Monday, January 26, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 10 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

Although Jews have a distinct place and purpose in the gospel, such position is still based on faith and not on external observance:

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (Philippians 3:1-6)

Paul writes of dogs, evil workers, and the false circumcision. What does he mean by these three?

  • Dogs -- This is slang for gentiles and by this Paul would be referring to unbelieving and hostile gentiles. It is worth connecting this to Jesus' words, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6) If you think back to Paul's experiences when he first came to Philippi, you can see what Paul means:

It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 

Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." She continued doing this for many days. 

But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment. 

But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." (Acts 16:16-21)

  • Evil Workers -- These would be those who practice evil. These are not your everyday folk, trying to lead quiet and decent lives.
  • False Circumcision -- This is the Jewish counterpart of dogs. These are Jews who work against the gospel by either expelling believing Jews and righteous Gentiles from the synagogues or insist that Gentile men be circumcised before the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah has benefit.

Now there are those who argue that this passage is one piece of evidence that shows that God's plan for the Jews is over and that His covenant has shifted to faith based salvation alone and that there is no longer a valid distinction between Jews and Gentiles. It is true that Paul, here in Philippians, greatly down plays his Judaism in comparison to knowing Messiah. But this is not the same as Paul repudiating his Jewishness or his Judaism. I assert that these words are of the same nature as these from Jesus, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26) I have already covered this in my essays on The Jews and the Gospel. Here are a few more facts to consider concerning this:

  1. Many of the elements of the Mosaic Covenant are stated to be valid forever: Passover (Exodus 12:24), the right of the sons of Aaron to eat from the sacrifices (Exodus 29:28; Leviticus 7:34-36; Leviticus 24:9) and the office of priest (Deuteronomy 18:5). 
  2. Paul continued to practice his Judaism: By circumcising Timothy after the Jerusalem council (Acts 16:3) and by taking at least two Nazarite vows (Acts 18:18, 21:23,24) 

I have covered this idea in greater depth in the aforementioned essay and I would encourage you to read it.

There is, of course, great irony in Paul's words, "as to zeal a persecutor of the church."  He knows false circumcision from the inside. This takes us back to Paul's earlier prayer in this Letter:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

In Paul's past, he had neither love, nor real knowledge, nor discernment. throughout history, the Church has also lost these things. The church today must seek them. It might be easy to recognize dogs and evil workers, but the false circumcision is alive and well in Gentile contexts. Christians are no strangers to legalism, rigidity, and murderous hate. We are to be wary of such. To recognize them requires love, real knowledge, and discernment. We must depend on the Holy Spirit for power, wisdom, and guidance.

Tuesday: The Loss of All Things

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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