“(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”
Within parentheses this text is placed, and that not without reason. For there is indeed an interruption in the thought pervading the closing part of the chapter.
The positive truth which the apostle sets forth in the preceding context, and which is picked up again in the verses following this text, may be briefly summarized. He had called attention to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The ultimate salvation and glory of the church of Christ is the mark for which he himself presses. And the church is urged to follow his example and to mark those who are like-minded with the apostle. The ground for this exhortation the apostle sets forth in the verses following our text. Our citizenship is in heaven from whence we expect the Lord Jesus, Who will change our vile body, that is, the body of our humiliation, so that it conforms to His glorious resurrected body. Thus in body and soul we shall enjoy the perfection of our salvation in the heavenlies forever.
It is not the intention of the apostle when he sets forth this beautiful and positive objective and urging the church to follow his example in pressing toward the prize, that we follow a mere man. That would be dangerous indeed! Rather, it must be clearly understood that the example is an apostle, one who is infallibly inspired by the Spirit of Christ to reveal unto the church all the truth, and in this sense to be an infallible guide in the direction of the prize.
But the apostle senses that there are and will be those, whom he designates as enemies of the cross of Christ, who will attempt to draw the believing church away from following after this high and holy objective. He therefore interrupts his line of thought to sound a word of warning against these enemies.
Necessary it is therefore that the church of Christ not only mark him as an example to follow shall she go in the right direction, but also to mark them who are the enemies, who would lead the church in the wrong direction. This latter is the intention of the text.
Enemies of the cross of Christ!
Who are they? Where are they? And why should we mark them?
Attempts have been made to identify these enemies. With some apparent justification attention is drawn to the opening verses of our chapter, where the apostle speaks of “the dogs, the evil workers, the concision.” Here the reference is no doubt to the Judaizing teachers and their followers, who would deny the efficacy of the cross to save, and have you return to the work-righteousness of the law for your salvation. And, of course, no one can deny that these are enemies of the cross of Christ just as really as the kings of the earth and the rulers who together with Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against the Holy Child Jesus. (Acts 4:26, 27). Others identify these enemies with the Epicurean-Antinomians described by Paul in Romans 16:17, 18, who advocated a liberty which would allow the church to indulge in the lusts of the flesh. There the apostle says of them, “for they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” Attention is called here to the similarity of the description to that given in our text. And it cannot be gainsaid that these also are enemies of the cross of Christ, just as really as those who were immediately responsible for Christ’s crucifixion.
It should be noticed, however, that the apostle in our text does not attempt to give these enemies a particular name, which he could easily have done if it were in his mind to do so. All he says is that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, and that concerning them he had spoken often, and even now speaks of them weeping.
Why does he speak of them now as he weeps?
Because he sees them walking in the midst of the believing church. Many walk, he says. They walk within the visible manifestation of the church of Christ in the world.
O, indeed, if the enemies were that rabble that milled around the cross crying for Christ’s crucifixion, that would be serious enough; but you would have no difficulty in identifying them and taking your position over against them. Nor would you have any difficulty in separating yourselves from those enemies of the cross who flatly denied the Christ of the cross by insisting that your salvation depends on your righteousness in fulfilling the demands of the law. Nor would you even have trouble in separating yourselves from a sect that causes divisions and offences contrary to sound doctrine, such as the antinominian-libertines which raised up their ugly heads in the church.
The real enemies of the cross of Christ are not the violent’ opponents of Christ and His cross, though enemies they be. Rather, the enemy walks, and he walks with you!
He declares that he is a friend, while he is an enemy. He professes to believe and glory in the cross of Christ, while actually he glories in his shame. He wants you to believe he is pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus, while actually he is rushing on the way to destruction. He boasts of seeking after the living God, while his god is actually his belly. He sings with you: “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time,” while in reality he refuses to bear the reproach that comes with taking it up and bearing it after Jesus.
Among those who mark the apostle and follow his example in pressing toward the mark are others, enemies of the cross of Christ, who would have you believe they are one hundred percent with you, while they seek the things which are below. Yes, they walk, many of them, and they walk with you.
