“In conclusion, my brothers, be joyful in the Lord. To repeat these things is not wearisome to me, for I never tire of reassuring you; indeed it is a safe precaution. Beware of ravenous dogs and beware of mutilators. We who worship God in the Spirit and rejoice in Jesus are truly circumcised and do not rely on external ceremonies.” (paraphrased)
Chapter three begins with the exhortation to rejoice, an encouragement Paul repeats many times throughout this letter. We are to rejoice in His love, grace, fellowship and in His will for our lives (1:4; 1:8; 1:26; 2:18; 4:4). Paul assures the Philippians that to reiterate his teachings is not burdensome to him, for it helps keep them safe from spiritual harm. These repeated teachings probably include former warnings against false teachers who seek to fleece and exploit his sheep. Paul calls them to be on guard against dangers he cannot protect them from in his absence.
No one can miss Paul’s intention here as he depicts those who threaten the church as “dogs,” “evil workers” and “mutilators.” All refer to the same menace: the false teachers. This same group is mentioned in 1:15-18 where Paul warns about those who preach for ulterior motives. There is little doubt the Judiaziers are in view here, those who adamantly insist upon circumcision as a prerequisite for salvation (Gal. 6:15). Paul urges the Philippians to put faith in Christ alone, rejecting any ceremonial rite as an alleged proof of righteousness.
The term “beware” is thrice repeated in this verse for the sake of emphasis.
1. Beware of dogs
Posted signs warn people to “Beware of the Dog.” It is common to see a fierce dog chained or fenced with this sign posted nearby. This slogan, which has adorned fences for two thousand years, is a phrase borrowed from this verse. Dogs snarl, terrify, bite and kill. In the Middle East today, wild dogs roam freely. These merciless mongrels are perpetually dissatisfied. Many are without owners, disease-ridden from feeding on garbage and corpses. They frequently attack those who pass by.
“Dog” is a common term used by Jews to refer to Gentiles (Matt. 15:27). The word refers to the worst type of wild dogs who angrily fight even among themselves. Like ravenous animals, the Judiaziers are contentious and hound God’s people with their religious scams. By his use of this term, Paul points to those who would exploit the Philippian Christians.
2. Beware of evil workers
This is the same group of persons Paul refers to as “deceitful workers” (II Cor. 11:13). We are to be on guard against those who distort the Gospel, perverting pure doctrine to serve their own ends. Confusing doctrines produce confused people. Self-righteous teachers are destructive, not constructive. They urge Christians to depend on them rather than Christ. Paul will not rest, even in prison, while evil men attempt to tear apart the church at Philippi.
3. Beware of the concision
The word “concision” (peritome) means “to cut into pieces or mutilate” and is found only here in the Bible. Paul uses a Greek word play, contemptibly portraying as butchers those who demand converts to Christianity be circumcised. Such false teachers pervert the original intent of circumcision.
Circumcision is established under the Law of Moses as a proof of faith in Jehovah. This surgical procedure is intended to serve as a sign of faith. The cutting off of the foreskin is emblematic of total consecration to God. It the symbolic cutting away and casting off of all fleshly passions and self-love. It further symbolizes that a man’s children, produced via his sexual organs, belong to God. Paul writes to the Galatians to explain how Christ replaces the laws of the flesh with the laws of the Spirit (Rom. 8:2). Paul states that believers in Christ are circumcised spiritually, indicating a wholehearted dedication to God. Paul even refers to salvation as “the circumcision that is performed by Christ” (Col. 2:11). But he has no tolerance for advocates of Jewish circumcision who required Gentile believers to submit to it as a prerequisite of salvation.
After the three warnings of verse two, Paul now gives three positive statements.
1. We are the (true) circumcision
Paul explains there is a deeper, more spiritual concept behind circumcision. We who are born again should appreciate the symbolism behind this ritual, for we circumcise our hearts by faith (Jeremiah 4:4 and Deuteronomy 10:16).
2. Who worship by the Spirit
Jesus tells us they who worship God “must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). From its inception, circumcision is only intended to be an external sign of an internal spiritual change.
3. Who have no confidence in the flesh mark (of circumcision)
Believers must avoid any physical, external sign as a proof of salvation. Circumcision is powerless to save one’s soul. Paul is not despising this Jewish rite, but rejects it as an indispensable aspect of salvation.
The three statements in this verse combine to form one, for they all bespeak faith in Jesus rather than ceremonialism. In the first century, Believers are encouraged not to be led astray by those who teach strange doctrines (Heb. 13:9). But in the twenty-first century, false teachers are more numerous than ever.
ABOMINATION – STUDY QUESTIONS
1. According to Romans 2:29 and Deuteronomy 30:6, what does God desire to circumcise?
A. the head
B. the soul
C. the flesh
D. the heart
E. the mind
2. Read II Corinthians 11:13-14. To whom does Paul compare the false teachers?
3. According to Galatians 5:6, what is more important than circumcision?
4. According to I Corinthians 7:19, what is more vital than circumcision?
B. keeping God’s commandments
C. having fellowship with one another
ABOMINATION – REFLECTION
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR COUPLES
1. What steps have you taken in your home to ensure your family receives sound Biblical teaching?
2. Discuss with your mate the dangers of quickly accepting doctrines that radio and TV preachers herald as truth.
3. Make a short list of contemporary teachings you have found to be unbiblical.
4. Paul begins this passage with the word Rejoice. List some things that have taken place in your marital life that cause you to rejoice in Christ.
ESSAY QUESTIONS FOR INDIVIDUALS
1. What steps have you taken to ensure that you receive sound Biblical teaching?
2. Write a paragraph concerning the dangers of quickly accepting doctrines that radio and TV preachers herald as truth.
3. Make a short list of contemporary teachings that you have found to be unbiblical.
4. Paul begins this passage with the word Rejoice. List some things that have taken place in your life that cause you to rejoice in Christ.