Philippians 3:17-4:1 (NRSVCE)
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
This passage is a bit misleading outside its context in the rest of the epistle. Paul urges the people to imitate him, which makes Paul come off as incredibly vain and self-important. And that makes his warnings about those whose “god is the belly” ring a bit hollow, as it seems Paul is just another one of those people. But a few verses before this passage begins, Paul talks about everything he possessed and everything he had done, and how all of that was worthless without Christ:
"Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:7-8)
So Paul’s call for imitation is a call to cast aside those vain concerns. He warns of people who will hold themselves up as righteous and worthy of admiration and imitation, but set themselves in stark opposition to the cross. We see religious leaders all the time, particularly on television, who create a big show about how perfect and holy they are, and how you could become holy too if only you will admire them (and usually, more sinisterly, give them money). They surround themselves with their own shame, fooling themselves and others into thinking it is glory, and their desires center only on earthly things. They use language we as Christians are familiar with in attempts to persuade us into idolizing them, but make no mistake about it, their citizenship is firmly in this world. Our citizenship, as Paul makes clear, is in heaven. Our Savior does not come from the megachurch down the road, or from the prime time slot on TBN. Our Savior comes from heaven.
Paul was humiliated. He lost everything for the sake of Christ. That is what he calls us to imitate. Only by recognizing the poverty of our condition, only by realizing the humiliation of the state of our lives, can we truly turn to Christ with an earnest desire. It is only then that we begin to understand what Christ offers, and what salvation entails, and thus only then that we can make an honest response to Christ’s call of “Follow me.” That is the problem with the false teachers that Paul warns about. They have no humility. They feel no shame. And because of that, they are unable to turn to Christ. They have closed themselves off from Christ’s glory, having instead chosen to revel in their own infirmity. They follow no one but their own greed and vanity, and thus they have set themselves on the path of destruction. Do not imitate these false teachers. Pray for them. Mourn for them. And join your feet to the likes of St. Paul, who have been conformed to the body of Christ, and acknowledge your condition. Realize that we are sinners, and no matter how many honors and riches we lay upon ourselves to cover that up, we will never be more than that, without Christ.