For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. Their future is eternal destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and all they think about is this life here on earth. - Philippians 3:18-19
On the banks of the river Neva in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Russia, stands the massive green, gold, and white building called the Winter Palace, which includes the Hermitage Museum. The priceless art collection of the Empress Catherine II that is displayed there includes numerous fine religious works by the great masters. Prominent among them are depictions of Christ’s crucifixion.
It is ironic that during the days of the Marxist regime, these artistic masterpieces bore dramatic silent testimony to the crucified Savior whom those in authority in the land were at great pains to disavow. The men who were at heart “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18) were confronted by heartrending images of Christ’s anguish and of his followers’ devastation and despair. But their hearts remained unchanged.
It is hard to imagine how anyone looking at depictions of the cross could feel anything less than pity and sorrow for the one hanging there. And yet down through the centuries there has been no shortage of detractors and rejecters of the cross.
Paul certainly encountered “enemies of the cross” in his day, and he knew how to recognize them, even when they tried to project a love for Christ and his cross in the Christian community. Paul said, “There are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:18). It was their conduct that gave them away.
The behavior of the enemies of the cross need not be overtly antagonistic, like the Marxists in authority in Leningrad were. Paul described how enemies often behave. He wrote, “Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and all they think about is this life here on earth” (3:19). They are purely sensual, utterly shameless, and totally secular. In modern society, they are regarded as totally acceptable and perfectly normal. What, then, is the problem?
Christ died on the cross to deal with man’s sin. Sin is the power that perverts man’s sensuality, deadens his sense of shame, and fools him into thinking this world is the reality, rather than a shadow, of existence. But enemies of the cross see no need for forgiveness, and they resent those who suggest they do! They prefer self-indulgence to self-sacrifice as modeled on the cross, and they regard Christ’s followers as sadly misguided individuals who are missing out on life. They may even endeavor to convert the Christian from the “error” of his ways.
Tragically, “their future is eternal destruction” (3:19). No wonder Paul spoke of them “with tears in [his] eyes” (3:18).
For Further Study: Philippians 3:17-4:3