Philippians 3: 1-10
3 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the [a]false circumcision; 3 for we are the true [b]circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and take pride in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself could boast as having confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he is confident in the flesh, I have more reason:5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss [c]in view of the surpassing value of [d]knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, [e]for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and [f]the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
“Confidence is something that comes from believing. The Apostle Paul was a person of confidence. He wasn’t always right, but he was absolutely sure about his experience with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In chapter 2:19-30, Paul had written about his hope to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to these Philippians. Timothy, because he was the only one who was “one souled,” a “kindred spirit,” and in whom he felt would genuinely care for their welfare. Epaphroditus because the Philippians were worried and sorrowful in hearing that he was very sick. Paul had sorrow upon sorrow (27) and wanted them to rejoice at his return. So, in expressing his hope in sending these men to these people he loved so deeply in Philippi, Paul laid before them two men as examples. Men who denied themselves for the sake of others and the gospel! Men who had the “attitude of Christ” as mentioned in 2:5-8.
In our text this morning, Paul, in love and with patience, reminds these believers (wants them to understand) of the danger of those who preach Christ plus anything for salvation. Nothing, as we will see in a bit, according to the inspired word of God, brings the righteousness that saves and justifies except faith in Christ Jesus alone. We will also observe that the justified Christian, saved by faith, then perseveres, by that faith, in pursuing Christlikeness, knowing that he
will not attain it in this life but certainly will in the one to come.
Paul begins this part of his letter by encouraging them to be “joyful Christians.” Don’t miss that he says, “rejoice in the Lord” (vs.1). He wants them to be joyful no matter what happens in their lives, good or bad. Considering what he is about to warn them of (False teachers in verse 2), Paul wants them to understand that rejoicing in the Lord should be a constant reality in the life of a believer, no matter what their circumstances.
Paul seems to write these words as a reminder of things he had previously told them. Perhaps he speaks of what he told them about in 1: 27-30 (their opponents, the conflict). It seems that false teachers, the Judaizers, were in their midst trying to lead these folks into a works-based system -faith in Christ (plus) being circumcised- faith in Christ (plus) following the Law. However, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of these believers turning back. But they were struggling with this false teaching in their midst.
So, with that false teaching before us, let’s dig in and listen to our man Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and what the Holy Spirit divinely led him to write down in this letter.
Put no confidence in the flesh (2-7)
Verses 2 and 3 reveal a H-U-G-E contrast between what is true and false concerning Circumcision. Paul here calls those who teach a false circumcision some pretty degrading names, doesn’t he? I mean, dogs, evil workers, the false Circumcision are pretty pointed, no holds barred, adjectives in describing these people who are seeking to lead these folks astray.
The word used here for dogs is not that of our everyday household pet, in which we think of loving, joyful companionship, but of the prowling wild dogs of that day, without a home or owner. They were scavengers, and they were vicious, attacking everyone who passed them by. So, in using these terms, Paul refers to the false teachers who boasted in their religion, who trusted in their human attainments (instead) than divine atonement. They had a works-based religion, and so they perverted the gospel by adding something else to the justifying blood of Christ.
They were evil and manifested it through their false teaching. They were “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” as Jesus said in Matthew. 7:15. Paul refers to these people as not being a part of the “true” Circumcision (vs.3), but instead classifies them as a part of the “concision,” as those merely mutilated. Listen as I read from Paul’s other writings to help clarify this for us.
28 “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is Circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and Circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God (Romans 2:28-29).”
9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made [a]complete, and He is the head [b]over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the Circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians . 2:9-11).
And herein lies the fundamental problem of such false teaching! In the Bible’s view, Circumcision is a divine work of God in the hearts of men, NOT an external rite to be observed. This was and (is) a severe issue for the church. This teaching that faith alone cannot save you. See, soon after the gospel began to spread among the Gentiles, some Jewish men who also claimed to believe in Christ began teaching the Gentile converts that they could not be saved unless they also were circumcised according to the Law of Moses (see Acts 15:1). They did not deny that a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, (but) they added to faith in Christ the keeping of the Jewish Law, especially Circumcision, as necessary for salvation.
The issue was debated and resolved in Jerusalem at a council of the church leaders, where it was decided that Gentiles do not have to become Jews or be circumcised to be saved; but that every person, Jew or Gentile, is saved by grace through faith in Christ alone (Acts 15:1-29).
But that decision did not cause Satan to give up his efforts to pervert the truth of the gospel. He continued to work through a group of men known as Judaizers. They followed Paul on his missionary journeys, infiltrating the new churches and teaching their (subtle error) that faith in Christ was not sufficient if a person did not also keep the Law, especially Circumcision. Paul wrote Galatians to refute this error. He contends there that these men were preaching a false gospel, and he states, rather pointedly, that those who so pervert the true gospel should be accursed, anathema (Galatians . 1:6-9).
The Judaizers are the men Paul is warning the Philippian church about in our text. The three terms in 3:2, “dogs, evil workers, and false circumcision,” all refer to one group, the Judaizers, who were promoting a counterfeit Christianity.
