Paul opens chapter three, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” Though the use of this word “finally” indicates Paul is about to transition to new material, he wants the reader to know the idea he’s about to unpack is absolutely related to the essence of Christian joy and our ability to rejoice regardless of whatever situations we might find ourselves facing.
As noted last Sunday the Bible presents joy as being so much more than mere happiness. Joy is radical and otherworldly. To the world it’s foreign and supernatural. The truth is that the Scriptures present joy as being the byproduct of God’s grace coupled with the indwelling of His Spirit. Joy, as we come to understand it, therefore transcends the emotional and physical by springing forth from the spiritual.
Because joy manifests through a working of God’s Spirit yielded by the grace afforded to you in Jesus, it’s then only logical that the greatest deterrent to joy would be anything that either directly or indirectly undercuts the power of grace or your dependency on the Holy Spirit. This is why in the remainder of chapter three Paul will deal specifically with legalism.
Philippians 3:1-2, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!”
Though Paul has spent the last two chapters discussing the joy we have in Jesus independent of our present circumstances, the substance and tone of the letter clearly takes a dramatic and rather drastic turn. Paul goes from the admonishment to “rejoice in the Lord” to the stark warning to “beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!”
Admittedly, this is such a bizarre shift in theme, because it would appear to happen without any context. And yet, it’s likely these Philippians knew exactly what Paul was discussing because they’d already heard him preach this message before. Notice the transition… Paul writes, “For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.”
This word “tedious” means “slothful or lazy” and the word “safe” can be translated as “firm or certain”. In a sense Paul is saying that while some may have seen his repeating of content in print he’d already delivered in person as being lazy, he was confident these Philippian believers wouldn’t mind because they rightly understood why the subject was so important.
In the first-century church something absolutely revolutionary was taking place… The Gospel of Jesus was bridging a racial chasm between Jews and Gentiles. For the first time these two groups were joining together in the worship of God. It was incredible, a true working of God’s grace, and only made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.
While Christianity began in Jewish-only communities, within 30 years the church had become predominately Gentile thanks in part to the missionary endeavors of Paul traveling throughout the Roman Empire. Case in point, since Philippi was a Roman colony, this church was largely made up of Gentiles possessing a very minimal Jewish presence.
Sadly, such a radical dynamic did come with it’s fair share of issues. Most notably was the insistence of some of the Hebrew brethren (known as Judaizers) that these Gentile believers had to adhere to certain Jewish customs (specifically circumcision) to be Christian.
While it’s true circumcision is not exactly the same hot button issue it was in the first-century church, please know the same legalistic tendency is still very prevalent today. As a matter of fact, because the topic of circumcision as it relates to legalism isn’t really all that relevant in our 21st-century context, I want to expand your understanding using two simple sentences…
Instead of the Gospel which preaches “Grace.” (period) you will always know you’re being peddled some form of legalism and therefore a false-gospel when you hear someone say, “Grace, and do these things” or “Grace, but don’t do these things.”
As it pertains to the Judaizers in Paul’s day they were being legalistic by preaching… “Grace, and be circumcised” or for that matter “Grace, but don't eat pork.” In today’s Christianity you’ll instead hear legalism all the same… “Grace, and tithing” or “Grace, but don’t drink beer.”
What makes legalism such an affront to the Gospel is that in each dynamic the power of grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit becomes minimized by placing an undo emphasis on the things you do or refrain from doing for God in either your salvation or continued sanctification. Subsequently, such an approach attacks the basis of joy!
Though Paul, Peter, and the other Apostles completely rejected the “Grace, And” and “Grace, But” Gospel distortions being promoted and preached by legalists - ruling in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 that salvation and sanctification manifests from God’s grace found through faith in Jesus alone, like the legalist today, these Judaizers refused to relent.
In actuality, the Apostle Paul will spend more time in his Epistles combatting these particular heresies than virtually any other concept. The Judaizers were a constant thorn in Paul’s side. As such, it would appear he’d already instructed this Philippian church to be on the look out.
Paul begins by saying, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation.” In the Greek this word translated “beware” means so much more than simply perceiving or possessing discernment - the idea also implies an inherent and active cautiousness.
