September 4, 2016
Preached on February 21, 2016
During my time at the seminary, I had a job working as a valet attendant at a parking garage. The job was fun in that it gave me opportunity to get behind the wheel of cars that I would never ever own. But it was also enjoyable because, when there were no cars to park, there was ample time to talk and get to know those other valets. There was time and opportunity for conversation, time to get to know and appreciate the people with whom I was working.
All of my coworkers knew I was a seminary student, and so they would ask me about it from time to time and ask me questions about my faith as a Christian. There was one man in particular. He was not a Christian. New Age religion was popular at that time, a belief not so much in a personal god but more of a spiritual quest to find peace and fulfilment among the spirits of this world (a very dangerous proposition from a Biblical point of view) but he wanted to relate our two faiths together, to make them the same. So one day he began to make the case… that in spite of the differences of our beliefs they were the same. He took out a piece of paper and he drew a few astral signs on the page, the path of the earth compared to the path of some other planet, and he noted that the general shape was that of a cross. As a believer in Christ, the cross is central. It is the foundation of the Christian faith. The cross of Jesus is the reason why we have salvation. He pointed to the cross shape made by the planets and said see we believe the same thing.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I was a little surprised to hear someone try to make the case that things were the same when they were so very different. For the Christian, the cross is not just a symbol or a sign of some cosmic principal; love or selflessness or good will. The cross is so much more than that. The cross is where Jesus died for all sinners… for all sinners and it is where Jesus died for me, where Jesus died for you. It is a real thing that really happened to a real man who was also really God. And that because this real man Jesus really died in this real cross I will really and truly be saved. The cross is the Gospel. To make it anything less, to take away from it or to try to add to it, is to diminish the sacrifice that was made by Jesus when he died on it. It is to be an enemy of the cross of Christ.
In our Epistle text for today, St Paul mentions just such a one, people who are enemies of the cross of Christ:
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. Phi 3:17-19
That is an unusual statement when you stop to think about it. It is unusual, because to say that the cross has enemies infers that the cross also has friends, and that is a dire proposition to say the least. The cross is after all a thing that causes suffering and pain and death. Why would we want to think of it as an ideal or as a pattern for living?
But that isn’t even the strangest part. What is even stranger is that there are those who would appear to be friends of the cross. My friend from the parking garage was at best looking to be an acquaintance of the cross – he was trying to say that there was a remote connection between our two faiths. He was not a Christian and he did not pretend to be. Paul, on the other hand, is talking about those who are members of the church, maybe even leaders in the church, who pretend to be friends of the cross.
Now again, the cross is an instrument of suffering and death. Jesus says that those who come after him must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. The strange part is that there are people who would swear their allegiance to the cross, but who would do so for the sake of satisfying some worldly or earthly desire.
Again, Paul writes:
18 Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Paul was warning his readers, the Christians in the Church at Philippi, about false teachers. There was this group that he called “the circumcision party”. Earlier in his letter he called them “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh”. These false teachers went around teaching that the only way to “get right with God” was to follow old laws that Jesus had fulfilled and superseded through his death in the cross. These were things that God had commanded because they pointed ahead to Jesus, they were signs of what God was going to do when Jesus came. But then… Jesus came. He fulfilled those old commands when he died on the cross, so they were no longer necessary. The Christians has been brought into a right relationship with God, not because they have been made members of the Jewish community, but because they were members of the body of Christ through repentance and faith, and because they are grafted into the Body of Christ through baptism.
The enemies of the cross functioned like the cross didn't happen. They acted like the cross of Jesus, the cross where God himself died for the salvation of sinners, didn't matter. In the end what mattered was “living by the rules”. These false teachers were enemies of the cross and they were friends of the flesh. Friends of the flesh and its achievement. Their god is their belly, their glory is their shame.
To be an enemy of the cross is to be drawn away from the faith that looks to Jesus and his cross for salvation. We don’t want to be drawn away.
The epistle of St. James warns us that it is our own desire that tempts us and draws us away and tries to trap us. So what are those desires? Paul talks about the god being the belly, and those desires, the desires that satisfy the belly, can sometimes be greed – an out of control desire to have everything you can for yourself, sometimes it’s gluttony – the desire to fulfill every earthly plan and passion. But it can also be pride. Pride that likes to take credit, pride that likes to contribute, pride that likes to keep track. Pride that gets puffed up and satisfied by my own achievements.
The first Epistle of John says that the desires of the flesh are both the desires of the eyes and the pride of life. (1 John 2:16) And our pride, our desire to take credit for what God has done and for what God is doing in us and for us and through us, leads us away from the faith and leads us to be enemies of the cross of Christ. It leads us to take pride in our own goodness, to assume our own righteousness. Martin Luther said, “God must forgive our good works lest they condemn us.” A Christian author observe that your works “might be good in the eyes of men, but they’re done by a sinner. They have old Adam’s greasy fingerprints all over them.”
So… we do not set our minds on the things of this world, no matter what those things might be. We set our minds on Christ. Paul reminds us in our text:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.
So the goal then is not for this body, this flesh to be all it can be. No, the goal is for this flesh to die, to be done away with and to be completely transformed and replaced by that glorious body that will be ours in the new creation. The question is, how do we do that? How do we keep ourselves on track so that we are not thrown off course to become enemies of the cross and friends of the flesh? How do we keep on that straight and narrow path that leads to salvation?
I don’t know that anyone would ever define me as a motorcycle enthusiast. I can’t say that I have ever even been on a motorcycle – except for one ride when I was a kid from my friends dad around his back yard. Never the less, I have been told that when you are learning to ride, one lesson you need to learn is that you point the bike toward where you want to go and focus on that and don’t focus on what you are trying to avoid. Say there is a tree that is looming large in your path. And you don’t want to hit the tree. If you focus on the tree as that thing that you don’t want to hit, you are probably going to run in to it. However, if you discipline your mind to focus on the clear path, the place where you want to wind up, then chances are better you will arrive safely there.
This principal holds true for the life of the Christian. When we focus on ourselves, on who we are or on who we want to be or on who we think we are not, then we are more likely to wind up crashed an in a heap of spiritual ruin. Yet when we focus on Jesus, when we focus on him who is our leader and our guide, when focus on the one who bought you, purchased you from sin, who saves you and redeems you and sanctifies you. When we focus on Jesus, we will follow Jesus. And we will wind up where He wants us to go.
Christians can very easily get caught focusing too much on themselves, sometimes on their desires and that leads to sin but just as often we can get caught focusing on our own righteousness that leads to pride, that leads to being and becoming an enemy of the cross of Christ. So don’t focus on yourself. Repent of your sin. Repent even of your righteousness and instead focus on Christ. Focus on what he has done for you to pay for your sin and focus on his gifts of grace and mercy, and focus on his righteousness and he will lead you to where you need to be.
I will leave you with this word from Paul in Colossians 3 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:2-3)
In the name of Jesus.