We’ve already covered quite a bit of territory this week, so let’s do a quick review, to make sure you’re up to speed if you’re just now jumping in. We’re looking at Philippians 3:10-21. Paul is writing to the Philippian church from a Roman prison, approximately ten years after he planted the church there. It appears that Paul’s overall goal in writing to the church in this letter is to instruct/remind them what it means to be committed to Christ.
In verses 10-21 we see Paul encouraging the people through his own example of striving to know Christ—he wants them to know Him too, and not just at a surface level. He’s passionate about knowing Christ and he encourages them to keep their eyes fixed on Him. If you’re familiar with Paul’s writing in the New Testament, you know that these are themes that come up in his writing to nearly every church he’s connected to.
So, we come to verses 18-19, and find:
“For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things…” Philippians 3:18-19
There are some strong emotions attached to this warning—Paul says he’s giving it with tears. He warns the church he loves to beware of false teachers who are pushing a legalistic agenda. It appears that those who “live as enemies of the cross of Christ,” were Jews who wanted to lay the demands of the Law and circumcision on the people, instead of trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus.
Do you tend toward legalism, friend?
I certainly can. It often starts with good intentions, but can quickly move toward a “to-do” list of expectations I put on myself or on others—markers of what it means to be a “good Christian.” We are the people Paul is warning against!
He takes the description of the people he is warning against further, “Their end is their destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame.” Sounds bad, right? I did some digging in my trusty online Bible study tool (I just can’t resist!) to see what exactly these descriptions entail. As you’d expect, it’s not good.
- end (G5056): the conclusion of an act or state, termination, fixed doom
- destruction (G684): ruin or loss, perish, waste
- god (G2316): deity, god or goddess
- stomach (G2836): abdomen, figuratively the heart (innermost part of a man, the soul, heart as the seat of thought, feeling, choice)
- glory (G1391): dignity, glory, honor, praise, worship
- ·shame (G152): shame or disgrace, dishonest
There’s one phrase in this section that’s particularly convicting to me: “their god is their stomach.” This isn’t just about food & a physical stomach, it’s about appetites. As you see, the word for stomach can refer to the innermost part of a man. The part that forms thoughts, feelings, and choices. In other words, these people have made their appetites (whatever that may be – money, sex, fame, security, etc.) their ultimate god, what they worship. It’s been said that our hearts are idol factories, and man, do I feel that sometimes. How often do I let my longing for comfort or my love for efficiency take precedence over worshipping God with my whole heart, soul, and mind? When I do so, I have effectively allowed my “stomach to be my god.” And sometimes, so much so that I glory in things that should bring shame.
And then Paul effectively sums up all three of the previous ‘conditions’ with, “They are focused on earthly things…” That hits close to home too, doesn’t it? How often do I get wrapped in things I can see? The circumstance I’m in? Something that, in the end, has no eternal significance, but something that I nonetheless spend a lot of time, energy, and emotion investing in. All that time, energy, and emotion are misplaced.
These are the things Paul is warning the Philippians against. These are the things that will keep them from focusing entirely on Jesus, following Him, and continuing to strive after knowing Him. These are the things that will prevent them from a true commitment to Christ.
So, let’s take Paul’s warning to heart. Let’s be reminded of what it means to follow Jesus and live lives committed to Him. Let’s worship rightly – so that our end is not destruction, so that we are living as servants of the cross instead of enemies, so that the only God we serve is the one and only true God, so that we are not finding glory in things that bring shame, and so that we’re not investing all of our time, energy, and emotion into things that will not matter for eternity.