18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. [NASB ’77]
After encouraging the Philippians to model their lives after his example, Paul now describes two different ways to live. There are citizens of this world who live as enemies of the cross, and there are citizens of heaven who eagerly await the second coming of the One who died on the cross. As believers we are to have a different focus with different priorities. We don’t live like the world because we aren’t citizens of it. And we don’t focus on the rewards and temptations of this world because we look to the day when we will be in glory with the One we live for.
The reason it’s important for the Philippians to follow the example of Paul and his fellow laborers in the faith is because the other way to live leads to destruction. Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. They don’t accept Christ’s sacrifice. They don’t accept the gift of salvation. Thus they are enemies of God and the redemption He accomplished.
The language Paul uses is stark. He reminds us what’s at stake with the gospel. It’s not that some choose to find another way to God. No – it’s that believers are at peace with God and all others are enemies of the cross. Christ came to bring peace on earth between God and the men with whom God is pleased (Lk 2:14). The reason He came to bring peace is that apart from Christ man is lost in sin and at war with God. Thus those who reject the cross are ultimately God’s enemies.
That said, however, notice that Paul doesn’t speak vindictively of them. He takes no joy in identifying them as enemies of the cross. He speaks of them through tears. His heart breaks for those who reject the gospel. As we noted before, the mission of his life is the gospel and the focus of his life is Christ. So nothing makes him sadder than those who reject the good news. His heart breaks for the lost.
[Do we think this way? Do we see the lost as enemies of the cross and does that affect the urgency with which we share the gospel? And are we heartbroken over their condition? If we don’t see them for who and what they are and if we don’t have a heart for the hopelessness of their situation, it will be very hard to witness effectively or be motivated to do so.]
Paul describes the enemies of the cross as a warning to us not to live like them. He gives four characteristics that mark them: their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, they glory in their shame, and they set their minds on earthly things.
The first is the most ominous and the easiest to understand. Those who are enemies of the cross are marked for destruction. Their ultimate end is eternal damnation in the lake of fire. Anyone who rejects the gospel will be separated from God for all eternity. Regardless of what their life looks like on this earth, their ultimate destiny is destruction.
The second is that they make a god of their appetite. In Greek the word is actually ‘belly’ (as the ESV has it) – they make a god of their belly. What he means is that they serve their desires, like someone who eats anything and everything he wants at any time. Nothing is more important than satisfying themselves with pleasure, food, sex, material possessions, experiences – anything that appeals to their wants and needs. Even good deeds are done ultimately for themselves because there’s no higher purpose in their lives. Their happiness is paramount. Their self-centered satisfaction is the mission of their lives and the focus of their lifelong search. “The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters” – Audrey Hepburn.
The third characteristic of the enemies of the cross is that they glory in their shame. They take what should make them ashamed and elevate it to a virtue. They turn sin on its head and celebrate what they should regret. They become proud of immorality and champion ungodly behavior. This goes along with Paul’s description of those whom God gives over to their sin – although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things (immorality and perversion) are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them (Rom 1:32). We see this in our own culture in the celebration of deviant sexual lifestyles and the elevation of depravity to a cause with its own warriors and heroes.
Lastly, they set their minds on earthly things. This seems fairly obvious based on what he’s already said, but it neatly sums up their whole manner of life. There’s nothing more than this world and this life, so nothing is more important than gratification now. I have to be happy or else I’m wasting my life. If there’s nothing else, then the rewards of this world are ultimate and the temptations of this world have to be tried. It’s what they strive for, work toward, worry about, talk about, dream about. It’s what occupies their thoughts. If you analyze their conversation, it’s exclusively about this world. If you look at their finances, it’s all about this world. If you look at how they spend their time, it’s consumed by this world. There’s no thought for anything else than what they see. They walk by sight, not by faith.
Compare these characteristics with the description of the believer in 3:3. The believer worships in the Spirit of God (instead of worshiping his appetite), glories in Christ Jesus (instead of glorying in his shame), and puts no confidence in the flesh (instead of setting his mind on earthly things). The contrast could not be greater.
It’s easy to read these descriptions and think of someone we know or some celebrity they apply to. But what about us? Paul puts this statement about the enemies of the cross here as a warning. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d probably have to admit that there are times when the warning hits pretty close to home. Perhaps we don’t glory in our shame and we certainly don’t have a destiny of destruction waiting for us if we’re God’s children, but how often do we make a god of our desires? And how often are we guilty of having our minds set on this world? If we did an analysis of our thoughts, worries, conversations and time, how much of all of them would be consumed exclusively by the cares of the here and now?
What we must remember about these characteristics is who they describe. When we live this way we live as if we’re enemies of the cross. God’s children – as Paul is about to point out – live with an entirely different focus. We must continually remind ourselves that we aren’t enemies of the cross and thus can’t live with a mind set on earthly things.
Notice the contrast in verse 20. FOR (BUT) our citizenship is in heaven. The believer is fundamentally different than the enemy of the cross. We don’t just live differently because we’re commanded to. We live differently because we aren’t citizens of the same world. We reside here but we’re not OF here. It goes along with what Jesus said in His high priestly prayer – “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:16). We are aliens and strangers so we live differently from the natives. Who we are affects how we walk. And notice that it’s who we are NOW. Paul says our citizenship IS in heaven. It’s not just something that will occur in the future. It’s true in this life and in this world as a result of our redemption. So while we can’t see the world that’s our true home, it doesn’t make it any less the place where we ultimately belong and that governs our behavior.
Since we’re citizens of heaven we anticipate heavenly things. And the ultimate anticipation is for the return of Christ – the One who redeemed us on the cross. Paul already said the goal of sanctification is to become like Christ – to pursue Him our whole lives (3:10). So the ultimate payoff for the one whose life is based on Christ is to be with Him. If our lives are wholly centered on Christ there is no better prize than Christ Himself. Thus we eagerly await His return.
And it’s important to notice that it’s our Savior we anticipate. Notice that Paul doesn’t say we simply look forward to paradise or look forward to a perfect world without sin. We very specifically look forward to being with a PERSON. Our walk is a relationship, not a religion. If we truly understand our redemption and live an obedient life out of love for Him and make it our life’s goal to become like Him, then it will be HIM we look toward. Paradise will be paradise because it will be where HE is. It’s ultimately not the mansions in glory or the streets of gold or seeing those who’ve gone before. It’s being with our Savior that makes heaven, heaven. It’s why it’s so important that we pursue Him now. HE is the ultimate prize. [If we don’t get this, it’s because our view of redemption isn’t big enough and our walk isn’t in the Spirit (who always focuses on the Son). If we don’t get this, we share in common with the enemies of the cross an abbreviated understanding of its importance.]
Someone whose mind is set on this world can’t eagerly wait for a Savior. It’s impossible. If our minds are full of this world, there isn’t room for anticipating the next. That’s why we must remind ourselves continually of where our home really is and continually bring ourselves back to the purpose of our sanctification. We pursue Christ and look to Christ and work – through the Spirit’s strength – to become like Christ. And through it all we look forward to being with Him, while continually asking Him to renew our perspective such that it’s on what’s important in HIS world instead of what’s important in ours.
When Christ returns we won’t just be with Him but will be LIKE Him. He will transform our mortal/sin-cursed bodies into glorified bodies like His own. He will do this through the power that’s been granted as a result of His death and resurrection. When Jesus last met the disciples before He ascended, He told them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Thus when He comes again He will transform us to be like Him through that authority and power. So while the enemies of the cross elevate their body and make it their god, the believer knows it’s simply a humble example of what will someday be his. We shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (I Jn 3:2). We will share in His glory and honor at His revelation (I Pet 1:7). It really is the ultimate promise for the believer whose life is based in Christ. We will be WITH Him for all eternity and we will be LIKE Him for all eternity.
This passage should serve as a motivation to holiness and as a refocusing tool when we get off track or become discouraged. Why do we live holy lives different from the world? Because we’re children of God who belong to a different world. We live differently because we ARE different. We pursue holiness because it’s the overarching characteristic of our homeland.
And when we get out of sorts, or this world knocks us down with its sin-obsessed and sin-cursed ways? We simply remind ourselves – BUT our citizenship is in heaven. People may let us down, but our citizenship is in heaven. Temptations may threaten to overwhelm us, but our citizenship is in heaven. Circumstances may be awful and unfair, but our citizenship is in heaven. And the ultimate payoff for that citizenship is that we will one day be with and like the One we serve now. Think about that – we work toward becoming like Him in this life with the promise that we’ll someday reach that goal for all eternity in a world made for everyone who shared that pursuit. This life may be hard, but our citizenship is in heaven and we’ll someday be there with our Savior who can’t wait to transform us. It’s why we eagerly wait for His return.