Php 3:1-3 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. (2) Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. (3) For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
The Language of Christ
We have talked about working out our own salvation. We have seen that Paul is really a presenting himself as a pattern. He is someone who enjoys the bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ to the point where he considers himself a “drink offering.” This is not language we would use. It is not just archaic language that Paul is speaking from his culture. This was not language that people from that day used either. Paul is speaking the language of Christ. He is speaking a language that was given to him by God’s word and by revelation. He is saying strange things that would have even sounded strange to the ears of those people who received the letter.
Many people say that you have to understand what Biblical writers meant according to their “culture” at that time. However God’s language always strange to man’s ears. The word of God conveys His thoughts which are “higher than our thoughts and higher than our ways” (Is 55:8-9). His language is richer than our language. People pour over the word studying what God means when He uses these words. It becomes a constitution, a new language. I am speaking of things as I read through Philippians that I would never speak if I were not speaking of Christ! When is the last time you told someone you knew, “hey I enjoyed your company so much I was a drink offering”?
This is a spiritual language, combined with spiritual thoughts that are focused on Christ. Without Christ it means nothing. It can sound just like jargon. In fact, I have been around people who spoke high sounding New Testament language as jargon but had no idea what they were talking about because they had not done the homework themselves. It became a high sounding but empty culture. You could hear people talking about grace and the riches of Christ but had no idea what they were saying. We were speaking the language of grace and yet our view of these things was legalistic. Only the Lord can really train you. Not only does He train your language, but He trains you in your life, so your experience allows you to embrace the words in their correct context.
Grace takes the burden off of yourself and puts it back on Christ where it belongs. Until you have done that, it does not necessarily help to speak the language of grace. You will just legalize it. Catholics speak very much about grace in their theological circles. The bishops and catechisms have a very highly developed language about grace, but they mean something different. They are talking about sanctification by works. They are speaking of perfecting yourself in the flesh.
But we have been speaking a unique language and hopefully we are actually seeing it fresh through the eyes of grace that has been informed by experience. I feel like I am getting the heart of it. I feel like more than any other time I am getting good stuff out of this book.
Repeated Warnings in the New Testament Ministry
So now we come to Philippians 3 which is really the “peak” of Philippians when it comes to what Paul is talking about. Here we see Paul describing spiritual maturity. Philippians 3 is “Galatians” kind of language. It is freedom from the law kind of language. As grace people we should be attracted to this chapter!
Php 3:1-2 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. (2) Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.
Paul says he is writing to them about things that he has already told them about. He is repeating himself when he speaks of these things. It is not “grievous” for him to keep repeating these warnings. It is for the safety of the Church. He is going to warn to beware of “dogs, evil workers and the concision”. It would be interesting to go through and collect all the scriptures where Paul is warning about some kind of counterfeit of the real thing for the safety of the saints.
So many people are not familiar with the epistles. They know a few verses. For example, if you speak about Philippians you might say “in nothing be anxious” or “my God shall supply your needs.” People might know “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That is unfortunately the kind of knowledge people have of these books. So, when they hear you issuing repetitive warnings about certain things, they respond with “why are you attacking those people? Enough is enough!”
Paul says, “I’m going to keep repeating it”. When he had the last meeting with the elders of Ephesus, he wept with them and reminded them that he had warned them for three years, every person individually, night and day with tears!
Act 20:26-31 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. (27) For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. (28) Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (29) For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. (30) Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (31) Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
He told them that this would be the last time he would see them and that his hands were clean of their blood. That was a major component of the ministry. We see that in all the epistles. This is true of all of the apostles. Jude, Peter, John, Paul – their writings are full of warnings about certain kind of people and certain kinds of ministries that have counterfeits and what their destination and motives are. We are told again and again to mark, avoid, run, flee, turn from, avoid, not have fellowship and to separate ourselves from them. Here in Philippians 3 he is saying, “beware the dogs. Beware the evil workers. Beware the concision.”
Dogs are unclean animals in the scripture. They devour. They are known by their ravenous devouring. Jesus said that you should not give that which is holy to the dogs (Matthew 7:8). They are dirty and the way they eat their food is to just eat anything indiscriminately. They eat unclean things in an unclean way. Dogs barely digest their food, they just “wolf” it down! It just goes right through their system. The Bible makes a distinction between clean and unclean animals, and it had very much to do with how they digested food. The ones that were “Clean” often had multiple stomachs and would digest, regurgitate, chew, digest their food again and again to get every last drop of nutrient from it. Leviticus calls this “Chewing the cud” (Leviticus 11:3). Animals that did not “chew the cud” were unclean.
Of course this is a picture of how we handle the word and spiritual truth. Clean has to do with the word. Remember that Christ sanctifies the Church by the washing of the water of the Word (Eph 5:26). Clean has to do with “approving that which is excellent” as in Phillippians 1: “That your love may abound in all wisdom and discernment that you may be able to approve that which is excellent” to be “pure and without offense (spot) in the day of Christ”. A clean animal is a picture of the person who abides in the word and the word abides in them.
