“Holy Spirit, guide us, please. As we study what St. Paul wrote, give us Your Wisdom that we may understand these words in Your Wisdom and not in our own understanding.”
17 Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample. 18 For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. 20 For our [a]citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself. Link to ASV
After reading through the commentaries and pondering all of it, I have some thoughts. First, let’s remember that St. Paul has had the “Circumcision Party” in mind throughout this chapter. He also is very concerned about some of the Philippians who are being led astray; or, who are a dissenting voice in their congregation. So, now, he wraps it all up.
He says, in effect, that if you can’t imitate Christ, then imitate me. It’s as if he is saying that he knows that his description of Christ back in chapter two may seem very difficult to follow. So, instead of being intimidated by this vision of Christ in total obedience to God such that every knee will bow, imitate a man who is a sinner, but is striving to keep his focus on the “finish line”. Imitate a man who is not “perfect” but is seeking to be a “mature” Christian.
The commentaries have much to say about the verses we are studying this time. This is, apparently, an opportunity to condemn sinning. Okay. But I, simple layman that I am, think St. Paul has something else in mind. Of course, he condemns sinning. That’s a given. He’s been discussing this footrace analogy. Now he specifies what the finish line actually is. After giving himself as a role model, as someone to imitate, he warns about others who we should avoid.
He warns of those who brag and revel in their Sin. This is locker room bragging about sexual exploits, how much alcohol one can drink or how a business associate was duped into a “deal”. Anyone who says, in effect, “Come on, don’t be a party pooper.” But St. Paul was also worried about the Jewish and other religious leaders. In a modern context we understand that this would include those “preachers” who acquire large salaries, living luxuriously on the contributions of those they exploit. I think St. Paul would also be very upset with preachers who preach to ‘tickle the ears’ of the congregation—and the congregations that permit this. I also believe that St. Paul would not approve of sermons that seem to be based on Holy Scripture, but actually promote a psychological theory or a politically correct ideal. All of the above “glory in the shameful” just as the Circumcision Party did. It is sad to the point of tears for Paul (and should be sad for us) that these people reject God.
What’s really difficult (but also easy) is that we cannot reach the “finish line” by obeying rules. Instead, we must be obedient to our Creator. That is the example Paul provides. He knows intimately what it is like to follow some rules. Moreover, he knows what it is like to be forgiven. Paul knows through his daily practice what it is like to listen daily to his Lord and then to obey his Lord. And he knows that the reason–the pure motive–for his obedience is his Grateful Love for being forgiven.
In vs. 20-21 Paul tells us exactly what the finish line is. He also describes the “prize” we receive for crossing that finish line: our bodies, currently corrupted by Sin, will be transformed into glorious, heavenly bodies. And then we will be fit to dwell with God. When you read this, do you not hear, again, Paul’s pondering his own life, saying “to live is Christ but to die is gain”?
Do not be fooled by those who claim that there is no empirical evidence for Christianity. Many, very many, have seen our Risen Savior. Paul is one of those who have.
Links to the Commentaries on Bible Gateway:
Well, now that you have read what I think and then ‘slogged’ through these commentaries, it’s your turn. We’re at the end of Chapter Three. I’m really interested in hearing from you. Comments, suggestions, opinion: pray about it and then let me know what you think.