Mark their walk! The main characteristic, the high point of their walk is: they mind earthly things.
The earthly things pertain to the things of this world, our daily vocation, our food, drink, and shelter, our money and possessions, our body and soul, our wives and children. Of course, these things are not in themselves sinful; nor does the apostle imply that it is sinful and corrupt when we are busy daily with these things. He is not advocating world flight, nor that we are to assume a careless attitude in respect to earthly things. Surely it belongs to our calling to be good stewards of the possessions which God in His providence lays on our pathway in life.
But mark well, the apostle says that the enemies of the cross “mind earthly things.” That means that they set their heart on them. They seek these things with all their heart, in order that they may consume them to satisfy their lust. They want money to have carnal pleasures. They seek possessions so ‘that they may be comfortably independent. They are so busy with the earthly things that they do not have time or energy to think on the things heavenly and eternal. They are so involved in gathering earthly treasures that they lose out of sight the treasure reserved in heaven. They do not eat to live, but they live to eat. Their god is-their belly. They glory in their shame.
These enemies of the cross may differ from one another in their pursuits but essentially they are all alike. The one literally seeks after that which satiates his appetite, that fills his belly; the other craves earthly possessions. The one may seek the pleasures of the world; the other, name and fame. The one goes all out seeking the treasures of the world; the other, the wisdom and beauty of Athens. The one looks for ease and refinement; while the other seeks those things that satisfy his carnal lust and passion. However, it really makes no difference how you look at them, they are actually the same—they are in pursuit of and their heart is set on earthly things.
And mind you, this they do while they walk with you. They attend the same church, and hear the same sound preaching. Perhaps they may hear a sermon on the same text to which our attention is now called. They squirm a little perhaps as they sit in their pews, but what the preacher says goes in one ear and out the other. They profess to serve the true and living God. When the minister and an elder visit them in their homes and confront them with the question: Are you children of God? they answer affirmatively. When the danger of becoming worldly-minded in our affluent society is presented to them, they hesitate not to admit it, or perhaps shrug off the remark with a curt reply: Well, it seems like everybody’s doing it; But they do not repent. They have just enough formal religion to escape the discipline of the church, not realizing they cannot escape the discipline of the Word spoken to them or preached.
Does this sound familiar?
The apostle saw it in his day, and he wept. Not, you understand, because he is disappointed in those who manifested themselves as enemies—for these in holy wrath he denounces; but because of their insidious influence upon the real marchers to heaven.
Enemies of the cross they are!
And separate yourselves from them, or they will lead you to destruction.
That is their end!
The apostle speaks of their walk. And one’s walk includes the whole of life as it is lived here upon the earth. But everyone who walks is going somewhere. His walk has a destination. Whether he is conscious of it or not, his way leads to an end. So it is also with the enemies of the cross.
Their walk ends in destruction. They may deceive the true children of God into believing they also are children of God; and that is why the apostle warns the church against them. They may even be deceiving themselves with all their superficial piety, concluding that their baptism, their confession of faith, their church attendance, will bring them at last to the prize; but their deception will become plain to them when the Lord shall say to them, I never knew you! Depart unto the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In the meantime they have an evil influence.
We must not forget that the true children of God, who are truly spiritual, who strive earnestly to apprehend that for which they have been apprehended, who therefore would follow the example of the apostle pressing for the prize, do this while they also live in a sinful and corrupt flesh. That flesh, like that of the enemies of the cross, seeks the things below, and relishes the pleasures of the world. And when they behold fellow church members, who are really enemies of the cross, indulging in worldly pleasures they, according to their flesh, cannot help but be attracted to them, and follow their example.
How urgent. then is the positive calling of the church of Christ to follow the example of the apostle!
Flee from the idolatry which would have your belly for your god, and press to the mark of the high calling in Christ Jesus. Set your heart then on the things which are above, where your citizenship is.
The way to your glorious and eternal salvation is the way of self-denial, not self-indulgence.
That way Jesus trod, yea, He opened the way for you that you might walk safely in it unto the glory of God’s everlasting covenant.
Walking in that way, you shall never be ashamed, world without end.