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What is your God?

“whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly and the glory that accompanies their shame — they are setting their minds on worldly things.”

(Philippians 3:19)

I can’t help but anticipate the contrast with Paul’s language in 4:8 as to what Paul would have believers think upon — that which is true and honorable and righteous and pure… The unbeliever — those who reject the cross of Christ in word and action — they set their minds on the things of this world: wealth and sensuality and vengeance and fame. These two notions could not be further apart…but nor could the two ends…heaven or hell. How often, even as believers, we are tempted to set our minds on things that do not belong to us.

The wording of this verse is a little awkward, which causes a degree of variation in some of our translations. Paul is stringing together some ideas, as he describes those who will not follow the imitation of Christ through his own example, and he is doing so in a quick staccato, much like a preacher might do in a sermon. Even so, as he describes those who reject the cross, they are headed for destruction. He goes on to say that their god is the belly and the glory that accompanies their shame. In other words, in these things they revel.

I expect we have all known those who not only pursue sin, but flaunt that sin. Many in the pro-homosexual movement and in the pro-marijuana movement seem to be doing just that in our American culture today. Yet, we see it all over. People brag because they “get one over” on a business or on another person, people break civil laws and then tell eagerly listening ears of their exploits, and people perform all sorts of immoral behaviors and revel in the shamefulness of their actions. These are those whom Paul is speaking of most directly here, but do not stop there, what Paul is saying is that this kind of thing is the end to which their rejection of the Cross takes them. It is a reminder to us that the notion of a “moral atheist” is little more than a folk-tale. They might start that way, but as one pursues their atheism with integrity and mind set on worldly things, they will speed further and further from that which is good and righteous and pure.

Worldly things pass away, but the Law of God is forever. While the former may be tempting to us, for they can be seductive, the latter will bring lasting peace and joy. Which is more valuable?

Boldly and Plainly

“Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken frankly to the world — I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple where all the Jews gather. And in secret I have said nothing. Why then do you question me? Question the ones who heard me as to what I said to them. Look, they know what I said!”

(John 18:20-21)

 

To those who like to insist that the word “world” — ko/smoß (kosmos) — always refers to all people without any exceptions, here is a great illustration of the breadth of the term. For clearly, the world of whom Jesus is saying he has spoken to is not talking about all people without any exceptions. Instead, Jesus is implying that he has spoken to all kinds of people in the length of his ministry and in doing so he has spoken openly, boldly, plainly, and frankly. Certainly, in some contexts, the word ko/smoß (kosmos) can refer to all people without exception, but it must be noted that there is a breadth in the usage of the term such that context must be the key to understanding this word’s meaning when it is used.

What is more significant is Jesus’ statement to Annas that he has spoken nothing in secret. There are some who would challenge this statement citing the times when Jesus took the disciples to the side to instruct them or who would cite that the purpose of Jesus’ parables was to keep the unbelievers in the dark as to what Jesus was communicating (Matthew 13:13). While it is true that Jesus did take his disciples to the side on occasion, there was nothing secretive about these actions and the disciples were there as a witness to what it is that Jesus taught. Jewish culture also required two to three witnesses to charge a person with a serious crime — Jesus always took at least three (Peter, James, and John) with him so that they could record what was said and done. In terms of the parables, they were being spoken publicly, if the spiritual truth behind the message was unrevealed that stood as condemnation against the unbelieving Jewish officials, not as judgment against Jesus.

The bottom line is that Jesus is not going to recognize that these false judges have any authority over him — thus he does not legitimize their late night travesty of justice by answering their questions. He simply says, go ask the witnesses. If the witnesses would speak truth, there would be nothing that they could charge Jesus with — but truthfully or otherwise, the wicked priests had arrested Jesus for the purpose of murdering him — this evening would not come to a close without them making their charges — in this case, through trumped up false witnesses, but here I get ahead of myself.

And thus begins the false trial of Jesus in Caiaphas’ court. Perhaps, though for us, it is most important that we ask the question of ourselves — what have we been teaching others by our words and by our actions? Can we say, with Jesus, that our faith has been articulated in a way that would be considered bold, frank, or otherwise plain? Could witnesses to the things we have said and done articulate what we really believe? Would those witnesses even know you as a Christian by what you have talked about on a lunch break at work or at the ballfield? Sadly, I fear that “bold, plain, or frank” would not be an adjective that could accurately describe the lives of many professing Christians in America today. Yet, if the problem is noticed, the next step is to correct the error. Will you do so in your life? Will you strive to the kind of witness that speaks truthfully of Christ to a world that is in desperate need of the Gospel?