Indictment of Those Who Do Not (3:18-19)

With an explanatory for, Paul proceeds to put his own model in contrast with that of some others, whose "walk" is quite the opposite of his. Who these people are has been grounds for considerable debate, no solution to which is totally satisfactory. More important for us is what Paul says of them and how they fit into the preceding application of his story and the succeeding appeals in 4:1-3. Whatever else, they exemplify a "mindset" (3:19) at odds with Paul's, and therefore with that being urged on the Philippians. Rather than living cruciform (3:10-11), they "walk" as enemies of the cross of Christ (v. 18); and rather than pressing on to gain the final prize (vv. 12-14) and thus eagerly awaiting a Savior from heaven (v. 20), their mind is set on earthly things and therefore their destiny is destruction. These three indictments, which so clearly fit the present context, frame two others whose meaning is more difficult to determine: their god is their stomach and their glory is in their shame.

In calling them enemies of the cross of Christ Paul is, as the first matter, intentionally setting them over against both Christ (2:8) and himself (2:10-11). According to 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, the cross stands as God's utter contradiction to human wisdom and power, and therefore inevitably creates enemies of those who refuse to go that route (which is why the triumphalists in Corinth opposed Paul's gospel and apostleship; see Fee 1987:165-82). Since any of two or three kinds of people would fit the description, the phrase helps very little with a specific identification. That their destiny is destruction makes it clear that Paul does not consider them to be followers of Christ at all; whether they once were so would at least make sense of his telling the Philippians about them once again even with tears (probably tears of sorrow for those who should know better; cf. Jer 9:1 in light of Phil 3:3 and 8). But in any case, as in 1:28, which it echoes, the language cannot be softened to mean anything other than eternal destruction. The contextual reason for its appearing second in this listing, as over against its logical place at the end, is probably rhetorical effect. Since the way of the cross is central to Paul's concern, the "end" for those who are enemies of the cross is brought forward to a place immediately following.

Their god is their stomach and its companion, their glory is in their shame, are especially difficult and therefore have led to all kinds of speculation. Only one thing seems certain: that these two phrases belong with the final one, giving concrete expression to what that one generalizes, namely that they live only for the present; they have set their minds on earthly, not on heavenly, things. The first phrase is very close to what Paul says of some divisive people in Romans 16:17-18 ("such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites"); in both instances the imagery probably refers to some specific behavior. But to what? "Stomach" may be a metonymy for the craving after sumptuous fare, or perhaps for surfeiting. One cannot be sure. Perhaps it is intended to be more representative—of those who are so given over to present bodily desires of all kinds, represented by the appetites, that such has become a god to them.From our distance, their glory is in their shame is even more cryptic. It is connected to their god is their stomach by a single relative pronoun, suggesting that this is the flip side of whatever that one means. Glory is what they delight in; shame is how they should perceive their behavior. The word glory is undoubtedly another wordplay, setting up the contrast to our being transformed into the likeness of Christ's present body "of glory" in Philippians 3:21. Hence it is an especially striking bit of irony, where not only are they not destined for glory at all, because of their present enmity to the cross, but what glory they have in the present lies precisely in what should be for them a matter of shame. But beyond that, in terms of specifics, we are largely in the dark.

With the final phrase, their mind is on earthly things, we come to where the whole indictment has been heading right along. Two things are significant for understanding. First, Paul once more uses the crucial verb from 2:2-5 and 3:15. They do not simply "think about" earthly things; their "minds are set on" (phronountes) such things, which stands in pointed antithesis to Paul's own mindset as portrayed in his personal story. His mind is set altogether on Christ, whose cross serves as pattern for his own life. Second, the earthly things their minds are set on sum up the former two; this is what it means finally to be given over to the stomach as one's deity and to glory in what should be shameful. By their fruit, Paul says, you will know them; by their focus you will also recognize that they are not walking according to the pattern of Christ and his apostle.

At the same time it sets up the contrast that follows. Here is the second crucial matter. These people over whom Paul weeps are first of all enemies of the cross; they are now characterized as those who have abandoned the pursuit of the heavenly prize, in favor of what belongs only to the present scheme of things.

Who these people are can only be speculated. Some things remind us of the "dogs" with which the section began; but their (apparently) libertine ways clearly do not. Most likely Paul is here picking up on the major concerns of his personal narrative in 3:4-14, by reminding the Philippians again of some about whom he has often told them in the past, who have left the way of the cross and are pursuing present, earthly concerns. He is probably describing some itinerants whose view of the faith allows them a great deal of undisciplined self-indulgence. In any case, they have not appeared heretofore in the letter and do not appear again. They have served their immediate purpose of standing in sharp relief to Paul's own "walk" and to his heavenly pursuit, so crucial to this letter, and toward which Paul now turns once more as he begins to draw this appeal to an end.

Bible Gateway Recommendations

LESSONmaker 8 Complete Edition on CD-ROM
Retail: $199.95
Our Price: $149.99
Save: $49.96 (25%)
4.5 of 5.0 stars
Philippians: IVP New Testament Commentary [IVPNTC]
Retail: $17.00
Our Price: $11.99
Save: $5.01 (29%)
Exploring the Old Testament, Volume 4: A Guide to the Prophets
Retail: $30.00
Our Price: $17.49
Save: $12.51 (42%)
5.0 of 5.0 stars
View more titles