Turks and heathen. Yet it is a fact that these people, even the best and most upright of them, they who lead honorable lives, are naturally in their heartsenemies to Christ, and devote their intellectual powers to exterminating God’s people. It must be universally admitted that the Turks, with all the restrictions and austerity of life imposed upon them by the Koran, a life more rigorous even than that of Christians it must be admitted they belong to the devil. In other words, we adjudge them condemned with all their righteousness, but at the same time say they do right in punishingthieves, robbers, murderers, drunkards and other offenders; more, that Christians living within their jurisdiction are under obligation to pay tribute, and to serve them with per son and property. Precisely the same thing is true respecting our princes who persecute the Gospel and are open enemies to Christ: we must be obedient to them, paying the tribute and rendering the service imposed; yet they, and all obedient followers willingly consenting to the persecution of the Gospel, must be looked upon as condemned before God.
18. Similarly does Paul speak concerning the righteousness of all the Jews and pious saints who are not Christians. His utterance is bold and of certain sound. He censures them and, weeping, deprecatingly refers to certain who direct the people to the righteousness of the law with the sole result of making “enemies to the cross of Christ.”
20. The apostle makes his accusation yet more galling with the words “whose god is their belly.” Thus you hear how human righteousness, even at its best, extends no higher than to service of the sensual appetites. Take all the wisdom, justice, jurisprudence, artifice, even the highest virtues the world affords, and what are they? They minister only to that god, carnal appetite. They can go no farther than the needs of this life, their whole purpose being to satisfy physical cravings. When the physical appetites of the worldly pass, they pass likewise, and the gifts and virtues we have mentioned can no longer serve them. All perish and go to destruction together righteousness, virtues, laws and physical appetites which they have served as their god. For they are wholly ignorant of the true and eternalGod; they know not how to serve him and receive eternallife. So then in its essential features such a life is merely idolatrous, having no greater object than the preservation of this perishable body and its enjoyment of peace and honor.
22. You may again object, “If what you say it true, why observe temporal restrictions? Let us live in indulgent carelessness following our inclinations.
Let pass the godly, honorable man; the virtuous, upright wife or virgin.” I answer, By no means; that is not the design. You have heard it is God’s command and will that there be temporal righteousness even among Turks and heathen. And later on (ch. 4, 8) PauladmonishesChristians to “think on these things,” that is, on what is true. He says: “Whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” And continuing, in verse 9, he refers them to his own example, saying, “which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me.”
His reference is to them who so trust, though wholly ignorant of Christ, for whose sake, without any merit on our part, righteousness is imputed to us by God. The only condition is we must believe in Christ; for he became man, died for our sins and rose from the dead, for the very purpose of liberating us from our sins and granting us his resurrection and life. Toward the heavenly life we should tend, in our life here walking in harmony with it; as Paul says in conclusion: “Our citizenship is in heaven [not earthly and not confined to this temporal life only]; whence also we wait for a Savior, the LordJesusChrist.” If we have no knowledge, no consciousness, of this fact, it matters not how beautiful and praiseworthy our human, earthly righteousness may be, it is merely a hindrance and an injury. For flesh and blood cannot help relying on its own righteousness and arrogantly boasting in this strain: “ We are better, more honorable, more godly, than others.
28. Outwardly, then, though your righteousness may appear dazzlingly beautiful before the world, inwardly you are but filth. Illustrative of this point is the story told of a certain nun regarded holy above all others. She would not fellowship with anyone else, but sat alone in her cell in wrapt devotion, praying unceasingly. She boasted special revelations and visions and had no consciousness of any thing but that belovedangels hovered about and adorned her with a golden crown. But some outside, ardently desiring to behold such sights, peeped through holes and crevices, and seeing her head but defiled with filth, laughed at her.
Through faith in Christ, we have a righteousness that holds in heaven. It abides in Christ alone; otherwise it would avail naught before God. And our whole concern is to be eternally in Christ; to have our earthly existence culminate in yonder life when Christ shall come and change this life into another, altogether new, pure, holy and like unto his own, with a life and a body having the nature of his.
32. We are baptized and made Christians, not to the end that we may have great honor, or renown of righteousness, or earthly dominion, power and possessions. Notwithstanding we do have these because they are requisite to our physical life, yet we are to regard them as mere filth, wherewith we minister to our bodily welfare as best we can for the benefit of posterity.