May 11, 2016
"Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh."
At this point, we can’t ignore Paul’s relentless effort for the Philippians to find joy in Jesus. This has been his mission throughout the entire letter, but it’s now interrupted by a sudden and fiery interjection. Having evidently addressed some these concerns with them before, Paul warns again to keep an eye out for “the dogs,” “the evildoers,” and “those who mutilate the flesh.” Two questions are pressed upon the reader at this point: (1) Who are these individuals Paul’s warning about? (2) How are they connected with the Philippians’ joy, the clear focus of the letter? Paul doesn’t use pejoratives carelessly; he’s serious about the threat posed by these individuals. So who are they?
Most scholars believe that he is referring to the Judaizers, individuals who believed in Jesus Christ, but also thought it necessary to conform to certain Old Testament laws which Jesus said would be fulfilled by him (Matthew 5:17). For Paul, this meant they were ultimately unbelievers and potentially dangerous to those who did believe. Was this because they would convince others that Christ shouldn’t be trusted? Not at all. Instead, they taught that Christ’s work alone was not sufficient to pay for their sins. They taught that Jesus was not enough.
"For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people 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 righteousness under the law, blameless."
The opposing view didn’t discount Jesus as the Messiah, but held that faith in him needed to be supplemented by obedience to certain Jewish laws, such as circumcision. Paul flat out denies this, stating that believers don’t need external, ceremonial activities to merit salvation. They are the fulfilment of those Old Testament shadows. God has circumcised their hearts (Romans 9:29), so they worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:24), and God has sealed them with his Spirit for the glory of Christ (Ephesians 1:11-14). Paul says that a believer’s confidence should never come from the flesh, from physical obedience which they must maintain, but rather, from the work of Jesus on the cross.
Then he begins to depict why this argument has weight coming from him: Paul was the consummate Jew with a virtually unparalleled resume. He had achieved everything the Judaizers claimed was necessary to be a Christian—all of the things they thought must be added to Christ in order to be saved. Paul would have none of this. All of these things to Paul were relics of a confidence he had in his own flesh, a confidence not rooted in the grace of God but in his own merit.
"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith..."
For Paul, relying on your own flesh for the righteousness needed for salvation was worse than simple unbelief, because it claimed that the world-shaking work of Jesus on the cross wasn’t sufficient or effective. This isn’t the Gospel and Paul knows this because he gave up all of his resume for the sake of Christ. In fact, he goes even further saying that he counts “everything as loss” next to Jesus and so he has “suffered the loss of all things.” This is sweeping because “everything” and “all things” leaves nothing else on the table next to Jesus.
In fact, he’s not content just to use the broadest of strokes, but he actually chooses to border vulgarity. The word “rubbish” is actually skubalon. The most common usage of this term in ancient Greek is for dung or excrement, incapable of being salvaged. He’s saying that confidence in the flesh is like refuse, it’s only good for discarding or destroying. Next to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ, there is nothing that can rightly be considered salvageable.
Paul only wants one thing: Christ. And in gaining Christ, he is united with Jesus’ perfect righteousness. He is found in him. His righteousness is no longer a product of white-knuckling some kind of obedience through his flesh to the ceremonial laws, but rather a perfect righteousness that comes through faith in Christ alone. The righteousness gained through Christ is so beautiful and satisfying that even the best his flesh could muster was mere refuse. Paul only wants Jesus.
"...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
Here’s the reason why this so critical for the Philippians and for us: The perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is the only place where our joy will not end. It is eternal because Jesus’ perfect obedience has made a way for us to share his righteousness forever. Paul’s not interested in 80 or 90 years of joy. He wants the fullness of joy and he wants it forever. He wants invincible joy.
Have we tried to add things to Jesus? In our economy of walking with our Savior, do we tend to think other things need to come alongside the cross to complete its work? This trap can be subtle and dangerous. For example, we know obedience to Christ is right and good (Philippians 2:12-13), but sometimes we see it was a means to get Jesus. We try to earn his favor and his approval.
The reason this attitude is so dangerous is that it takes our eyes off of our Savior and puts them on ourselves. We try to align to moral grid, because it’s something we can control with our own flesh. This veneer of confidence falls apart when we discover that we are far from perfect. Our eyes were made to be captivated by Jesus Christ alone and his reckless love (2 Corinthians 3:18)—this is what it means to know him and have faith in him. Only in that trust do we find ourselves becoming like him.
Here are some questions to help you dig a little deeper, both personally and in group: