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by Dr. Fred Wittman

Philippians 3:17-21


    Unity in the church at Philippi was threatened. Paul warned of attempts by legalizers to disrupt the unity and impose ungodly devotion to the law. Enemies to the cross of Christ added works to the finished work of Christ in their message of salvation.

    Paul was mindful of the teaching of Christ that wheat and tares would grow together in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43). Thus there would be professors as well as possessors in the church. The warning given in chapter 3:1-3 implies infiltration of false teachers and Judaizers motivated by persistent ungodly devotion. But can we be sure that there were those who only professed Christ but were not converted? Is it possible that enemies of the cross actually infiltrated Philippi and posed as faithful church members? How can we be sure that this is so? What is the apparent difference that will enable a true believer to discern between professors and possessors? How does a distinction of attitudes of anticipated glory contribute to such discernment?

    Both Peter and Paul warned of an increase of false teachers in the last times. The churches today are subject to such attack. We must be on guard against infiltration in the local church to which we belong. It is always easier and better to prevent trouble than it is to correct it. But how can we prevent such infiltration? How can attitude toward anticipation of glory assist in the discernment of those who really belong to The Lord (possessors of eternal life) and those who merely profess Christ?


    Paul gave three guidelines to the Philippian saints to discern between professors and possessors.

“O brothers, become imitators together of me! And pay close attention to the ones persistently walking thus, according as you& continually have us as a pattern[type]. For many, whom I told you& many times, but now I tell you& even weeping loudly, are walking as the enemies of the cross of The Christ!” (Phil. 3:17,18 APT).

    A. Closely Reduplicate Paul’s Character (v. l7a).

    Paul exhorted the Philippians to be followers together in imitating him. Paul set himself as the example to follow (1 Cor. 11:1). Anticipation of the coming glory motivated the apostle Paul in the kind of life he lived and in the extreme effort and energy he expended in the work of The Lord. To imitate or follow the example of Paul will result in devotion to The Lord and an eager anticipation of the glory that will be ours when Christ comes again. There will be an expending of effort to get others to know The Lord. There will be a love for Christ. A focus upon The Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven will motivate anticipation of His coming and those who do will imitate Paul in the way he imitated Christ in the way He walked and lived. Paul wanted his readers to closely reduplicate his character in devotion, in eager anticipation of Christ, and in discernment between professors and possessors.

    B. Carefully Regard The Possessors Who Do (v. l7b).

    Mark out those who are continually walking in this way. ‘Walking’ is present durative tense--“keep on persistently walking.” Give careful regard to the possessors who keep on imitating Paul in their walk. Mark them out which follow Paul’s example! The implication is not only mark those who so walk, but also keep walking just as you have the example of Paul. Note them! Regard them! Mark them in order to follow them!

    C. Constantly Reject The Professors Who Don’t (v. 18).

    Paul told them often before that many do not walk following his example. Verse 18 discloses the other group—professors as enemies of the cross who walk contrary to the way Paul walked. They, too, must be marked out, but rejected. In this verse Paul presents a contrast between professors and possessors. The attitude one has toward glory reflects where he stands with Christ. Some profess that they know Christ with their lips but deny Him with their lives. A distinction must be made between possessors who imitate Paul in their walk and professors who do not. We are to persistently mark out those who do follow Paul’ s example. The grammar is such that the readers are to reject those, who do not persistently walk according to Paul’s pattern of walking, is understood.


“For many, whom I told you& many times, but now I tell you& even weeping loudly, are walking as the enemies of the cross of The Christ! The end of whom, utter destruction! The god of whom, the belly! And their glory[majestic radiant splendor] in the shame of theirs! The ones continually minding earthly~ things!” (Phil. 3:18,19 APT).

Paul deliberately describes three certainties for all professors and identifies one indication that these are such.