While the Judaizers no longer exist under that name, the core of their teaching is still quite prevalent. And that makes our text this morning extremely important in helping us discern what true Christianity is – – and to reject any counterfeit version.
So beware of having confidence in the flesh for salvation (v. 3).
To sum this up, one commentator says: “Circumcision has no spiritual value in itself. There were those who followed the Law, but had (no heart) for God. They substituted Circumcision for the new birth, and rested in the rite (without the reality), and trusted in the sign without having the (substance) (which is Christ).”
Where is your confidence resting? Most likely, it’s not in Circumcision as we are reading here. But if you are hoping to be “good enough,” you are trusting in the same system as these people Paul is exposing. You are trusting in your own righteousness, works-based righteousness, not Christ’s. You may also be in a place where you believe in Jesus. You believe He can save you, BUT you also have to follow this or that rule, eat or not eat certain things, observe this or that particular day for God to welcome you into His heaven. All of these things cannot make you any more acceptable to God. Only one thing, one person, can do that -Jesus Christ!
So, where is your heart today? What may you be substituting or adding to faith in Jesus Christ alone? Are you resting in some sort of rule or rite to save you while lacking the substance of God’s salvation, Jesus Christ?
In these verses (2-3), Paul is contrasting those who place confidence in the flesh and those who put NO confidence in the flesh for salvation. So, let’s look at the opposing side of the contrast for just a bit.
If the “false circumcision,” or false believers walk by faith plus works, how does the “true circumcision,” or true believers live?
Read again with me verse 3-6
- True believers have NO confidence in the flesh!
Paul cannot make it anymore clear. Notice the contrasts between- true and false and placing confidence in the flesh and putting no confidence in the flesh in these verses! Paul now is presenting the “true” position of a biblical Christian. Those who believe in Christ alone for their salvation are the “true” Circumcision! They have received a divine circumcision of the heart, something spiritual not physical-inward, not outward—as one has said: “a reality, not a rite.”
They worship in the Spirit of God. In other words, they worship and serve their savior by the power and aid of the Holy Spirit, who indwells them. This type of worship, this type of service, is sacred and inward, not regulated by various rules or traditions.
They “glory in Christ Jesus.” That is their satisfaction, their joy, their strength, and hope is found in Christ alone. In awe and humility, they marvel and find Him worthy of any sacrifice (because of) His sacrifice for them on the cross. They “put NO confidence in the flesh.” The word for flesh is (Sarx), and it refers to what man is outside of Christ. I quote Homer Kent: “Outside of Christ sinful man has no grounds for confidence before God, because man unaided is powerless to achieve righteousness before God. The true believer, however, puts all his trust in Christ and so removes any grounds for human pride or boasting.”
And that is what Paul is expressing in verses 4-7. If anyone had grounds to boast in the flesh, it was Paul, not these false teachers. Read again with me what he says.
Paul was circumcised on the eighth day or when he was eight days old. He followed in the footsteps of John the Baptist (Luke 1:59) and Jesus Himself (Luke 2:21). Why? Because there was a covenant given and the sign of that covenant was Circumcision, something that came directly from God (Genesis 17:9-14).
He was a pure-blooded citizen of Israel, and he did not purchase the right. He was a member of the Pharisees who demanded the strictest obedience to the Jewish Law and get this, in it, in that observance, he obeyed without fault. In other words, he was blameless. Paul was a zealot and persecuted the Christians because he thought he was doing God’s work.
Paul thinks upon all his human achievements, his pedigree, his zeal, his righteousness. He comes to the divinely given understanding that all that he lived for in pursuit of being “good enough,” or meriting divine favor is all worthless. It has no value. Years and years of pursuing a righteousness of his own fall to the ground as garbage! But notice what he says next: (7) “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.”
Friends, no matter how good you think you are, you’re not good enough to get into God’s heaven. No matter your pedigree, religious background, or zealous efforts, it’s all of no value if you do not have Jesus as your savior.
Paul is teaching that:
The greatest danger we face is not the changing world around us which can only affect us outwardly. Personal finances can change, but that only raises or lowers our standard of living. The decline of social morality may make it more challenging to live a holy life, but it can not change who we are. The political climate can vary, but that will only increase or decrease governments’ intrusion into the daily business of life. Even if direct persecution comes upon us in the future, that can not change our eternal destiny. What is most dangerous to us are those things that can affect us internally.
One commentator put it this way: “Sin is deceitful itself, but self righteousness is the most deceptive of all sin because it gives you the illusion that you are doing what is right and true and good before God, yet the whole time you are an abomination to Him. Consider the Scribes and Pharisees. We have often spoken against them, but by most standards, they were good people. They were kind to other Israelites. They taught their children about God and the Law of Moses. They were often generous to the poor. They followed all of the moral rules of their society, and they were zealous for God.
