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The Enemies of the Cross

Philippians 3:17-21

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

18 (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:

19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.


Many years ago, philosopher Francis Bacon said, “It is not what we eat, but what we digest that makes us strong. It’s not what we gain, but what we save that makes us rich. It’s not what we read, but what we remember that makes us learned. And it’s not what we profess, but what we practice that gives us integrity.”

Now, in the strictest sense of the word, you are not a Christian because of the way you live. You become a Christian by faith and trust in Jesus Christ, but there certainly ought to be a close correlation between what we preach and what we practice as the people of God. The apostle Paul is laying heavy emphasis upon that in the passage of scripture that is found in Philippians chapter 3.

Would it surprise you to know that not everyone is a friend to Christ and to his cross? Paul is saying that there are some people who profess to be Christians but they do not live like it. Their conduct is an open scandal. Their lives show that they are antagonistic to the cross and to the principles that it sets forth. The cross of course is an emblem of self-denial, and these people whom he describes as enemies of the cross of Christ practice no self-denial and no discipline in their lives. They continue to live as they had lived before.

In the next verse, Paul describes these people whose end is destruction. Their fate, their doom, or their final state is destruction. They will be separated eternally, warns God.

Second, he says their god is their belly. That’s a rather crude way to us to say that their god is their appetite. They live only to satisfy their own desires, their own longings, and their own physical needs. Paul describes them with the phrase, “whose glory is their shame.” They brag, boast, and talk about the things they ought to be ashamed of. The things that ought to embarrass them, they are proud of.

Last, he says, “Their mind is on earthly things.” That is to say, the earth is the limit of their horizon. They see nothing beyond this life. They live only for this world, its pleasures, its fame, and its possessions. In contrast to these people, our conversation, our citizenship, and our homeland is in heaven—not on this earth. We eagerly await our Savior in heaven—the Lord Jesus Christ. We are living expectantly that Jesus Christ shall come back to this earth. Because he is coming back, and because we are looking for him, we don’t get too attached to the things of this world. When he comes, he is going to do something marvelous for us.

In verse 21, Paul says Jesus “shall change our vile body.” That means our weak and frail body, aided so by sin, by disease, by death, and by infirmities will change “that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”

The mighty power of God that one day shall bring all things under the authority of Jesus Christ is going to work in our lives and one day shall transform these weak, frail bodies that we have now into a glorious wonderful body like the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. It is because of that great hope that we are careful not to use as our examples those who are enemies of the cross of Christ.

Paul is saying to us that you cannot live any way you like and be a friend to Jesus Christ. If you live an ungodly lifestyle, and if there are ungodly values that dominate your life, then you set yourself in opposition to Christ—not in friendship to him. We must watch the way we live if we are to be the friends of Christ.

He is also saying to us that if we want to be friends of Christ, we must be careful about the friends we chose. If we follow after people who don’t follow Christ, they will lead us down a path that is in opposition to Jesus Christ and his will and way.

I think it is worth our time to spend a few minutes looking at this description of the enemies of the cross of Christ. We need to make sure that these things described are not in our lives, and that we do not follow after people who live like this. There are four descriptive phrases of those whom he calls the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their belly. Their glory is their shame, and their mind is on earthly things.

1. Their end is destruction.

Paul begins at a very strange place. He begins at the end. He describes the ultimate destiny of these people who live as enemies of the cross. He describes them as those “whose end is destruction.” He is saying to us that the final outcome of their life, if they have been enemies of the cross of Christ, is that they shall be eternally separated from God. They shall experience the judgment in eternal hell.

There is no way to escape it. There are two roads that a person may travel in this life. Jesus said, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus was saying to us that every person in life faces a choice. Each person may choose to take that broad and easy road that leads away from God and ultimately to destruction, or he may take that straight and narrow path of self-discipline and sacrifice that leads to eternal life. Everyone (including you) is on one of those two roads and you cannot choose the beginning of a road without at the same time choosing the destination of that road. We must realize that we are traveling down some road in life, and if you’ve chosen the wrong road, you cannot arrive at the right destination.

We sing so very often in our worship services, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.” Almost every time we sing it, I remember the fact that not everybody is going to heaven. Those who are going to heaven are those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior, and they are seeking to walk in obedience to him. They are seeking to live a consistent Christian life. Paul spoke of the ultimate judgment of God when he said, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” He is talking about one of those unalterable laws of life—the law of sowing and reaping. He is saying that there is a certain continuity in life.

