Where Are You From? A Study in Philippians
From a Place Where Life is Shaped by the Cross
Sunday morning, March 21, 2021
Text: Philippians 3:17-21
We are nearing the end of our journey through Paul's letter to the church in Philippi. We started this study by asking the question, "Where are we from?" There are things about us that say we're not from here. Things that make us feel like we're not at home. In chapter 3 verse 20 of this letter, Paul lets the church know that our citizenship is not in Rome. It is not in this place. It is not in this city. Our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God and there are characteristics of the Kingdom that should color our lives. We have looked at some of these in our time in this book.
We have seen that we're from a place where we believe in, trust in, and follow God's providence, God's lead. Paul comes to Philippi by following God's lead. He encourages us to continually look for God's hand and follow. We have seen that we are from a place of thankfulness; grateful to have partners in the ministry of God, that the gospel is being proclaimed, that we can be used in God's service, and that we cannot lose. We have seen that we are to operate from a place of humility as we place the needs of others above our own. We are to have the mind of Christ. We have seen that we need to minister from a place of unity, and understand that we need each other to be effective witnesses of the Gospel. And it is a place where we stand out (like Paul says) like stars in the universe. We come from a place of peace, where we have peace with God and peace within as we navigate the world around us. It is a place where we can have a new beginning, a fresh start and continue to grow.
We have almost come full circle as the text this morning is the one with which we began about two months ago.
"Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
There's an interesting description given in this text: people who "walk as enemies of the cross of Christ." What does that mean? What does it look like? Paul gives a little more information about these people in this text, "Their end is destruction, their god is their belly (stomach NIV), they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things." To whom is he referring? What can walking as (living as) enemies of the cross look like? Who is he talking about? People outside Christianity or people inside Christianity?
Maybe it is wanting to deny its existence. Maybe these are the same people to whom Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. The outsiders:
"For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,"
These would be people who would want to get away from the cross. For a Jew, no real Messiah would be crucified by the Romans. The Messiah was supposed to defeat the Romans. The Greeks also have trouble with a religion that follows a condemned criminal. Maybe these are the people Paul refers to here.
Maybe he is talking about people who think that suffering shouldn't be part of their religious life. It is interesting that this letter to the church in Philippi that we usually associate with rejoicing, also speaks frequently about suffering. We noticed a few weeks ago that joy (either in noun or verb form) is repeated 14 times in this letter. However, words like "imprisonment" or "suffering" or "death" are mentioned 16 times in this letter. While we are not people who want to deny the existence of the cross, to be free of suffering might be a little closer to home. We've heard about the "gospel of prosperity" and might even find it appealing. Come on folks, let's admit it, the message that if we just follow Jesus that God will take care of every need we have, we will have all we could ever want is a message that should be appealing to lots of people.
But we can't look away. Even though it is incredibly disturbing. It's ugly isn't it. It is horrific. It is stomach turning. Crucifixion was one of, if not the, most painful, torturous, and humiliating ways to die. Invented by the Parthinians (I believe), it was perfected by the Romans and reserved for the worst of criminals. It was used to let everyone know that Rome is the power and this is what happens when you try to rebel.
Yet we are drawn to the cross. We see its ugliness. We see its violence. We see it as an instrument of torture; a degrading, humiliating instrument of death. But we see more. In it we see the love of God. We see the lengths to which God will go to be with us. We see so much more. The question is, can we be drawn to the cross, can we see it for what it really is, can we appreciate it yet still live as enemies? Maybe we can if all we do is look at it. Maybe we can if all we do is think about it once in a while, acknowledge what was done there. Maybe we can if we refuse to have our lives shaped by the cross.
What we see at the cross is the value that God places on humanity. "For God so loved the world….." Sometimes I wonder if that is too broad, after all "the world" sounds big and grand. Please don't get me wrong. The love of God is bigger, is greater, is much more far reaching than we can imagine. But the language of "the world" may be too generic.
But, look around the cross and who do we see? The religious elite (chief priests, the scribes, the elders) who have handed him over to the Romans to inflict this suffering and death. We hear them mock him, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him. He trusts in God, let God deliver him now if he desires him." (Matthew 27:42-43)
We hear those who pass by mock him. "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." The other two condemned men who are on either side of Jesus revile him the same way.
We see the women who had ministered to Jesus. We see John.
