In Philippians 3:18, Paul warns that there are Christians who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. But he does not only warn. In the same section, he talks about two things that can help us not to become enemies of the cross of Christ, but to remain friends of the cross.
Paul as an example
In verse 17, he mentions the first: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”. People who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ are bad examples. But there are also good examples. I am one of them, says Paul. He does not say that he is perfect. In the same chapter, he says: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” (Philippians 3:12).
What he does say is this: what I have told you to do, I have also done myself. I have denied myself for the Gospel. I remained unmarried. I am always traveling. I am always in danger. I have been imprisoned and punished so many times. I have always had a double job, taking care of myself and proclaiming the Gospel at the same time. And my life was in accordance with my words. I have been holy, righteous and blameless in your midst, he writes to another church (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
Other examples besides Paul
The fact that Paul writes a letter, shows that he is no longer in Philippi at that time. But that is no problem. For Paul is not the only example. He says: “Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”. There are others who walk like me. Just look at them. Learn from them. Imitate them. For some people, this feels a bit uncomfortable because they don’t like hierarchy at all. “Does he think he’s better than others?”
I don’t know whether Paul thinks he is greater. But I do know that you have to look for people who are greater than you are. People you can look up to spiritually. Keep an eye on them. And I hope that the desire in you is awakened to be such a person yourself. How great it would be if others look at you and think: that is how I want to be. That is how I want to follow Christ.
Pastors and elders should be examples
This pattern of following is so important. The Lord Jesus had twelve disciples. They lived with Him and learned from Him. That is the pattern that is repeated in the church afterwards. For example, in 1 Timothy 4:12-16 it says: “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. … Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
And in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” In 1 Peter 5:3, Peter exhorts elders to be “examples to the flock”. So this is a responsibility for the pastors and elders. If you are looking for examples, look at them first. But it may be the desire of all of us to be examples and to lead others on their way with Christ. Paul’s letter to Titus mentions how older women can lead younger women in this respect (Titus 2:3-5).
Focus on the heavenly things
In Philippians 3:20-21, the second way to help you stay a friend of the cross is: “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.” In short: Our home is heaven. The Lord Jesus is going to come out of heaven. Then we will have a body that will last forever. If that is your perspective, you will no longer be carried away by sin and the earthly things that make you an enemy of the cross. You are impressed by the heavenly things and therefore a friend of the cross.
Remain a friend of the cross
If you see that Christ’s cross has made it possible for you to belong to God forever, then you have become a friend of the cross. If you see that the cross makes it possible for you to be justified by faith, then you have become a friend of the cross. If you see that the cross has made it possible for you to become one with Christ and experience the power of His resurrection, then you have become a friend of the cross.
But there is so much in this world that draws us away from the cross. If you want to remain a friend of the cross and not become an enemy of the cross, then do the two things Paul calls for:
- First, look at people who are an example in Christian life.
- And second, be focused on eternity.