Paul wrote, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite (belly), and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”
Some American Indians (Native Americans) had a custom of evaluating their own status and strength as warriors and men of the tribe by the status and strength and number of their enemies. While this is not a completely valid measure of one’s spiritual strength in Christ, we would do well to look at the list of those people who would consider themselves to be at odds with what we are and say and do – and it might do us a lot of good to also look at the list of those people whom we normally think of as friends and close associates. These two lists will tell us a great deal about ourselves, perhaps more information than we may be really comfortable with.
Who are our “enemies”? And even if there is no one whom we would truly call enemies, are there certain people we would naturally try to avoid or stay away from? Are we really around the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, the outcasts of society or are we quite content to remain in our circles of affluence and comfort? Do we count as enemies (or shun like lepers) those who attend a different “church” than ours? And who are our “friends”? Only those who “go to my church” with me? Are they, like many of us, rich, self-centered, smarmy folks who have used their money to isolate themselves from true need, reality and hardship? Are they “fair weather friends” like we ourselves often are? Yes, we can certainly learn a lot about ourselves by assessing the real nature of those we consider to be our “friends” and “foes.” But such superficial characterizations, as overlooked as they often are, are simply too shallow to encapsulate all that Paul is writing about here as he is looking at those who claim to be friends of Christ but who are, in reality, enemies of His cross.
Paul lists three characteristics of those whose lives demonstrate that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. It is easy to gloss over what exactly Paul means here because this all hits so close to home, far too close for us to be comfortable. But this is precisely the intent here. The cross of Christ is that implement of death whereby we forsake all that is of our self, our desires, our will, our agendas, our everything and instead seek to find the will of God for our life no matter what the cost or consequence. That this basic element of genuinely following Christ is rarely spoken of – rarely even sought after let alone routinely practiced - in “Christian” circles should tell us a great deal about the extent of the apostasy of our time.
Paul’s three characteristics are:
- Their god is their appetite or belly. Though this certainly speaks to the sin of gluttony and of allowing one’s appetite for food to be the guiding force of one’s life, the term “belly” (Greek koilia [ 2836 ]) also may refer to “the innermost part of a man, the soul, heart as the seat of thought, feeling, choice.” That is to say, the self may very well be what Paul has in view most here. Those whose real god is their self can only practice lawlessness, what is right in their own eyes. This was the primary characteristic prophesied by the New Testament for the end times and this is the primary driving force in most people’s lives today.
- Their glory is in their shame. To glory in something is to esteem that thing as being of great worth or value. In this case, a thing that in reality is shameful is given a place and position of great honor and value, being highly esteemed as if it were a glorious thing. The Israelites looked upon Bethel (literally, the “house of God,” Bethel was a center of idolatry where a golden calf and even many Canaanite false gods were bowed down to and worshiped) as their glory even though God saw it as their shame. The modern “Christian” does virtually the same thing in his “church.” Most “Christians” today boast of their “church” in spite of the fact that it is a divisive, sinful place that usurps many rightful places of Christ and God in their lives.
- Their minds are set on earthly things. The cares of this life and this world are readily capable of diverting the divine word implanted in our souls from producing fruit of eternal value. When we set our minds on the things of this world, we fail to look up and see the things of God that are of far greater worth and value. Things that seem good in our own estimation (in our own eyes) may yet turn out to be the very thing that keeps us from attaining to the very best and highest will of God for our lives and may yet cause us to be eternally dismissed from the presence of Christ. Because these earthly-minded ones walk by sight and not by faith, they can have no enduring place within the kingdom of God.
To the extent that our life resembles any of these characteristics, to that extent we stand as enemies of the cross of Christ.
There are some who have attempted to “theologically” separate enmity against the cross from enmity against Christ Himself. But this is mere semantics and a failure to recognize the true nature of the life in Christ. One cannot live the life of the flesh and simultaneously live the life of the Spirit of Christ. That one who studies the Bible, yet does not recognize the subtlety of the flesh nature and is able to reach such foolish conclusions as to separate the Person of Christ from the work of Christ on the cross, also speaks volumes of the extent of the apostasy that is upon this time.
The end, the final condition, the ultimate result of living life under the conditions listed here by Paul, will be destruction of the soul in the lake of fire. There is no common bond between lawlessness (what is right in one’s own eyes) and righteousness (what is right in God’s eyes). There is no place set at the Lord’s table for impure spirits and souls as one who partakes of the demonic’s table is not welcome at the Lord’s.
Though this passage describes a terrible condition that holds dire consequences in store for those who participate in these things, it is an accurate description of the vast majority of today’s churchianity. Literally millions of “church”-ites attend their favorite teacher’s lectures routinely and yet have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They have an intellectual knowledge of the facts of the Bible that puffs them up and comforts them in their sin, wickedness, idolatry, lawlessness and apostasy. That all this is accomplished in the name of Christ demonstrates clearly just how lethally dangerous our spiritual enemies, the devil and the demonic, really are. That we can still overcome all the schemes of the enemy against us and walk in pure light and truth any way speaks of just how transcendently powerful and wonderful our God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, actually is.
Let he who has ears hear.
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