Teaching series from Philippians

Another Spiritual Danger

Philippians 3:17-4:3

Teaching t12680


Brief review of setting (MAP).  Earlier in chapter 3, Paul warned the Philippian Christians of some dangerous people headed their way (read 3:2).  They were Jewish Bible teachers who claimed to believe in Jesus as God’s Messiah – but insisted that non-Jews had to get circumcised and observe the Law in order to be accepted by God.  Paul refuted their teaching (3:8; GOSPEL).  Now at the end of chapter 3, Paul warns of another spiritual danger (read 3:17-20a) . . .

What is this danger?

At first glance, this sounds like rank hedonism (e.g., alcoholism; heroin addiction; PICTURES).  Looking at his description in reverse order:

“Who set their minds on earthly things” – their biggest interest is their next drink or fix.

“Whose glory is in their shame” – they boast about how much alcohol they can hold, how excited they are about their latest score, etc.

“Whose god is their belly” – they are driven by their addiction – talking about it all the time, fantasizing about it, missing bills and selling necessities to get it, etc.

“Whose end is destruction” – their life is unraveling; they are headed for an early death.

“They are enemies of the cross” – they scoff at the Bible’s message that they need God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

This all fits – but it is unlikely that Paul thought the Philippian Christians were seriously in danger of being seduced into something like mass alcoholism.

When we consider the historical background of Philippi, we get a different slant.  Philippi was a wealthy Roman colony.  Many Roman military officers retired here on large landed estates.  Many were Roman citizens, which was a high social honor (ROMAN SLIDES).  Paul implies by his contrast in 3:20a that this mentality was part of the problem (“citizenship” is politeuma; see also 1:27 – “conduct yourselves”).  Paul seems to be warning them against materialism and nationalism (PICTURES).  Consider:

“Who set their minds on earthly things” – they are focused on Roman citizenship as their primary identity; they are preoccupied with a wealthy lifestyle.

“Whose glory is in their shame” – they are socially snobbish about their Roman citizenship, about how much bigger their houses are, etc.

“Whose god is their belly” – they talk and fantasize obsessively about owning and enjoying more things, having more political influence, etc.

“Whose end is destruction” – all their “stuff” will end up in the dump; all their political power will end up being impotent and insignificant in eternity.

“They are enemies of the cross” – they scoff at those who radically follow Jesus (Lk. 9:23) as “fanatics.”

This profile fits the background and language much better than rank hedonism.  It is also much more dangerous because while rank hedonism is usually socially unacceptable (e.g., heroin addiction), materialism, nationalism and political partisanship are usually socially approved and rewarded.

Are we in danger?

This passage is certainly an apt warning for western Christians.  Western Christianity has been infected and terribly weakened by materialism and nationalistic/political entanglements.

Participating in the political process vs. identifying Christianity with political parties or causes.  Christians can (and I would say should) participate in the political process.  But American evangelicals have often linked Christianity with political conservatism (“the Religious Right”).  A smaller segment, in reaction, has linked Christianity with political liberalism (e.g., Sojourners).  This has needlessly divided Christians (SLIDE), and both groups have been (and are being) used by political leaders to fulfill their own agendas.

Being a good citizen vs. connecting Christianity with one’s country.  Christians should be good citizens of whatever nation they are part (Titus 3:1,2).  But insisting on the American flag in church buildings, or insisting that America is (or was) a “Christian nation” (SLIDE) breaks down the distinction between Jesus’ kingdom (which He said was not of this world) and our nation (which has never been truly Christian and has always opposed establishment of any religion).

Thanking God for material blessing vs. promoting wealth pursuit in the name of Jesus.  I am very grateful for the many material blessings God has given me.  But to approve of aspiration to material wealth (instead of warning against it like Paul did in 1 Tim. 6:9,10), and to tolerate and promote of preachers who preach health and wealth (instead of warn against them like Paul did in 1 Tim. 6:5) is a disgrace and has devastated our presence as “salt” and “light.”  There is no statistically significant difference between Christians’ consumer spending or charitable giving and that of their non-Christian neighbors[1] (instead of distinguishing themselves by their simple living and generosity).  How often do you hear evangelical leaders teaching that allegiance to these things is just as spiritually lethal as heretical religious cults (which is exactly what Paul is saying in this chapter)?

Our church is not immune from this danger.  We live in this same culture, and we desperately need this warning.  We have had many long-time members wander into all three of these problems (EXAMPLES).  I agree that these matters are complicated.  I also know that they are insidious, and that we are probably way more vulnerable to this problem than to theological works-righteousness.  How can we combat this danger?

How can we combat this danger?

Read 4:1.  This is an unfortunate chapter break, because the “therefore” refers back to 3:17-21.  “Stand firm” (steko) here presumes the ongoing pressure of adversity (the temporal mind-set) and connotes ongoing resistance against it (see Gal. 5:1).  But this resistance is not just moral will-power and self-denial; “in (by) the Lord” means that God has provided resources for us that are more than adequate.  We need to appropriate these resources consistently.  This passage speaks of three such ways to stand firm.

Build deep convictions about the Bible’s eternal perspective.  The “therefore” in 4:1 refers first of all to 3:20,21 (read).  Think about how these truths not only contradict materialism, civic pride and political idolatry, but also replace them with real hope.

