Philippians 3:17–4:1 (NRSV)
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
The hardest thing about the Christian life is life. Have you ever noticed that? I would be the most perfect Christian if no one bothered me. I would read scripture more if someone would not turn on a television. I would pray more if I did not have to work. I would even fast more if people would just stop bringing tasty deserts to potlucks. Have you ever really thought about the excuses that we make for our souls’ conditions?
All too often we pass the blame onto others. We rarely take on the responsibility for our own actions. This goes back to the very first sin when Adam and Eve, our first parents, hid from God who was walking in the cool of the evening to meet with them. Why did they hide? Because they were naked and exposed. They gained the knowledge of good and evil and immediately that knowledge directed them to hide. They hide because they knew that they were evil, that they failed to listen to God, and scripture said they were ashamed. The interesting thing is that they were hiding, they were running from God, yet where was God? He sought them, He called their names and continued to walk till He found them. Consider that for a moment. They were ashamed and hid, God sought them out in their shame and found them.
God asked simple questions, “Where are you?” and “Who told you that you were naked?” and “did you eat of the tree I commanded you not to eat from?” Simple questions, you could answer each with very little effort, yet immediately Adam says “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Notice something about this statement Adam blames Eve we know that and ever since that day women have been treated poorly, but did you happen to catch the underling accusation? “The woman, whom you gave to be with me…” Adam blames Eve and God. Adam sins and he blames God for giving him a woman to be with him for causing the failure. Eve won’t be out done when she is questioned about her actions, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Both our first parents passed the blame onto others. Both tried even before God to hide the truth, the truth that they did not trust God and that they thought they knew what was best for themselves.
Pushing the blame onto others has become the universal pastime of all humanity. Some cultures have become so good at it that they have incited the masses to engage in violence against entire people groups, saying we would have a wonderful life with everything we could ever desire is it was not for those people. You can fill in the blank however you want, the Tutsi, the Muslims, the Jews, the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Republicans or Democrats. It does not matter who we want to blame the results are the same, we failed to live up to the standard and we want everyone including God to believe that it is their fault not our own.
Paul tells us something very important about this line of thinking. He tells us that that is not of Christ. Saying, “Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” Their god is the belly and their glory is in their shame.
These ideas are quite disturbing when you study it deeper. Their god is the belly. We can look at this from several different perspectives. One focusing on the actual belly. Which would not be an incorrect way to consider this passage. Their god is the consumption of goods. Eating, drinking, living a life focused on fulfilling our hungers and thirsts. But there is an interesting concept about this word it is used not only to describe the digestive tract, but can also be used to describe the hollow of the body, the emptiness within the person. Their god is the belly, the emptiness, the void within that we seek to fill.
Their glory is in their shame. Shame is an interesting concept. We often think of shame as being something that God does to us, but it is not of God. Shame is the removal or grace or credit, it is separation. Let us return to the garden and our first parents, they hid, they removed themselves from God’s presence, where was God? God knew their sins and he continued to look for them He called them by name even though they sought to remove themselves from God. They had shame not because God removed grace from them, but because they hid. Their glory is in their shame. The idea surrounding this is that these individuals desire shame as a badge of honor. They actively seek to humiliate, discredit, and degrade those around them.
Their god is the belly; their glory is in their shame. These people that Paul says are enemies of the Cross of Christ are people that devote their lives to the filling of the emptiness within, and they do through the humiliation of others. We would have all that we ever wanted if it was not for those people. Who are those people?
To be honest this passage scared me a bit as I studied it. It scared me because often I seek to fill voids within my life. I often want to discredit other or to pass the blame on to them. As I studied and prayed with this scripture I became very aware of the sinfulness of my own actions. What scared me the most was that many of those actions I have participated in while claiming to be honoring God through them.
It is so easy to do, because the Christian life is hard. It is easier to say I am a religious person because I have read a daily devotional, it is hard to apply the things taught to us through those words in our daily life. It is easy to drag myself out of bed to get to worship, it is a great deal more difficult to listen to what the Spirit is saying and change behavior that I have sought to comfort the emptiness within.
Often I as a human am an enemy to the very cross that I claim! Often my own actions lead to the very destruction of what I am seeking to find. Often I get in the way.
I get in the way. It goes back to that very first sin. Adam and Eve both wanted to be like God, they wanted the knowledge of good and evil, they thought that they could control their own destiny and become equal with God. They lifted themselves into a place they were not created to hold. They like me got in the way of God’s desires. They separated themselves, hid themselves from the companionship of God and dehumanized themselves and every child of man after them. They tried to do what they thought was right, they tried to fill a void an emptiness that was created because of disillusion.
It does not take a scholar to tell us that we live in a broken world. It does not take a theologian to tell us that our world is one that is anti-Christ. But are we, as people claiming Christ, living as companions of Him or companions of the world? Paul says, “…join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” That is bold. Join in imitating me or follow me? Paul has used this idea several times in his letters “Follow me as I follow Christ” He tells the people of Corinth. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what is promised. Jesus himself says Follow me, or imitate me. What each of them are saying is stop living the life of the world that is devoted to the belly and shame and instead live a different life. A life that is exemplified in Christ. Walk the way he walks, talk the way he talks, eat the way he eats, breath the way he breaths. Follow his lead.
Jesus said that he is the bread of life and any who come to him will not go hungry. And as he spoke to the woman at the well, and his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” He said this to his disciples and the Samaritan woman who was one of those people, a Samaritan, not just a Samaritan but a Samaritan woman that was living in sin because she had had five husbands and is living with a sixth man whom she had not married. The disciples were astonished that he would be near let alone speak to her. This gives us a glimpse into what Paul is encouraging us to imitate.
Jesus lived in a broken world, and he loved them. He showed them a lifestyle that was contrary to the lifestyles of the world. He lived in such a way to humanize the dehumanized, to humble the proud, and to give worth to those deemed worthless. He call his disciples to follow him, to follow him as he did the will of the one who sent him. He made it his custom to worship, he withdrew often to pray in isolated places, and he ministered to the needs of those around him. He listened to the spirit and acted. And he told his disciples and a sinful woman, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me.” That lifestyle is the one that will truly satisfy.
When we look at the world around us what do we see? Do we see a world that is far from God and do we pray that God would end it now, or do we see fields ripe for harvest? Do we live lifestyles seeking our desires to be filled or do we seek to do the will of the Father? Do we seek to discredit and dehumanize or do we strive to be reconciled to God?
The Christian life is hard, it is so much easier to live like everyone else. To blame all of our problems on another so we do not have to face the consequences of our own actions. But that is not what we are called to do. Our first parents hid, they were ashamed because they filled their belly with fruit that was not theirs to eat, and they were ashamed because all that that fruit did for them was make them realize that they were not much to look at. Imitate me, Paul encourages us, Imitate and observe others who live according to the example you have in him, who is ultimately Christ. Follow Jesus. Eat what he eats, drink what he drinks, be what he is. Our world is broken because we have turned away from that lifestyle. Even among those in the Church we have become enemies of the Cross of Christ. A cross that encourages us to love those that God loves, to clothe those whom God would clothe, and to feed those that God would feed.