“Join one another in following my example, brothers, and carefully observe those who live according to the pattern we set for you. For as I have often told you before, and now declare even with tears: Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are 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 subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body."
Paul, the Apostle of Grace
In Philippians 3:17-21, Paul transitions away from the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus, to living rightly as we await the return of Jesus. This is normally Paul’s pattern in his letters. He first establishes people in the spiritual truths of grace, encourages them in grace, and then transitions to how to live in light of God’ grace.
The Philippian believers were surrounded by unbelievers who lived for temporal, earthly pleasures, possessions, and pursuits, having no eternal perspective on life, and therefore living with no purpose in life. They lived only to satisfy their earthly and bodily appetites, and to accumulate awards and chase after achievements.
Their philosophy was “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:33). They rejected the good news of the cross of Jesus, choosing instead to live in rebellion to it rather than respond to it in faith. Through this rejection, they became enemies of the cross, with nothing to look forward to. At the end of their lives, they have nothing to show for it, having totally wasted their lives...full of shame and regret.
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, called this lack of purpose in life and earthly perspective on life “Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless…a chasing after the wind”.
In contrast, Paul possessed an eternal perspective on life, resulting in having purpose for life. Paul’s perspective and purpose was because Jesus had risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and would one day return. Paul knew he was a citizen of heaven, not of earth. He understood that his earthly life and body was temporary and that one day Jesus would return to establish his eternal kingdom on earth, and when he did, Jesus would powerfully transform his earthly body to be like the glorified resurrected body of Jesus, a body fit for eternity in God’s kingdom.
Paul’s purpose and perspective changed the day God’s grace was poured out on him abundantly, impacting how he lived. As Paul spent time with people sharing God’s grace, as he did with the Philippians, he modeled before them a life of purpose, perspective, and purity. Paul would often encourage the believers in his letters to follow his example by patterning their lives after his. Now Paul is exhorting the Philippians to do the same. He tells them to follow the lifestyle of the Philippian believers who know him and have watched how he lived.
Paul’s life of purpose, perspective, and purity was no cause for him to be boastful, as if he was better than those who had rejected the cross. Instead, his heart was broken for those whose lives had no earthly purpose and no eternal perspective, since they had rejected Jesus, the one who loved them and gave his life for them. As Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian believers, tears poured from his eyes because he loved those who were lost in Philippi. He was bothered deeply as he watched them waste their lives by rejecting Jesus and living as enemies of the cross.
Those who were lost in Philippi were loved by Jesus. He loved them so much that he gave his life for them on the cross. The cross, of which they were enemies, was a cross of love. It was a cross where Jesus poured out his love and grace upon people...dying for their sins and offering them complete forgiveness, righteousness, and acceptance, and inviting them to be citizens in his eternal kingdom through faith in his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return. Yet many of them rejected the good news of God’s grace and his gracious invitation to be a part of his kingdom, choosing instead to be enemies of the cross by living in rebellion to it.
The Philippian people were surrounded by those who were enemies of the cross, those who rejected the good news of grace. Therefore, Paul encouraged the Philippian people to pattern their lives after those who were patterning their lives after him by living a life of purpose, perspective, and purity. And to know they were citizens of heaven, waiting on earth for the return of Jesus and the transformation of their bodies to be like his glorious body.
Just as the Philippian people and Paul were surrounded by those who were enemies of the cross, so are we. And just as they lived a life with purpose, perspective, and purity, so do we.
Yet, like Paul, we do not live with a boastful attitude toward those who are enemies of the cross, as if we are better...for by the grace of God go we. Instead, we live with a broken heart for them...with eyes full of tears because they are wasting their lives, chasing after the wind...and in the end, they will say with Solomon “Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless!”.
But for us, by God's grace, we live as citizens of heaven, awaiting the return of Jesus who will transform our earthly bodies to be like his glorious resurrected body. And until Jesus does return, let's shine the light of God's grace into the lives of the lost, let's share the love of Jesus with the lost, so they can go from living a meaningless life to living a meaningful life!