17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
About three hundred years before the birth of Jesus a philosopher named Epicurus lived in the Greek speaking parts of the world. He was born on Samos, an island near modern day Turkey, but he migrated to the city of Athens, dying there in 270 almost exactly three hundred years before Jesus own death on a cross. Epicurus was a deeply disenchanted fellow. He looked about himself and saw all the suffering and pain in the world and decided that no self-respecting God would allow this to happen. He concluded that there is no God. The best we can do is try to be happy in this life.
It is probably a version of Epicurean philosophy which Paul has in mind here when he says that some have their belly for a God. Epicurus was a very sensible man. He would have likely exercised, taken supplements and eaten a very nutritious diet, following all his doctors’ suggestions today. He was not a drunkard or glutton as some have portrayed him. He thought that the sum total of happiness was increased when you lived and acted healthily. In many respects the many who watch the latest videos with health food suggestions, vitamin regimens, and even the folks I see exercising furiously on my walks might be following a form of epicureanism.
They have confused health with life, true life. It is true that we will grow ill and die and it is also true that we should take care of this body which God has created. But if this life is it, if maximizing its length, health, and prosperity is our whole goal, Paul calls that a form of idolatry. He urges to watch another sort of person, a person like himself, who gave his life, one day at a time, one step at a time as he walked from city to city sharing the good news of Christ. He did not live for this life, Paul lived for the One who is the Way, Truth, and Life. He still took care of his body, but it was a tool and a means to an end. The real end, the real goal of Paul and his ministry was and remains Jesus. Stand firm in the Lord, he urges you. You are his joy and crown, his beloved and God’s beloved.