Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
Last week we talked about rejoicing in the Lord. We learned that for the Christian, rejoicing is commanded. If you are a Christian, part of the package is that you rejoice in the Lord. It’s not that you must bounce happily through life as if there’s not a care in the world when you are facing the most difficult of circumstances. But rejoicing in the Lord is what you can do in the midst of your heartbreak—you can rejoice in the fact that you are God’s child and that He is in complete control and that He will provide for your every need. The child of God who truly rejoices in the Lord experiences real joy.
We also discovered that rejoicing is for the follower of Christ. This may seem obvious but rejoicing in the Lord is for Christians—you can’t rejoice in the Lord unless you are a faithful follower of Christ. And one of the by-products of faithfully following Christ will be that you rejoice in the Lord. This isn’t to say that all Christians rejoice in the Lord. Some of us may have realized last week that we need to work on this rejoicing in the Lord—or maybe you’ve known you need to work on this for some time. But if you struggle with this, part of being an obedient follower of Christ is that you may need to make an effort to rejoice in the Lord. And as you begin to rejoice in the fact that God is in control and that you are His child and as you follow Christ and enjoy Him you’ll find that rejoicing in the Lord will come naturally—it will flow from your life.
We also learned that rejoicing is crucial. It’s important for us to rejoice because it’s protects us from complaining and arguing. Rejoicing in the Lord protects us from being dissatisfied with where we are and what we have. Rejoicing in the Lord will protect you from dissatisfaction with your spouse, your children, your job, your car or your home. You name it—rejoicing in the Lord will protect you from discontentment in life and will empower you for faithful service to Christ. Rejoicing in the Lord will make you a powerful witness for the cause of Christ because contentment is something that is uncommon in this world in which we live.
With that third point—that rejoicing is crucial—we discussed that Paul made the statement that it was no trouble for him to write the same things to them or to remind them of what they had already been told because it was actually for their benefit and for their protection that he remind them. That’s why we gather here every week to hear God’s Word taught and proclaimed. Though many of us have been under the teaching of God’s Word for years we still need to be reminded and encouraged with the truth. It is good for us. It’s necessary.
And as we discussed last week and we just noted, a follower of Christ will rejoice in the Lord. That’s an identifying characteristic of a faithful follower of Christ.
As we continue in Philippians 3 today I want you to see that there are some other important identifying characteristics of a true follower of Christ of which Paul speaks.
But Paul first begins by helping the Philippian believers understand what a true follower of Christ will look like by warning them about what he or she won’t look like.
We’ll be looking at verses 2 and 3 today but let’s begin with Philippians 3:1 for context.
1 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. 2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,
In verse 2 Paul begins with the phrase, beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation. His warning is clear. Beware of your opponent. A Christian maturing in their faith will also be growing in their discernment about false teachers and those who would seek to do them harm and lead them astray.
Paul uses descriptive language here to help the Philippian believers to recognize those who are false teachers.
Paul is telling the Philippian believers how to recognize the opposition. Back in Philippians 1:27-28 Paul warned them about the opposition.
27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.
Beware of dogs kind of reminds us of the sign your neighbor uses to warn you about his aggressive dog. Now we know why Paul said in verse one that it was for their own good that he remind them of things he’d already mentioned.
This is the first of three terms Paul uses to describe those who were opposing the gospel—they were false teachers.
Dogs here refers to the kind of dogs that were like wild scavengers that ran in packs and were even known to attack humans on occasion. By using the term dogs Paul is comparing these kinds of people to the dogs we see described in several Old Testament passages. 1 Samuel 17:43 notes that the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” Psalm 22:16 says, For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; 1 Kings 16:4 talks about the people that die in the city being eaten by dogs. These are not your average, friendly, fun-loving puppies.
Paul also seems to be using this word dogs with an interesting twist. Jews in Biblical times used the word dogs as a form of contempt for Gentiles. So Paul, a Jew, turns this favorite phrase of the Jews for the Gentiles and uses it to describe these Jewish false teachers.
Wow—what a mean thing to call someone—a dog. That’s not very politically correct. I mean—aren’t we supposed to be tolerant of everyone’s opinion? But wait—Paul doesn’t stop there—there’s more. He also calls them evil workers and the mutilation or those who mutilate the flesh (ESV).
Some might say this is inappropriate and unloving. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation—some would say that’s not nice, that’s not loving or tolerant.
