In his letter to the church at
Philippi, it is
fairly obvious that Paul is concerned about some influences that were steering
the church away from the teaching he had imparted and the example he had
modeled. It seems that there were two different kinds of pressures being
exerted upon the church. One influence pressed for legalistic obedience to
rules (3:2), while the other invited a casting off of all restraints (3:18–19).
These two influences are still around and they tempt us in very subtle ways. One calls us to take part in an economy of meritocracy, of tit-for-tat. Its appeal is to the calculating mind where there are clear winners and losers. The other influence entices us with appeals to freedom to shed boundaries that we think we do not need. Here the message is: Just let yourself go, don’t worry about the consequences, live for the moment. There is certainly something to be said for living in the moment, but living in self-indulgence without regard for boundaries is not a healthy way to experience the moment.
While these two influences move in different directions, they also share something in common. Both ways of living—living for accolades and rewards and living for pleasure and self-indulgence—are about the ego. Whether it’s conforming to rules in order to win or achieve a certain status, or whether it’s casting off all inhibitions to indulge one’s desires of the moment, both ways of living are egocentric. It’s about me. It’s about what I get, what I win, what I receive, what makes me happy, what I want.
These two influences, to use a Pauline phrase, are “enemies of the cross” (Phil. 3:18). They are enemies of the cross because the cross calls us to a different way of life. The cross calls us to a life of sacrificial service; to a life of compassion and solidarity with those who suffer; to a life of humility and honesty and vulnerability; to a life of nonviolence and forgiveness. The cross calls us to a path that is the opposite of a life of self-glory or self-indulgence.
Some Christians read a phrase like “enemies of the cross” and instead of looking into their own hearts in order to identify the many ways they avoid the path of the cross, they look hither and yon for someone or some group to pin it on—that group over there, those liberals, those conservatives, those Muslims, those enemies of the cross. Why do we keep looking outward, when we need to be looking inward? Why are we so stubborn? (My wife asks me that question once in a while. I usually don’t have a very good answer.)
The challenge for us is to resist the temptation toward dualistic thinking, to refuse to identify someone or some other group as an enemy of the cross. We need to look inward, into our own souls and identify all those influences that are enemies of the cross. It may be some grudge or unwillingness to forgive. It may be a bias or prejudice that needs to be rooted out. It may be envy or jealousy or some nursed bitterness or resentment. It may be an overpowering urge for applause and acclamation. It may be the need to win, to be first, to be better than everyone else, to be recognized and praised. It may be the lust for power and control, or the desire for pleasure and a life of ease.
It’s much easier to ignore these enemies living within our own tent, than acknowledge and struggle with them. It’s much easier to circle our wagons and look for enemies out there, rather than open our hearts and souls and bodies to the Divine Spirit who searches out all things and trust the Spirit to empower us on the journey that leads to the cross.