Charlatans & Citizens
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"Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you 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 in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! Philippians 3:17-4:1
In this passage I see a command, a description, and two affirmations given by Paul.
First, there's a command. Paul has just finished talking about mature perseverance and it’s still on his mind and so he wants to insert this instruction that will help the Philippians persevere: join together. They are to join together in modeling their lives after other Christ followers.
Many aspects of Christian growth and discipleship are more easily caught than taught, so we need both teachers and examples. We also need to feel the weight of responsibility to be examples for one another by the way we work out our Christian life.
So here’s what you do: find people who have been captured by the Gospel and are pursuing the upward call of God in Christ - people in whom you can see the heart of what it means to follow Jesus - and follow them.
Now let’s look at Paul’s description of two kinds of people: I’m calling them charlatans and citizens. A charlatan is a fraud, a citizen is the real deal.
Paul says here that many people live as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” That’s sobering.
Romans 16 says to "watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
Paul describes them like this in 2 Cor 11: For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
Paul says the same thing here in Philippians: 19 Their destiny is destruction.
And then he goes on: their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
These are heavy words. Lots of weight. Words to be listened to and reckoned with. It was a fact back then, and it is as true today: there are those who live as enemies of Christ, yet they dress up like believers. These are the weeds sown among the wheat that Jesus talked about.
They are a reality and they are to be avoided. We must be careful not to follow them.
As D.A. Carson explains, “they talk a good line, dupe the unwary and the undiscerning, parade themselves as Christian leaders, and perhaps even exhibit a good deal of power.”
Now Paul says: But our citizenship is in heaven. So here are the citizens. And what are we doing in contrast to the charlatans? We eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Citizens live in the light of Jesus’ return. We are citizens of heaven, and that is the only citizenship with enduring significance. There’ll be no flag-waving in God’s kingdom.
You see, Christ died and rose again to change our citizenship. Christ suffered and then defeated death so that we would have a future and a hope and a soon coming King. Christ faced wrath and then was seated at the father’s right hand so that we could live above our passions, above our “bellies”, to be freed not only from the passions of our sinful nature, but freed from the wages of sin, which is death.
Now, what are the two affirmations?. We see them in verse 1 of chapter 4.
First of all, “My brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for.” I love how Paul loves these people. Paul’s love for God’s people and God’s glory were the motivating factors in his life. In 2 Corinthians he says “the love of Christ compels us.”
Secondly, Paul says “this is how you stand firm in the Lord.” Think of the whole passage we’ve just worked through: Press on, move forward, join together, follow good and godly examples. This is how perseverance works. It involves walking the right path, following proper doctrine, and joining godly people in following other godly people.
One of the best and most important reasons we need each other is that God uses our relationships to keep us safe, to keep us within the boundaries. And so there is a call here for each one of us to be following the example of other godly men and women, to be following the example of Paul, which is ultimately to be following the example of Christ.
And don’t you see, then, the more vigorously you or I follow Jesus, the better off we all are!| See how that works? See the beauty of it? It’s all part of God’s plan to link us together, to help us, and to keep us from deceivers and charlatans. It keeps us looking ahead and looking up to the place from which we eagerly await our Savior!
So, remember the command to join together and to follow good and godly people, because there are those who would lead us astray. This is how we persevere together: Love one another deeply, as Paul loved those he served. This, then is how we stand firm.