Who best can define the character of an enemy besides one who was once an enemy? Paul knows too well of the Cross of Jesus Christ, and no wonder he has written most of the Epistles. He also knows too well about being an enemy of the cross. Paul writes of himself, ‘I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man . . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief’ (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul knew both sides of the coin, enmity with God and friendship with Him- after being saved. So, he writes in anguish to the Church in Philippi about who enemies of the cross are, and what they do – and it’s not what you think!
For, as I have told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things ~ Philippians 3:18-19
One would have anticipated Paul to list traits of all those who break the commandments as enemies of the cross. One would have expected to see enemies of the cross as those who; take the Name of God in vain, don’t keep the Sabbath, dishonour their parents, murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet. However, all these are not necessarily committed by enemies of the cross, but those needing the cross. Such are committed by human beings, because we are natural sinners- we don’t have to try to sin! But this came as a newsflash for Paul. Because without being saved, he managed to keep all the commandments, obey all customs and rules- and so was a ‘good person’. His flesh accomplished it! So why would he need the cross of Christ?
Paul writes, ‘If anyone thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless’ (Philippians 3:4-6). So what would make such a man need Jesus who came for ‘the sick?’ (Mark 2:17). I mean he didn’t seem sick at all. He had it all together! . . . until the road to Damascus experience whereby he was blinded when ‘the light of heaven flashed around him’ (Acts 9:3). When Paul received his sight back, he saw himself for who he truly was, through the eyes of God- a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man.
He now exclaimed, ‘whatever was for my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ . . . I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ’ (Philippians 3:7). Paul now considered rubbish what the world thought as acceptable. In the eyes of the world and our flesh, you are a ‘good person’ when you haven’t committed adultery, but in the eyes and light of Jesus, ‘anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5:28). According to the world and our flesh, you are a saint if you care for the needy and give to the poor, but Jesus says, ‘Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them’ (6:v1).
According to the world and our eyes, you are a relatively good person if you don’t cuss, don’t take drugs, if you cover yourself from head to toe, and are kind to animals and the environment, but Jesus says, ‘You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside, you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness . . . First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean’ (Matthew 23:27-28, 26). This is where the cross comes in, because only the cross, only Jesus, can transform from the inside out. So when we come the light of Christ, the worldly standards become rubbish! ‘Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?’ (James 4:4).
‘Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh’ (Philippians 3:3). Enemies of the cross are the self-righteous who cannot accept the righteousness of Christ. They are those who worship in their own might and not by God’s spirit, they glory in themselves, and put confidence in their flesh. They are those who refuse to acknowledge their shortcomings because they have not seen the light of Christ.
When we come to the light of Christ and away from the darkness in the world and our flesh, we start to say like Paul, ‘O what a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 7:25). And it is at this point, when we fully recognize how wretched we are, that we are prodded to approach the cross. One of God’s regulations on infectious skin diseases to Moses and Aaron stated that, ‘the priest is to examine him and if the disease has covered his whole body, he shall pronounce that person clean’ (Leviticus 13:13). The wisdom in this is that, if we see how wretched we are, how our sin totally covers us so that ‘nothing good lives in me’ (Romans 7:18), then we will in turn see: ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29).
Jesus, the very ‘fulfilment of the law’ (Matthew 5:17) enables us to keep the law how He wants it kept- through Him and His righteousness, not in our works and efforts (but His Spirit working through us). He enables us to meet and keep his high standards (inside and out) because Jesus, who, ‘has the power to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious bodies’ (Philippians 3:21). We now finally become Friends of the Cross, ‘with our citizenship in heaven’ (v20) or as Jesus says of believers, ‘they are not of the world any more than I am of the world’ (John 17:14).
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ ~ Colossians 1:8