Christ-Centered or Self-Centered?

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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. (Philippians 3:17-21)

God gives us these verses so that we can look at them this morning for our spiritual growth and for His glory. I believe that the Bible is living and active, inspired, and sufficient to give us direction for our lives no matter what we may be facing, no matter what we may be dealing with. I don’t believe that it is just old fashioned, irrelevant, or outdated. We as God’s children need to know what God has done for us, who He is, how He acts, and we find all of that in His Word. It is all right here in the Bible. But the thing about having God’s written word is that it doesn’t just morph into our brains. It is interesting that God has given us His Word, and He has created us in such a way that we have to exert some energy to get His Word into our minds. We get to be active in that.

I remember growing up I had a friend who claimed that he loved the Word of God. What he meant by that is he loved his physical Bible. He would take care of his Bible more than any of my other friends. He would even kiss his Bible. He would never toss it in the seat next to him or leave it in the car overnight. He loved his Bible. I asked him one day if he ever read it, and he said, “No.”

It doesn’t just happen, right? Even if someone is reading it to you or me, as I did a moment ago, we still have to listen actively in order to understand it.

My prayer this morning is that no matter how tired we may be, or how much Bible we think we know, or how sanctified we may think we are, that we will actively listen and in our minds interact with what is said this morning. I know that can be tough at times, but let’s listen together this morning and be sensitive to what God has for us as He speaks to us through His Word, by His Spirit.

I think we can think about today’s message and, Lord willing, next week’s message, as parts two and three of what we began last week. Last week we looked at Philippians 3:17, today Philippians 3:18-19 and next week Philippians 3:20-21. This paragraph begins with words of encouragement to us concerning positive, godly examples that we have around us. 

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:17)

That is a great verse for those of us who need, and we all do, examples of Christ-likeness around us. We can read the Bible and grasp some of its important concepts, we can study it and understand the story of redemption, and respect its characters, we can even gain significant insight into difficult doctrines and attributes of God. But the sad truth is, we are capable of doing all of that without ever really applying it in the way we live. Living out its truths, not just learning about its truths. And so we have examples. We have Christ, we have the Apostles, we can see how they lived, we have other past church leaders, and we even have living, breathing examples around us in our church body. We have each other. 

Paul says, “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” We understand those to be Christians who are outwardly, visibly imitating Christ. Not perfectly imitating Christ, but sinners who are going after Christ and faithfully applying His truths in their lives, as they walk. This is not one person, it is people, Christians who we can look to in particular areas of life. We can learn much from one another in this way.

Now that was last week. This week we see a shift, but it’s a shift with strong ties to verse 17. If you have your Bible open, look at verse 17, then look at verse 18. There is a common word that is found in verse 17 and verse 18. Do you see what the word is? It is the word “walk.” By repeating the word “walk,” it is like Paul is placing a fork in a path. He is contrasting two ways of life. He is saying there are two distinct paths in life that we can follow. There are two walks, two ways to live from which we can choose. One way is the Christ-centered life, and the other is a self-centered life. In verses 18 and 19 Paul begins to describe a self-indulgent life and strongly warns us against following such a pattern. He begins in verse 18 to describe those things that appeal, have great appeal to our flesh. Our natural, instinctual desires come out in verses 18 and 19. Those things that line up well with our natural desires, and even fall in line with dominant, culturally accepted trends, societal trends that generally stand in opposition to the gospel-centered life.

Picture a fork in the road. One way represents living for Christ, walking in Christ, and the other represents living for self-indulgence, walking to fulfill what most naturally feels good to us. I want you to think about that for a moment. Two ways: one which is Christ-centered, Christ-focused, and the other that is self-centered, me-focused. 

Here is where we get wrapped around the axel, or get really confused in our thinking. You could say to me, “Okay, you are saying there are two choices: one is to do what Jesus wants me to do, and the other is to have fun and enjoy life, go after pleasure.” That is not what I am saying. But I understand that some think that, maybe you think that, I used to think that way. “I can live for another, do what Jesus wants, or I can enjoy life.” Unfortunately that’s the way many people think. I thought, and maybe you have or even still do think that those are the two options, like these two ways stand in opposition to each other. A boring life of obedience or a fun-loving life of enjoyment. Many think this way, I get this all the time. We have the Ten Commandments and rules on the one hand, or fun and pleasure on the other. That is how some evaluate and understand what it means to either live for Christ or live for oneself. It’s a sad, unrealistic, and false evaluation. But the world perpetrates this way of thinking, and it comes from a system of philosophy developed by Satan himself. It is how Eve was tempted in the Garden. “Here, take this fruit, and begin to really enjoy life.” The sad truth is we may still buy into that even today. We look at Eve and say, “Don’t take it, it’s a lie, it’s going to turn out bad!” Yet at the same time we take it. We may indulge in sinful pleasure, take of what is not ours to take, hide in our sin, flirt with evil, in essence take from what is forbidden and do so because of a false belief that God is not good, and that He is withholding from us what is good.

