Philippians – Trouble Rears its Head! (Philippians 3:1-11)

Shorter video today:

Just like it looks like Paul is winding down his letter to the Philippian Church, we have an interruption. There aare different ways to look at this interruption and I discuss the problem of the transition from Philippians 3:1 to Philippians 3:2. Whatever the reason for the abrupt change in tone, it’s important to realize that as wonderful a church as the church at Philippi was, that church had problems, too. Sometimes, I hear Christians express a desire to go back to the ways of the early church as if, in some idyllic imagination, the early church was perfect. When you realize that most of the epistles dealt with problems in the churches, you begin to realize that the early church had its problems also. Rejoice in the church you’re involved in now and help draw it closer to Christ as you show God’s love and grace to others.

  1. Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

If you subscribe to the idea that Philippians is actually three letters woven together, this verse is the last verse in the second letter. To put things into perspective, the first letter would be found in the verses we know of as Philippians 4:10-20. According to the three letter idea, this was a thank you note from Paul to the Philippine church thanking them for their support. Why do scholars put this last part first? Philippians 4:18 makes it sound like Epaphroditus has just arrived with the gift from the Philippian church, while in this section we’ve just looked at, Epaphroditus was deathly ill and despaired of his earthly life.

The second letter is found in Philippians 1:1-3:1 with some verses from chapter four possibly coming from the second letter. I won’t spend much time rehashing this letter, since we’ve just spent four weeks looking at it, but it’s a beautiful statement of faith in the face of his imprisonment. (Which could have been at Ephesus instead of Rome. I now lean toward that belief, but I am open to being proven wrong.)

The third letter found in Philippians 3:2-4:1 appears to be an angry outburst from Paul related to those Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision. Paul reminded the Philippians that he had been a Pharisee and looking at the practice of circumcision and following the Law, he considered them as worthless due to the value of knowing Christ.

Those who argue for the idea that this was one letter from the start, would say that Paul was interrupted as he was closing the letter by news about the Judaizers who were trying to bring the fledgling church under the laws of Judaism.

Which brings us back to Philippians 3:1, which looks to be, in either case, the beginning of the close of the letter. (Read 3:1; 4:4-9, 21-23 and see if that makes sense as a closing.) It’s obvious that Paul is planning to wrap up his letter here. Perhaps, “Finally” meant the same thing to Paul that it does to preachers today. (Hint: nothing) If Paul hadn’t heard his verdict yet, which it appears he hadn’t, these might have been planned as his last words to the church at Philippi. What are his last words? “Rejoice in the Lord.” As much as he has told them to rejoice in the Lord before either through examples of how he was rejoicing in prison, talking about how he had joy in the Lord, or encouraging them to rejoice in the Lord, he said it again. He isn’t upset that he had to keep repeating it, telling people to rejoice in the Lord should be an everyday thing for followers of Christ – much like telling your spouse that you love them. I once joked with my wife and told her I was going to tell her that I loved her so often that she would get sick of it. She still hasn’t. As Christians, we should remind each other about having joy in the Lord no matter what the circumstances may be that we think others will get tired of it. Those who have true joy in the Lord will never tire of that.

  1. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

“No more Mr. Nice Guy!” This change in tone makes it sound like either a different letter as noted above, or that Paul got news while he was finishing this letter. In either case, we see that Paul may have rejoiced in the Lord, but he could get angry. He called these people who sought to bring the church under the thrall of the law three things: dogs, evil workers, “concision” as in the party that promotes the belief in the need for circumcision. Calling someone a “dog” or any variation of one has been a pejorative term throughout history including the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 23:18 it appears to describe a male temple prostitute who served the gods of the lands instead of the one, true God. Goliath asked if David considered him to be a dog. By the time of Jesus, the observant Jew used that term to describe the worst people of all: Gentiles. Paul carefully and deliberately turned the word back on those who would seek to inflict the laws of Judaism on followers of Christ. Paul will explain more about his conversion to Christ and his rejection of the Pharisaic way of life in a bit, but he considered those who spread the message of the Jewish law to be evil and, in other places, deceitful (e.g. 2 Corinthians 11:13) He didn’t consider them to be “nice people sharing the wrong belief,” he considered them evil. The King James translates the word here as concision, not circumcision, because the word used here means mutilation of the body. While those Judaizers thought they were promoting God’s Law, they were really only mutilating the body. Paul made it clear that the Philippians need to steer clear of these “bad hombres.”

