Eternal Destruction or Eternal Joy – Philippians 3:17-4:1

Eternal Destruction or Eternal Joy

Nick Esch, 7/26/2020 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

Thirty-nine years ago, on July 26, 1981, in God’s providence, a small group of people banded together and planted what is now known as Cornerstone Baptist Church. For thirty-nine years there has been a body of believers here who loved the Lord and loved one another, who have sought, by God’s grace, to evangelize the lost, edify the saints, and glorify our great Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And this is truly a marvelous thing. It’s a marvelous thing for any true Bible believing, gospel preaching church to exist.

The local church is like a gospel lighthouse that directs, guides, and cares for those seeking to make it home to Christ. It draws people in, out of the chaos of the sea, out of the danger of sin, and leads them to the harbor of grace, where they will find rest and safety for their souls. And in a country where it’s said that around one hundred churches close every Sunday, what a testimony to God’s grace it is that the gospel lighthouse that is Cornerstone Baptist Church has been around for thirty-nine years. As the Psalmist says, “This is the Lord’s doing; and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23).

For thirty-nine years God has used His Word and His people to bring people out of darkness into His marvelous light. That’s my own testimony: by God’s grace, through the power of the gospel, and the love of His people here at Cornerstone, my life was turned upside down. Years ago I first entered the doors of this church building as a self-professed atheist, and now by God’s sovereign grace I enter them as a Christian. And by God’s grace and the love and discipleship that I’ve experienced in and through you all, in and through the people of Cornerstone, I now enter the doors of this church building as a pastor. And that’s what the local church is all about: seeing people come to know Jesus, love Jesus, live for Jesus, and become more and more like Jesus, until they make it home to Jesus.

Through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, and through the example and accountability of God’s people the church acts as God’s discipleship program, helping people come to know Christ, love Christ, live for Christ, and become more and more like Christ, until they make it home to Christ. And that’s what we’re going to see in God’s Word today… That Christians are citizens of heaven, first and foremost, who are longing for the return of their King, and journeying towards their homeland. And the way in which we stay on the narrow path of our King towards our Celestial Home, is by following faithful examples, setting faithful examples, and standing firm in the Lord, seeking to be joyful and content in Him above all else. So, with that in mind, look with me at Philippians 3:17-4:1.

Philippians 3:17–4:1

Our passage begins in verse 17 with Paul saying, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” And this points us back to the overall context of Philippians. Over and over again throughout Philippians, Paul has been calling God’s people to be content and joyful in Christ; he’s showed us how and told us why, and he’s pointed us to his example, the effect of his example on others, and he’s also pointed us to the example of others, like Timothy and Epaphroditus. And this seems to be what he’s pointing to here as well… When Paul says that we should imitate him, and that we should walk in the example that we have in him and those like him, he’s once again calling us to be content and joyful in Christ.

If you look at the qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy and Titus, basically what you’ll see is that an elder is one who has not only been gifted by God to teach God’s Word, but who has been so sanctified by God that their life models obedience to God’s Word; not perfectly, but in such a way that the elder’s life sets a good godly example for the rest of the church. And what’s remarkable about the qualifications of an elder is that they aren’t really remarkable at all; with the exception of being able to teach, every other qualification basically lays out what it means to be a mature and ever growing disciple of Jesus. And that’s something we’re all called to. Every Christian is called to follow Christ, and so every Christian, in one way or another, should be an example of what it looks like to follow Christ.As I alluded to in my introduction, this is one of the things that is so marvelous about the local church: that we care for one another and disciple one another… And one of the major ways we do those things is by example. For instance, this past Friday was Don and LaDonna’s 65th wedding anniversary. And whether they realize it or not, they are setting an example for all of us; they are displaying for all of us what it means to truly love one another, and to keep your vows to God and to one another. They are showing us all what it means for a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, and for a wife to submit to her husband as the church does to Christ. Through their lives, through their example they are helping us better understand the gospel and the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. And this is what Paul is speaking of here.

Now, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says something similar to Philippians 3:17; he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” And that same idea should be said of all of us; we all should be examples and follow the examples of one another, in so far as we follow the example of Christ. But, I think Paul has something more specific in mind here in Philippians. I don’t think he’s saying that we need to follow his Christlike example, though he has said that, and though we should do that… What he seems to be saying here in Philippians is that we should follow his example, and the example of Timothy, Epaphroditus, and others like them, because their example shows us how and why to be content and joyful in Christ. So, the example he’s calling us to follow here isn’t simply a Christlike example, but an example of what it looks like to treasure Christ above all else. And I say that because of the overall context of Philippians, but also because of what we see next.

In verses 18-19 Paul says, “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.” So here, in contrast to being content and joyful in Christ, we see an example of people who are enemies of Christ because they are seeking contentment in self, in sin, or in stuff… They are treasuring the world instead of treasuring Jesus.

