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. Philippians 3:17-21
In verse 17, Paul invites the Philippians to follow his example. This is not the first time Paul encourages believers to follow his example. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he invites the Corinthians to follow his example as he follows Christ’s example. That is because Paul sees himself as a spiritual father who is fully vested in Gentile believers' spiritual growth and maturity. Paul lived a transparent life of godliness that he wanted the Philippians to imitate. The statement in verse 17 is not to be understood as overconfidence or spiritual arrogance. Instead, it conveys Paul’s passion for the Philippians to live Christ-centered lives. After all, he had such an intimate relationship with the brothers and sisters in Philippi that he invite him to follow his example. In the latter part of verse 17, Paul also encourages the Philippians to follow others whom he deems to be exemplary spiritual role models.
In verse 18, Paul cautions the Philippians of Christ within the Philippian Church. Readers are not sure about who was living as enemies of the cross in Philippi. We know that “there were people in the Church at Philippi whose conduct was an open scandal and who, by their lives, showed themselves to be the enemies of the Cross of Christ.” Scholars speculate that these individuals may have been Gnostics. The Gnostics were heretics with a complex set of beliefs that were antithetical to scripture. Some of the Gnostics believed that from the beginning of time, there had always been two realities--spirit and matter. Spirit, they said, is altogether good; and the matter is altogether evil. It is because the world was created out of this flawed matter that sin and evil are in it. If then, the matter is inherently evil, the body is intrinsically evil and will remain evil whatever you do with it. Therefore, do what you like with it; since it is evil anyhow, it makes no difference what you do with it. So these Gnostics taught that gluttony and adultery and all other sexual sins and drunkenness were of no importance because they affect only the body which is of no importance.”
Another group of Gnostics argued that human beings could not be called complete until they experienced everything that life had to offer, both good and evil. “Therefore, they said, it was a man's duty to plumb the depths of sin just as much as to scale the heights of virtue.” These Gnostics had an affinity for gluttony and debauchery. Their lifestyle was an abomination to Paul. Paul knew there were heretics in the Philippian church that distorted the principle of Christian liberty. These individuals maintained that all law was gone in Christianity and that Christian were free to do as they pleased. These heathens used Christian identity as an excuse to gratify their lustful desires. Another group of heretics distorted the Christian doctrine of grace. These individuals claimed that, since grace was wide enough to cover every sin, a person can sin as he or she likes and not worry since God’s grace covers all sins.
In verse 19, Paul boldly declares that those heretics and the Gnostics are destined for destruction. He decries their gluttony and proclaims they are heading to eternal destruction because of their carnality. At the same time, Paul praises his Philippian brothers and sisters, and joyfully declares that “our citizenship is in heaven, and our Savior is Jesus Christ from heaven” (v. 20). Paul uses "we" to speak to his identification with the Philippians as his brothers and sisters. Paul also believes there is a clear difference between real Christians and heretics. Paul closes chapter 3 of Philippians with the eschatological hope that is paramount for believers of Jesus Christ. He reminds them of the second coming of Christ, during which times, all believers’ bodies will be transformed into a glorious body. “The Christian hopes that the day will come when his humanity will be changed into nothing less than the divinity of Christ, and when the necessary lowliness of mortality will be changed into the essential splendor of deathless life.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we should live in such a way as to be an example for others to follow. After all, we are the light of this world of darkness. It is through our example that others will understand the beauty and blessing of the gospel of Christ. Our lives should indeed be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord.
The fact that we are not perfect does not me we cannot be holy. Jesus redeemed us from our natural state of sinfulness so we can reflect his righteousness. We have to be the Bible that many people may never read. That can only be done as we allow other believers to hold us accountable and remind us of our identity as the royal priesthood and the holy nation.
In as much as Paul did not hesitate to ask the Philippians to imitate him, we should not hesitate to tell others to imitate us. We should do so in the spirit of humility and godliness. Our goal should be to lead others to Christ and to help them stay on the path of righteousness through the Holy Spirit.
Paul closes the chapter with an eschatological hope that he and the Philippians will experience the rapture and be transformed into Christ's image. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world, believers live with the hope that they will be given a glorious body that coronavirus will not be able to infect. Therefore, we eagerly await the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, so we can have the victory over death and suffering.
Blessed Lord, thank you for the hope of a heavenly body that will given to those who honor your Son as Lord and Savior.