What You Do Doesn’t Earn Anything
Paul has written about half of his letter to the Philippians. He still has much to say to them and to us as we begin the second half of his letter. What Paul has to say was relevant to the Philippians daily life, as well as to us today.
Paul begins his shift by writing Finally, brethren, rejoice in the Lord. He begins a transition from the first half of his letter to the second half. He is saying that, based on what he has previously written, that the Philippians should rejoice in the Lord. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is brought upon by circumstances. Joy is something that remains despite circumstances. With joy, there is a confidence that the Lord is present and in control of all circumstances, leaving one able to trust despite what is going on around them.
Next Paul writes To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Paul is about to touch on something he had previously written to the Philippians. Given what follows, it makes sense that he is referring to those who have opposed the Philippians and what they have believed in their conversion to faith in Christ. Paul is reiterating it to keep them safe from these troublesome folks. It is much easier to learn something by repetition than just by merely hearing something
Paul continues with Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision: He refers to these opponents as dogs, evil workers and of false circumcision. Dogs does not refer to something that we could consider a family pet. These dogs were more like feral dogs who roamed in packs and were vicious. Calling them of the false circumcision indicates that they were Jewish, which is astonishing given Paul’s Jewish roots. There was nothing good about these workers, but they were spreading evil in the path. Paul calls for the Philippian brethren to give caution when encountering such as these.
Paul goes on to describe those who follow Christ. 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, Paul contrasts these evil workers with those who have come to know Christ in Philippi. They are of the true circumcision, that of the heart. In Deuteronomy 30:36, Moses writes that God circumcise Israel’s hearts and their descendants. Paul himself wrote in Romans 2:29 that a Jew is one who is one inwardly, that circumcision of the heart is done by the Spirit, not by the letter. In other words, one cannot, in the flesh, be born a true Jew.
Though Paul does not believe there is any value to the flesh, he knows that if anyone could find value, it would be him. Although I myself might have confidence in the flesh. Paul might be something if one could put confidence in the flesh. If the false teachers, the dogs, Paul refers to looked at his resume’, they would find something that would impress them. Having just said that he put no confidence in the flesh, Paul is saying that there is nothing about him that is truly impressive or can earn him the right to be a true Jew circumcised in the heart.
Finally, Paul lists his resume’, so to speak. 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 the 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. Paul then begins to list his credentials. He was circumcised according to the Law on the eighth day. He was of the nation of Israel. By ethnicity, he was a Jew, not a Gentile convert. He could trace his family roots in a time when many other Jews could not. He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews by holding to the Jewish traditions and customs rather than becoming Hellenized. He was Pharisee, meaning that he had reached the highest level of devout, legalistic Judaism. He was so zealous for his faith, he pursued and persecuted those who followed Christ. If you measured him against the Law, no one could find him blameless. All of these things would impress the Jewish false teachers he was warning about. Yet Paul said he put no confidence in them.
What can we take away from this exchange? There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. We cannot be born into our standing with God. Instead, our standing comes from God Himself, through His Spirit, based on the work of Christ.