The title above is compared to the previous two verses in Philippians 3:18-19 that speak of those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ,” whose “destiny is destruction, whose god is their stomach and whose glory is in their shame. Their minds are on earthly things.” And that brought Paul to tears (verse 18), because these were professing Christians he was talking about.
You can almost hear Paul spluttering, “But, but, but,” verse 20, “our citizenship is in heaven, remember?” It’s by heaven’s rules we live by now, pictured by what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, that “if you want to follow me and be my disciple, then set aside your selfish interests and take up a cross too.”
Not popular among the Greeks of Paul’s day, though, if the Greek tragedy Cyclops by Euripides is anything to go by, because Cyclops talks of his “belly being the greatest of the gods; for to eat and drink each day….this is the god of wise men.” Imagine having that stuffed into your little Greek head growing up. It was such a sadness to Paul, then, that as adults and Christians their “god was (still) their stomach.”
It goes to show how much the prevailing culture can mess up a Christian’s head. To Paul the real Greek tragedy, therefore, was having to watch Greek Christians “turning their freedom into an opportunity for the flesh,” Galatians 5:13 (or serving their own appetites, Romans 16:18).
And how sad was that, when these Greeks had taken the time, and probably taken some heavy flak too, to learn about Christ and practice the self-denial pictured by the cross. They’d made the cross their profession, in other words, which had officially stamped them as citizens of heaven, or as Jesus phrased it, it gave them “a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me,” Acts 26:18.
How sad, then, that these Christians had allowed the peer pressure and narratives of their culture to make them betray their profession. But how sad is that in our culture too, when all around us politicians, medical advisers, scientists, teachers, professors, lawyers, judges, police chiefs, journalists and mainstream media have also betrayed their professional ethics by ditching the basic tenets of their profession because of peer pressure and money. How sad, when being a doctor, for instance, was such a noble profession, and doctors were held in high regard. But their “glory is now in their shame,” as Paul phrased it, because they’re now regarded – by so many who trusted them – as shameful puppets of their political and corporate paymasters.
And watching Christians go the same way was what really saddened Paul.
Because they too had ditched the basic tenets of their profession for the same old “earthly things” (verse 19), the self-centred narratives and ideologies of their culture. How sad, when as citizens of heaven their glory was in sticking to the ethics of their heavenly profession – because, Philippians 3:20-21, it is Jesus, not any human utopian theorist, who has “the power to bring everything under his control,” and “transform our lowly bodies to become like his glorious body.”
How sad to lose sight of that.