    A. Their Enmity (vs. l8,19a).

1. At Enmity with The God (v. 18).

    Paul is speaking to brethren, some of those in the Philippian church were false brethren. Though some profess to know Christ and fellowship in a local church, they are enemies of the cross of Christ. They secretly fight against the cross by the way they walk. They oppose the effect of The Gospel. They know nothing of conformity to the death of Christ. The cross means death—the death of Christ, but not death to them. They live in pleasure. They live unto themselves. They are at enmity with The God (Rom. 8:7; James 4:4).

“. . . for the reason that the frame of mind of the flesh |is| enmity against God! For it is not under subjection to the law of The God. For neither is it possible” ( APT).

“O adulterers and adulteresses, you& are aware that the friendship of the world is enmity against The God, are you& not? Therefore who ever be desirously willing to be a friend of the world is continually appointed to the position of 0enemy of The God” (James 4:4 APT).

This is the worst kind of enemy—one who lives in the camp, pretending to be a soldier of Christ, but all the time in reality an enemy of God - a spiritual fifth columnist.

         2. At Enmity with Possessors (v. 18).

    Because they are enemies of The God, they are also enemies of those who possess eternal life. Because they are enemies, although they profess to know Christ, their walk is contrary to those who possess eternal life and who live for Christ. Enemies are in opposition to those who have been to the cross of Christ and acknowledge that they have died with Christ and walk in newness of life. These professors are living, not like those who belong to Christ, but like those who are in opposition to those that belong to Christ. They are speaking like they belong to Christ and are living like the devil. They speak of Heaven, but are enemies of possessors.

         3. Their End Eternal Utter Destruction (v. 19a).

    The word phrase ‘utter destruction’ is the translation of the Greek word άπώλεια. This word is translated ‘perdition’ or ‘eternal damnation.’ This word is used by The Lord Jesus Christ, (Mt. 7:13 APT) to describe the end result of persistently walking on the broad way. “Because the gate |is| wide and the way is spacious which is leading away unto utter destruction” (Mt. 7:13b APT). Peter used the same word when he told Simon, the sorcerer, “May your silver money be together with you in utter destruction” (Acts 8:20 APT). Here most translators treat this noun as a verb when translating into English using the verb ‘perish’). The word ‘perish’ means “to be destroyed, eternally ruined.” However this same word άπώλεια is translated eight times ‘perdition’ in the Authorized Version.

    These professors are not only bent for eternal damnation, the ultimate end of these enemies of the cross of Christ is utter destruction--eternal torment in The Lake of Fire. Paul is not referring to those outside the local church who surely will perish, but to those meeting in a local church with regenerated disciples. These professing enemies are bound for eternal damnation. Paul made a distinction between those attending the local church who are possessors and those who are professors.

    B. Their Intent (v. 19b).

After describing the enmity of professors, Paul defined their threefold intent.

         1. Their god.

    The word for belly is used by the comic poet, Eupolis in combination to designate one who makes a god of his belly. Sensuality in food, drink, and sex masters people just as much today as it did back then. Those who are mastered by food and drink make their belly their god. They give more attention to what they eat and drink than they do to The God. They delight in physical pleasure. They put physical pleasure before The God. They are so obsessed with pleasure that they make it their god .

         2. Their glory.

    They posed as Christians but at the same time they gloried in the shameful things they did. They were not convicted of sin. They were not convicted of acts and deeds that brought them shame. Their anticipated glory is different than the regenerated disciple’s anticipated glory. The regenerated disciple is looking for a changed body to be like the glorified body of Christ. But these professors delight in shameful deeds and glory in them. They are proud of what they have accomplished. To them there is no shame. But they glory in their shame. They think it is glorious to live the way they do and to act the way they do. Their motto is “To live, spell it backwards, e-v-i-l, evil.”

         3. Their goal.

    They are “the ones continually minding earthly things!” They are more concerned with the politics of their country than they are with the proclamation of The Gospel. They are more concerned with the laws of the land than their love for The Lord Jesus Christ. They're more concerned with worldly things and the accumulation of earthly goods than they are with laying up treasures accumulated in Heaven. Remember the words The Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples about laying up treasures in Heaven (Mt. 6:19-21)! Someone has summed up those words of Jesus by saying, “Treasures in Heaven are laid up as treasures on earth are laid down.” But those who are professors and enemies of the cross of Christ put their priority in reverse order. They are always concerned in priority with earthly or worldly things rather than with heavenly or spiritual things. They are not concerned with the destiny of their soul. Heaven, or eternity. They keep on minding or keep their concentration on earthly things. Their goal is to make this earth a better place to live. They want to improve their earthly country, their city, their home by human effort rather than by spiritual power.


