Enemies on the Inside
Read Philippians 3:18-19 (ESV)
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 their minds set on earthly things.
Who do enemies of the cross of Christ worship and what is the consequence of that?
Who do you think is the greatest threat to Christianity? You might think that it’s non-believing, secular, godless people. But Paul didn’t spend much time warning the early church about the dangers of the secular world, probably because that danger was obvious. Instead, Paul repeatedly warned the early church about the dangers of the enemies on the inside—those who professed to be Christians but preached a false gospel.
In today’s passage, Paul wept as he warned the Philippians that many people who claim to be Christians are actually enemies of the cross of Christ. In the previous verse (v.17), Paul had urged them to imitate him and keep their eyes on the true followers of Jesus. Now, Paul explains the consequences that false teachers and their followers face. They will meet a destructive end.
How do we spot these false teachers? We can recognize them by who/what they worship. Paul explained that their god is not Jesus Christ. They may claim to worship Him but their actions and attitudes prove otherwise. Paul was likely referring to the Judaizers who preached that in order to be a Christian, one had to follow the laws of Moses as well. They called for strict adherence to the Jewish dietary laws (“their god is their belly”) and they bragged about their circumcision and tried to convince others that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved as well (“they glory in their shame”). They added their own works to the work Jesus accomplished on the cross as if they could do anything more to save themselves. We still see the false teaching of legalism within the church today.
Paul also could have been referring to Gentiles with liberal ideas about who were enemies of the cross because they took advantage of the freedom found in Christ to justify their sin and live immorally. Their god was their worldly appetites and fleshly desires and they gloried in the sin they ought to have been ashamed of. This is the false teaching of liberalism. And yes, it is still alive and well in the church today.
Regardless of the specific form of their heresy, false teachers have these things in common; they worship themselves, they have set their minds on worldly things, and tragically, they are headed for ultimate destruction. It is crucial that we be on the lookout for those who are twisting the truth of the Gospel. Paul wept because he knew that not only were these false teachers headed for destruction as well, but that they could deceive many others and take them down with them.
Friends, we are repeatedly warned in Scripture to be on guard against these enemies on the inside. “For these men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Lord, guard my mind against false teaching. Please give me wisdom to be able to discern the truth from the lies. When my mind wanders to worldly things, bring it back to You. I want my mind to be set on You and Your truth. Amen.