A Negative Pattern
Not all patterns are good patterns. Not all examples are good examples. After having asked the Philippians to follow his example, Paul writes about those who they should not follow. Here are verses 17-19 of chapter 3: “17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.”
Paul certainly must have encountered his share of false teachers and bad examples. We read about some of them in his other letters. There are a few things about these “bad apples” that we might want to consider. First, Paul loves these men. He says that he weeps on their behalf. No matter how bad a pattern someone is, they never go outside of the bounds of being worthy of love. We should never gloat or be excited about the errors of someone else. Love should move us to weep on their behalf. Second, these bad patterns are the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are not my enemy or your enemy. They are Jesus’ enemies. We can let Jesus take care of the judgment piece, though we might need to judge to stay away from them and we might have to rebuke them. Third, they will be judged. Their end is destruction as is the end of anyone who walks away from Christ. The phrase “their god is their belly” likely points to a self-centered way of life; one that seeks to satisfy his own needs ahead of the needs of others. This is a rather graphic phrase for someone who seeks out what is best for himself. Finally, “whose glory is in their shame” is an interesting phrase. They will have no glory from God. Their “glory” or their notoriety will come from their judgment. We might say they are notorious rather than famous. I hope that none of us desire to fall into the category of person described by Paul in these last two verses. However, we would do well to mark those who do and to weep and pray for them.