The passage before us is part of a larger section in Paul's letter which serves to warn the Philippians about the false teachings of the Circumcision Party, 3:1-21. Paul calls on his readers to not imitate these "enemies of the cross of Christ", but rather, imitate their founding apostle and so realize the fullness of new life in Christ, now and into eternity.
v17. Paul encourages his readers to follow the example of Christian living set by himself and his team. Given the context, this example is a life of faith which rests on the grace of God, rather than one which rests on law-obedience.
v18. Paul now encourages his readers to reject the example of the enemies of the cross. These enemies could be Jewish persecutors, or evil-livers in the congregation, but it is likely that they are "judaizers", cf. v2, 3. This group of believers held that although salvation was a work of grace through faith in Christ Jesus, a believer's holiness in the sight of God was progressed by obedience to the law, ie. they had adopted the heresy of sanctification by obedience.
v19. These Judaizers are now described in some detail:
i] Their end is ruin; lost spiritually. Their false doctrine will result in the loss of their standing in Christ.
ii] They are legalistic law-keepers - "their god is their stomach". That is, they are into the minutiae of the law as a means of progressing their Christian life for the appropriation of God's blessings. For them it is "touch not and taste not; eat and eat not."
iii] Their pride is in their circumcision - "their glory is in their shame (nakedness)". They despise those who are uncircumcised.
iv] "Their mind is on earthly things", ie., pietistic regulations.
So, Paul's advice is, don't follow their example.
v20. Unlike the earthly-minded enemies of Christ, Paul has a different focus. For Paul, believers are citizens of another kingdom. Our home is in a different place and therefore our hope is there, so we eagerly await the coming of Christ to take us to that home.
v21. Of course, this involves a dramatic transformation. The lowly body will be transformed into a glorious body. Our lowly body, broken by sin, weak and subjected to decay, will be transformed into a perfect spiritual body. This does not mean that all the createdness of our being is abandoned. Christ rose in human form and he has taken that humanity to the very throne of God. What we are, reflects much of what we shall be. Our transformation is into Christ-likeness. Paul deals with this transformation more fully in his first letter to the Corinthians, 1Cor.15:42-44, 49, 51-54. As for the means of this transformation, it is through the power of Christ, the power that brings everything under his control. This power is the divine power that creates, transforms, and is now at work uniting all things in heaven and on earth.
4:1 Given that we have an example to follow in the life of the apostle, given that there are enemies of the cross seeking to lead us astray, and given that we possess an eternal hope, we must stand firm in our partnership with Christ and for his cause, the cause of realizing the kingdom of God.
For Paul and the early church, the burning issue was the intrusion of the false notion that "God loves good little boys and girls". An effort-based religion is a very human creation; it is a reasonable and rational religion, but it is not the basis of Christianity. We are to proceed by grace through faith and not by law-obedience. A religion which seeks to subdue the flesh with pietistic rules and regulations, to deny the flesh, all on the assumption that such piety progresses our holiness, is nothing more than a religion of human design.
To deny the self of its natural pleasures for religious purposes, is to assume that God made a mistake in creating us the way he did. Why give us natural appetites if they are innately unholy? In truth, we should live life to the full. We should sense our being, dream, know ourselves, each other and the creation. Jesus was into work, family and home life; he came "eating and drinking". It was from the fullness of his life that he transferred life to others. Jesus did not deny life, rather he gave his life for the life of others. Only a lover of life can act with such generosity.
We are spiritually alive, not because of anything we do, but because of what Christ has done for us. The fullness of life in Christ with its now / not-yet, overflowing blessings, is ours not because we deny the flesh in the obedience of piety, but because we look to the source of all life, Christ himself. In that look of faith we are transformed, made holy; a righteousness of faith takes root in us. We who live, begin to live no longer for ourselves, but for him who made us. As a consequence, his life becomes our life.
So remember, as far as God is concerned, if you trust Jesus you are already a good little boy or girl - you are holy. Never forget what you are in Christ.
1. Who are the "enemies of the cross" and what do they teach?
2. Denying the place of the sensual self, suppressing the sensual self, or even worse, spiritualizing the sensual self - what would be the basis of such a view and why is it so unhealthy?