"Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things." (Philippians 3:17-19)There is a difference between imitation and emulation. Imitation attempts to arrive at an exact copy of someone else while emulation seeks to achieve what someone else has achieved and to surpass it. We are not called to imitate other people. We frustrate the destiny of our lives when we try to live other peoples' destinies. As long as we are trying to be a copy of someone else, we will never become the person we are called to be. How often do we say to ourselves, "I wish I was like that person? I wish I had their gifts and talents? I wish I could minister like them?" However, when we think this way, we end up striving to be who we are not and loose the joy of finding out who God created us to be. We not only rob ourselves of the joy of being ourselves, but the world loses the benefit that comes from the uniqueness with which God has created us. We cannot be someone else, we must be ourselves.
Having said this, there can be value in emulating other people. The difference is that we are not trying to be them but rather trying to learn what they have learned, trying to understand what they have understood, and trying to decern the patterns that they have employed to make them successful in their endeavors. For example, if you are looking to strengthen your marriage, then it is prudent to look to emulate the patterns and wisdom employed by those whose marriage you would like to emulate. You're not trying to be them, but you recognize that they have found things that work and which may also work for you in growing your marriage. In the context of Paul's letter, he is saying, take note of those who have the faith and character which you desire for yourselves and follow their pattern of life. If we pattern our life after the world, then we will be like the world, but if we pattern our lives after those whose faith is exemplary, then we too will come to have exemplary faith and will become patterns for others to follow.
To this end, Paul describes those who are the antithesis of who we are to become. Here Paul speaks of those who are enemies of the cross. Perhaps a better translation of this Greek word would be haters of the cross. The intent of the Greek word is not so much that they are antagonistic against the cross as it is that they the hate it. They are not out to destroy the cross, but they reject its influence in their lives. Paul describes four characteristics of such people, of which, we will look at each in reverse order.
First, they set their minds on early things. Their lives are spent on the here and now, They have no interest or concern about anything transcendent, anything eternal, and anything relating to God or his Kingdom. Their lives are lived for themselves and their present wants and desires. They take no thought of God or of anyone else's need. Their needs reign supreme and it is after those needs that they earnestly seek.
Secondly, they glory in their shame. It seems tragic to me that we live in a time that glorifies, rewards, and congratulates those who sin has become public; whose sin we used to consider sinful and shameful. When people come forward with their open shame, we laud them as courageous and examples for others to follow. Is there any sin left for which our culture has not set about to exalt and to erase the shame of its stain? We live in a world that wants to throw off all vestiges of guilt, not realizing that the reason we often fell guilty is because we truly are guilty.
Thirdly, their god is their belly. Their only thought is for themselves. They are driven by their needs and desires. They lack the kind of self-control that would allow them to see others and the appetites that are higher than our flesh, such as an appetite for righteousness, goodness, and love. They know nothing of serving others. They serve only those things that serve themselves. They are truly lovers of self and lovers of nothing and no one else. Theirs is a lonely existence of self-indulgence.
Finally, their end is destruction. This destruction is not only and end in their life, but a daily process of corruption and decay brought about by their self-absorption in themselves. Not only will they one day find themselves in eternal destruction, but they live that destruction every day. Just as our resurrection is both future and an everyday reality, so is their destruction. Herein, is the key to discerning those lives we wish to pattern our own after, are they living a life of daily resurrection or are they living in daily corruption? Those whose life reflects the present and future reality of resurrection ought to be those lives we seek to emulate and the life we chose to live each and every day for ourselves. In the end, our emulation ought to produce in us a life that may also be emulated by others.