For example… If you were to come across a sign as you entered someone’s property that read, “Beware of boobytraps!” not only would this heighten your sense of awareness, but it would also alert you to a very tangible and likely hazard. My point is you don’t tell someone to “beware” of something that doesn’t present a real and present danger.
Since Paul knew legalism fundamentally undermined God’s grace and the importance of your dependency on His Spirit - all the while robbing you of your ability to possess joy, he commands that we all be on guard for those who’d preach such things. For if the Gospel is “Grace, And” or “Grace, But” our ability to possess joy is severely effected because it places an undo emphasis on your performance and particular involvement.
First, Paul calls these legalists “dogs.” In the first-century using the term “dog” had a much different connotation than it does today. Dogs were not domesticated and far from cute and cuddly. Instead, dogs were societal nuisances - pests. As in the third world today dogs ran around town in packs. They were trouble-makers and tended to be quarrelsome.
In using this term Paul is describing the fundamental character and nature of these legalists the Philippian believers were to beware of. How true that legalists end up running with other legalists, tend to be argumentative, and generally love to stir up trouble wherever they go?
Paul continues by defining their activity… He calls them “evil workers.” Literally, he’s saying their works were “evil” or of a bad nature. Though on the surface what these men were doing may have appeared to be noble and Godly, it was the motivation behind their works that Paul calls evil. What a provocative thought? If you’re engaged in a work hoping to either earn or maintain God’s favor not only are you failing, but that work is considered by God to be evil!
Finally, Paul hones in his warning by saying, “Beware of the mutilation!” Though it’s lost in the translation, in the Greek, Paul is employing a bit of a play on words that, mind you, would have been seen as utterly offensive to these Judaizers. While these men took pride in the fact they were circumcised, Paul refers to the act as literally a “hacking off!”
Seeing circumcision as a physical work in their flesh aimed at pleasing God, in using this word “mutilation” Paul is calling the work itself a grotesque and unsightly perversion. “Beware of dogs, beware of evil works, beware of those who want to hack it off!” Paul’s words!
Philippians 3:3, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh…”
In a better translation from Greek into English you can actually hear Paul’s intentional slight. He says, “Beware of the concision for we are the circumcision.” Understandably this phrase “we are the circumcision” is kind of bizarre. From the larger flow of the text keep in mind Paul is seeking to contrast what results when we seek to please God in our flesh verses what occurs when we become pleasing to God though an internal work of the Holy Spirit.
Let me attempt to explain what Paul’s getting at using an example (and please note I’m not trying to be funny or make light of a serious psychological issues)… Bruce Jenner genuinely believes himself to be a women so much so that he has grown out his hair, taken hormone treatments, had plastic surgery to give himself breasts, gone under the knife to create more feminine facial structures, changed his legal name to Caitlin and gender classification, dresses like a women, and has exchanged male for female plumbing…
And yet, (if I may be bold enough to say it) the truth is that none of these behavioral or physical modifications have changed the reality that Caitlin’s internal constitution is still male. Acting like a women, changing your personal pronoun, and mutilating yourself so that you now possess the female anatomy does not change the fact you still possesses a Y chromosome and will therefore always be genetically and biologically male.
Sadly, if you research Gender Dysphoria and Transgenderism you’ll find study after study that demonstrate how reassignment surgeries not only fail to effectively alleviate the underlying psychological issue, but in the end create much more severe problems.
Here’s my point… Behavioral or physical modifications can never change a person’s internal constitution. It simply defies what is natural. You can get down on all fours and act like a dog, but that will never make you a dog, any more than sleeping in a garage makes you a car, or only consuming an exclusive diet of cookies makes you the Cookie Monster!
This is the point Paul is making in this comparison between the mutilation and circumcision. People who focus on their works in the attempts of changing their internal constitution to please God end up creating a pseudo-moralism God finds perverse. Let me apply this… Acting like Jesus is not how a person become Christ-like!
You see legalism demands things to do or refrain from doing in the flesh in order to be more like Christ; and yet, sadly the approach is about as successful as Bruce becoming a woman. Sure, on the surface there is a persona of Godliness in the same way that Caitlin physically looks like lady, but the more time you spend around a legalist the more off things become.
