The Expository Files



Look Out For These Guys – They Work For The Enemy!

Philippians 3:2; 17-21



Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  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 minds set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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. Phil. 3:17-21 (ESV)

Paul, the prisoner on behalf of Jesus Christ, wrote to the Christians in Philippi: “…join in imitating me…” This imperative cannot be issued by just anyone with equal credibility as this. This carries apostolic authority. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, could legitimately call on Christians to join in imitating him, since he was approved of God as a dispenser of the right pattern to guide Christians. There was (and is): “an example you have in us.” The collective pronoun “us” points to Paul and the other inspired messengers and dispensers of the divine pattern. Their behavior was to conform to the pattern they received through the teaching and influence of Paul (see also, 4:9).

To illustrate, I cannot get with Jon Quinn, work out a religious creed and manual of faith, then say to Christians: “Join in imitating me …” as you have “an example in us.” We are not apostles. We are preachers/teachers/writers who direct attention to the teachings of the apostles of Christ; who rely on and reflect the standard once for all given. We can only say, “follow that pattern” that is revealed in the New Testament. It was not that Paul was setting his own life up as the ultimate standard. He was appointed to convey the standard of heaven (See also Gal. 1:11,12).

The sad part of this passage is – then and today – that there are those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” They are obviously not inclined to teach and live within the revealed apostolic pattern. Regardless of claims to the contrary, they stand against the cross of Christ, by actions and teachings not aligned with the cross and the singular message of the apostles concerning Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The immediate, historical reference would be – the men who tried to impose the Jewish religion on Gentile converts (see Phil. 3:2-7). For these Jewish militants, Christ’s death was pointless and ineffectual (Gal. 2:21). But Paul wants to supply more detail.

Four descriptions are offered:

(1) Their end is destruction. No matter where enemies of the cross begin, what they claim or the number of their followers – their end is destruction. Whether they realize it or not, they have a destiny, a fate, they and their followers share, unless sincere repentance is chosen before death. {They are “perishing,” see 1 Cor. 1:18.}

(2) Their god is their belly. Appetite is the driving force. If verbalized, it would sound like this - “This is what I like, what I want, what pleases me, what makes me feel good.” F.F. Bruce observed, “…compare Romans 16:18, where the Roman Christians are warned against undesirable characters who “are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.” If someone’s way of life is world-centered, do not expect they will lead you in the right way, and don’t listen to them when they say, “join in imitating me.” {See also 2 Pet. 2.}

(3) They glory in their shame. They are so morally confused, they take pride in their pride, but they are proud of what they shouldn’t be proud of. If you’ve ever been around someone who boasted about their sin – that’s the idea. Implied in this is - Don’t follow them. Don’t let their influence change you or tempt you. Look out for these guys; they work for the enemy in such close harmony – they are “enemies of the cross.”

(4) They set their minds on “earthly things.” They do not have a heavenly focus, but an earthly frame of reference. The call to higher things they shun, so that they may continue their obsession with this life, this world and what it offers. Don’t follow them to ruin.

Here’s the good part of this text: Contrary to these enemies, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.”

The passage leads us to remember the connection between the cross and the pattern, and puts us on alert to those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers!” (Phil. 3:2). 

I believe this is a basic principle of New Testament teaching – that many people in the evangelical and denominational community today just ignore, or downplay.


People do not take seriously – that Jesus called certain men to be apostles of Christ, and through them Jesus revealed His will, for us to obey! This is why – when we come together as a local church, in our worship, in how we do things – we want to follow the teachings of the apostles of Christ, written in the New Testament. I’m telling you - - Not every group that uses the description, “Church of Christ” is concerned about this! But there is such a thing as apostolic teaching ~ and the call goes out from the New Testament, to respect the teachings of the apostles.


Be on guard against anything otherwise.


  By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 21.10; October 2014