The Belly Problem: Philippians 3
Philippians 3:18-19 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: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame-who set their minds on earthly things.”
Notice first Paul’s weeping, his concern, his anguish, not only for those being persecuted, but also for those who are lost and are persecuting. I tell you weeping.
Yes, opposition to the gospel has been predestined. Yes, God has excluded some sinners from salvation before they ever did anything bad (Romans 9). But that does not mean that God works in the means of the death of the non-elect in an identical way as God works in the means of salvation.
Nor does it mean that those who believe the true gospel should be indifferent about those who are ignorant or unsubmitted to the gospel. We can’t say that “it makes no difference to me if you walk away…”
Love does not mean agreeing up front that ones we love are saved. But it does mean doing everything possible to live in a way that agrees with the gospel. And this means talking about the gospel. This means being willing to be questioned and tested. I tell you even weeping.
The reason I insist on talking about the gospel to the enemies of the cross is not only a macho thing to convince myself again that I believe the gospel or to persuade myself that I have courage. I must talk abut the gospel because the gospel is the only way that other people can be saved. Romans 1:16; I Cor 1:18. The doctrine of the gospel is itself the message with God’s power to save.
According to Phil 3:18-19, those who remain enemies of the cross will perish, will be destroyed. Only God can save anybody, and God has not promised to save anybody without teaching that person the gospel. The promise of God is not to “all your children”, but to your children, as many as God will call”. Acts 2:39.
God calls by the gospel. Not all who are externally called by the gospel are effectively called by God. But all who are effectually called by God are called by the gospel. (Romans 10:14-17).
The only way we can tell if our works are good fruit (instead of fruit unto death) is to make our calling and election sure. (II Peter 1) By what gospel were you called? Did the gospel you claim be called by talk about election?
Phil 3:18-19 is in contrast to 3:21. Their end is destruction; but our citizenship is already in heaven. Their end is destruction, but our end is transformation and immortality. When it says that they mind earthly things, this does not necessarily mean immoral things; it may only mean non-gospel things. It may mean somebody who thinks he used to be in this legalistic cult but is now focused on being a healthy and happy and productive member of the larger society. It may mean somebody who is in reaction to being in a group run by a guru and whose goal is to live on earth in open community.
Humanly speaking, these earthly things cause those in the “flesh” to remain ignorant or submissive to the gospel. The glutton is not the only person who worships his belly. The preacher or the editor who will not preach the gospel and expose the false gospel in order to “keep my ministry and still have influence” is also serving his belly. His flesh may not look like the flesh of the preacher who openly teaches freewill and losing your salvation. But it’s still flesh.
Of course there is a distinction between doctrine and life, between gospel and walk. But people who have gospel doctrine will walk by that gospel. This does not mean that they are less sinful than those who teach the wicked lies of universal atonement and salvation conditioned on the sinner. But it does mean that they will love those who love the gospel, and that they will not knowingly fellowship with those who remain enemies of the cross..
Phil 3:16 Let us walk by the same rule. Let’s not practice the ungodly practice of judging only by outward appearance or by our own standard of saved and lost. Without the imputed righteousness revealed in the gospel, the person who commits less sin is no better off than the person who commits more sin.
It is legalism to think that we are converted because other people are less moral than we think we are. It is legalism to think that we are converted because we think we are less legalistic than we think other people are.
II Corinthians 10:12 “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves by themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves are not wise.” Notice what the verse says: WE are NOT like THOSE people. THEY have an unrighteous standard of judgment.
We are not like them. We are not in the same class as them. We judge by the gospel. We judge ourselves and them by the gospel. Even so, in Philippians 3. Paul contrasts the citizens of heaven with the enemies of the cross.
Most commentators on Philippians 3:18-19 focus on the word “belly” and assume that it means greed, not only the desire for too much food but the lust for money and sinful pleasures. They do not connect “belly” to the desire to have one’s own righteousness from the law, even though that has been the topic of paragraphs just before. But the lust of the flesh is subtle.