We don’t know exactly who Paul is speaking of here: it could be the legalistic Judaizers he mentioned earlier; it could be those who have set out to do him harm; it could be those like Demas, who Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 4:10 who deserted him and Christ for love of the world… that is people who claimed to be Christians, but then walked away from the faith; or it could simply be those who have never claimed to be Christians, and have always simply been of the world. Every single one of these people, outside of the grace of God, are indeed enemies of the cross of Christ. There is no neutral ground; you are either all in, or you are all out. You are either a child of God, or an enemy of God. As Romans 8:7-8 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh (that is fallen humanity and worldly things) is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Outside of God’s grace, in our sin, in our rebellion, we have declared war against God; we are hostile towards Him, and whether we would outright say it or not, we see Him as our enemy. Whether we are legalists playing church, a lawless nominal Christian, a false-convert in love with the world, or a sinner who has never wanted anything to do with God, we are heading towards destruction. And indeed that may be the path some of you are on this morning.

Those who are in their sin are enemies of the cross of Christ because they are saying they don’t need Jesus, they don’t want Jesus, and they have found something better than Jesus. With their actions, with their hearts they are seeking to render the person and work of Jesus as meaningless and unnecessary. And thus they are enemies of the cross of Christ. And their end is destruction; that is, eternal damnation, eternal hell, where sinners eternally suffer under God’s wrath and righteous anger towards sin. And because of this Paul says he weeps. He says this with tears… The thought of anyone suffering under God’s wrath moves him to tears; and the thought of anyone belittling the cross of Christ and the sufficiency of Jesus likewise moves Paul to tears. But praise God! The cross of Christ is not rendered meaningless by the hard hearts of sinful people like us. Indeed, the cross of Christ was meant to transform the hard hearts of sinful people like us, and save us from the wrath of God, and bring us into true joy found only in the Son of God.

For, we all have been, and some of you may be still an enemy of the cross of Christ. We have all loved self, loved sin, loved stuff and the world instead of Jesus… In one way or another, at one time or another, and for some even now, we have walked in ungodliness and sin. But, as Romans 5:6-8 tells us, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We declared war on an infinitely glorious and holy God, and thus we totally deserved God’s wrath. But, instead of giving us the wrath that we deserve, God gave us His Son.

Jesus came and lived the righteous life we have failed to live, and died the sacrificial wrath-absorbing death that we deserve to die, and in so doing displayed God’s great love for sinners like you and me. And because Jesus is God the Son, and because He took on flesh and showed Himself to be the perfect man, He rose from the grave in power so that all who would turn from their sin and trust in Him would be saved. Our end does not have to be destruction, because Jesus took that destruction upon Himself. So, if you haven’t yet trusted Christ, do so now. And if you have, rejoice in this great Savior, and allow yourself with Paul to be moved to tears over those who have yet to trust in Christ, and do whatever you can to help them trust in Christ. Pray desperately, and point them to Jesus whenever you can, however you can. But, before you do that, make sure you truly trust Christ…

Paul says, the enemies of the cross of Christ are those whose god is their belly. This could be both those who glory in their false sense of self-righteousness like the Judaizers and other legalists who think they can somehow earn God’s favor, or that they don’t need a Savior, because in a sense, by saying their god is their belly, Paul is saying their god is their self. The legalistic Judaizers thought much of themselves because they ate a strict diet that they thought was clean, and earned them favor with God… But, on the flipside, many Gentiles and lawless people ate whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and as much as they wanted, showing that their god was their belly as well, because they were under the reign of the their sensual desires. If they wanted it, they took it. If it felt good, they did it…

Does this not describe so much of the world today? The culture around us says if it feels good, if I desire something it must be right for me to have it… Right… It’s the Disney gospel: just follow your heart and you can’t go wrong… Well, forgive me for disagreeing, but I think I’ll side with God’s Word that says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)? We are not to follow our hearts, we are to follow Jesus… We are not to be ruled by our bellies, we are to be ruled by Christ alone.

Now notice what else Paul says here; there are some who glory in their shame. And this goes right along with the idea of one being ruled by their sensual desires. It seems as though Paul is referring to sexual immorality when he speaks of shame; but instead of those who are guilty of such things being ashamed, they glory in it, they are proud of it. What God’s Word clearly says is wrong and is sinful they say is right and a way of life. They are open and proud about their sin, and seek to make others embrace it as well. Again, does this not sound like the world today?

