Summary: Message expounds Philippians 3:1-7 explaining the problem of Legalism as defined by the New Testament. The ceremonial law in the Old Covenant was fulfilled in Christ and is not required of believers. The moral law is reiterated in the New Covenant.
We are in a study of Philippians. Our text today is Philippians 3:1-7. Last week we talked from that text about the value of warnings. God warns us because He loves us. Like a loving parent He guides us away from danger into a meaningful life of blessings. To despise God’s warnings is one of the most foolish things any human being can do. Embrace his guidance and you will be glad you did.
Follow with me as we read Philippians 3:1-7 from the New International Version.
“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”i
In the second sentence of this passage, what are “the same things” that Paul is repeating? Some scholars think he is referring to the exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord!”ii Paul certainly repeats that often. But given the overall thrust of the passage, Paul is probably referring to the warning that he is introducing. Also, that makes more sense with the statement that “it is a safeguard for you.”iii The warning that I’m giving you is for your protection. I don’t mind repeating it because I care about your wellbeing. “It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” It is something Paul has warned about before and will continue to warn against it. The purpose of the warning is to “safeguard” or protect them from a particular deception.
In 3:2 Paul specifically names his concern, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.” Paul is referring to Judaizes. Judaizers were Jews who claimed Christianity but required all Christians to observe the Jewish ceremonies, especially circumcision.iv Paul is especially focused on their insistence of Gentile Christians being circumcised. But the problem was not limited to circumcision. They wanted all Christians to observe the Jewish traditions. They rejected Paul’s message of salvation by faith alone. For them righteousness is still based on keeping the Law. Circumcision is the focus because it was the most important marker of the people of God. If this primary requirement were not required, it naturally followed that the other ceremonial rules would not be required either. Paul is opposing their legalistic insistence that believers follow the Jewish traditions in the Old Testament.
Paul uses three terms to identify the people he is warning them about.
First, he refers to them as “dogs.” That was an extremely derogatory term in Paul’s day. The significance of that is somewhat lost in our culture. We Americans love our dogs, cats, and other pets. We will spend an estimated $ 99 billion on pets this year.v But in that culture dogs were scavengers. They were low-life animals that ate garbage. They were vicious and dangerous, especially in packs. The Jews considered them unclean. The Jews sometimes called Gentiles “dogs.” Here Paul turns the tables on these Jews and refers to them as dogs.
The Judaizers claimed to be standing for righteousness, but Paul calls them “evildoers.” They have rejected or minimized God’s provision of righteousness through Jesus’s death on the cross. They may claim to be Christians, but their faith is not fully in what Jesus did. Their faith is in what they can do as well. Paul deals with this error extensively in his letter to the Galatians because those believers had already been influenced by this deception. In Galatians 2:21 Paul wrote, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” If we could attain righteousness through our own efforts, it would not have been necessary for Christ to die as a sacrifice for our sin. If we could become righteous by keeping the law, His death would be for nothing. But we cannot keep the law.vi We cannot measure up to God’s standard. Therefore, we all need Christ. Our only hope of salvation is His sacrifice. We must put the FULL WEIGHT of our faith on His work at Calvary, not in our own works—not partly on our own works and partly on Christ’s work on the cross.vii