In contrast to the shameful glory that professors shall receive, possessors shall receive splendorous glory. Quite a contrast!

“For the commonwealth of our citizenship exists in 0Heavens, out of which also we eagerly await in expectation for 0Savior, 0Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall alter the outward appearance of the body of /humiliation of ours in order for itself to become conformed~ to the body of the glory[majestic radiant splendor] of His according to the effectual working of the miraculous power with the result, for Him to be able also to subject the all~ things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20,21 APT).

    A. Heavenly Commonwealth (v. 20).

    The commonwealth is the location where the citizenship is registered and administered.

         1. Our Citizenship is in Heavens (v. 20a).

    It is interesting that the plural ‘Heavens’ is used here and not just ‘Heaven’ as some translations and versions read.

20For the commonwealth of our citizenship exists in 0Heavens, out of which also we eagerly await in expectation for 0Savior, 0Lord Jesus Christ, 21Who shall alter the outward appearance of the body of /humiliation of ours in order for itself to become conformed~ to the body of the glory[majestic radiant splendor] of His according to the effectual working of the miraculous power with the result, for Him to be able also to subject the all~ things to Himself.”

The word πολίτευμα (pohlée-teumah) is translated by some as ‘conversation.’ It is the word for ‘commonwealth’ or ‘citizenship.’ The location of ‘the administration of our citizenship’ is in the Heavens. Could this refer to both the third Heaven (2 Cor. 12:2; Rev. 4:2), the location of The Throne of The God and the city of Jerusalem which will be located in outer space the second Heaven (Rev. 21:2)? If Paul were referring to a combination of both the second Heaven and the third Heaven, he would have used the plural ‘Heavens.’ Our citizenship is located in both Heavens as he wrote.

    So while living here on Earth, at the same time we are citizens of Heaven, where our Savior and Bridegroom is seated with His Father, expectantly waiting for the appointed time to return to take His Bride composed of those who are living as citizens of The New Jerusalem, The City of Heaven.

         2. Our Savior comes again out of Heavens (v. 20b).

    We look for The Lord Jesus Christ our Savior to rise up from The Throne of His Father at the right hand of The God and descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. So then, the dead in Christ shall rise first and then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet The Lord Jesus in the air (1 Thes. 4:15-17). We expectantly wait for The Savior! As possessors or citizens of Heaven we expectantly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to come to take us to our heavenly home.

    B. Hopeful Conformity (v. 21).

    We expectantly wait in hope for the eagerly anticipated coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in which the purpose of The God to conform us to the image of Christ will be fulfilled. This expectant and anticipated hope may take place at any moment.

         1. The bodies of saints (v. 21a).

    We are going to be changed like unto Him. “We shall also wear the image of The Heavenly One” (1 Cor. 15:49 APT). The fashion of the body of our low estate is going to be conformed to the body of His glory. What a change that will be! What a glory that will be! We shall be no longer plagued by sin subject to temptation, but given a body that cannot sin. What a blessed hope! To be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) will be glorious indeed!

         2. The universe subdued (v. 21b).

    This changing of our bodies to be fashioned like Christ and be conformed to His image is going to be done according to the energy which enables Him “to subject all things unto Himself.” The power or energy of Christ is the effective working of His mighty power in raising Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19,20). By this mighty effectual energy The Lord Jesus Christ shall subdue all things and bring them into subjection to Himself. This is the anticipated splendorous glory when everything shall be made right and brought into proper perspective and be subject to The Lord Jesus Christ. The God will see to it that the entire universe shall be subdued under Him that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28; Ps. 8:6; Heb. 2:5-9).

