Devotional # 130. 3/30/15. Philippians 3:2-6.
Intro. We spent all of last week on verse 1, talking about what it meant to “rejoice in the Lord.”
Paul was honest that trials would come but there would be “joy” in them and that if we put Christ first then we would recognize that true joy comes from Him. And do you remember that Paul reminded us that it wasn’t “tedious” for him to tell us to “rejoice in the Lord”? We learn by repetition so the more times that we hear it the more of a chance there is that it will sink in. And he said that if we do “rejoice in the Lord” for us we will be “safe“, I said that it was tied to verse 2, now we’ll see why…
v. 2. We’ll be “safe” since there are “dogs, evil workers, and mutilation.” Before we even dig into the verse we get the point, we have our conclusion. It is that “rejoicing in the Lord” is what will get us through the evil that will inevitably come at us.
“Dogs” was what Jews called Gentiles so Paul was making a pretty impactful comment when he used “this word against these Jewish-influenced legalists.” Understanding that “the herds of dogs which prowl about Eastern cities, without a home and without an owner, feeding on the refuse and filth of the streets, quarreling among themselves, and attacking the passer-by, explain the applications of the image” (Source 1). Do you remember when we started Galatians (Devotional # 87) I talked about Paul dealing with people who wanted to add things on to Jesus? The Judaizers were famous for teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation and “prided themselves on being workers of righteousness” (Source 2), as we’ll see next…
The Judaizers that Paul called “evil workers” commended themselves on righteous acts but Paul says they were the opposite. This is because they were teaching that you could please God by your own efforts (Source 2).
“The mutilation” is a reference to the contract between true circumcision and pointless mutilation. We’ll talk more about this in a second but spiritually the Judaizers were missing the point so their actual circumcision was simply physical marring. Their hearts were just disfigured instead of cutting off the sin. The idea can be seen graphically in 1 Kings when the prophets of Baal mutilate themselves trying to please their god (Source 2).
In short these are people who want to add to Jesus. Jesus isn’t good enough on His own – His way of forgiveness is too simple. So they add to Him. “Jesus plus circumcision” or “Jesus plus works” etc. (Source 3).
v. 3. This verse is brilliant or confusing depending upon your understanding of the Old Testament and the New Testament. If you don’t understand that Paul ultimately means spiritual “circumcision” here then it will be confusing. When Paul says that “we are the circumcision” he means “of the heart” from Jeremiah 4:4. The reason this verse is brilliant is because he’s saying that he has no “confidence in the flesh“. So Paul doesn’t put any stock in what has or hasn’t been done in the flesh, that isn’t a make or break thing for being a good Christian, as it was for being a legalistic Jew. And we don’t have confidence in our fleshly desires or our emotions or our human way of thinking. But how do we apply this to our life? If we don’t have “confidence in the flesh” but do have a circumcised “heart” –what does that look like?
Note that again we are told to “rejoice in Christ Jesus” (just as we were told to “rejoice in the Lord” in v. 1).
v. 4. Paul explains here that if anyone has a reason to be prideful according to the things that they have done it would be him. He’s not speaking philosophically, or about theories – he’s lived it. He goes through his credentials according to religion. This can be a very helpful section when dealing with someone who is legalistic or very religious but doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus.
vv. 5-6. Paul lists as his credentials:
“Circumcised the eighth day“. This was based on Genesis 17:12; 21:4 and Leviticus 12:3. There was nothing wrong with this. Just like most Hebrew boys at that time, Jesus was also circumcised on the “eighth day” according to Luke 2:21. Paul is starting off at the earliest timeline of his life, stating that according to the Law he was blameless since as early as possible he had held to every requirement. It’s a great way to start especially because we see that none of these things were wrong (other than “persecuting the church”). It’s not that someone who was this religious was too far away from being saved but instead that being so religious doesn’t automatically get someone into heaven.
“Of the stock of Israel“. In order to be considered of pure descent someone had to prove they were of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Paul could do that and his racism and pride allowed him to look down on anyone that didn’t have the pedigree that he did.
“Of the tribe of Benjamin“. As you know there were 12 tribes of Israel. Each one was given a promise and identification (see Genesis chapter 49). The tribe of “Benjamin” was “elite” and “along with Judah, remained loyal to the Davidic dynasty and formed the southern kingdom (1 Kin. 12:21)” (Source 2).
“Hebrew of the Hebrews“. Again, this has to do with Paul’s pedigree that so many put (and continue to put) importance in. He “was born to Hebrew parents and maintained the Hebrew tradition and language, even while living in a pagan city (cf. Acts 21:40; 23:6; 26:5)” (Source 2). The word “Hebrew” was first used in Gen. 14:13 about Abraham.
“Concerning the law, a Pharisee“. The Pharisees were “legalistic fundamentalists” (Source 2) making many additional laws from the laws God had given. They started out with good intentions of keeping to the Law but became so immersed in it that they created huge burdens for the average person while they were viewed as perfect and held on a pedestal. Paul was one of those who were essentially a celebrity yet hypocritical. For more on what it was like to be a Pharisee and what the requirements were, see this link: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12087-pharisees .
“Concerning zeal, persecuting the church“. Obviously by this point Paul wasn’t proud of persecuting the church that he was now part of but it does show his commitment to his religion. He believed so strongly in what he was doing and that it was God’s will that he imprisoned and killed Christians (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1).
“Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless“. Paul concludes that when it came to his outward appearance he was “blameless” in the eye of the Law. There wasn’t an Israeli jury that would have found him guilty of breaking any Old Testament law. But, like all of us, Paul’s eternity wouldn’t be judged by a jury of his peers but by the Great Judge. According to the “flesh” he was the model Hebrew but according to God he was a proud, covetous murderer.
Conclusion. As we believers go through the trials Jesus has promised us we will go through do we accept them with “joy”? Or have we gotten caught up in our own religion? Do we take consolation in that? Are we king or queen of the hill we created? Just like Proverbs 25:27 says “…to seek one’s own glory is not glory.” Do we take selfish pride in our heritage or our sarcasm or education or our wisdom or our righteousness? Have we created a religion that stands on a foundation of excuses and compromise? I suggest you step down from that throne and have Jesus lead you to His throne where He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).
Source 1: Guzik, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Phl/Phl_3.cfm?a=1106002 . The first quote is by Guzik; the second was by Lightfoot, quoted by Guzik.
Source 2: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1825.
Source 3: Sermon from Troy VanderWende on 5/30/10.