Enemies of the Cross

In the Philippian letter, Paul warns his readers of the various tactics used by Satan to rob Christians of the peace with God won for them at the cross.
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One of the first benefits of salvation is peace of mind. You have lots of good things that happened when you were saved, but peace of mind, you know, one of the first benefits. I remember in my own life, for example, that cold November night in 1977, Jim Maedor, the preacher of the small congregation that I attended in Lachine, Canada, he baptized me and I repeatedly thought of the words in Mark 16.

He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved, but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

That night, I believed, meaning I accepted as true that Jesus was the Son of God and his death on the cross forgave all of my sins, and, I had been immersed in water as an obedient expression of my repentance and faith in Jesus, therefore I was saved, just like it said in the Bible. I looked at the Bible and it said, "Those who believe and are baptized are saved." And on that night, I knew in my heart that I believed, and I experienced the baptism, and so therefore it meant that I would, I was saved. So simple, so simple. How could one miss it? Saved forever. I felt at peace. I remember thinking that that night. I'm going to heaven. I'm saved forever. Oh, what a peaceful moment.

Little did I know that happy night that my peace in Christ would often be attacked in the years to come, and so I'd like to review a passage in the book of Philippians where Paul talks about these enemies of the peace, or as he calls them, enemies of the cross, who during his time, and even today, threaten the peace and the security that all believers have found in our Savior Jesus Christ and his victorious cross.

So I would ask you to open your Bibles to the book of Philippians, and our textual lesson tonight will be from the book of Philippians, chapter three. But first a little background.

The letter to the Philippians is the most personal of all the letters that Paul had written. He speaks from the heart to a church that he loves dearly, a church that doesn't need any rebukes or harsh words because of unfaithfulness or immorality or laziness. Unlike the book of Romans, for example, or Colossians, which are well-organized teachings in letter form, Philippians is a true letter with only two main themes. The first is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In four chapters, Paul mentions the gospel nine times, so you can't miss his point. He doesn't explain it. He doesn't give the details of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection, but rather the importance and the power of the message itself. He knew that his readers were well aware of the teaching and the response to the gospel. He merely wanted to share with them the glory of this message that they shared as Christians. The other theme that comes out very strongly is that of joy, the gospel, the power of the gospel, and joy.

Although Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, his attitude was brimming with joy,

  • Joy in remembering the brethren at Philippi Philippians 1:3
  • Joy that the gospel was actually being preached even though he was in prison - Philippians 1:18
  • Joy in their growth as Christians, that the gospel was having an affect on them - Philippians 2:2

He felt a great joy because these brethren were experiencing and expressing the joyful lifestyle of faithful Christians. The Philippians were one of Paul's success stories and he rejoiced over this.

Now, it's within this context that he warns them about the dangers of losing this joy which the gospel had produced in them. And he doesn't rebuke them, they've not done anything wrong, but it seems that there were teachers or influences or influencers within their midst that could destroy this peace, that could destroy this joy. As I mentioned before, these influences, these teachers he refers to as enemies of the cross from which I drew my sermon title, and in chapter three of this letter, he begins his exposure of these people and also his warning against them.

Enemies of the Cross

So let's talk about the enemies of the cross that Paul talks about in chapter three of Philippians and we read,

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.
- Philippians 3:1

So he encourages them to remain joyful in the Lord. Let the Lord and his cross be your cause of joy. He uses this as a bridge to establish his warning in the next verse. For example, I want you to rejoice in this Lord always, and I'm not tired of reminding you of this in order to keep you safe because, and then he tells them why he continues to remind them in verse two.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision;
- Philippians 3:2

Three enemies among and around them that will steal their joy and rob their peace, and he refers to them in a variety of ways. He calls them dogs. I mean, in those days, dogs were not cherished pets as they are today. In those days, dogs ran in packs and they were scavengers and they were wild and they were a dangerous nuisance. Then he calls them evil workers, whatever guise these people were in, their work and their goal was evil. And then he calls them the false circumcision, which actually was a more exact description of these particular troublemakers, Jewish teachers who insisted that Gentiles must first be circumcised before being baptized as Christians. In other places they're called Judaizers or the circumcision party. All the same thing. They believed and taught that Christianity was merely another form of Judaism, and that to follow Jesus required that one become a Jew through circumcision first. Their goal was to then make these people keep the laws and the traditions of the Jews and revert them to a system of salvation by the works of the law. That was the end game if you wish. This is why they were so dangerous. They were trying to lead the Philippians away from the joy and the peace that comes with living under the shadow of the cross, and bring them to a point where they were living under the curse of the law once again.

