Philippians 3:17-4:1. The text (my translation):
Join in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and likewise take note of those who already live according to the example you have in us, for I have told you often about the many who live, but now I say this even while weeping, that the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is utter destruction; their God is the belly; and their “glory” is their shame; these are the people concerned about earthly matters. For us, however, exists citizenship in the heavens, and from these heavens we anticipate a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ will transform our subjugated body, for our body will be conformed to his glorious body according to his power, who is being able to subject everything to himself. So, my beloved brothers and sisters whom I long for, my joy and my crown, persevere in this way in the Lord, beloved!
In the ancient world, life sucked. It really did. The majority of people were in extreme poverty, and this directly affected the marginalized groups within urban settings like women, who often died young or in childbirth. In a setting of rival religious viewpoints, how is Paul to communicate to this fledgling church in Philippi? How does he communicate the authority of Christ when Caesar is Lord? How do the various social hierarchies and dynamics affect slaves, women, Gentiles and Jews in such a small and volatile setting?
Because I cannot hope to answer all of these questions directly or fully, I have two main points that I want to stress as we walk through God’s word tonight. The first is the nature of “somatic ethics,” or how we live as bodies, as both a community and as individuals. Ethics of this sort include sex, food, power and the nature of what it means to be a human being in the ancient world.
The second is more controversial and will likely get me in trouble, but I’m already preaching and it is bad manners to take the mic away from an honored guest. The controversial point is that, for Paul, resurrection is better than heaven.
Rival religious groups or people in Philippi were dominant, as were religions in the ancient world. When Paul speaks of these rival groups, perhaps even movements within the church, he is filled with weeping. The “enemies of the cross of Christ” are concerned like most people: they desire money, prestige, sex, power, and social status, all of the things we all kinda want but shouldn’t desire. Paul characterizes them as people entirely devoted to themselves and their own pleasure: their “bellies” are overflowing as the many grow sick in the streets, and they pursue “earthly things,” that is, things that are not of God. We can see this in our own lives, desiring things that are not good for us: pornography, drugs, better clothes, better phones (hopefully the kind that don’t explode if you are a Samsung user like myself), better cars, anything to keep from thinking about the deep things of God.
Don’t worry if you see yourself in there: that just means you are in good company with me and everyone else.
For Paul, the eschaton—the end of all things—was immanent. He was waiting, like we are, for the return of Christ. Instead of participating in Christ and in the church, their pleasure becomes their “god.” Pleasure in the ancient world, much like today, was not about the autonomous freedom of a person to seek pleasure apart from another person. Pleasure was taken, bought, or stolen. It was about power, greed, and avarice: in that sense, the ancient world looked a lot like Game of Thrones. We see this in numerous places throughout the New Testament, where people in power abused those who were not in power.
For Paul, the eschatological end for such people was utter destruction in v.19. The end result of a life lived in sin apart from Christ was annihilation, a shameful eternal death that is hardly glorious. The word for “destruction” appears throughout the New Testament: for instance, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew to:
”Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
We see this similar mindset, albeit with an economic focus, in 1 Timothy 6:6-10, where the author says:
“ Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
It seems that the “enemies of the cross” in Philippi are cut from the same cloth as these people in Ephesus, in 1 Timothy 6. In our text tonight, we have people who have embodied the very lifestyle that God hates. So when Paul evokes the “destiny” of those who are leading wicked lives, Paul is being a bit sarcastic by saying, “their glory is their shame.” The shame of a life lived in utter selfishness, apart from the participatory suffering of God’s people. Hardly glorious, hardly worth remembering. As Paul says in Romans 6:23: “the wages of sin is death.” Death is the payout for a life lived in rebellion, in Sin.
We do not let our lives be defined by “our pleasures.” Rather, Christ defines us. Thus, our ethical framework is that we treat our bodies as a temple, as something noble and good. What we do with our lives, our actions, our deeds, matters deeply to God. He gave you life, and he wants you to live a life that does not destroy his image (c.f. Gen. 1:26-27); whether male or female, you image God. That is why what you do and how you live matters.
This leads us nicely into Paul’s second point, where he draws a specific contrast between those whose destiny is destruction. Rather than being citizens of Caesar’s Republic, our citizenship is defined by Christ, by the cosmic realm. We are not citizens of earth, that is, we do not belong to the reign of Death or the reign of Caesar. To be earthly is to be mortal, under subjection. To be a “citizen” affords a person with certain rights: that is, as citizens of heaven, we have a specific claim or right:
That right is resurrection.
