Paul returns to the theme of the ‘mind’ in verse 15, calling on the believers to share the same viewpoint of striving toward ‘the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’, v. 14 NKJV. The scripture is eminently practical, recognizing that every believer in the assembly would not necessarily be at the same level of understanding. Vine explains, ‘The suggestion he makes is unfavourable; “if they are otherwise minded than they might be," “if they think amiss, whether by differences among themselves or by erroneous ideas”; especially, “if any think they are perfect”’1 Another writer comments further, ‘The use of the verb phronein [i.e., ‘to think’, KRK] shows that it was more than an intellectual difference; it betrayed a different outlook and affected the conduct of those whom Paul has in mind. Clearly, there were some who were teaching that it was possible to be ‘perfect’ in a final sense here and now’.2 He was confident, however, that the Lord would bring the members of the fellowship to agreement on this vital doctrine.
The Lord uses the scriptures to work on His people’s hearts. Often believers rush to sort out one another with the blunt instruments of fleshly argument and barren intellectual discourse. How much better it is to patiently teach the word and let the Holy Spirit work, as Paul exhorts, ‘And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth’, 2 Tim. 2. 24-25. Before discussing in greater detail the false teachers who were troubling the assembly in the next section, Paul urges the saints to maintain the gains they had made in their spiritual walk, v. 16.
The apostle next turns to discuss whom the Philippians should imitate: Paul and his colleagues, or the false teachers. ‘Brethren, join in following my example’ NKJV, and, ‘Brothers, join in imitating me’ ESV both capture the thought well, v. 17. He calls on the saints to adhere to his example, as opposed to the flawed and pernicious walk of the errorists.
‘Ensample’, v. 17, is actually the word for ‘type’. Louw and nida define it as ‘a model of behaviour as an example to be imitated or to be avoided’.3 Additionally, imitating the apostles is a matter of obeying their teaching as well as following their example. ‘Note’ NKJV, is defined by Vine, Skopeo usually means to mark or note so as to avoid, as, e.g., in Romans 16. 17; here it means to mark with a view to following the example set’.4 Today, it is fashionable in some quarters to discount Paul’s doctrine as chauvinistic and antiquated. But modern believers must dedicate themselves to ‘the apostles’ doctrine’, Acts 2. 42, and practise, 20. 31, rather than to malleable contemporary fashions. Their example is divinely given to present-day saints for their edification and emulation.
Paul notes the negative examples in the Philippians’ world in verse 18, ‘For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ’. Walking is a repetitive activity and is characteristic of one’s attitude, nature, and habits; therefore, it is an example metaphor for one’s lifestyle. The godly Enoch walked with the Lord in an age when humanity was turning away from the Almighty en masse, Gen. 5. 22, 24. A few generations later Noah was also described as one who walked with God, 6. 9. But the scriptures also reference many instances of man’s evil walk, e.g., Leviticus chapter 20. verse 23; 1 Samuel chapter 8 verse 3; and Philippians chapter 3 offers one more instance in this long and insidious lineage of spiritual departure.
The apostle had frequently warned them of these aberrant teachers, for the phrase, ‘I have told you often’, is imperfect in the original language, thereby indicating ongoing activity – that is, he told them repeatedly and did not cease. What is more, it is no mere intellectual problem to Paul; he tells them with tears streaming down his cheeks, v. 18. As Eadie comments,
‘He wept as he thought of their lamentable end, of their folly and delusion, and of the miserable misconception they had formed of the nature and design of the gospel. He grieved that the gospel should, through them, be exposed to misrepresentation, that the world should see it associated with an unchanged and licentious life. The Lord had shed tears over devoted Jerusalem, and His apostle, in His spirit, wept over these incorrigible reprobates, who wore the name, but were strangers to the spirit and power of Christianity’.5
Some scholars hold that the errorists were pleasure-seeking Antinomians who flouted God’s holiness in the name of religion. Personally, I believe that they were the same Judaizers that are dealt with in the opening verses of the chapter. They hid their shameful behaviour behind a cloak of ritualism. Whatever their particular identity, one thing is clear, they are ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’, because their doctrine is concerned with establishing their self-righteous reputation in this world. The cross puts an end to the believer’s former life lived for this fallen world, Gal. 6. 14. It concerns self-denial unto the glory of God, Phil. 2. 8. In contrast, their teaching puts their sensual appetites – ‘whose god is their belly’, v. 19 – in front and at the centre; conversely, the cross reveals the foolishness of unregenerate man and the wisdom of the Lord, who saves by grace totally apart from human merit or effort, 1 Cor. 1. 17-31. As Martin sums up, ‘Their enmity to the cross of Christ is shown by their adherence to the law as an agent of salvation, thus subverting the necessity for and saving significance of the sacrifice of Calvary as the only means of redemption (cf. Gal. 2:21 RSV)’.6
They ‘glory in their shame’ in the sense that they claimed to scrupulously follow the law, yet it revealed their shame (likely it also refers to their thinly veiled life of iniquity). Ironside summarizes their attitude this way, ‘It is all summed up in the four little words – “who mind earthly things.” Despising the heavenly calling, they choose the earthly, and become indeed “dwellers upon the earth," only to be exposed to the fierce vials of the wrath of God in the day when He arises to shake terribly the earth. No wonder the apostle wept as he wrote of such, and warned them of their peril in pursuing their evil ways’.7
The heretics’ destiny is ‘destruction’, v. 19 – not the cessation of being, but the ruination of being. They will go on for eternity in the lake of fire, where they will be unable to gratify even the slightest sensual impulse, Luke 16. 24-26. Vine explains the thought, ‘The word telos, “end”, here signifies, not the cessation of existence, but the issue and destiny of the course of action. It intimates the hopelessness and irretrievableness of their condition’.8 If not repented of, following another gospel always leads to eternal punishment and perdition.
The believer’s focus is far different than these lost ones; his ‘conversation’, v. 20 – ‘citizenship’ NKJV, ESV – is in heaven. Doubtless Paul intentionally used this term which carries the thought of ‘our commonwealth’ to make the Philippians compare their earthly advantages with their heavenly benefits. To be a citizen of Philippi was to automatically possess the coveted Roman citizenship. Nevertheless, Christians possess far greater standing, pertaining to heaven; therefore, their eyes are fixed upward, for they ‘eagerly await’, v. 20 NKJV and NASB, the Lord Jesus’ return. As Moule says, ‘The form of the verb implies a waiting full of attention, perseverance, and desire’.9 Why such anticipation? Because He will transform our ‘vile body’ – better rendered ‘the body of our humiliation’ ASV or ‘the body of our humble state’ NASB – into conformity with his ‘glorious body’, v. 21.
The thought of transforming an earthly body tainted by the effects of the Fall into a body of glory, fit to be in the Lord’s presence for eternity, might well render one incredulous. It will be nothing less than Christ’s sovereign power that will accomplish this, as Wuest describes, ‘The word “working" is from a Greek word meaning “power in exercise, energy," and is only used of super-human power. The word “subdue" is the translation of a Greek military term meaning “to arrange under one’s authority," as a general arranges his regiments in orderly array before himself. Thus it means here, “to bring all things within His divine economy, to marshal all things under Himself”’10 The vaunted power of Rome – or any earthly empire or might of men – can accomplish this tremendous change. Only the risen Christ wields such supreme power, and He will use it to subdue His enemies and establish an unshakeable kingdom populated with redeemed and glorified saints, Heb. 12. 22-28.
W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W. E. Vine: Philippians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997’ electronic ed. (Logos).
Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987, pg. 162.
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, Vol. 1, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996, pg. 591.
Vine, see note 1.
John Eadie, A Commentary on The Greek Text of The Epistle of Paul To The Philippians, New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1859, pg. 216.
Martin, pg. 165.
H. A. Ironside, Notes on the Epistle to the Philippians. Loizeaux Brothers: Neptune, NJ, 1922, pgs. 95f.
Vine, see note 1.
H. C. G. Moule, Philippian Studies, New York: Hodder & Stoughton, n.d., pg. 105.
Kenneth Wuest, Philippians In The Greek New Testament, electronic ed., pdf., pg. 46.