It’s no wonder that so many people live for themselves, I mean if that is how they think. “If God will not give me what I want and what will make me happy, then I will take it for myself.” That is sin, and it starts in the mind.

Truth is what we have in the Bible. We see here how things really are, not how we might imagine them to be, or dream them to be. Today let’s look at truth, and hopefully none of us will leave misinformed. And having truth, we will then individually need to decide what we will do with the truth from God that we have been given. Will we believe what is true, or will we believe what is a lie? Two ways.

Paul begins speaking of those who have been deceived and who have bought into lies about life in verse 18. But first notice his attitude toward those who have chosen to live away from God. Notice the compassion and heartache he feels for these.

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:18)

With tears he is recalling those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. He is not really calling down fire from heaven. No, he is weeping over them. There is a group of people that Paul has talked with the Philippian church about before. There are many of them. These are probably people who were not strangers to the church. Probably people who had been in the church, those who had tasted the grace of God but were not truly regenerated. People who had gotten close to the church people, had influence in the church. Their problem most likely was not a denial of the cross of Christ theologically, but an ethical divergence away from the cross in how they lived. I say this in part because of Paul’s emphasis on their walk. Remember, he is talking about how we and others walk through life, what a person’s walk looks like. In verse 17 the encouragement was to fix our eyes on those who walk a certain way, who walk faithful. In verse 18 he again talks about a walk, that is look at how they live, this is not a directive to, at least not here, to listen to what they say, but to consider their walk.

Some of the most dangerous people around us that we can be around are those who speak grand and correct theology but who live as pagans. This ultimately is Paul’s concern here, I think. “Don’t just hear what they say, be discerning in what they do as well.”

How many of us as parents have heard our children say when wanting to do something that you think is biblically wrong, “But look at the so and so family from church, they get to do ______.” The assumption is if they do it as Christians, then it must be okay. Instead of asking, “Are they walking as Christians in doing it?” Paul is saying, “Wait a minute! Let’s go beyond a verbal profession.” After all, Jesus said…

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)

So with a heart of grief over these who had probably once seemed like brothers in the church, Paul goes on to help us understand some truths about them. He describes them. Not only were they enemies of the cross but in addition he says…

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19)

Let’s be honest about this, let’s look truthfully at those who walk in opposition to God, and let’s consider our own hearts and see if we can understand why some of these things appeal to us. If sinful living in other people were not appealing to us on some level, then we would need no warning to not follow them, right? There is a reason why even church people may be drawn to follow those who are enemies of the cross. Here is a place to check our own hearts and attitudes.

First, and bluntly stated, “Their end is destruction.” Who wants that? Paul is describing those who think they have arrived at near perfection in this life. Remember, he has talked of himself very frankly, and stated that he has not yet arrived at perfection, and that means there will be more growth and even suffering to endure as he participates in the sufferings of Christ. These false teachers have set themselves up as those who have arrived, and who therefore are exempt from further suffering, and so they think they are on a path which is paved with ease, comfort, care-free living, just getting what they want and fulfilling all their earthly desires. And yet Paul says they are wrong, in fact they are headed for destruction. They have deliberately refused to suffer for Christ, and therefore have separated themselves from the salvation of Christ. They thought they had a right to a life of ease.

Notice their self-indulgence in their walk. Again, as I speak of these, remember, they believe life is to consist primarily of ease, comfort, and care-free living instead of a life of dependence on Christ as we suffer, grow, minister to others, and await a life of perfection in glory. If our goal here is ease, comfort, and care-free living, then here is what it may look like: “their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” The self-indulgent express themselves in their appetites, pride, and in their minds. We will look briefly at these, but just notice that they are going after what is pleasing to their sinful flesh, going after what they think will quench their every desire, unrestrained in their personal pursuits, but it is really leading to what? To destruction. 

This is the life of sin. The lie is: here is what will please you and satisfy you. But this lie leads instead to destruction. Looks like a path to paradise in life, in this life, but it’s a path to hell in this life and the life after. I am talking about the deceitfulness of sin. “Their god is their belly” speaking of appetite, “they glory in their shame” speaking of pride, “with minds set on earthly things” the focus of their minds.

“Their god is their belly” – Literally belly here is the organ of nourishment. Metaphorically it is “the seat of inward life, of feelings and desires.” Romans 16:18 says, “For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites” – literally stomach. The idea is unbridled sensuality, whether it be related to food, sexual excess, or any other desire that becomes like a god in that we serve it, feed it, nurture it, worship it, instead of keeping it under godly submission.

Paul is saying, “Watch out for those and do not imitate those who are living, walking to fulfill all their sinful lusts and desires. No matter what they say or preach, consider their fruit, their actions.” Here is where we have to be careful. When we see others who are speaking truth, and also see them indulging in unrestrained sin that feeds their appetites, if we are wanting the same thing they are indulging in then we can justify that, saying, “They are doing it, it must be okay.” Paul is saying, “Don’t do that, be careful, be discerning, listen,” but also, “watch and observe as well. Their end is destruction, they are worshipers of appetites.” Have you ever met someone whose actions don’t line up with their words? Me too! Beware of such people. 

