Following Paul – Philippians 3:17-21

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

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I often hear from people who follow Moses. They tell me I should too, by keeping the sabbath and the diet laws of the law of Moses. But our apostle Paul (Rom. 11:13) says we are not under the law (Rom. 6:15), so we should follow him (Phil. 3:17). This means we can eat things Jews couldn’t (ITim. 4:4), if it doesn’t offend a weaker brother (Rom. 14).

But to follow a man’s teachings, it helps to have role models. So Paul says to mark men who follow him (Phil.3:17). That means there must be something you can see Paul’s followers do or not do as role models that will help you follow Paul. To help us understand what he means, Paul tells us about men who don’t walk in his footsteps in Philippians 3:18.

That verse says if you don’t follow Paul, you’re an enemy of the cross! Paul says he’d warned them about these men in Philippi, and continued to warn them in this epistle (3:1,2). When he calls them dogs there, he’s not talking about Gen-tiles (Mt.15:26). Beginning with Paul’s ministry, there was a dispensational change, and now unsaved Jews were dogs.

We know Paul’s talking about unsaved Jews in Philippians 3 because he also calls them “the concision” (3:2). Circumcision is now nothing more than a concision, a cut that makes something shorter, more concise. There were still leftover kingdom saints who were circumcised, but they’d believed the kingdom gospel and been saved, so God still recognized their circumcision. But Paul calls these Jews dogs because they were not saved, and were telling the Philippians they had to be circumcised if they wanted to be saved.

But we don’t need circumcision, “for” (Phil. 3:3)—i.e., because—we’re already circumcised (cf. Col.2:10). So Paul calls those “evil workers” (Phil. 3:2) “enemies of the cross” (v.2 cf. Rom. 11:26,28), because the ordinances of circumcision and baptism were nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14).

Paul wept over them (Phil. 3:18) because if they were unsaved, they were heading for the “destruction” (v.19) of hell. If they were saved, they were heading for the destruction of their life’s work (ICor. 3:17). Why would saved Jews tell Gentiles to be circumcised? Paul says that saved or lost Jews often did that because their god was their belly (Phil. 3:19). If you make something your god, you serve it, and these men served their belly (Rom. 16:17) by making speeches telling Gentiles to be circumcised for money (Tit. 1:10,11).

Circumcision and baptism were once glorious components of God’s program for Israel, but if you preach them today, your glory is in your shame (Phil. 3:19). Of course, that’s a “shame” that could be avoided by rightly dividing the Word (IITim. 2:15).

These men didn’t mind sinful things, they minded “earthly” things (Phil. 3:19), like Israel’s earthly circumcision and baptism. Paul says we shouldn’t mind those things, “for” (v.20) our conversation isn’t earthly, it’s heavenly. The Greek word for conversation is politeouma, from which we get politics. A form of that word is translated “citizen” elsewhere, but the context tells us the form used here has to do with the politics of heaven, where we’ll be involved in politics ruling angels (ICor.6:3). The Jews needed circumcision to be citizens of the nation Israel, and they’ll need baptism to be priests (Ex.29:1,4) and kings in the kingdom (Rev.5:10), where they’ll be involved in earth’s politics.

Before the Lord raptures us to heaven (Phil. 3:20). He’ll “change” our bodies (v.21) like His resurrection body that couldn’t sin, according to His power to subdue Satan himself (ICor.15:24-28). Our bodies will also be changed like His physically, and be able to rise through a rock tomb, teleport (Lu. 24:31), and change forms (Mark 16:12). If your body dies and dissolves at sea, He can restore it according to His power to restore heaven and earth after they dissolve (IIPe. 3:10-13). How then should you live? See verse 12!

A video of the sermon is available on YouTube: “Following Paul” Philippians 3:17-21

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