"Power to War against Surprising Enemies"
November 11, 2007 Remembrance Sunday Php.3
Friend or Foe?
[after video - veteran's memories] Veterans (like Russell Cook) risked their lives defending their country and freedoms by fighting enemies in the world-wars and the Korean war. Canadian Forces continue the role of peace-making and peace-keeping around the world today. What about here at home? Are there enemies threatening not only our political stability, our domestic security, even the way of life of Christians here in North America today?
Some Christian broadcasters would point to Islam, or at least its radical wing, as the most serious enemy of Christian civilization on the horizon today. In September, Focus on the Family featured a two-part broadcast on what it called the "threat" of radical Islam. The description on the website states, "America is facing a gathering storm of our own as Islamofascist forces and the rogue countries that support them are aligning against us. In today's wrap-up of our series on Islam, former US Senator Rick Santorum describes how several different nations are actively working together to weaken the United States, and he outlines the steps necessary to protect our nation and our way of life. '[Our enemies] are at war with us. At some point, hopefully [before it's] too late, we will understand that and act accordingly.' - Rick Santorum" [source: http://www.oneplace.com/Ministries/Focus_on_the_Family/Archives.asp?bcd=2007-9-14]
What about that? Are radical Islamists really to be described as 'enemies'? The Koran takes a different view on truth from the Bible, and the religion Muslims follow is very different from Christianity. The teachings of each would be viewed as 'wrong' by the other. If there were a plot by suicide bombers of ANY religion, that would qualify them as 'enemies' of those targeted. But the Moslem man or woman I meet on the street is first of all my neighbour, whom I am commanded to love, not an 'enemy'; Paul wrote, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Eph 6:12) However Christ calls us to engage our neighbour with the Good News, and at the same time to teach our children Christian truth so they can adopt a worldview that is not undercut by other religions.
In our final look at Philippians in this series, we find that Paul also talks about "enemies" of the faith, against whom we need to be on guard. Who they are might surprise us; yet the Bible urges us to be clear about the situation and be training ourselves to mount a good defence.
Identify the Enemy
In the military, as soon as you don a uniform, you're expected to be able to identify the enemy - so you know where to shoot and avoid the 'friendly fire' problem. The apostle identifies two categories of enemies: those emphasizing outward appearance (the artificially 'religious'), and those emphasizing their inner appetite (the 'fun-lovers').
First, the "looking good" outward-appearance types: note v2, "Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh." He's referring to the Judaizers or 'circumcision party' who insisted believers had to adopt the rituals of Mosaic law in order to really be acceptable to God. V4 they "put confidence in the flesh" (the outer appearance) - though Paul rhymes off half a dozen ways in which he has every right to boast more than they do: circumcised at the correct time, he was born a Jew, from the tribe of Benjamin which traditionally led Israel into battle and on whose land Jerusalem was situated. He strictly kept the Law as a member of the revered Pharisees; his zeal overflowed into persecuting the church, even violently; and he kept himself absolutely faultless as regards legalistic righteousness. If anyone looked good on the outside, Paul did; he was a 'Jew's Jew', the gold standard. But Jesus exposed the emptiness of human effort to look good; it was a sham.
The other enemies were those who emphasized inner appetite, "feeling good"; their motto would be, "If it feels good, do it." Vv18-19, "For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ...their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame." Back then it was the Epicurean antinomians, who cast off all restraint to indulge in pleasure; they have their counterpart today in much of the population. The consumer mindset is "on earthly things". It tempts us to buy or enjoy this or that without questioning whether it's good, or right, or true. What feels good today may bring shame and health or relational destruction tomorrow.
Know how to identify a real enemy of Christ's cross. Often such people downplay questions of what's right and wrong. In a talk to his military chiefs, Adolf Hitler admitted, "I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war--never mind whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not he asked afterward whether he told the truth or nor. In starting and waging a war it is not right that matters, but victory. Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! The stronger man is right...Be harsh and remorseless! Be steeled against all signs of compassion...Whoever has pondered over this world order knows that its meaning lies in the success of the best by means of force." (in other words, 'might makes right')
Clarify the Objective
Successful military campaigns are organized around a clear mission, and are fought step-by-step with attainable objectives. In Russell's case, that translated into getting through a field; driving the Germans out the other end of town; pushing them off the other side of the dike, and so forth. In the same way, Christians need to clarify the objective, be clear what we're about, what the goal is. Associated with that is the question of what's most important, what's truly worthwhile or of value. The enemy objectives can be simply put: look good; feel good; (or in Hitler's case) get the victory through strength, whether it's the right thing to do or not; act out the supposed supremacy of the Aryan race.
What's the objective as far as Paul is concerned? 3 broad headings - to know Christ; to become like Christ; to be with Christ forever. As you skim through the passage, you can catch phrases that reflect these. TO KNOW Christ: 3, we "glory in Christ Jesus" (rather than glorying in what's shameful as in 19); 8, he counts all his "looking good" credits that he might have boasted in as loss compared to "the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". He wants to "gain Christ and be found in Him", having a righteousness from God that's only available through faith in Jesus - not the self-manufactured kind the hyper-religious strive to invent. V10, "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings..." Can you feel Paul's heartbeat, his passion, here? Not to just know about Christ, but to know Him in experience, relying on Him in hardships, strengthened in weakness by His supernatural power, walking with Him each step, each decision.