As Steven Tyler of Aerosmith so sang in their hit song “Dude”… “So never judge a book by its cover, Or who you gonna love by your lover, Love put me wise to her love in disguise, She had the body of a Venus, Lord, imagine my surprise… Dude looks like a lady!”
The truth is that seeking to become like Christ by acting like Christ (or what I like to call the WWJD heresy) ends up being why so many legalistic Christians ultimately present a contoured, warped, mutilated version of what Jesus is actually like! Sadly, Jesus is often misrepresented by the people trying their best to be like Him!
Understand… Real behavioral modification can only take place when a natural change first occurs within a person’s constitution. This is why in order to be Godly you must first undergo a genuine, internal transformation of your constitution. Physical circumcision plays literally zero role in the process. Biblically, we call this work of God regeneration, rebirth, or to be born again which occurs when Jesus indwells your life through His Spirit!
Think about it… If Bruce Jenner had been given the option to have his core, internal genetics changed from male to female so that his physical transformation would happen naturally and without all the grueling surgeries, you can believe he’d jumped at the opportunity. How sad it is when legalists cut themselves (they cut this out and that off) all in the attempts to make themselves into the very thing Jesus wants to make them naturally through His Spirit!
While the Judaizers were seeking to please God through physical circumcision all that was yielded was a mutilation. And yet, in contrast, by saying “we are the circumcision” Paul is instead pointing to an internal work of the Spirit - one that allows us to “worship God” and “rejoice in Christ Jesus” eliminating any need to possess a “confidence in the flesh!”
Philippians 3:4-7, “Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”
For those that had fallen into the trap of basing their standing with God on their works thereby having a “confidence in the flesh”, Paul simply points out that if anyone could have had “confidence” in their ability to please God through works he was a prime candidate.
As it pertains to his list of qualifications, notice Paul begins by emphasizing four characteristics he possessed by birth (things that would have been impossible for any Gentile): (1) In accordance to Leviticus 12:3 Paul had been “circumcised the eighth day.” What he means is that he possessed the correct spiritual heritage!
(2) Paul says he was “of the stock of Israel” - meaning that in addition to possessing a spiritual heritage, as a direct descended of Abraham, he also heald a particular birthright.
(3) He says he was “of the tribe of Benjamin.” Unlike so many of the other tribes who rebelled against God, the descendants of Benjamin had aligned themselves with the faithful tribe of Judah. In actuality, the city of Jerusalem was within Benjamin’s original boarders.
(4) Paul sums it up by saying he was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews.” In the first-century, a rift had occurred within Jewish society. Those who’d adopted Greek culture were known as Hellenistic Jews while those who’d retained their cultural identity were called Hebraic Jews.
Aside from possessing the right heritage, birthright, credentials, and purity, Paul continues by listing three things he’d personally achieved. (1) As it pertained to the “law” Paul says he was “a Pharisee.” In that culture the Pharisees were an elite religious sect of Judaism dedicated to keeping the law - even in the smallest of details. They were religiously fundamental.
(2) Paul says that as it pertained to his religious “zeal” he “persecuted the church.” Though it’s a bit interesting that Paul would hail this as a badge of honor in writing to a church, the point he’s making is that in his former days he was not just an intellectual proponent of Judaism, he was a zealot. He was so dedicated he was willing to do whatever was required.
(3) In regards to his “righteousness” as determined by one’s obedience to the Law, in much the same way as the Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus, Paul claims he was absolutely “blameless.” If anyone could claim righteousness through the Law it would have been Paul.
And yet, in light of all of these things, Paul continues, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” What he’s saying is that all of these things that many would have perceived to have been an asset, Paul had come to see them a liability. It was the things his flesh found confidence in that had kept him from Christ for so many years.
Philippians 3:8, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…”
If you’re simply reading through the chapter verses 7 and 8 seem oddly repetitive if not down right redundant. And yet, if you look more closely you’ll discover something amazing in the way Paul is articulating his point. In verse 7, as Paul is coming off of this incredible list citing his religious pedigree and achievements, he says, “These I have counted loss for Christ.”