“Afterward the end, whenever He deliver over the Kingdom[Dan. 7:13,14,27] to The God and Father, whenever He negate[make ineffective] every kind of principality and every kind of authority and miraculous power. For it is absolutely necessary for Him to reign[Ps. 110:1] until which |time| ever He place all His enemies under His /feet. The death is 0last enemy being negated[made ineffective]. For He [arrange under]subjected all~ things[Ps. 8:6] under His /feet. But whenever He say that all things are being [arranged under]subjected, |it is| clear that |it is| outside of The+ One [arranging under]subjecting the all~ things to Him. Then whenever the all~ things be [arranged under]subjected to Him, at that time also The Son Himself shall be [arranged under]subject to The+ One [arranging under]subjecting the all things to Him, in order that The God be The All~& in all[people and things]” (1 Cor. 15:24-28 APT).

What splendor and glory possessors anticipate! Such glory is wrought by the energy of Christ which shall change the bodies of possessors. There is quite a distinction between those who anticipate that glory in Heaven and those who have a glory on earth that is shameful. Those who can only anticipate a shameful glory are without hope, without God, and look forward to eternal torment. For those who anticipate splendorous glory The Lord Jesus Christ is coming soon. What glory that will be—to be with Him and like Him and to share in His glory forever!


    Paul indicated that there shall be two kinds of believers in the local church, possessors and professors. Both need to be recognized. Because by their influence, professors' corrupt teaching and heresies creep into the local church. And their distracting lifestyle nullifies and counteracts the testimony of the local church and neutralizes the impact of The Gospel as well. Paul exhorted that we should join together in imitating the pattern of walking that he himself set. We are to closely reduplicate his character! We are urged to mark out those who do and carefully regard them in devotion to Christ! We are to keep walking in the same way!

    It is necessary to remember constantly that there are professors who do not walk in this way. But rather, they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their contrary walk will bring them to their end in destruction. Their god is their belly. Their glory is in their shame and their goal and priorities are always worldly, temporal, and earthly. Professors can only anticipate shameful glory. On the other hand possessors anticipate splendorous glory in Heaven. The commonwealth or location of the administration of our citizenship is in Heaven where our Lord and King is seated on His throne. From whence also He is coming soon to receive us and transport us to The Celestial City to be with Him forever.

    When He comes we shall have our hopes fulfilled and our bodies shall be changed and fashioned like His glorious body. We will be conformed to His image and likeness. Later all the universe shall be subdued under Him as He reigns over all. What a splendorous and glorious hope of anticipated glory we have! What effect does this anticipated glory have on your life and mine? You have a choice: to look forward only to the shameful glory of professing believers and live as enemies of the cross of Christ, or to anticipate splendorous glory in Heaven by imitating the life of Paul as he imitated Christ. Your ultimate and eternal end will be glory or shame according to your choice and the administration of citizenship you acknowledge in this life. Who will choose splendorous glory? Who will choose to live as citizens of Heaven? Will you? How much will you eagerly anticipate the glory of Christ so that you will imitate the character of Paul, live as citizens of Heaven, and be ready when The Lord Jesus Christ comes again?

         Now consider the practical meaning of our lesson.

 Discussion Questions:

1. Why is it necessary to distinguish between possessors and professors in the local church?

    2. Why is it important to discern the attitude one has toward anticipation of glory?

3. How is the enmity of professors, described by Paul to the Philippians, manifest (Phil. 3:18,19)?

    4. How is the attitude of possessors toward anticipated glory manifest?

5.What effect does the anticipated glory have on the lives of people today?

    6. What can you do to develop an attitude of anticipation of splendorous glory?

7. How can you demonstrate that you have such an attitude of eager anticipation of splendorous glory?


    To what extent will you seek to distinguish between possessors and professors and mark out the possessors?

    What will you do to develop an attitude of eager anticipation of splendorous glory?

    How will you demonstrate that you have such an attitude of eager anticipation of splendorous glory?

| | understood $singular &plural /the 0no article +masculine ~neuter
[ ]basic meaning
/ \ manuscripts divided

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Last modified: January 11, 2021