Whatever we plant down in the ground is what grows out of the ground. There is a consistency about life, and it is that we tend to reap what we have sown. That means that life is not in the strictest sense of the word a gamble. Life is an investment, and there is a certain predictability about life. There is a correlation between a man’s deeds and a man’s destiny. You can mark it down. Whatever you sow, that is what you are going to reap ultimately and finally. There is a correlation in life.

Paul is also saying to us that there is a time lapse in life. We know that from studying the law of sowing and reaping. You do not plant seeds today and reap the crop tomorrow. There is a time delay because the seed must have time to germinate, to sprout, to grow, and to develop into full maturity.

There must be a time lapse between the planting and the reaping, but if you wait patiently, one of these days the time shall come and you will reap what you’ve sown. That law that is so understandable and so well known in the field of agriculture is also applied in the spiritual realm. As Paul says, “Be not deceived. God is not mocked; whatever you sow is what you are going to reap. If you sow to the flesh you shall of the flesh reap destruction. If you sow to the Spirit you shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

It was Harry Emerson Fosdick who said that the good things in life are usually paid for in advance, but the evil things of life are usually paid for afterward. I wouldn’t want to press that illustration to its extremes, but there is a great truth there. Here are two young boys who graduated from high school and go off to college. One of them has the dreams and aspirations of being a lawyer or a doctor, so instead of playing around, wasting his time, and just enjoying life too completely, he burns the midnight oil. He studies, prepares, and works to get ready for a career.

The time comes when he has paid the price sufficiently to graduate and to enter into a profession where he can help other people. He paid in advance for the opportunity to minister and to serve.

But the other young man decided that he didn’t want to pay the price. He would rather be a playboy. He would rather go to the parties. He would rather just enjoy life, so he neglected his studies. In the many years to come, he paid for his mistake. He paid for his foolishness. It is true in life—the good things we pay for in advance, and the evil things we pay for afterward.

God is saying that this is true in every man’s life to some measure, and that’s why you better watch the way you live. That is why you better watch the friends you associate with, for those who are enemies of the cross of Christ are coming ultimately to destruction. You cannot travel the wrong road in life and come out at the right destination.

2. Their God is their belly.

He says, “Their God is their belly.” Their God is their appetite. They live only to satisfy their physical, sensual desires. That is the master and lord of their life. You know that God created us as both physical and spiritual beings. When he created us as physical beings, he created us very much like the other animals. It is the fact that God created us very much like the other animals physically that throws a lot of people. They look at man’s physical makeup, at his digestive system, and at all of the parts of his body. Then they look at a lot of other animals and they see strange similarities between the physical makeup of men and the physical makeup of some animals. Wrongly they conclude that since they are very similar, man must have descended from the other animals. But they do not take into account the fact that we are more than just physical beings like the other animals. God also created us as spiritual beings. It’s that spiritual part of us makes us altogether different from any other animals that God created.

For example, man is the only animal that clothes himself. He is the only other animal that wars with his fellow man. He is the only animal that buries his dead because he is the only one who seems to have a sense of eternity. He is the only animal that has the power or the imagination to think, to dream, to reason, to record his thoughts, and to pass them on to the next generation so that life improves. Animals continue to live as they’ve always lived since the beginning of time. Man continues to make tremendous strides in every realm except the moral and spiritual realms. Man is the only animal that worships or feels the need to worship. He is the only who seems to have a sense to God and another world. He is the only animal who is capable of being bored with his life, so he is the only animal that commits suicide.

Man is the only animal that both weeps and laughs. He is the only one who knows the difference between the way things are and the way things ought to be. You see, while we are physically very much like other animals, we are vastly different from them spiritually. We, unlike all other creatures, have been made in the likeness and the image of God. It is the fact that we have been made in the likeness and the image of God that makes us unable to live like all the other animals. That is to say that our belly cannot be our God. We cannot live by our appetites, instincts, and our physical desires alone. We live according to a higher heredity; we live according to the will and the plan and the design of God.

One of the tragedies of modern life is that man—who has been made in the likeness and the image of God—is so often found living his life on the animal level. Men and women consort with one another as though they were animals with no regard or respect for one another and no commitment to one another.