And so in verse three we read,

for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
- Philippians 3:3

Paul summarizes their differences in verse three. The true circumcision is the one where sin is cut away by the cross of Christ, not just flesh that is cut away by a knife in a religious ceremony. Their worship is acceptable to God, not because of correct ritual or tradition, but because they have the Spirit, and they are thankful for the right thing. They're thankful for Jesus Christ and his cross. And they are confident in their salvation, not because they make no mistakes, not because they do everything right, not because they pursue a religion of perfectionism, they have salvation because they trust Jesus Christ who saves them by faith, and that is the source of their joy.

In verses four to seven, this is a, kind of a long discourse here, Paul compares himself in his life to the present enemies, to these Judaizers, because these Judaizers were making a big deal about their credentials as teachers and Jews and you know, the authentic ones, and so Paul kind of compares himself and his life to these enemies. Basically, he says that he was more exactly like them, even more radical than they are today at one time in his life. But, he explains, when he found Christ when he understood how God was going to save him through a process of faith, he abandoned his former life and his thinking.

4although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
- Philippians 3:4-7

You know, when he says "whatever were gained to me," he means whatever all of that, you know, blocked me, got me, he says, was worth nothing once I realized what I had in Christ Jesus.

And then in the next verses, verses 8 to 11, he goes even further. He says that nothing, not his former religion, not anything in the world, is able to compare to how wonderful it is to be saved by faith instead of trying to be saved by keeping the law. Through faith in Christ, he says, he has a true hope of resurrection and eternal life despite the sufferings that he is experiencing now.

8More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
- Philippians 3:8-11

In the next section, Paul explains that he doesn't consider himself perfect. He's not a perfect person in Christ. As some of his readers may assume, that as a former ideal Jew and now a chosen apostle of Jesus, he's made it, he's arrived at the pinnacle of spiritual maturity and achievement. There's nowhere else for him to go. He says in a play on words, that once Christ laid hold of him, you know, on that road to Damascus, he has pursued a course that would enable him to lay hold of Christ in return.

And so he goes on to say that the final goal for which Christ originally laid hold of him was the prize of eternal life. This is completion. This, he says, is perfection. Every stage, every hurdle, every trial is simply one step closer to the prize that Jesus offers, and that is resurrection and eternal life with him. So we read in his own words,

12Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 3:12-14

So Paul states that despite his past and despite his suffering, the only thing that keeps his eye, the only thing he keeps his eye on is the prize that Jesus promises him, and that prize is a glorified body and eternal life.

You know in sports, you have to keep your eye on the ball. In every sport, no matter what it is, the coach is always telling you to stay focused. When I was younger and played hockey, I played goalie, that was my position, and believe me, the coach that coached the goalies in hockey, one of the things he would remind you always is make sure you know where the puck is, because it might be heading for your face, you know, so you had to keep your eye on the puck.

Well, in Christianity, you have to keep your eye on the goal, and the goal that Paul is saying is eternal life. That's the goal that we are all aiming for.

15Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
- Philippians 3:15-16

Now, he goes back here to referring to his readers and not himself, and he talks to those who are mature. Here the word mature is translated as the word perfect, not necessarily the very best word to use here. He means, okay, now, for those of you who are mature, okay, mature in the faith, right, and he encourages them to have this particular attitude. Well, what attitude? What attitude are the mature ones supposed to have? Well, the attitude they're supposed to have is they're pursuing righteousness by virtue of faith, not through law.

If you're pursuing righteousness through the law, then you can't count yourself as being a mature Christian. Mature Christians pursue righteousness through faithfulness. Also, what attitude should we have? Well, we should forget the past and persevere towards the prize within, which is in the future. I know from my own experience as a Christian that Satan's very best strategy with me is to make me look in the past. He somehow makes me review the past, what I've done, what I've missed, how I could have done better here. Why did I do that, and so on and so forth, always looking towards the past, and the problem with looking towards the past is that it accomplishes absolutely nothing. It doesn't accomplish anything other than doubt.

Paul is saying, forget the past. Now, remember, he's talking to Christians, he's not talking to Gentiles, he's not talking to unbelievers. Unbelievers may have to look at the past and what they've done and you know, and how that's going to affect their future. But Christians have no reason to look back at the past, and usually what is it that we look at when we look at the past? Do we look at our successes? No, of course not. We look at our failings. Well, the cross of Christ has taken care of the past. No need to look back at it. The cross of Jesus has taken care of all of that. Forget the past, pursue the prize, and pursue it with single-minded determination, because there are so many obstacles in the way. And then what attitude? Well, pursue righteousness through faith, he says, stop looking at the past, and keep your eyes looking forward, and thirdly, remember that looking back stops your progress. As I said at the beginning, it is Satan's most effective tool to disturb your peace.

