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May 25, 2023

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:18-21).

Sometimes, theologians are portrayed as people living in ivory towers, far removed from the realities and struggles of ordinary life. At times, our dear apostle Paul is depicted in this way as well. But that is not an adequate portrayal rooted in his writings. In his letters, he often writes with the heart of a parent, taking delight in the young believers while also being deeply concerned for their wellbeing.

Here, he writes with tears. Was some of the ink blotched because those tears had fallen while he wrote? His heart is grieved for all those who insist on opposing the cross of Christ; for those who, in the end, will be separated from God forever.

From our historical distance, we cannot be sure who he had in mind, but several things are worth our attention. First, he does not name them ‘my enemies’. Paul consistently refuses to see people as enemies. We do well, in our current cultural setting, both in the church and beyond, to diligently follow his example. People are not the enemy. No matter how deep our disagreements, our struggle is against powers and principalities, not people.

We also do well to pay attention to his description of these ‘enemies of the cross’. ‘Their god is their stomach’. Stomach stands in for all the desires of the body, the lusts of the flesh. The only thing these people care about is personal satisfaction. Their appetites dictate their lives. Such minds are focussed solely on this earth and this life. They have no vision for life except to please the self in the moment. His warning is not against specific sins, but against the underlying sin of pandering to self.

The thing is, I’ve never met a Christian who does not, at least on occasion, fall to a temptation of the ‘stomach’, pandering to self. Paul is reminding the young Christians that they themselves must remain vigilant. And we do well to heed his warning; to recognize that his tears fall for us as well. We must test our desires. In themselves, they are not necessarily bad. Desires for food, for friendship, for a healthy marriage or for rest are normally good. However, we can overindulge in food. Sometimes we can use friends to climb the ladder. Sometimes our desire for rest is just laziness.

Thus, Paul reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Our treasures, our desires, our goals for life are determined not by the desires of our lowly bodies, but by the values of God himself. Philippi was a Roman colony. This meant that it was ruled by Roman law rather than native custom and that its citizens were Roman citizens. Likewise, Christians live in this world, in various human cultures, each with their own value system, but our citizenship is in heaven. We derive our values from the cross.

When the truths about the cross and the return of Christ are grasped, a certain way of life naturally follows. What we believe changes our behaviour. We imitate Christ while longing for full redemption. When he returns, our Saviour will transform us so that our lowly bodies, often difficult to control, will then be subject to Christ giving glory to God.

Ours are lowly bodies because they are subject to sin. The body itself, as God’s creation, is good; not inherently evil. Because of sin, we are frail and weak, easily seduced to engage in selfish activity. While our bodies remain ‘lowly’, we have not arrived at our goal. But one day, our lowly bodies will give way to the new spiritual body. Eagerly we await Christ’s appearance and full conformity to his resurrection body, forever in union with our God. We live in this world pressing on towards that day.

At that final day he will, from his exalted position where all things are subject to him, draw our lowly bodies up into his glorious existence. He identified with our humility so that we might in turn be identified with his resurrected body. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.