Lessons from the Book of Philippians
Greetings precious people, I do hope that you are doing well today and that you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving. This has been one of the few Thanksgivings that I have been home to enjoy with my family. For some reason or another I am usually somewhere else in the world at this time of year on a missions trip.
If you have been with us for any length of time, you know that we have been going through the Book of Philippians. In today’s article we find ourselves at the beginning of my favorite chapter in the Book of Philippians, Chapter 3.
As you may remember, the Apostle Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. His immediate future was uncertain, he did not know if he would be sentenced to death, life in prison, or miraculously released. Yet he dedicated much of the content of the letter encouraging the Christians at Philippi to rejoice in the Lord. To not allow their present circumstances, no matter what they may be; to rob them of the Joy that was theirs in Jesus Christ.
In this letter to the Philippians, Paul identifies 4 thieves of joy. They are circumstances, people, things, and worry which come from doubt and unbelief. In the first two chapters he covers the thief circumstances and people. Now in chapter 3 he will further address how people can rip us off of our joy in the Lord as well as touch on how “things” can rob us as well.
In Philippians 3:1-3 we read, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you are not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, and beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”
Notice how he begins this portion of Scripture, “Rejoice in the Lord.” He had already written this a number of times in his letter already, but found it needful to repeat this encouragement. The reason for this as Paul tells us, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation.“ By using the term “dogs” Paul was not speaking of a pack of wild pit bulls that had entered the city of Philippi, rather a group of false teachers and their teaching that had come into the church.
Paul had received word that after his departure, certain false teachers had crept into the Church at Philippi bringing with them various false teaching causing many of the believers to become upset and loose their joy. These false teachers were what were known as Judaizing Christians. They were Jews that had supposively come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but felt that faith in Jesus Christ alone was not enough for salvation. They taught that a number of “other things” needed to be done to secure one’s salvation from the penalty of sin.
They emphasized one area of the Law in particular, that of the rite of circumcision. Circumcision (the cutting away of the flesh) was a rite that God had given to His people, the Jews. It was to be a reminder to them of God’s calling on their lives to be separate from everyone else, that they were to be righteous and holy unto the Lord. As they believed in the Lord, which would be evidenced by their obedience to Him and His Word, they were righteous in God’s eyes.
The purpose of this rite was also misunderstood by the multitude of Jews over the years. Tragically, they like many today got the order all messed up. They began to think that the actual act of circumcision is what made them righteous (right with God). This way of thinking led to all sorts of sinful behavior, which the Bible clearly states is wrong, and an abomination to God. The Hebrews of earlier years would observe the rite of circumcision as well as many other rites and rituals, yet would be involved in adultery, sodomy, idolatry, outright paganism and still believe that they were right with God because they had been circumcised.
They failed to recognize that the outward mark of circumcision was only to represent an inward commitment of faith and obedience to the Lord God Almighty. And that faith (inward commitment) was to be lived out through obedience to God’s Word in their daily lives. The Books of Galatians and Romans address this subject in great detail.
It is said in both the Old Testament and New Testament that Abraham, who is considered the “father” of our faith, was considered righteous (saved, made right with God) by faith. This was well before God ever instituted the rite of circumcision. In Galatians 3:6-9 we read, “Just as Abraham "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”
The question is often asked, “How were those in Old Testament times saved? How were their sins forgiven and made righteous in God’s sight?” The answer is, the same way a person is saved today, by faith in Jesus Christ. The only difference between then and now is this, the person in Old Testament times looked forward in faith to the coming of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, where we look back at the already finished work of Christ on the cross. Both call for faith in the work of Christ Jesus upon the Cross of Calvary. Being on this side of the Cross, (having already passed) we have the greater advantage as well as the Bible being complete. Thus our lives should be a much greater testimony to the reality of Salvation through Jesus than our predecessors.
The false teachers and teachings of today that have infiltrated much of what is known as the Church have had the same effect upon believers. They teach that if you have not followed a certain teaching, performed various rites and rituals, had a particular experience or feeling, or belong to the right church, then you cannot be certain that your sins have been forgiven and that you are going to Heaven. The most popular of all churches thinks that it is wrong for anyone to believe that they have assurance of salvation.
It is tragic indeed for any true believer in Jesus Christ to live their life in doubt of where they will spend eternity. To go to bed at night worrying whether or not they have fulfilled their “part” of the bargain. To not have the assurance that is given in the Word of God, the Bible, that a person can be certain that if they were to die this very moment that their sins have been forgiven and that they would go to Heaven.
As Paul states in verse three “For we are the (true) circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Remember the meaning of circumcision was an outward mark of an inward commitment of faith in God. It speaks of a circumcision of the heart, a cutting away of the callousness that hardens man’s heart toward loving and obeying God.
Read what is written the following verses concerning this. Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6, “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Jeremiah 4:3-4, "Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts,
You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings." Acts 7:51, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” Romans 2:29, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”
This “true circumcision”, the worshiper of God in Spirit, comes ONLY through faith in Jesus Christ, NOT by placing confidence in the flesh (our abilities, good works, or anything else we can or don’t do).
Let me ask you dear one, what are you placing your confidence in today for salvation and forgiveness of sin? Are you trusting in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the Cross of Calvary, or are you leaning on the arm of flesh? Know this, as the hymn states, “the arm of flesh will fail you”. Trust in Christ today and begin to experience the joy that is yours in Jesus.
Next time we will continue our study in the Book of Philippians, until then, may the Lord bless you beloved.
If you have any questions, comments, or prayer requests you can contact me at: Calvary Chapel of Alpine, P.O. Box 1528, Alpine, Ca. 91903 or call 619-445-2589, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our web site at www.calvarychapel.org/alpine/index.htm
Drew Macintyre is pastor of Calvary Chapel of Alpine