After telling the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord”, Paul cautioned them to “look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” With this warning, Paul contrasts the opponents of the gospel and the true people of God (3:2–3). Specifically, Paul is warning the Philippians about the Judaizers. The Judaizers were people who professed faith in Jesus Christ but believed that in order to be a faithful Christian one must conform to the Law of Moses in the Old Testament. In other words, you needed to be a Jew first, then a Christian. An example of their position is found in Acts 15:1, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” This warning to beware is for Christians at all times because there are always groups that seek to lead us astray.
Beware of the Dogs (Sensualism)
Paul wrote, “Beware of the dogs.” A dog—in this context—is obviously not a compliment. In Paul’s society, dogs were wild scavengers. To call someone a dog back then is like someone today calling a person a rat. The Jews called the Gentiles dogs because they were ceremonially unclean and immoral. They were outside of the covenant like dogs were outside of the house. In contrast to a dog was a child who was inside the house and received the blessings of the house. A dog, however, was outside the house and did not share in the blessings. Remember when Jesus told a Gentile woman, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). The dogs Paul warns us about are false teachers who roam around seeking their own interests, enslaved to their sinful passions. They think they are the Sons of God but are in fact dogs. Beware of them because they seek to lure you away from Christ.
Beware of the Evil Workers (Legalism)
Paul also wrote for them to “beware of the evil workers.” While this could be anyone who does evil, Paul has in mind those who insist that their good works make them a Christian. They are like the rich young ruler who asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). Eternal life is not earned, and good works do not impress God. Jesus made this clear when He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but He who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). There will be some who did good works in His name, but will nevertheless be told, “Depart from Me you workers of evil, I never knew you” (Matt 7:23). The warning is that doing good things for Jesus is not necessarily the same as doing the will of the Father. Beware of those who insist on doing good works in order to be right with God. Their work is evil because it sets aside Christ’s work for us and insists on their own goodness and merit. Beware of them because they seek to lure you away from Christ.
Beware of the False Circumcision (Ritualism)
Paul then wrote that they must “beware of the false circumcision.” He literally said they must beware of those who mutilate the body. Paul is warning against those who insisted circumcision as essential to be a good Christian. Paul wrote that their circumcision is nothing more than the mutilation of the body that the pagans engage in. Paul was even more graphic when he wrote about them to the Galatians: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Gal 5:12). Is Paul being too harsh? Not if this is a vital Gospel issue! Those who insisted on circumcision were seeking to bring Christians back into “a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). Paul wrote “if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (Gal 5:2-3). Beware of them because they seek to lure you away from Christ.
We are the True Circumcision
Christians are the true circumcision and those who insist on circumcision as a means of salvation are the false circumcision. Circumcision was instituted by God in Genesis 17:10 as a sign of faith and of being in the covenant community. After Christ’s death, circumcision is no longer obligatory because of the new covenant instituted by Christ. To receive circumcision as a means of salvation is to deny the sufficiency of Christ’s death and atonement. Paul wrote that true circumcision was not of the flesh but of the heart. He wrote, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:29).
We Worship in the Spirit of God
Christians worship in the Spirit of God and those who try to work for their salvation are evil workers. True Christians do not work in order to gain God’s approval. True Christians are not justified by works but by faith (Eph 2:8-9). Having been saved by faith, we are called to do good works (Eph 2:10). Our works are good because we have been born again and we do the will of our Father in heaven; this is our true worship. As Paul reminded the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).
We Glory in Christ Jesus
Christians glory in Christ Jesus and those who are enslaved to their sensuality are like dogs. True Christians do not live for themselves but for Christ. We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). We do not seek our own glory, but we seek the glory of God. Our mission is to testify to the goodness and greatness of Christ Jesus.
We Put no Confidence in the Flesh
We put no confidence in the flesh because we know the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8). Next week, we will discuss more about why we must put no confidence in the flesh.