Christ’s return signifies that our bodies, our subjected, broken bodies will be “conformed.” The Greek word σύμμορφον is a compound word: the prefix σύν means “with” (among other things) and the word μορφή (“form”): literally, “formed with.” This same word (though it is not a compound word) is used in Philippians 2:6 to describe the preexistent Christ as being “in the form of God.” That σῶμα (“body”) is to be transformed means the totality of the human person is to be formed by Christ: mind, heart, skin, everything. All that you are will be transformed, not left unburied in shame and contempt, or left in the corrosive grasp of Death.
We aren't going to be like Casper the Ghost in New Creation.
Christ is not coming back as Casper the Ghost.
Like it says in Romans 8:29 “being conformed to the image of his son.” As opposed to “glory” being shame, like in v.18, rather glory here describes the body of Christ in his true form, as the eternal Son of God. He came from Heaven, relinquished his authority to life a life marked by slavery and death, but he also comes as savior, as deliverer, to rescue people from suffering and that evil, narcissistic tyrant, Death. His resurrection is liberation.
His resurrection is our liberation, gang.
Liberation from what?
What does resurrection mean?
It means that death is destroyed.
Death is a significant force in Paul. In Romans 5, he speaks of Death having “reigned,” describing it like one would a king, like how one would describe Caesar. If Christ is not risen, what? We’re dead and gone. We’re like those earthly ones, whose destiny is utter destruction. Our gods might as well be our belly. What good is there? Porn, adultery, sexism. What good is there?
Christ is risen.
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate triumph of God over the forces of evil that prey upon you, upon me, upon us. Resurrection is not about going to heaven when you die. Resurrection is about God saying “no” to Death and to Evil.
Resurrection is God’s way of saying, “I freaking love you,” and I will not abandon you to Death. This magisterial love of Christ then pushes us to say, like Paul did:
“Persevere!” “Christ is risen!”
This is good news! The best news! God loves you, and wants you to participate in resurrection life: a life lived in service, as brothers and sisters, ministers and pastors and priests. Be holy! Be righteous! Be gracious when people fail, so basically be gracious always. The greatest sign of God’s love is that he raised Jesus from the dead, and you can be like Jesus in his resurrection. Love triumphs over sin, over evil, over Death.
There is hope! There is hope for those of us who suffer now, and will suffer in the future. For the woman who is oppressed by sexism in the church, there is hope. For the man who struggles with his sexuality, there is hope. For the person who is the chief of sinners, there is hope.
Paul believed that Christ’s coming was the end of death, of pain, of suffering. He believed that our resurrection was better than heaven, because the resurrection is the final triumph of God. Death has been utterly and completely destroyed, and we wait in anticipation of the coming Son of God.
Heaven hath no joy like a resurrecting God, and that is why our resurrection is better than going to heaven. There are not ghosts in New Creation.
There be dragons – there be resurrection, brothers and sisters. Now go live it, and go love those who most desperately need it.
o 3:17-19: Paul begins this section with an imperative to be like him, and to observe the conduct of those already in the assembly. He has already argued against “adversarial ones” (1:28), and has stressed ethical unity (2:5-11). With tears in his eyes, he says the trajectory of the “enemies of the cross of Christ” is utter destruction.
§ Somatic ethics—ethics of how one lives, eats, etc.—are important to Paul here. For example, somatic ethics are stressed by Paul to treat our bodies like a temple (1 Cor. 3).
§ While it is not entirely obvious that the people of Philippi are suffering, suffering is surely a probable outcome.
o 3:20-21: In drawing a contrast between those concerned with earthly things, Paul asserts that the believers in Philippi are already citizens of the heavens. The word “savior” (σωτῆρα) means “deliverer” or “one who rescues.” Paul tells the readers to “anticipate” the coming Christ
§ Eschatology is the study of the “end” of all things: heaven, hell, new creation.
· Paul stresses what one does as a human being—as an embodied person—matters to Christ. Because Christ is not going to discard your body like a plastic wrapper from a snicker’s bar.
· Jesus thinks the body is good. Our bodies will be like Christ’s: glorious, immortal, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
o 4:1: Paul exhorts his brothers and sisters to be steadfast and persevere despite suffering, for we hope for the resurrection. Death was a tyrant until Christ was raised from the dead: now, death has no sting (1 Cor. 15:55).
o Conclusion: Paul believed that Christ’s coming was the end of death, of pain, of suffering. He believed that our resurrection was better than heaven, because the resurrection is the final triumph of God.
§ How then should we live in light of the defeat of Death?