We are always going to face obstacles in spreading the gospel. Disinterest. Persecution. Competing ideas of religion. But it is heartbreaking when those who take the name of Christ become an obstacle themselves. Are you, and the Christians with whom you fellowship, part of the problem or part of the solution? Paul’s passion for Philippi was to see the gospel of Christ thriving there. And for the gospel to thrive, the Christians needed to thrive spiritually. And for the Christians to thrive spiritually, they had to remember to whom they belonged, to what they had been called, and what the cross of Christ had separated them from.
Chapters 2 & 3 of Philippians are framed by the cross of Christ. From the examples of Christ, Timothy, Epaphroditus and Paul, we learn that our lives are to be cruciform – that is, shaped by the cross. These examples teach us to be humble, self-denying, and to serve others. But lurking around Philippi were people who said they were on the way to heaven, but whose lives showed they were heading in the opposite direction. They said they believed in Jesus. They said they loved Jesus, but they didn’t have a heart like His. They said they believed the gospel, but the message of the cross that stood at the center of the gospel didn’t resonate in their hearts. And that broke Paul’s heart – “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” (Php 3:18-19 ESV).
The cross represents self-denial, but these people lived to satisfy themselves – their god was their belly. The cross has made us citizens of heaven (Php 3:20) and separated us from the world (Gal 6:14), but these people cared far more for the pleasures of a sin-sick world – their minds were set on earthly things. People like this present a huge danger for a young Christian. They talk as if we can have a home in heaven and still live for this world. They say we can believe the gospel of the cross and still live for ourselves, catering to the flesh. It’s a lie – their end is destruction. And if we follow their example, we become an obstacle to gospel witness.
If the cross doesn’t make us different from the world, we have no good news message for the world. To preach about heaven and live to please ourselves on earth deadens Christian testimony. Speaking nobly about the cross, the essence of humility, while living for the flesh and being proud of our perceived Christian liberty is simply hypocrisy. And this is no small obstacle to the gospel. Philippians 3:18 says, sadly, there are “many” who live like that. “Let me have the world, but give me Jesus” is a double corruption of Fanny Crosby’s good hymn – it ruins the lyrical meter, and it is the exact opposite of what the cross represents. But if the separating and self-denying message of the cross shapes our lives, we will be more like Christ, and then we will help the gospel thrive in our community.