Besides knowing Christ, Paul wants to BECOME LIKE Him. V10, "becoming like Him in His death..." The Greek word is sym-morph, to 'morph with', be changed along with, be conformed to in shape or likeness. Same verb in v21, Jesus "will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body". Isn't that wonderful? Don't you long for that when these clay vessels we're in now fall short? An ever-increasing similarity to Jesus' goodness and glory. Paul looks forward to being "made perfect" although he admits that hasn't happened yet (v12). Awesome to realize Jesus is working in us so we become like Him!
And Paul wants another part of the objective, to BE WITH Christ. Really there, in His presence, forever. V14, doesn't this sound like an objective: "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." That's the goal, the victory to be won, the prize - the heavenward call in Christ. Also v20, in contrast to worldly folk whose "mind is on earthly things": "But our citizenship is in heaven", and we're eagerly awaiting a Saviour from there.
So Paul's objective is very clear: to know Christ; to become like Him; and to be with Him. That's what he's about. The Holy Spirit impresses these goals on a Christian's heart.
Sir Winston Churchill was made prime minister of Britain in response to the growing Nazi menace across the channel. He stated very clearly his objective in a speech to the House of Commons: "You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory, victory at all costs victory in spite of all tenor, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages that mankind will move forward towards its goals." Puts it clearly, doesn't he?
Know Your Ally
Going into battle, you not only need to know who the enemy is, and what your objective is; you need to know who's on your side, who your ALLY is. In this passage, for Paul, his number one ally is definitely Jesus. Churchill arranged secret supply agreements with the United States. Canada and other Commonwealth countries sent troops, weapons, and supplies to Britain. What are some things Jesus provides that show he's making a contribution to the same cause as us? (besides being Lord of the operation) What's in the convoy coming across the ocean from heaven?
V9, when we're found in Him, Jesus provides a righteousness "which is through faith in Christ"; one we could never be good enough to come up with on our own. V10 mentions resurrection power; the fellowship (koinonia or sharing) in His sufferings. V11 holds the promise of resurrection from the dead. V12 He gives purpose and security: that's implied by the words, "that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." In His grip. V21, power again (recall much of this letter has talked about work and power); this time, the power that will transform our lowly bodies "enables Him to bring everything under His control." Is there any greater power in creation than that?! Thus, when the enemy comes, as the beginning of chapter 4 says - we don't just 'stand firm' by ourselves, we have a great Ally; we can "stand firm in the Lord".
Train Your Focus
Identify the Enemy; Clarify the Objective; Know Your Ally; the final element here is to Train Your Focus. Few if any of us have been on a battlefield where there's live firing going on. But I do know that in the game of paintball, you strain your eyes to look very carefully at the edges of the bunkers at the far end of the arena. You try to catch even a glimpse of the corner of a helmet or a paintball gun. And that's just in a game, where the worst outcome is usually a few short-lived bruises; how much more you would focus your gaze if your life depended on it!
Throughout this passage, the apostle uses several verbs involving our attention that urge us to train our focus. V2, pretty much right off the top: a literal translation would be "Watch out for those dogs, Watch out for those men who do evil, Watch out for those mutilators of the flesh." It's repeated 3 times in the original language: "Look out! Look out! LOOK OUT!" D'you think he wants us to be careful? Be on the alert!
Vv7-8, note the significance of the verb 'consider': "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish..." NRSV uses the word "regard", how you look at something, what you make of it. The world reckons these things (birth and accomplishment) as important; Paul though has learned to see them as rubbish, literally 'dung' or worthless scraps that are thrown to the dogs. Throw-away. That change happens in the mind or perspective of the beholder. It depends how you look at it.
V15, "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things." Another thinking/processing word. Same verb in 19, "Their mind is on earthly things." That's the focus of the fallen.
V17, "take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you." Study them, give it your careful attention. The Greek verb 'skopeo' means to mark or observe, hence "tele-scope", micro-scope: things you look through. Find a mature Christian mentor whose life you can study close-up, then imitate.
Last of this family of focussing verbs is in v20, "we eagerly await a Saviour from there..." We say we're looking forward to an event; here Paul's speaking of eagerly awaiting or looking for Jesus' return. The vigilant soldier isn't daydreaming but using all their faculties, concentrating their attention, focussing on what matters most - not the entertaining decoys.
Seeing Victory 'midst the Rubble
The enemy would have us look at what's obvious or superficial: 'looking good' in outer religious appearance, or 'feeling good' by satisfying inner appetite. Jesus though would have us focus on Him, coming to know Him and experience His lived-out power in the midst of daily troubles and hardships. He holds out the vision of a preferable future with Him forever, enjoying His fellowship eternally more than passing worldly pride or pleasures.
In a book on leadership, Chris Brady & Orrin Woodward refer to the example of a photograph from the London Blitz. "Picture portly, sixty-something Winston Churchill standing defiantly amidst the rubble of a bombed-out and nearly ruined London, cigar clenched firmly between his teeth, and stubby fingers thrust confidently in the air signifying 'victory'." This leader was providing a mental picture of a preferred future, training their focus away from what was all too apparent around them, influencing others in a vision-driven direction. He pointed them ahead, helping them focus on a clear objective. He was conscious of needing God to be his ally against an evil enemy. In another speech he said: "You ask what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy." Let's pray.