The trouble with “taste not touch not” is when people think that their tasting not and touching not brings them some blessing which the righteousness of Christ could not bring. There is nothing wrong with tasting not and touching not. Simply because we do not agree with another person about what God’s law teaches is no excuse to call that person a legalist.
But a person is a legalist, even if he has a right interpretation about what God’s law teaches, if that person thinks that his obeying that law brings him a blessing which the righteousness of Christ did not cause.
The unlawful desires of the flesh are most subtle when it comes to legalism. The law of God should not be blamed for legalism, even though God has predestined the abuse of the law. When a person thinks that his not tasting and his not touching brings him blessing, that person is not only a legalist but also an antinomian, because that person is thinking that God is satisfied with something less than perfect obedience and satisfaction of the law.
The only way that God can be (and IS) pleased with the good works of a Christian is that the Christian knows that these good works are blessings from Christ’s righteousness, not a supplement to Christ’s righteousness. And this distinction is not only something that God knows, or only something that smart “Reformed theologians” know. Every Christian knows that Christ’s righteousness is the only reason for every love-gift from God.
The sin which deceives us all by nature is that WE DESIRE WHAT WE PRODUCE TO BE OUR SALVATION. We will give God’s “grace” the credit for helping us produce it. We have no problem saying that “particular election” is the reason we produced it. But, like Cain, we want to take what we produced and offer it to God as some small part of what God will accept it as righteousness.
We don’t mind of God has to produce some righteousness also to supplement it and “make up the difference”. But the one thing we want, the thing which the people who killed Jesus wanted, is the one thing Cain wanted, and that is to have God accept what we have produced and what we sincerely (even if ignorantly) offered to God.
Frequently people tell me: “you are not going to tell me that I am lost just because I do not believe in definite atonement.” And then they say: I know what I used to be, and I know that I am different now, that I am not what I used to be, not only morally but religiously. Now I have faith. Now I know it’s all Christ. Now I know it’s not works. Now I know it’s grace. And I just don’t even need to get into this question of who Jesus died for.
And then, in contradiction to that, they say: I know he died for me because I was a sinner.
And I ask: did Christ die for all sinners? And again they say: I don’t need to get into that. And I ask: how do you know that Christ died for you? Does the grace to believe come from the death of Christ or from some other place?
And they say: I don’t need to know where I got faith because I got it. And then I ask: faith in which Christ, the one whose death saves or the one who died for those who will be lost? And then they say: pharisee, cultist…and some other names.
The motive for that name calling is the same as Cain’s motive for murdering Abel. I John 3:12 explains: “why did he murder him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
Those with a false gospel cannot understand why one person’s work is evil and another person’s work is not evil. They cannot understand that it is evil to condition blessing on works. Indeed, despite talk about election and regeneration and -in many cases- even about definite atonement, those with the false gospel still judge saved and lost by works instead of judging works by saved and lost.
Why? First, there is the ugly unheroic desire to “keep one’s ministry”, to compromise the gospel message in order to bring along a mixed congregation. Life is easier when one can first agree that all who believe in the deity of Christ are saved. Romans 16:18 “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” I know this kind of thing is a reality; I have been in many congregations where the clergyman constantly flatters people by telling them that they are not homosexuals, and not easy believers etc. like other people are.
Even the scolding kind of preachers can help their people to flatter themselves: “we must be all right because we sit here week after week and take this scolding like we need to.”
But I don’t think that the short-term pleasures of insincerity and compromise explain all the meaning of “belly” here. I don’t want to dismiss that of course. I know that when I was a lost Calvinist (for 20 years), I liked to flatter myself about not flattering myself. But I do think the “belly problem” goes deeper. The problem is that we as sinners in rebellion against God and God’s gospel like what we produce and want to offer it to God as some small reason that God blesses us.