It doesn’t ultimately matter which country you’re from or how much or little political power you have.  If you receive Christ (Jn. 1:12), your citizenship is in heaven – you are a member of God’s eternal kingdom. 

Our ultimate hope is not in the fate of our country or in any political agenda.  Our hope is in the personal return of Jesus to establish God’s kingdom.

Our ultimate hope is not in how much money we have or in the perks or security that money brings.  Our hope is in the transformed bodies (like Jesus’ resurrected body) that Jesus will give us when He returns.

Our ultimate hope is not in world peace or social order in this age (Jesus has already told us that things will get worse).  Our hope is in a transformed universe when Jesus returns to rule.

Paul was relatively immune to this danger because Jesus’ eternal kingdom was a living reality and in the forefront of his thinking.  He refers to it at least 14 times in this little letter![2]  You can hardly read a single chapter in any New Testament letter without seeing multiple references to Jesus’ return.

Is life in God’s eternal kingdom a growing reality in your life?  Has your understanding of Jesus’ return and kingdom increased this past year?  Do you think about this with increasing frequency?  Do you “eagerly await” Jesus’ return?  What is the relationship between your answer and temporalism’s influence on you?

Observe and imitate other Christians who live out this eternal perspective (read 3:17,18a).  The contrast here is between the “many” who live out a temporal perspective and “those” (always the minority) who live out an eternal perspective.  We are molded largely by the voices we listen to, and by the models we imitate.

Our culture constantly bombarding us with sophisticated temporal messages from attractive temporal models (STOCK-MARKET; NEWS; CELEBRITIES; HOUSE & FOOD SHOWS; RADIO TALK-SHOWS; CONSPIRACY THEORISTS; etc.).  Unless we deliberately seek out godly models and closely observe their way of life, we will be carried along the current of temporalism (Rom. 12:2a).

What does it look like to manage your finances with an eternal perspective?  To relate to your career with an eternal perspective?  To use your home and possessions in ways that have eternal impact?  To raise your children with eternal values?  Teachings and books are helpful – but they are not enough.  We need interaction with flesh-and-blood people who are living this out daily in the trenches of real life. 

By God’s grace, we have many people in this church who live this way.  And like Paul, they have joy (not regret) from living this way (2:17,18).  You have access to them, if you want it.  But you have to get next to them by getting involved in home church with them.  You have to watch closely how they live.  You have to ask them why they live this way.  You have to ask the Lord how to imitate their values (not just ape their actions).  Are you taking advantage of this precious resource – or are you (by default) being molded by our culture’s models?

Work with other Christians to advance the gospel – don’t fight over what doesn’t really matter.  Read 4:2,3.  Euodia and Syntyche were probably embroiled in a dispute about some temporal issue – possibly a political dispute.  By referring to Christians as having their “names being written in the book of life,” Paul reminds them that their common citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom outweighs whatever other differences they have.[3]  He thus urges them on that basis to live in harmony “in the Lord.”

What we argue about (especially when we argue passionately) is often an indicator of what we really value.  I like early 70’s folk music, but I’m unwilling to argue with those who like rap.  I am a terminal Browns fan, but I don’t want to argue with Bengals fans.  I like raised-bed gardening, but it’s not worth the effort to argue with people who hate yard-work.  I have my own opinions about which presidential candidate will do the best job, but I am unwilling to fight about this.  I am willing to argue over how best to grow spiritually, or how to move our church forward in leading people to faith and maturity in Christ.  But I am ready to work and be good friends with other Christians despite these other disagreements. 

What do you argue passionately about?  How much difference will these things make 1000 years from now?  Does it ultimately matter whose sports team is best, which political candidate is best/worst, why your latest purchase is better than someone else’s?  These arguments both divide and reinforce your temporal mind-set.  Do disagreements like these overshadow your view of other Christians, and affect whether you are willing to relate to them?  Why not think about how you can work together toward what will last forever – God, His Word, and people?


NEXT WEEK: Phil. 4:4-9 – “The Peace of God & the God of Peace”

[1] “The amount of American giving to charitable organizations of all kinds remains relatively constant at somewhere between 1.6% and 2.16% of a family’s income.  American Christians do only slightly better, averaging somewhere around 2.4% of the national per capita  . . . In most . . . suburban Western communities, it is impossible to detect any outward differences between the expenditures of professing Christians and the religiously unaffiliated who surround them in their neighborhoods.”  Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Riches Nor Poverty: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp. 19,20.  “American consumers are simultaneously earning record income while accumulating record debt. And there is little difference between the amounts that Christians and non-Christians earn, spend, save, charge, or donate to charities.” Christianity Today, “The Debt Slayers,” May 1, 2006 (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/may/23.40.html).

[2] See 1:6,10,21,23; 2:10,11,16; 3:11,12,14,20,21; 4:3,5.

[3] “Just as Philippi and other cities like it must have had a civic register that included all the names of their citizens, so the heavenly commonwealth (cf. Phil 3:20) has its own roll, where God inscribes the names of those to whom he promises life.” Hawthorne, G. F. (2004). Philippians (Vol. 43, p. 243). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.