Paul says at the beginning of Philippians 3, look including part of the letter, that it is no trouble for him to remind the Philippians of what he’s about to say. And Ilove this part–Paul does not mind reminding them. Don’t you wish as parents that you didn’t remind your children about the same things over and over again? Sometimes it’s exhausting, but then we have to remember it’s for their protection!
He said its good for them if no trouble for me, and it’s a safeguard for them. There’s always a danger in thinking that you understand everything that there is to know about the basics of the Bible, and therefore you don’t need to hear it anymore. You may feel that you can take off from church, or the there’s no need for a small group or a Bible study. What Paul says here is a theme they goes all through scripture. Nothing is simply this, we must not forget the things that God has taught us. We need continual reminders about the faithfulness of God, the Covenant that he is establish with his people, and how he intends to work through his church. All you need to do is go back to Deuteronomy 8:11-20. Over and over, as they go into the promised land, Moses reminds them not to forget. Never let your joy in Christ slide. So he begins with the outside.
He brings us reminders in the form of three “look outs.” “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2). These dogs are not like Fido by the fireplace, but rather wild animals and scavengers. In fact, the Jews often called the Gentiles ‘dogs,’ now Paul a former a Jew called these Judaizers ‘dogs.’ These ‘evildoers,’ or evil workers (polar opposite of what Paul referred to Epaphroditus as) and leading people away from the grace of God into works in order to find his approval. No!
The “mutilators” helps clarify who these folks are: co-opting Christ with the law of Moses, saying you’re saved by doing law of Moses along with faith in Christ, mainly by having to undergo circumcision. It was through this covenant given to Abraham that the Jews displayed on the outside that they were part of the faith. This was not simply a sanctified surgery. Nick Batzig clarifies this: “It was in a very real sense a Divine tattoo. There was a permanency about it that would serve as a constant reminder of the covenantal promises of God. But, it was a sign. It pointed away from itself to something else.” Paul saw these folks trying to enslave and take backwards believers or soon-to-be believers backwards to something that intended to point to Christ—not as an end in itself.
So when Paul says, “We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ and put no confidence in the flesh,” he means that the reminder comes from the permanency not of what happens in the flesh, but of what Christ has done in cutting the influence of the ‘flesh’ away. Paul wrote to the Roman church:
28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Here we get to motives: why do we do what we do for Christ and His church? The two things that these Judaizers bragged about here, as Matthew Harmon writes, pedigree and performance. And so Paul tells them, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” Is Paul bragging here? No, as we will see soon. Paul is making a point about what he has that’s more than any of them—but soon we will see how unhelpful and even detrimental this is to being right before God.
- Circumcised on the eighth day: a covenant from Genesis 17 to Abraham. An outward sign of an inward covenant. Didn’t come later like it did to many of them—shows them that he had parents who were faithful. Pedigree.
- Of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin: Benjamin, along with Joseph, was a favored son of Jacob due to both of those boys coming from the wife he truly loved, Rachel. From Benjamin also came their first king, Saul.
- Hebrew of Hebrews: both parents were Hebrews.
- Law, a Pharisee: part of the spiritual elite. Careful study and practice of the law. Conservatives of the day. Distinguishing Jew from Gentile.
- Zeal, persecutor of the church: Paul (known by his Jewish name Saul) held the coats of those who stoned righteous Stephen at the end of Acts 7, and in Acts 8 he began his spree of jailing and killing Christians.
- Righteousness to the law, blameless: that is, no one could ever accuse him from what they saw that he ever disobeyed the law.
These Judaizers wished they could have any one of these traits. Paul had it all. Pedigree. Performance. And with that, prestige. But for what? What was his motive? More to point, what is our motive? Why do you do what you do for Christ and His church?
Nicolas Batzig, The Circumcision of Christ. Available: http://feedingonchrist.com/the-circumcision-of-christ/.