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Scripture reading – Philippians 3; Philippians 4
Our study of Philippians concludes with our Scripture reading, Philippians 3 and 4. Now, the closing verses of chapter 2 revealed the occasion of Paul’s letter. Paul wrote, “I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus…your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants” (2:25). Epaphroditus, a member of the church in Philippi, had come to Rome as a “messenger” for that congregation, and ministered to Paul on their behalf during his imprisonment.
Though he had faithfully discharged his ministry to Paul, he had taken ill, and in the apostle’s words, “was sick nigh unto death” (2:27). Not even the apostle was empowered to heal a fellow servant apart from God’s will and intervention. In other words, in this sin-cursed world, sickness will occasion the life of the most faithful servants of the Lord.
Rejoicing in God’s mercy, Epaphroditus was healed and returned to Philippi with Paul’s letter (2:28), and his commendation of the man as one they should “ receive…in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation” (2:29). Paul was forward in his observation, how Epaphroditus nearly worked himself to death, making up for the insufficient service of other members of the church at Philippi (2:30). (Interesting, but the age-old problem of 10% of the membership doing 90% of the work is as old as the church itself.)
Arguably typical of many preachers (including this author), Paul began the conclusion of his letter prematurely, and wrote, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (3:1). Epaphroditus’ return would give cause for his fellow-believers to not only “rejoice in the Lord,” but literally, “keep on rejoicing in the Lord!” (3:1). Yet, as soon as he called believers to rejoice, he issued a dire warning:
Beware of joy robbers! (3:2)
Who were the joy robbers of the 1st century church? Paul identified them with three epithets: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision” (3:2). Dogs, evil workers, and the concision were false teachers and fake believers that were in the midst of the congregation. Let us briefly consider those enemies of believers.
Paul wrote, “Beware of dogs” (3:2). Unlike our culture, which dotes on dogs as four-footed friends and furry companions, the dogs of the 1st century were unclean, wild pests that ran in packs. The Jews of the 1stcentury considered Gentiles unclean dogs, for they did not follow the Torah (God’s Word). The prophet Isaiah described false prophets as “dumb dogs,” and “greedy dogs” (Isaiah 56:10-11). They were greedy of riches, and guilty of teaching lies, giving some a sense of false security.
There was a second group in the congregation whom Paul identified as “evil workers” (3:2). They were “workers,” fellow laborers, perhaps prominent leaders and teachers in the congregation; however, they lacked integrity. They were “evil,” indicating their character was dishonest, insincere, immoral, and wicked men. Tragically, such personalities earn a following of the naïve, and pose a danger to fellow-believers.
Thirdly, Paul warned, “Beware of the concision” (3:2c). The concision were Judaizers, and preached a strict conformity to Jewish customs and practices, and in particular the observance of circumcision. They demanded believers of Gentile origin be circumcised to merit God’s favor. Their influence caused some to lose faith that God’s grace was sufficient for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Circumcision of the Heart: Three Characteristics of Genuine Believers (3:3)
Lest any be tempted to place their faith in anything other than Christ for salvation, Paul declared, “3For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (3:3). That was an astonishing statement to those of Hebrew lineage. Beginning with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14), physical circumcision served as an outward sign of an inward settled faith in God’s promises. Yet, physical circumcision was insufficient without the circumcision of the heart (identified with God’s grace, and set apart to Him, Acts 15:1-24).
The LORD requires circumcision of the heart and spirit. (3:3-7; note – Romans 2:29)
Paul identified three characteristics of a circumcised heart: “3For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (3:3). Circumcised hearts “worship God in the Spirit” (3:3b). When a believer worships “in the Spirit,” his worship is an act of devotion, out of sincere love for the Lord (John 4:24). Secondly, a circumcised heart will “rejoice in Christ Jesus” (3:3c). We who know Christ as Savior, have no reason to glory in works; our rejoicing is in Christ alone.
Finally, a circumcised heart has “no confidence in the flesh” (3:3d). The Judaizers boasted in the circumcision of the flesh, but Paul overshadowed their boasts with his own lineage, and adherence to the Law and customs of the Jews (3:4-6). Yet, he confessed, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (3:7).
Closing thoughts – The Folly of Self-righteousness (3:7-8)
Paul counted the privilege of his birth (his lineage and tribal heritage), and personal achievements (education, religious zeal, and blameless character) as “loss for Christ” (3:7). He placed his faith in Christ, and declared: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (3:8). Paul forfeited everything that he might attain “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).
To be saved, sinners must accept they have no grounds for confidence in the flesh (Titus 3:5), and cannot merit God’s favor (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our salvation is in the Cross of Christ, His death, burial and resurrection (3:9-10).
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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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