But is it unloving and inappropriate to point out doctrinal error? I don’t believe it is. God’s Word teaches us that Christians are to speak the truth in love. Truth and love go together and we’re learning here that Christians need to be able to identify false doctrine. Not all believers are going to recognize false doctrine. That is why Paul says it is good to be reminded. We each need to grow in and learn God’s Word so we know the truth and recognize the truth and that which is not truth.
And this is what Paul is warning the Philippian believers about when he says they are to beware of the evil workers. These false teachers took great pride in their external works—which they equated to righteousness—but they were in reality evil workers. They put their faith in their works. You might think, “but God’s Word tells us that faith without works is dead. So isn’t this a good thing that they had faith and works?”
Let’s understand that good works is evidence of your faith. But you do not earn your faith by your good works. You do not earn God’s acceptance by performing good works. But that’s the way these false teachers saw it. They performed good works so that they could gain acceptance by God.
These false teachers are also described by Paul as the mutilation. These false teachers were teaching that circumcision was essential to salvation.
Paul states that circumcision of itself is only a mutilation! The true Christian has experienced a spiritual circumcision in Christ (Col. 2:11), and does not need any fleshly operations. Circumcision, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, tithing, or any other religious practice cannot save a person from his sins. Only faith in Jesus Christ can do that. 1
After describing the false teachers and warning the Philippians to steer clear of them Paul goes on to describe a true believer. In verse 3 we see that the circumcision which refers to true believers are those who bear three identifying characteristics. True believers worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ and have no confidence in the flesh.
So first Paul tells the Philippian believer that true Christians worship God in the Spirit. Worship flows from the life of the true believer and it is the power of the Holy Spirit living in the believer that enables worship.
Look at John 4:19-24 where Jesus talks about worship.
John 4:19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Worship isn’t dependent on the location. If you are faithfully following Christ you will worship God. Worship will flow from your life and whether you worship or not won’t be dependant upon where you are. You don’t have to be in a beautiful cathedral. You don’t have to be in a special place. It’s the heart that matters. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, worship flows from the life of a believer.
A true believer worships God in the Spirit and a true believer also rejoices in Christ Jesus or as the NASB glories in Christ Jesus. The idea is that all the credit and glory goes to Jesus Christ in the life of a believer. This was clearly true in the life of Paul. Listen to his words in a couple of other passages.
1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Galatians 6:14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
All the glory and honor belong to Jesus Christ. We have nothing to boast about except for Him. That is why a true believer puts no confidence in the flesh.
One commentator puts it this way,
In broad terms, flesh is anything apart from Christ on which one bases his hope for salvation.2 A true Christian understands that nothing he can do will merit salvation. God saves sinners not because of anything they’ve done but He saves sinners because of His grace. If it did depend on us we’d be hopelessly doomed.
We’ve looked this morning at the difference between what a believer isn’t (in the false teachers) and true believers. There are many churches and religions today that teach false doctrine. There are many churches today that believe good works earn you favor with God. But salvation is not based on anything we can do. We cannot perform a list of good works to earn our way into heaven. We don’t need to depend on our own efforts to reach God. God provides salvation through His grace and our salvation doesn’t depend on our works but it is dependent on our belief in Jesus Christ.
This is how Romans 4:5 describes this thought.
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
Salvation is God’s gift.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior? God offers us the precious gift of eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and if we trust in Him we can have eternal life. Have you accepted His wonderful gift or have you been trying to reach God on your own efforts? Have you realized yet that trying to gain God’s acceptance based on your works is futile?
We’re going to share in a nice meal together shortly. Then we have an afternoon service planned to focus on our thanksgiving and gratitude to God. We’ve been looking at false teachers, false Christians, this morning and true believers. For those of you who have believed in Jesus Christ it’s a great reminder of what you have been given in Jesus Christ. You have been given the gift of salvation by God’s grace. That is the greatest gift anyone can ever receive. It’s the biggest reason we have to be thankful this Thanksgiving season.
If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ this morning, let your heart be filled with thankfulness for the work He has done in your life and for the precious gift of salvation. Thank Him for dying for you and saving you from your sins. Let Him be the focus of your heart and mind as you gather with friends and family this week. What a truly blessed Thanksgiving we can have as believers. For those who know Jesus Christ it isn’t just about turkey and football and getting together with loved ones. It’s about understanding the precious gift of salvation we’ve been given and it’s about giving him all the glory and credit for all He has done.
Make Christ the center of your celebration this week. Let your heart overflow with thankfulness for all that God has graciously done for you.
1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. “An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ‘BE’ series”–Jkt. (Php 3:7). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
2 New Testament Commentary, Philippians, William Hendriksen, Baker Book House 1977, p 153