Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Enemies of the Cross: They Really do Exist

It is not popular to speak with direct and plain criticism in American culture these days. One of the most offensive behaviors we can engage in according to societal standards is direct and plain criticism. Postmodern thinking has aided the culture in removing the sting of truth by removing even the possibility of a metaphysical nature of truth. Without the existence of truth as truth, no one may engage in direct and plain criticism of views that are supposedly false. While this all seemingly works well on paper, it doesn’t seem to play out quite the same way in the real world. The experiment that was postmodernism seems to have had a much bigger splash in academia than it did in the world of reality. It was a nice idea as far as ideas go. However, human beings are created in God’s image, who is Himself the very source of all that is true. As such, we humans have been hopelessly unable to remove the imprint of truth from the conscience. Since truth is, it behooves us to once more, take up her relentless pursuit. It is on the basis of the reality of truth that I proceed with the rest of this article concerning the fact that the cross of Christ is real and that this cross actually has real enemies, whose detection is not so easily recognized these days.

The letter of the apostle Paul to the Philippians is a small and dulcet letter, filled with many theological nuggets and a great deal of practical guidance for Christian living. Like most of his other letters, Paul is concerned with false teachers and Christian living. It is a very common theme in Paul. It has been a common theme throughout the life of the Church. This begs the question why modern Christians should be so shocked that it continues to be a modern theme among us. All too often concerns about doctrine are portrayed as divisive and teachings on sanctification and holiness are labeled as hateful and legalistic. Take heart Christian, it has been this way for 2000 years and Scripture clearly tells us it will get worse before it gets better.

In his opening prayer, Paul hopes that the Philippian Christians are filled with knowledge and discernment. He sees these traits as necessary in order for the Christians there to live a life that is blameless. From this prayer he immediately is occupied with false teachers. Then again later in Chapter two he returns to his concern that the Philippians live a life that is worthy of the gospel. He then immediately talks about the false teachers once more, this time referring to them as opponents. It is clear that Paul is concerned with how the Philippian Christians conducted themselves as well as with the presence of false teachers. Such conditions could never exist if postmodernism were a valid worldview. The fact that they existed then and exist today is enough to thoroughly debunk the foundations of a worldview that is better described as the worldview of unbelief than it is anything else.

Paul continues to express concern for how the Philippians conduct themselves and at one point refers to their opponents, the false teachers, as dogs. The metaphorical use of the term “dogs” is serious. Paul sees these people as wicked and perhaps it could mean perverted. Either way, the idea is that Paul is classifying these men among the vile of his day. The Americanization of Christianity actually labels what Paul does as sinful, hateful, and intolerable. The American Christian will actually use the same writer’s own words in I Cor. 13 to indict him without realizing it. Because Paul refers to false teachers as dogs, which in essence means wicked and vile perverts of the truth, I think it is perfectly acceptable for us to share Paul’s words with those who are indeed false teachers, men of unbelief who pervert and corrupt the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only let us take care in what that looks like and how one becomes a pervert of truth properly so-called. Suffice it to say, such men exist today and it is the duty of the Church, especially leaders within the Church to provide constant reminders to the body of the dangers these men pose to the gospel and the Christian community.

Fellow Imitators

This brings us to the heart of the matter, which is Paul’s words in Phil. 3:17-21. Paul issues a divine imperative to the Church that they are to become fellow imitators of him. Paul knows that if the Philippians follow the model of his living and teaching, this will aid them in both of his concerns: praxis and truth. In other words, if the Philippian Christians pay attention to Paul’s model of life, and imitate it, they will insulate themselves against ungodly behavior as well as false teachers!

Συμμιμηταί μου γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί. Become fellow imitators of me, brothers! Ginesthe is in the imperative mood, indicating that Paul is commanding the Philippian Christians to become fellow imitators together of Paul. He speaks to the body in community, as one and many.

σκοπεῖτε τοὺς οὕτω περιπατοῦντας. Pay careful attention to those who are walking in the same way. In other words, study in great detail the lives of your fellow companions who are walking in the same way as we walk. The Greek word houto often refers to what has just preceded it. In this case it would be Paul’s imperative to be fellow imitators of himself. The next phrase reinforces this understanding.

καθὼς ἔχετε τύπον ἡμᾶς. Just as you have our model. Paul points to his life and teachings as the model by which the Philippian Christians must live their life as well as beliefs. By following Paul’s example of living, the Philippian Christians ensure their spiritual growth and progress in knowledge and discernment; two things that Paul has already revealed to be at the top of his prayer list on their behalf.

Imposters Abound

πολλοὶ γὰρ περιπατοῦσιν οὓς πολλάκις ἔλεγον ὑμῖν. The postpositive, gar, functions as an epexegetical in this case, explaining the reasons why Paul is issuing this particular commandment. He says the reason is that “many” are walking around (doing otherwise). Who are these “many” Paul references?