When your peace is disturbed, when you're fretting, and when you're, you know, you're not, you know, at one with the Lord, at one with yourself, many times the reason is that we've looked too much at the past, and not five years, but you know, five minutes ago or yesterday. Among those who are mature, even when, on other matters, there is a difference of opinion, he says, at least keep in line with what has, he has shared with them, and with time, God will help correct any misconceptions that they may have. And how will he do that? Well, he'll give them greater perception. He'll give them more teaching. He'll help them to be more mature.

Remember a long time ago I said, there are two things in ministry that I've learned in the 40 odd years, and that's the work of the church is the same, no matter where you go, it's always the same work, and number two, usually most problems in the church are solved by what? More love, more love. Every time, every situation, every headbutting, every misunderstanding, every division, every, you know, upset in the Church, if there was just a little more love between the parties, usually that would kind of calm things down. Well, that's what he's saying over here. Keep looking forward, and with time, God will help you understand, and hopefully, God will expand your heart to be able to express more love. You know, that's a legitimate prayer.

A lot of times we, we're asking God to help us not do bad things. Oh God, please help me not to do that bad thing, you know, and, or repeat that mistake or whatever it is, you know, but sometimes we need to say to God, could you please expand my ability to love other people? Because we're not born with a big wide open heart that has the ability to love other people. It's a learned a thing. It's a gift in many instances, and I think it's a very legitimate thing that we can ask God to help us to be more loving, to love beyond ourselves. In a sense, Paul has assured them that the gospel that brought he and them to salvation is all that they really need, and Paul of course echoes this in Romans 1:16, where he tells us that the gospel is the power of God. How does God save us? Through the gospel, and we have to remember that.

Well then in verse 17, he condemns the enemies and talks about, you know, what is going to be taking place with them. Before he goes on to encourage the Philippians, he addresses these false teachers, these Judaizers one last time.

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
- Philippipans 3:17

He points the way that they, the faithful ones, should go, since they may be somewhat confused. Join him in the lifestyle and the beliefs that he espouses and he teaches, and watch and learn how it is done by observing those who are already doing it. Paul was confident enough in his calling, he was confident enough in his teaching and in his maturity that he could establish himself as a model for behavior, and then in the next couple of verses, he becomes much more explicit in his description and condemnation of the Judaizers. He doesn't have the same words for them.

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ,
- Philipiians 3:18

Paul is moved to tears at the thought of what these men are doing. They're literally destroying the work accomplished by Christ and his cross. This is why he calls them the enemies of the cross. By attempting to bring the Philippians under the rule of law, in other words, trying to attain the prize by perfect behavior, for example, they're destroying their salvation achieved by grace. Attaining the prize based on faith in Jesus Christ, that's attaining heaven because of God's grace.

whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
- Philipiians 3:19

He finishes with an exposure of their true motives and their true condition before God. First of all, he says they're going to lose their salvation. Those who preach another gospel, remember in Galatians 1:8, you know, he's very adamant about those who preach some other gospel. Well, these people are preaching another gospel, and those who preach another gospel will be cursed, and this will be their end. You know, people who say, oh, you can never be lost, there are no conditions under which, you can never be lost. They definitely haven't read Galatians 1, very adamant about, yeah you can be lost.

And then he says their Lord is not Jesus. Their Lord is their own carnal nature, which he refers to as their appetites or their bellies, their focus on earthly things. Denying the cross of Christ is a sure sign that they are un-spiritual people, they are persons who want power and approval and money and self-righteousness. These things are all things of the flesh and not of the Spirit.

It's always a good prayer also to ask God, please Lord, help me pursue the things of the Spirit rather than the things of the flesh, because it's natural to pursue the things of the flesh. We're flesh, and the flesh is always saying, "Give me some more, give me some more, "I want more, or I want that." And of course, we live in an environment where merchants of all kinds are presenting us with all kinds of ideas and goods and services and pleasures, you know, daily. You can't get away from it. And so it's not a bad thing to ask God, please help me to pursue things that are spiritual. Put those things before me on a daily basis, Lord. And then he says, they depend on the wrong thing. Their glory, the thing that they think sets them apart and lifts them up is, in reality, a shameful thing. They take pride in denying the cross of Christ, the way of salvation by grace, and they substitute in its place their own human wisdom, their own teaching. What they hold up as their crowning achievement will be the thing that they will be ashamed of in the end, at the judgment.

And so the enemies of the cross are shameful, they're fleshly, and they're very much a part of this world. They are, in fact, quite the opposite of those who glory in the cross. And then he gave a condemnation of the Judaizers, but he gives a commendation, you got to get those two words properly expressed, a commendation to those who are faithful.

And so in the last verses of this chapter, Paul condemns the enemies of the cross, and he commends the followers of the cross in verse 20 and 21.