Consider the Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul the Apostle, who writes these things to the Philippians. He says that he persecuted the church out of his zeal for God and that he was blameless according to the righteousness found in the Law according to the Pharisees (Phil 3). He was sincere and zealous in his pursuit of what he thought was pleasing to God, yet he was wrong – dead wrong, and except for God’s extraordinary saving grace, he would have died as (sinful Saul) rather than (holy Paul), the servant of God made righteous by Jesus Christ.”
Our confidence can only be in one place, and that is:
In The Son (Jesus) (8-10)
Paul says, everything he lived for, even though much of it was good things within a proper context, is worthless because of what Jesus Christ has done. Jesus paid the debt he owed (Col. 2:14), He was the “total” and complete satisfaction (propitiation), 1 John 2:2. It was His finished work on the cross that appeased God the Father, that enabled us as sinners to regain God’s favor and not suffer His wrath against our sin because Christ suffered it for us!
In verse 9, Paul says that when Christ Jesus opened his mind to understanding, he understood that no matter how good he thought he was, no matter how many good things he has done, his supposed “goodness,” was not good enough. He needed something outside of himself, he needed an”imputed” righteousness, a goodness or righteousness that is credited to sinners based on the finished atoning work of God’s one and only son, Jesus!
Folks, “this is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be a sacrifice to take away our sin (1 John 4:10).” “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God THROUGH Christ (2Corinthians . 5:21)!”
The word “righteousness,” in our day, has lost its meaning to many people. Even Christians are confused about what righteousness is and how to receive it.
A layman’s definition of righteousness is “right standing with God.”
Righteousness is the condition of being in a right relationship with the Lord. This can only happen through TOTAL faith and dependence upon Christ. There is no other way, and we can add nothing to obtain a right relationship with the Lord (Romans . 11:6).
One of the things that blind people to a proper understanding of righteousness is confusion about how we become right in the sight of God. Righteousness is a gift that comes from the Lord to those who accept what Jesus has done for them by faith (Rom. 5:17-18). The gift of salvation produces a changed heart that, in turn, changes our actions. Actions cannot change our hearts. It’s the heart of man that God looks upon (1 Sam. 16:7), and we must be righteous in our hearts to truly worship God (John 4:24).
The Bible instructs us on what genuine salvation is: those who put their faith in Jesus and what He did for them get what they deserve. On the other hand, those who do not put their total faith in Christ will ultimately get what they deserve. That is not what they want. Religion has subtly instructed people to trust in their goodness instead of God’s. This will never work. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans . 3:23).
Jesus was in right relationship with God as no one else can be. He is the Son of God. He is God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy . 3:16). He is holy and pure and without sin, yet He became sin for us (2 Corinthians . 5:21) through no wrongdoing on His part. He took our sin in His own body on the cross (1 Peter . 2:24). And as was read earlier in our scripture reading: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah . 53:4-5).
In return for Jesus taking upon Himself your sin, those who put their faith in Him get His righteousness instead of their own. It’s not our actions that make us acceptable to the Father. It’s our trust in Jesus that imparts the righteousness of Christ into our regenerated hearts that makes us in right standing with God.
Listen to our man Paul, the Apostle, Paul says that righteousness is a gift that God gives to those who have faith in His son (8-9). “But Paul does not stop there. Having died and risen with Christ, he wants to go on and “experience” in reality, in his life here on this earth, what this means—death to sin and selfish desires, and a new life of constant victory through the living power of the risen Christ within him. He is encouraged to keep moving towards this goal by his knowledge that final victory over sin, suffering and death is certain, when Christ returns for His own (Bridgeway).”
Friends, if you were camping or at a bonfire, and you were to place a dried leaf into the fire, what would happen? You would notice that the fire immediately would consume the leaf in a matter of seconds. The fire must consume the leaf because of its very nature. Even if the fire did not want to consume the leaf, it wouldn’t matter, it still must consume it because their natures are opposed to one another.
Deuteronomy 4:24 of the OT and Hebrews 12:29 of the NT describe God as a consuming fire. By His very nature God must consume anything and everything that opposes His nature. You must, dear friend, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, or you will be consumed by the ever-pure burning holiness of the King of kings. He will act in justice and give to each one what they deserve. Please do not go another day without forsaking your own perceived notions of righteousness and turning to Jesus, who for “the joy set before Him endured the cross,” so that you may have peace with God through Him.
Dear reader, I agree with Paul in his statement in verse 1. Reminders are very beneficial to us and often needed. So, I hope this post has been a powerful reminder to you of the incredible victory that was accomplished for us on the cross by our Lord Jesus Christ.
I also hope it proves to be a safeguard to you as you listen to audio sermons, watch TV, and read books from others professing Christ. That you would, as Paul writes in Romans 12:9, “abhors what is evil and cling to what is good.”
False teachers and teaching should not be taken lightly. Not only will they slowly and subtly lead you astray from sound teaching, But (souls are at stake) as well! People’s eternities are at stake. People you know and love need you to be above reproach and steadfast in your understanding and application of sound doctrine.
So, let us, as Paul, discard everything else so that we can gain Christ and know Him more wholly! Amen