νῦν δὲ καὶ κλαίων λέγω. Paul goes out of his way to get the attention of the Philippian Christians. He says he has told them about these “individuals” before. And now he is telling them about them again weeping. This Greek word, klaion, is more than just shedding a few tears. The focus of this word is on the lament, the loud cry. In most contexts, it clearly indicates a deep emotional response to a situation. Paul is clearly emotionally invested in the truth, in the growth of these believers, and even in the state of these false teachers. I am reminded of his instructions to the Ephesian elders where he said he warned them for over three years in tears. Clearly, these things mattered to Paul. What was the last time you spent some energy confronting sin, false doctrine or false teachers with the truth in a state of deep conviction and emotion? I am amazed at how often Christians are surprised by this emotional display when others defend the truth. Clearly, they are uncomfortable with this approach. Clearly, Paul was not. It is his model we are to follow.

Enemies of the Cross

τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Paul calls them, “the enemies of the cross of Christ.” We do not write like this any longer. We no longer speak like this today. And, when we do, even in conservative churches, we are called arrogant. I once had a pastor tell me that some people have said that when I teach, I teach like I am right and everyone else is wrong. I asked the pastor if he ever preached anything that he thought he was wrong about. He said of course not. I then asked if he it was fair to say that he preaches on things that some disagree with. And he said yes. I then asked him if he thought they were wrong or he was wrong. He becomes visibly upset with me but it was too late. Finally I asked him if I should teach everything as if it were up for grabs and that regardless of the subject, I could be wrong. While such an approach is very consistent with our culture of tolerance and agnosticism, it is foreign to Scripture as well as the history of theological inquiry in the church. In short, such an approach is ineffective and absurd. Jesus did not teach like this. His disciples did not teach like this. The great theologians and pastors of church history did not teach like this. Paul gave us his example: let us do our best to follow it, even here.

Paul acknowledges that these men he is talking about are “enemies” of the cross. Why are we so afraid to call men enemies of the cross? Why do we allow men who are clearly consumed with unbelief to participate in the Christian community under the guise of scholarship? The second a man begins to question the trustworthiness of Scripture, he should be pulled in for discipleship. If he refuses to believe, church disciple should ensue, scholar or not! If he insists on his position of unbelief, he should be excommunicated from the body and excused from the discussion, PhD or not! I am reminded of the Greek phrase hoti apheis, that you tolerate (Rev. 2:20). God was rebuking the church at Thyatira for their tolerance of false teachings and immoral behavior. They were forgiving things without repentance. To forgive evil without repentance is to tolerate evil. Paul says false teaches exist. He calls them dogs. He warns the Philippian Christians about them in sackcloth and ashes so to speak. And now, he calls them enemies of the cross. Men who oppose the teachings of Paul are opponents of the cross of Christ. They must be acknowledged as such.

Their Future

ὧν τὸ τέλος ἀπώλεια. Paul begins with the future state of these false teachers. It will be destruction. This speaks of eternal judgment. As far as Paul was concerned, doctrine has eternal significance.

ὧν ὁ θεὸς ἡ κοιλία. Who god is their physical appetite. Men have abandoned God in preference for physical pleasure. This is no less true for imposters of the faith than it is for the obviously unregenerate. The health and wealth gospel represents the most wicked and pernicious form of doctrinal perversion driven from physical desires in the visible church. Moreover, any desire contrary to godly desires would fall into this category. Whatever pleases us, we tend to worship and exalt. This is particularly dangerous to the soul because often times we tend toward blindness of our own self-gratification.

ἡ δόξα ἐν τῇ αἰσχύνῃ αὐτῶν. Whose glory is in their shame. This is an interesting phrase. O’Brien comments here, “The majority interpretation takes δόξα as equivalent to ‘pride, boast’, or ‘the thing in which one boasts’, with the abstract noun phrase ἐν τῇ αἰσχύνῃ αὐτῶν referring to ‘conduct that should be considered shameful’. It designates excesses of all kinds, especially sexual ones. These enemies of the cross of Christ boast of their liberty and freedom. They behave as they choose, and their immoral practices are shameful.”[1]

The idea is that what these men boast about, what they brag about, their freedom to do these things, are the things that in reality are shameful. Homosexual behavior comes to mind. What these individuals boast about the most, and call love and exult in is in reality, vile and shameful before a holy God. Of course, this is true not just of homosexual behavior, but any behavior that man exults in that God deems wicked.

Paul closes out his argument with one more contrast. He reminds the Philippian Christians that their citizenship is actually in heaven, from whence they eagerly await a Savior. The focus of the false teachers is here, now, and earthly. Having studied the Emergent Church movement in my doctoral project, I was amazed at how often the writers criticized evangelicals for their emphasis on the eternal reward to come. They seemed to think our focus and emphasis must be on the here and now. Paul tells us that this is how false teachers and enemies of the cross think. They focus on the temporal to the neglect of the eternal. They are interested in what pleases today.

The best way to spot a counterfeit is to study, pay attention, and know the genuine. Since Christian living and doctrine have eternal consequences, Paul tells the Philippian Christians to pay particular attention to the model he gave them. This is the right model and there is only one right model. Any model that contradicts this model can safely be called a counterfeit. What are we to do? We must study Paul and interpret him rightly!

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. [2]

According to Paul, it really does matter.

[1] Peter Thomas O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 456-57.
[2] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Php 4:8–9.

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