  1. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Paul dismissed the Jewish practice of circumcision, part of the covenant with Abraham, as mutilation. He doesn’t do that to disown the covenant with Abraham, or the part that plays in the life of a Christian. He clarified his views here when he talked about the spiritual covenant of a changed heart instead of the physical practice of circumcision. The proof of a Christian is found in a changed life. Followers of God rejoice in Christ and worship in the spirit; they don’t depend on the flesh. They don’t depend on outward physical signs so much as seeing signs that indicate a changed heart. Paul made it clear that the key was to worship in the spirit and rejoice in Christ. (He does say that a lot, doesn’t he!)

  1. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5. Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

When someone comes in to tell you that you’re doing things wrong, they tell you their credentials. “I know my job because….” In school we used to joke that an expert consultant was someone who came from out of town, wore a suit, and carried a briefcase. The people who sought to turn the Philippian church back to following the Law most likely spent a lot of time explaining their background. I imagine the people of the church heard something like, “You may not understand the background, but as a Jew, here’s what you need to know.” I have no doubt that they spoke with confidence, riffed off what the people knew, and swayed them to first doubt Paul and then follow them. People who speak with confidence and passion can do that. I also have no doubt that they believed what they were saying. This is how so many “close-to-Christian” cults thrive: people who’ve been led to believe something that’s wrong speaking confidently about why what they believe is right, and you’re wrong.

Paul took no prisoners in his remarks to the Judaizers. He noted that if they had confidence in the flesh, in their own works, he had just as much, if not more, right to be so confident. Were they Jews? (And this is going to sound strange but think about it.) He was a Jewier Jew. He was born into the tribe of Benjamin and circumcised according to the Law. He had trained under Gamaliel. He was a Pharisee, who were considered the religious elite by most Jews. He believed so strongly in his Jewishness that he persecuted the church, and, in the traditional, Pharisaic interpretation, he was blameless according to the law. Paul could trade resumés of Judaism with anyone.

  1. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

If you could imagine Paul standing face to face with the Judaizers, each holding their resumés, you’d see Paul slowly bring that resumé up to eye level, and then tear it to pieces. His words would be simple: “This is nothing. Christ is everything.” There’s an advertising campaign that asks a silly question, expecting silly answers: “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” Paul answered a similar, but serious question: “What would you give up for Jesus Christ?” with a one-word response: “Everything.” There was nothing that Paul had, or could have, that was equal to his relationship with Christ.

  1. Yea doubtless, and 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, 9. And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Paul got pretty graphic here as he described the value he attributed to anything other than knowing Christ. He called it dung, refuse, waste. We might use other words today, but I don’t need to repeat them. Why did he feel that way? Because he had come to know Christ and realized that there was nothing better than having and developing a relationship with Christ. Because of that, he wasn’t worried about sacrificing worldly wealth or his reputation among the Pharisees that had been built up over a long period of time. He wanted God to look at him not through the window of his works, but through the righteousness that came because of his relationship with God through faith.

  1. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11. If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

Many years ago, I had my picture taken with a person who, at that time, was a celebrity. I didn’t expect to get to know him. I didn’t expect him to take my calls, recognize me in the street, go out to dinner with me, or anything like that. I was happy he autographed the picture. What do I want from my relationship with Christ? I’d love the same thing Paul wanted. I want to know Him. I want Him to be my friend. I want to experience the power of His resurrection. OK, I’ll be honest with you, I’d prefer to avoid His sufferings, but if the choice was between suffering what Jesus did or forsaking my relationship with Him, I’m going to join Him in His sufferings. When Paul talked about being conformed to Jesus’s death, he knew that as a Roman citizen, he wouldn’t be crucified, but he was willing to die, if necessary, for the sake of his relationship with Christ. Some see verse 11 as a sign of humility, which, to be honest, is not one of Paul’s strengths. He wasn’t doubting his ultimate resurrection after his death. I wonder if this isn’t Paul saying, “If I could do anything to further my relationship with Christ, I’d do it,” knowing that there wasn’t. Everything he did, though, was an expression of his faith in Christ.





About rockyfort

I am a retired Middle School Teacher. I share each day what God is teaching me from reading His word hoping that people can benefit from reading what God has taught me.
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