20For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21who 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.
- Philippians 3:20-21

The Lord has the power and the authority to remove this old body and give us a new body. God himself will give us a new reignment, new clothing, a new body. He will give us a glorified body, why? Because we can't stand to be with him in this body of flesh, which is sinful. We'd disintegrate, I guess, in a moment, We couldn't stand it, and so he equips us, he gives us a new body that will enable us to be in his presence and to remain in his presence without any reference to sin.

And so Paul uses this word to build a final bridge to one last thought in the passage and in the chapter. Heaven, he says, is the place where Jesus will come from in order to change us from our physical state into his glorious spiritual state, and he will and can do this, because he has the power to bring everything, and that is the laws of creation, and the laws of science, and all the laws, as well as human beings, into subjection to himself. In other words, in Colossians 1:16, it says that all things were created by him and for him. This is why he can do this very thing, which is to change our bodies into eternal glorified body.

And so Paul finishes on a note of triumph that tells his readers what the prize that all of them seek will be, a glorious body created especially for them by Jesus Christ. He created our physical bodies and he will create our glorified bodies. One is a model of creative genius, and the other will be eternal, eternally powerful and God-like. A couple of lessons here from this chapter, a few ideas that come forth from the passage, and of course the lesson is yours.

If all of this be so, that there are enemies of the cross, and many times they're in the church with us, and that we have to be careful and we have to, you know, so if those things are so, then be careful. Each generation has its version of Judaizers who will try to deny the effectiveness of the cross of Christ. Paul says that anyone, even an angel who brings another gospel, should be cursed. The only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ, the only way to Jesus is through his cross, and the only way to his cross is through faith expressed in repentance and baptism.

That is the only way that the Bible gives us. All the other ways have been invented by men. This is the only way that we are given in the Word of God. Secondly, be models. Not only Paul has a right to say, "Do as I do." Do we think only Paul the Apostle had the right to say a thing like that? Paul was a man, a sinner like us, was not afraid to encourage others to model their lives after his own, why? Because he knew that he was genuinely doing his best to forget the past and stay focused on the prize.

If we can forget the past and stay focused on doing all we can to grasp the prize of heaven, we are models here, regardless if we are men or women or leaders or new Christians or young or old, we are models. It's unfortunate that too many are afraid to say, "Follow me, or, "Do as I do," or, "Watch what I am doing and copy that." We're afraid, you know, because in our hearts, we may not be doing the best we can. We may not be trying as hard as we know we could try, and so we say, well, you know, we get off on the, well, I'm not perfect. Well, guess what, nobody's perfect, but some can be models. And then finally be there, be there.

The late brother Stafford North, I think most of us know him, preached here many times. He was a professor of Bible, he had a lot of other titles, but in the end he was Professor of Bible at Oklahoma Christian. He had a personalized license plate that read, "Be there," and the reason for that is he had always taught his children and his grandchildren that the most important thing in life is to go to heaven. It's the most important thing in life. It's more important than winning the regional championship, it's more important than getting into the best college, it's more important than having the top job. It's more important than anything. And so they had a kind of a code for this idea. They raised their thumb in the air and they said to each other, "Be there." You know, some people say, "Love you, love you more," you know, "love you twice," you know, something. Yeah, but in the North family, it was, they were leaving, they had supper, "Night, goodnight, remember, be there, be there." This means when Jesus comes for us in death or at the end of the world, I want to be there in heaven with him, and I want you to be there, too. That's what, that's the idea that he was getting across to his children and to his grandchildren. He was modeling behavior, and one behavior that he was sure of, he knew he wasn't a perfect person, but one behavior that he was absolutely positive was that he wanted to go to heaven and he wanted to do anything he knew how to do to guarantee that he was on the right track to go to heaven. And so he was saying, "I'm going to heaven, "and I'm following the Bible's path to get there, "and I want you to be there with me, too." I thought that his kids and his grandkids and his great grandchildren, if they remember nothing else about him, because he had earned many honors and awards and all kinds of stuff, and he never talked about that. That's all that he talked about, going to heaven and how to go to heaven, and how to guarantee that.

My question for you tonight, as you examine your souls and your conduct and your attitude, your obedience to the gospel, if Jesus came for you tonight, would you be there? It's a yes or no reply.

There's no middle here. It's yes, I would be there, or no. So if your answer is no, then my encouragement to you is do what you need to do, and that may be different for every person here, but do what you need to do as soon as you can so that you can be there when the Lord comes for you, and believe me, one day, if we haven't learned anything in this last couple of weeks, is that one day he's going to come for every single one of us, some at a much later date in life and others when we least expect it.

And so if you need to make a change that includes confessing Christ publicly and being baptized, and if that's something we can do tonight, then we're sure happy to help you in that.

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