We DESIRE that what we PRODUCE will be accepted by God. And God won’t have it. And true Christians won’t have it. And when they won’t have it, those who are lost but who profess to be Christians get mad like Cain did. Just before they rush off to have fellowship with those who will say that they are saved because of what they have produced, these lost religionists make a point of accusing those who won’t speak peace to them: YOU are the elder brother, YOU are the pharisee, YOU are the legalist!
The next phrase in Philippians 3:19 says: “whose glory is their shame”. The enemies of the cross glory in that of which we should be ashamed. We should be ashamed of all that we produce and rest only in what Christ produced before Christ sat down at the right hand on high. Instead, all of us before we are converted (if that happens) want to give God credit for helping us the creature to produce something which then obligates God the creator to save the creature who has produced it.
Paul learned both a shame and a glory which is not natural, which none of us are born with. Paul learned to glory in, to exult in, to boast in the cross, not in the flesh. He explains this in Galatians 6:14 and in Philippians 3:3 and in Romans 6.
Romans 6 is NOT saying: don’t worry about easy-believing true doctrine, because the bottom line is that Christians “reign” by now being able to produce a quality-righteousness. Romans 6:17 says: “you WERE SLAVES of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.”
This does not mean: were liars and thieves and never ashamed of lying and stealing. Yes, there are some who may not be even ashamed of those things. But such things were always shameful to Nicodemus (who would not come to the light lest his good deeds be exposed as evil deeds, John 3:19). Such things were always shameful to Paul, who had been zealous according to the law.
Romans 6:21 “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?”
After one believes the gospel, one no longer remains an enemy of the cross, is no longer ashamed to say that Christ on the cross only died for the elect and that this death is the only difference between converted and lost. A lot of people claim to be converted who will not say that, who think that such a thing does not need to be said and should not be said. Why?
For many walk, and I tell you now even weeping, who are enemies of the cross, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame. I was such a person. I was proud of my Calvinism, proud of what I thought God had given me that God had not given other Christians. Even though I knew I could not produce the righteousness God required , I loved a false god who would save sinners without any righteousness and without any knowledge of His righteousness.
When God delivers us to the true gospel, we will no longer be pluralists about the old gospels. We will be ashamed of that in which we once gloried. We will not continue to try to praise the holy God of the Bible for saving us by means of a false gospel. We will not keep up the lie that we were still Arminians after we were converted. We will not keep up the lie that we were converted.
We will no longer glory in OUR shame. Not Their shame. Not Your shame. My shame.
I have taken many words. And the second word you must know now even if I didn’t say it. Paul said it back up in chapter 3. The word is dung. Before we were converted, we thought our dung didn’t stink. See how bad our situation was!. We were PROUD OF OUR DUNG. We did not glory in the lies we told, we did not glory in the things we stole, we did not glory in our disrespect to our parents. But we gloried in the idea that Jesus died for everybody but that only some people (like us) would be saved.
You are not going to tell me that a little thing like if Jesus died for everybody is such a big deal. That’s what we said when we were lost. Even when our own personal preference was to say that Jesus didn’t die for everybody, when we were lost we still didn’t think it was a big deal.
Look at what Paul called his former religion. And that is what we too will call the false gospels we used to believe. We will not remain so delicate and gentle with ourselves. The big lie will stop.
We will stop saying that our lost relatives are not lost. When we were lost, we were “free from righteousness”. We were servants of sin, working in vain in a religion which is at enmity with God and with which God is at enmity.
It is simply not enough to “move on” to that righteousness which Christ obtained. I must count the dung to be dung if I want to be found in Christ. When I find myself in Christ, I will no longer be able to stomach the old gospel of which I am now ashamed. I won’t be able to stomach it in other people either. That doesn’t mean that I hate those people. It means that when those people rely on the old false gospel I used to believe, that I will not agree that they are saved because they believe that old gospel. Rather I must say that them believing that old gospel is evidence that they are not yet converted. If I love them, I will tell them that. I now tell you weeping…