There apparently were some (“the enemies”) who might have charged that the standard of conduct was not clear. So Paul responds to these with a living pattern of behavior by which their lives could be formed and fashioned. Imitation of this apostolic example assures Christians of their citizenship in heaven and the coming resurrection. This is Paul’s main point in 3.17-4.1 of Philippians.
17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
Brothers: fellow Christians in Philippi who are citizens of the heavenly kingdom (v.20).
Join in imitating me: as Paul imitates Christ (1 Cor 11.1). Or this imperative is a call for the Philippians to be fellow imitators of Christ or God (cf. Eph 5.1).
And keep your eyes…in us: “keep your eyes on” (Gk skopeite) is to scope them out. Fix your eyes on them and pay attention; observe, contemplate. There is a metaphor change from the Christian life being compared to a race to now a walk. Watch those who daily tread the Christian path of life. The “example” (Gk tupon), either imprint or image, is the Philippians (“have,” present tense) in “us.” Who? Certainly Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus contextually speaking. In a more general sense, the apostolic college at large.
18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
For many…walk as [the] enemies of the cross of Christ: No definite number is given and very little is said about their manner of life. But that they tread an unchristian path of life is evident by their conduct. These enemies have given themselves over to their evil passions, evading the obligations Christ’s death lays upon them concerning holiness. They are therefore hostile to the cause of Christ though they move around in Christian circles.
Of whom…with tears: “I have often told you” is past tense. This is not news to the church in Philippi. Paul had constantly warned them of the erroneous enemies among or around them. Through tear laden eyes Paul acknowledges that even as he writes they are still enemies. “So true is his sympathy, so deep his care for all men.” – Chrysostom
19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Their end [is] destruction: The destiny of these “many” enemies is destruction for they have cut themselves from salvation in Christ. “They have no prospect except the doom which awaits unsaved humanity” (Martin 161). “Destruction” is the same word found in 1.28. Lenski says, “The word never means annihilation as has, in view of the translation ‘destruction,’ been claimed by those who attempt to abolish hell.” It does mean the loss of eternal life unto eternal misery and death. It is the kind of ruination that would happen to a sunk ship.
Their god [is] their belly: Elsewhere Paul speaks of those who “serve…their own belly” to describe divisive brethren who must be avoided (Rom 16.18). Perhaps here the Judaizers are in mind who by their regulations regarding clean/unclean food and “Taste not—touch not” doctrines (cf. Col 2.21) were literally serving their belly while causing dissension in the church
They glory in their shame: Glory, in the Bible is often used of God and in this case answers to “god” in the previous phrase. “Their shame” are their evil practices. This seem to be an allusion to Hosea 4.7 where shame is a “devastating caricature of false gods” (Martin 161). So their sensuality, carnality, all-around earthly-mindedness is condemned.
With minds set on earthly things: All of the preceding is merely indicative that the enemies of the cross of Christ are living their life without a thought of eternity. Their attentions and affections are given over to on a continual basis (present tense) to earthly things. Further, their conduct carries out what they have their minds set on. “It is not so much those who deny the doctrines of the cross, as it is those who oppose its influence on their hearts” (Barnes).
20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
But our citizenship is in heaven: present tense. It exists there now, therefore, we are even now enjoying the benefits of being kingdom citizens. Though Paul was a Roman citizen and leveraged that privilege to his advantage (Acts 16.38; 22.25-29); though the Philippians, by virtue of the fact that they lived in a Roman colony, enjoyed the rights and privileges of citizenship—Christians are citizens of a kingdom not of this world (John 18.36). “Our” citizenship is above which requires certain behavior (cf. 1.27) stands in contrast to those who have their “minds set on earthly things” (v.19). Christians are looking toward the imperial city of Christ. All we have is in the heavens: our Savior, our city, whatever a man can name (Chrysostom).
And from it…Lord Jesus Christ: this waiting is appropriate behavior of the kingdom citizen. Eager expectation of the imminent return of Christ is the normal attitude of the Christian. Even as right now our citizenship is in heaven, we are also presently waiting for Him who will deliver us from this world to our home. While Christians are saved in the present there is yet a future full and final realization of salvation to come.
21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Who will transform: the root for “transform” is the word we get our English words “scheme” and “schematic” (Gk metaschematisei). A scheme is a plan or design. In this case, coupled with the prefix, the original design is changed .
Our lowly body…glorious body: lit. our body of humiliation, which refers to our present mortal, carnal, broken by sin, subject to pain, destruction, and death body. This body will be changed to be like (lit.) the body of His glory. This refers to an immortal, spiritual, heavenly, indestructible, undying body. Whether dead or alive at the time of Christ’s return, “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor 15.51). This new body will be suitable for life in the afterlife and to associate with Christ in His glory.
By the power…to himself: How much power does Christ have? Plenty, and then some. His power enables Him to bring under firm control everything—the cosmos, angels, demons, Satan, death, hell. The whole universe and beyond. “Nothing is to hard for you” (Jer 32.17). “If anyone doubts the power of Christ to do this transformation, Paul replies the he has power ‘even to subject all things unto himself’” (Robertson).
1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Therefore: This is the conclusion of the third chapter (cf. 2.12). In light of the foregoing…
My brothers: fellow citizens of the kingdom of Christ, born again into that kingdom (Jn 3.3,5)
Whom I love and long for: a few words later they are also “my beloved.” No other congregation associated with Paul is referred to in this manner. “Paul lets all his love, all his joy in the Philippians, all his pride in them, speak at once” (Lenski). It his love and affection for these brethren which should act as motivation to carry out what he commands.
My joy and crown: As noted, joy runs throughout this epistle. These brethren had been nothing but a joy to Paul. Further, their steadfastness would indicate he had not “run in vain” but had run and won the victors crown (Gk stephanos).
Stand firm thus in the Lord: This is an admonition oft repeated by Paul (1 Cor 16.13; Gal 5.1; 2 Thess 2.15). Earlier in the epistle, Paul said of his brethren that they are “standing firm in one spirit” (1.27). This is further behavior becoming citizens of the kingdom of Christ. Here, the call is to stand “in the Lord” as opposed to outside of the Lord like the enemies of the cross would. Since our citizenship is “in [the] heavens” Christians must keep standing (present imperative), unmoved by the errors and attacks of enemies and the defection of the panicked.
Special Study – Savior
The word “Savior” appears 24 times in the New Testament. Interestingly, Paul only refers to Jesus as “Savior” about nine (9) times in all his epistles (Eph 5.23; Phil 3.20; 1 Tim 1.1; 2.3; 4.10; 2 Tim 1.10; Titus 1.3, 4; 2.10, 13; 3.4, 6). Some argue he uses the term infrequently because gods and even the emperor were referred to as “saviors.” By comparison, John refers to Jesus as Savior only twice (Jn 4.42; 1 Jn 4.14) and Luke only 4 times (Luke 1.47; 2.11; Acts 5.31; 13.23). Arguably, Paul uses it more than all other New Testament writers.