But, before we start feeling too good about ourselves, and feeling like we know better or are better than the world, we should look at the last thing Paul mentions here… That the enemies of Christ are also those whose minds are set on earthly things… Now, sadly there are plenty of people among the church, masquerading as Christians who are embracing legalism, or embracing lawlessness, and there are plenty who are seeking to do away with the true meaning of God’s Word and instead twist it so that they can glory in their shame. But, there are far more in the church, who would call themselves Christians, who have their minds set on earthly things. They spend their days worried about money, about security, about comfort, about fame and reputation, about leisure, or entertainment. Their minds rarely, if ever, think about heavenly things, because their minds are set on earthly things. They give little thought to eternal things, because their minds are set on temporal things. Friends, before we can look with pity on a world in need of Christ, we must first make sure that we are not walking as enemies of the cross of Christ. Before we are moved to tears for others, we must be moved to tears for ourselves. And we should indeed be moved to tears, because we and the world have all been such fools to look to anything but Christ for salvation and satisfaction.

As I said earlier, there is no neutral ground; you are either all in, or you are all out. You are either a child of God, or an enemy of God. And if you are a child of God, though you will still struggle, though you will be tempted and tried, and often stumble and fall; if you are truly a child of God, God has so worked in you that He has given you a mind for heavenly things, and a heart that now loves Him and desires Him above all else. No doubt, you have moments of weakness, but that is in part what moves the Christian to tears; because we desire to please the Lord, and we actually desire the Lord, so much so that we mourn over our sin. Because of God’s work of grace in our life Jesus has become our treasure and great delight; He is our King, and where He is is our home, and so our minds our preoccupied with our heavenly home and our heavenly King.

That’s why Paul reminds us in verses 20-21 that we are not to be too caught up in this world, because this world is not our home. He says, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.” We all need to check ourselves and make sure that we are truly Christians; but even as Christians we still struggle with all sorts of sin… In our weaker moments we struggle with legalism, we struggle with lawlessness, we struggle with the ways of the world and lust for the things of the world; so Paul calls us to remember that we are not of this world. Heaven is our homeland, and our King, our Lord, our Savior is Jesus the Christ. And though our flesh seeks to lead us astray, as Philippians 1:6 says, “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

If we are Christians our hearts have been transformed, our minds are being renewed day by day, and by God’s grace we are able to fight sin and pursue holiness… But we must indeed fight, because sin, Satan, and self still wage war against us. Our flesh seems to be our greatest enemy, seeking to lead us astray each day. But, there is coming a Day when our race will be complete, the fight will be over, our King will return, and He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body. He will give us new resurrected, glorified bodies that are free from sin and all its effects. No more pain, no more tears, no more sickness, no more death, and no more sin…

In that day we won’t even be tempted to sin. And God has given us a taste of what is to come in that Day by transforming us here and now, by giving us a new identity in Christ, joy in Christ, and making us citizens of heaven in Christ even now, until we make it to that final Day then. But, we have to make it to that Day; that’s why Paul says in Philippians 4:1, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Paul’s saying we must hold fast, we must stand firm, we must press on to make Jesus our own because He has made us His own. We must stay on the path of righteousness; we must fight sin and pursue holiness, because eternity is coming. And though the battle is hard and the road is long, Christ is worth it. He will finish what He began in us, and best of all we will be made like Him and be with Him forever. And so once again, Paul is reminding us that Jesus is better: He’s better than anything this life could give us or death could take from us; so we must be content and joyful in Him, because sin, self, and stuff will not save us and it will not satisfy us… only Christ can do that.  And we are His and He is ours; He is our Lord, our Savior, our King, and we are citizens of His heavenly Kingdom. This world is not our home, and therefore this world has nothing of lasting value to offer us; for our joy, our contentment, our satisfaction and salvation can only be found in Christ alone.

Conclusion

But, how do we stand firm? How do we fight sin and pursue holiness? We look to Jesus and we look to those around us who really love Jesus and love us. Just as Paul speaks of the Philippians as his family in Christ with brotherly love, and says that he loves them and takes joy in them, so we must link arms with our brothers and sisters in Christ who love us and commit themselves to Christ and us, and show us how to truly be content and joyful in Christ, until we are with Christ forever. We need to be committed members of a local church, because we need one another, we need the love, care, accountability, and example of one another, so that together we can fight for joy in Christ, and help each other stand firm in Christ. We need to partner together to be a gospel lighthouse, so that we can lead ourselves and others, out of the chaos of the sea, out of the danger of sin, and to the harbor of grace, where we will find rest and safety for our souls.  

So, let’s commit ourselves to being imitators of Paul and those we see in Philippians; and let’s commit ourselves to being examples, so that we and all who we influence would know, love, trust, and live for Jesus; so that we all would be content and joyful in Christ until we are with Christ forever. For the world may offer temporary pleasure, but it always leads to destruction. But, the pathway to our heavenly home, to the Celestial City, leads to eternal life; and though it’s hard and narrow, is worth it because it leads to Christ, who is infinitely better.