What else? “They glory in their shame.” Serving bodily appetites leads to shameful behavior, but these take pride in their shameful behavior. In other words they broadcast their shame. They glory in their shame. People today seem to often glory in their shame, proud of their sin. Hollywood heroes, sports figures, politicians, even preachers all across our land publicly glory in their shame. This is becoming more and more common, isn’t it? We are seeing an epidemic of calling evil good and good evil. Causes are championed publicly today that the Bible says are shameful, sinful – fornication, sexual immorality of all sorts, killing of innocent children in the womb, drunkenness, infidelity in marriage. There is little shame over sin in many circles today. Sadly, even in some who claim Christianity, who claim to know Christ. Paul wept over these, grieved over these, and reminds us to be careful to imitate those who are walking, actually walking in Christ, not those who walk in this sinful way.

Lastly, Paul says “with minds set on earthly things.” Either we will have a heavenly perspective as we walk through this life or we’ll have an earthly perspective. If we have our minds set on earthly things, with an earthly perspective, we will live a certain way and do certain things. He is talking of those who are obsessed with getting earthly things and earthly pleasures, their minds are set on earthly things. Why? For their own gratification. This speaks of focus, a focus on possessions and pleasures.

In A.W. Tozer’s book “The Pursuit of God,” he has a chapter titled “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing.” He is not arguing that we should own nothing. He is arguing that we should not “possess” anything, meaning we should not hold on to any earthly thing so tightly that we are unwilling to part with it, should it be God’s will. We hold all earthly things loosely, that is his point. He says, “These blessed poor are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things. They have broken the yoke of the oppressor; and this they have done not by fighting but by surrendering.” If we don’t hold the things of this world loosely with a willingness to let them go, then they can easily become our god, we can be mastered by them, we can become worshipers of that thing or even that person.

If our house, our pension, our investments, our job, our health, our friends, our spouse, our children, our pleasure, our ministry, whatever it may be, if our mind is set on these things, if our allegiance is to hold on to them no matter what, then we have begun to lose sight of what our true focus should be, which is Christ, His promises, and our future with Him. Paul says, “Imitate those who are following Christ, not those whose minds are set on earthly things.”

If someone’s life says, “I must have this or I must have that,” then beware. If a person is regularly angry over what they have been given by God, or what God has withheld from them, beware. If one is discontent generally in life, beware. It could be that his mind is set on earthly things. Hold on to things loosely. Remember, it all belongs to God. 

In each of these descriptions of those we are not to imitate, we do see a common thread. We see feeling, or affection, or love. Those who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ all have misplaced affections and feelings. Do you see that? They walk as enemies of the cross of Christ, their end is destruction, their god is their belly, a love for appetite, they glory in their shame, a love of self and pride, with minds set on earthly things, a love of stuff or an inordinate lust for people or a person. Each is going after fulfilling self and believing they can do that apart from Christ. They’re loving something, their affections are set on something. A lie is believed to the point of mastering one’s life. The heart has gained a false affection, a false love that cannot satisfy.

Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister of the 19th century, wisely said, “The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.”

He is saying that the way to get rid of something we love, something we love more than Christ, is by the expulsive power of a new love. And that has to be Christ. You talk to people who have dealt with severe habitual sin, addictions, believers who have come through that, ask them how that happened. It’s not just putting off that behavior, it’s replacing it with Christ Himself. We don’t just stop loving what we have loved if it is not replaced by something greater. We are always trading up, aren’t we? We trade in old for new, good for better, and better for best. We stop the path of destruction, we stop sinfully indulging our appetites, we stop glorying in our shame, loving our pride, we stop loving earthly goods and treasures, we stop all of this by, and through, the expulsive power of a love for Christ. It’s loving our Lord more. We have to see Him as more worthy, more wonderful, more satisfying, infinitely more valuable than anything or anyone else. Let our love for Him make all other things look very small. How do we do that? We pray and beg God to work on our affections. But we don’t stop there. We put off everything that cultivates those false loves, and we put on everything that represents the goodness of Christ. We set our minds on knowing Him, serving Him, seeking Him in His Word, talking with others who can help us see Him more clearly. We pray and go after Him with all our might, with all our strength, in all that we do.

In verse 17 Paul says to observe those who are doing just that, pursuing Christ in this way, and imitate them. And don’t fall prey to or become like those who walk otherwise. 

There are two walks, there is a point of decision that we see in verses 17 and 18. He is contrasting two ways of life. He is saying there are two distinct paths we can follow. There are two walks from which we can choose. One way is the Christ-centered life, and the other is a self-centered life. Two ways, which will we choose? Imitate those who choose Christ.

18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)