We see the soldiers. Those who had taken Jesus into the governor's headquarters and beaten him, mocked him, spit on him, and placed a crown of thorns on his head were there. The crucifixion team that had driven nails in his wrists and feet were there. The soldier who runs the spear in his side. If we look closely enough, we see ourselves there in that crowd. Yet he dies for them. Not just the good. Not just his followers. Not just the ones who thought that maybe he didn't deserve this. All who were there were offered redemption by God who pays the ultimate price. The value that God places on humanity, not just by our place in creation; creating us in his own image, but by offering himself for us and for our redemption is on full display at the cross.
What value do we place on others? All others? Look around us each and every day. Who is there? People. They may be homosexuals, gender dysphoric, sexually promiscuous, addicts, foreign, atheists. They may hold different political views. They may hold to values that are vastly different than the ones we find called for in this book. We may consider them to be the worst of the worst (and I don't know what your "worst" is), but they are people. They are people of inestimable value because they have been created in the image of God. They are people of inestimable value because God has given the life of his very son for them. Are our lives shaped by the cross when it comes to how we see people?
There's a way we can tell. There's a way in which others can tell. How do we talk about people? Are they "those people"? You know, those people probably __________. Those people don't even ___________. Those people. How do we treat "those people?" Do we deal with them as valuable, or are they only a means to an end for us? Do we demonstrate that others ALL OTHERS are valuable they way God did at the cross? Do we see tham as people for whom God gave his own Son? That's what it means to have our lives shaped by the cross. When we - individually and as a church - do what we can to let others know that they are loved and valued, we are being shaped by the cross. We are not only drawn to the beauty of the cross, we are embracing it and becoming what we see there.
What else do we see around the crucifixion of Jesus? We see faith, absolute trust in the victory of God over death. We see the defeat of death. the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that following Jesus, walking in his steps, we have nothing to fear. That does not mean that everything and that our lives will go well. A favorite quote that I remember from Randy Harris is, "In this life the love of God protects us from nothing." Look at our prayer list. Christians still get cancer. Christians still experience suffering and loss. Christians have bad things happen to them. But whatever happens God has us. I think this is what Paul had in mind as he wrote to the church in Rome.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
"For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Do we live with this kind of confidence? From our text, it appears that those walk as enemies of the cross are focused on making sure they are taken care of instead of trusting God. Paul says their god is their belly (appetite) and have their minds on earthly things. Having a life shaped by the cross moves us to be courageous for the sake of the Kingdom. There is nothing with which we can be threatened. We can be confident that God will give us what we need and receive us home. Not even death can stop us. We are here this morning as a community of faith to celebrate the victory that God has given us over the grave.
Why would anyone be drawn to the cross? Why would anyone answer the call of Jesus if it means we have to love others, value others and put the needs of others ahead of our own? Why would anyone answer the call of Jesus to come to the cross if we still will have trouble and suffering and face opposition from all sides? It is the only place where we find hope. No one but the God who gives life can promise hope. Others may try. Others may try to convince is that this is all there is. They may try to convince us that if we follow their religion, their system, their way that life will be good and we will be happy and prosperous. We may even try to tell ourselves that as long as we don't deny the cross, as long as we think of it and are thankful for what God has done there that we will be ok. But the call of Jesus is to have our lives shaped by the cross. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "When Jesus calls a man, he calls him to come and die." Why would we do this? Because no one else, no one other than Jesus can give us hope. Isn't this what Jesus says in Mark 8:34-35?
Before we leave we need to note that having lives shaped by the cross is a continuous process. It is a daily forming of our lives into the what we see at the cross of Jesus. It is not one that is meant to be done on our own. God has given us his Spirit to live within us and among us. We will need to cooperate with him and follow his lead and allow him to shape us. This is also something done in community, done together. At the crucifixion we see the weight of the cross as Jesus stumbles under the load. Together we bear the weight of that cross as we are individually and communally shaped. We express to one another in community and to the world through the community the love of God and his desire to have humanity reconciled to himself. Together we celebrate the victory that we have in Christ Jesus our Lord. And together, in community, we wait in Hope, confident that one day we will be home, face to face with the one who died for us.
Come to think of it…. it is no wonder that we are drawn to the cross.
Invitation to have our lives shaped by the cross.