We are living in the most open society since the Roman Empire, and it is because we have forgotten the fact that we are made in the likeness and the image of God. We have divorced our lives from God, and moral degradation has taken place. The animals have sexual appetites, and we have sexual appetites, but we live our lives on a higher level because we are made in the likeness and the image of God.

The Bible is clear. It is sex under the seal and shield of marriage, or total abstinence. It is chastity before marriage and absolute fidelity in marriage. To live any other way is to live your life on the animal level. It is to make your appetites and your desires your God. As a result you become by conduct antagonistic to and an enemy of the cross of Christ that teaches self-denial as the will and the way of God.

3. Their glory is their shame.

The third thing that characterizes the enemies of the cross is that their glory is their shame. That is to say, they brag about, they take pride in, and they enjoy the things that should embarrass them.

Jeremiah described the people of his day when he said, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:12).

In Jeremiah’s day, people were not ashamed of their sin and their abominations and they seemingly had lost their ability to be embarrassed at sin. We have come to that time in America today. We brag and boast about the things we ought to be ashamed of. We glory in the things that ought to make us blush. We’ve come to the time when people actually brag and boast of their sinfulness.

I read in Time magazine some time ago a little excerpt about the ex-wife of a British billionaire, and the ex-mistress of Winston Churchill’s son. She was filing a two and half million–dollar alimony suit against someone. In the course of the article, it pointed out that she was writing her autobiography. Here is what she said: “It is fair to say that it will be sensational. It’s a totally truthful and unabridged version of my life.” Can you imagine a woman with the audacity to put in print all of the filth of her life, to brag about it, to boast about it, and to sell it?

Then I read a newspaper article about Art Buchwald, the columnist. He and his wife were in New York City to promote a book she had just written. In the book she told all about their lives, including the two years they lived together in Paris without being married. The person who was interviewing Buchwald about this book said, “What did your children think when they found out that you lived together without being married for two years?” She said, “They just loved it. Children can’t equate their parents in a love affair and they loved reading about how we got together.”

Can you imagine prominent people boasting, bragging, and publicizing those kinds of things? And yet almost every week or so, some Hollywood starlet comes out with a book in which they tell all on themselves. The only thing worse than that is the fact that the American people buy the trash. They delight in reading about the sinfulness that ought to be a shame to the people who wrote it. Until we change, that won’t ever change.

As someone has said, it’s a shame that the moviemakers won’t clean up the sexy movies in Hollywood until the sexy movies stop cleaning up at the box office. Be careful about the people you run with and about your own attitude toward your conduct. The people who brag about things they ought to be ashamed of are not friends of Jesus Christ.

4. Their mind is on earthly things.

This earth and this life is all that enemies of the cross live for. It is the limit to their horizon. They have nothing beyond. They live here. They live for now, and when this life is over and gone, there is nothing else for them. There are many as well who, if they do not believe that this is all there is, live as if this is all there is. Let me remind you that man is both a creature of time and eternity. We have our time here on this earth, but there is so much more beyond this earth. There is a life beyond this one that we live for, that we strive for, and that we long for. It is the fulfillment of all of our dreams, our hopes, and our aspirations. It is the life that God has promised. The man who anchors himself to this life has forgotten to look up and see God.

From the Greek word for man—anthropos—we get the word “anthropology,” the study of man. The very word anthropos means “the up-looking one.” All the other animals go around with their heads hanging down, but man looks upward to God because he knows that beyond this life there is another life, and beyond humanity there is God. We do not anchor our lives to this world and its possessions and its pleasures.

We live on a higher level. We look to another world. We dream of a better day. Some years ago, an American tourist visited a very famous Polish rabbi, and as he looked around the apartment of this rabbi, he was astonished at the plainness and simplicity of it. There were just some bookcases full of books over here, a table over there, and a bench in the room. The astonished American said to the rabbi, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” The rabbi said to him, “Well, where is your furniture?” He said, “What do you mean, where is my furniture? I’m just a visitor in this country. I’m just passing through.” And the rabbi looked at him and smiled and said, “So am I.”

If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are just a visitor here. You are just passing through. Don’t sink your roots down too deep. Don’t get too entangled in it all. You don’t want to find yourself minding earthly things instead of looking to heaven from whence cometh the Lord Jesus Christ. He shall one day resurrect the dead and he shall one day change these weak, frail, and sickly bodies of ours into bodies like unto his glorious body. He shall do it by that marvelous power that shall one day bring all things under his control.

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