Notice this statement is in the past tense. There was a singular instance in Paul’s past where an accounting occurred… A moment in his life when Paul was forced to examine his religious works in light of the person of Jesus. As a matter of fact, we know it was on the Road to Damascus that Paul decided to reject his self-rightness, “count” these things to be “loss”, humble himself, and accept the work Jesus did on his behalf.
And yet, while verse 8 does repeat a similar idea, notice it’s in the present tense. Some 30 years after his original conversion, Paul was not only still making this decision to reject his sufficiency for that of Christ Jesus, but even in light of the fact his original choice had resulted in the “loss of all things” he regretted not the decision in the slightest.
What “things” had Paul lost when he made the decision to follow Jesus? He lost his moral standing. He lost his identity in Judaism. He lost his status in the religious community. He lost his power and influence. He likely lost his family and friends. He lost his job and source of income. He lost his home. Arriving in Damascus Paul had literally lost everything.
And yet, because of the life he’d received in Jesus, Paul was not only at peace with his decision, but he was willing to make it again and again! As a matter of fact, in light of all that Jesus afforded him, Paul “counted” his former religious works and life to be “as rubbish.”
In the context of Jesus and all that Paul “gained” when he finally surrendered, all of these things that so dominated the former life (his pedigree, religious works and achievements) Paul concluded to be “skybalon” or literally “the excrement of animals.” The KJV actually translates “rubbish” as “dung.” They were utterly worthless and to Paul detestable.
Philippians 3:8-11, “That I might gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul is telling these Philippians to “beware” of those who’d peddle legalism, because he knew all such an outlook would do was rob a person of the joy they could find in a new life provided only by Jesus. Keep in mind the larger implications of what Paul’s saying… Your position before God is either found in your ability to be good enough or it’s found in Jesus!
Paul was willing to reject his ability, his moralism, his religious works for the opportunity to “gain Christ” in two fundamental ways. First, Paul wanted to “gain Christ” in that he could “be found in Him…” Paul rightly understood that his right-standing before God was not found in his ability to obey the law, but in his identification with Jesus.
His works mattered not. His ability to be good enough didn’t matter either. Paul had come to see that his right-position before God was only possible “through faith in Christ!” Paul realized that if he rejected his work by placing his full confidence in the work of Jesus, the righteousness of Christ would therefore be attributed to his account. You see when God looked down and viewed Paul he’d see Jesus therefore making him completely righteous.
Friend, if the basis of your righteousness is what you do for God - you’re a legalist. If you have boughten into the lie that the Gospel is “grace, and” the things you do for God… Or “grace, but” the sacrifices you make to demonstrate your worthiness…
You need to know God sees these things as “evil”, a mutilated version of a work He wants to accomplish in you heart, and as Paul concludes… Absolutely rubbish! Whether you realize it or not, you have departed from grace and the power of the Spirit by placing your confidence in yourself! In all likelihood since this is the case you’re life is also void of joy as well.
However, if your righteousness is based in what Jesus has done for you… If it’s not your works, but His… If you’ve counted all as loss… And placed your confidence in the Spirit’s ability to transform you from the inside out… Not only do you understand the Gospel of Grace, but there is absolutely no reason you’re life isn’t filled with unspeakable joy!
But Paul doesn’t stop there… He says he wanted to “gain Christ” in that he “may know Him!” There is a fundamental difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone. What changed Paul’s life was not knowing more about Jesus… What changed Paul’s life was the moment he experienced God’s grace through a relationship with Jesus Christ!
Think about it… How does a person receive God’s grace? They enter into a relationship with Jesus. How does a person grow in God’s grace? Their relationship with Jesus naturally deepens. How is a person transformed by God’s grace? Their relationship with Jesus naturally changes their internal desirers and therefore impacts their behaviors.
Paul experienced God’s grace in that it gave him the opportunity to possess a relationship with Jesus that the law never afforded. And it was this relationship not his works or worthiness that ultimately freed him from his former life, liberated him from the guilt of his past mistakes, and had now filled his life with meaning and purpose. And it’s this very thought that will set the stage for what comes next in Philippians chapter 3.
No Additional Links.