The pharisees were not clean and for that reason they could not recognize anything spiritual that Jesus said. He said, “you can’t hear my sayings because my word does not abide in you” (John 8:43). He told them they could not receive the word because it had no place in them. Of the apostles and disciples, he said “now you are clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). When He talked about sanctifying them in John 17 in His high priestly prayer, He prayed that the Father would sanctify them in the word and in the truth because the word is the truth (John 17:17). HE said “they have received your word and have received the word that I have given them. They are yours and now they know that I have come out from you” (John 17:8). So being clean has to do with the ability through the word to approve of that which comes out from God and set your seal on it (John 3:33). Dogs again are indiscriminate. The word is to them the “letter”. It might as well be garbage. It is just “dog food”. You and I can both be handling the word, but if I am a “dog” I am not going to get anything spiritual from it. Not only that, but I am going to devour you and use the word to do it (Mt 7:8).
These are workers that think of themselves as the servants of the Lord. These are people among the churches that were going from place to place stirring up trouble for Paul’s ministry. Their “work” which they considered to be for the Lord was actually tearing down the body of Christ and taking food out of people’s mouth. They caused dissention and turned people against the New Testament ministry. They slandered Paul and brought people into bondage. They corrupted the Gospel to bring people back to law or back to themselves and into works in order to disqualify them and judge them unworthy of their prize, carrying them off as captive and stealing their crown (Col 2:8; 2:18). These guys are “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8). That is the evil workers, and the Lord will say “depart from Me, you workers of iniquity” (Lk 13:27). They boasted in their works. They said, “didn’t we do all these miracles in Your Name and preach in your name and do mighty things in Your name” (Mt 7:21-23). He says, “You are workers of iniquity.” Their works are evil. Especially the ones they do in His name because they are not feeding anyone, they are beating people. They are not stewards of the mysteries of God in God’s household to dispense Christ freely to the children who are heirs. They are taking food off the table, throwing it in the trash can, and saying “you’re not worthy to eat that until you’ve done what I say.” Or they may say “you’re listening to that guy and he’s got nothing good to say.” And yet the person they are talking about is a steward giving the food.
Finally, he says, “beware the concision.” At this time that was the circumcision party. There was a mix of Jews. Some were false brethren. Some were Judaizing pharisees that believed that Jesus was at least the King. Perhaps they thought James should be the next in line to the throne. They are not real brothers but zealots for the kingdom (Zionists). There are also legalistic Christians who believed they were justified by faith but try to live by the law and perfect themselves according to the flesh for sanctification (Gal 3:1-4). The Galatians, if they were to continue down that road of falling from grace, Paul would have been warning other churches about them saying “beware the concision.” You do not ever want to be one of the people that God has to have Paul warn others about because of your teaching! In contrast, there is the “true circumcision.”
Php 3:3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
We are the true circumcision, in contrast to the concision made by hands. We worship God in Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh. What is the principle behind circumcision? When it is first presented it the Bible, it was presented as a covenant to Abraham after he had Ishmael (Gen 17:10). He had gone into Hagar to produce Ishmael in order to attempt to “help” God fulfill His own promise (Gen 16:15). God had promised him and his wife, Sarah a seed (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:5). But Sarah’s womb was barren, and Abraham was old (Gen 11:3). He thought, “there is no way this is going to happen.” So, Sarah said, “Go into Hagar” her bondmaid (Gen 16:1-4). This produced Ishmael.
According to Galatians, this whole story is a picture or an allegory of law righteousness – believing God’s promise but attempting to perfect yourself according to the flesh and “help God” (Gal 4:21-29). This produces “children of the flesh” who become persecutors of the “children of promise” and that is exactly what happened in Abraham’s household. Hagar and Ishmael eventually persecuted Sarah and Isaac and had to be kicked out of the house (Gen 21:10). Hagar really thought Ishmael should be the heir, but he was not qualified because he was the son of the bondwoman.
There were all kinds of strife in Abraham’s household because of Abraham’s attempt to help God by the power of his own flesh to generate seed (Gen 16:4-5). Paul likens this scenario to law keeping to perfect the flesh or sanctify yourself according to the law rather than waiting for God to fulfill His promise by the Spirit through the hearing of faith (Gal 3:1-4).
After having Ishmael, Abraham experienced 13 years of silence from God where he was basically “backslidden” trying to raise Ishmael as the heir even though he was illegitimate. When God appeared to him again, Abraham said “oh that Ishmael may live before you!” (Gen 17:8). God responded, “no, you’re going to have a seed through Sarah.” He elaborated on the promise and did not acknowledge Ishmael (Gen 17:9). This is the context for God giving Abraham the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17.
Circumcision was a “cutting” of the member that was used in reproduction. So, what does this signify? It signifies the cutting off of the natural strength and its ability to serve God by the flesh. It is the cutting off of self-righteousness. According to Romans 4:11, circumcision was the “seal” of the righteousness which Abraham had through faith before he was circumcised, apart from works. Rom 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.
In other words, Abraham received righteousness and was credited as righteous because He believed God’s promise concerning the seed and he did not do anything to “help.” He was justified at that moment, which meant he was qualified for the promise to come to pass.
Gen 15:5-6 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. (6) And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Justification qualifies you for everything that God has intended for you. There is no further justification needed once you are justified. You are an heir. God will fulfill what He has spoken over you. But there is often a period of time where He makes you wait and while you are waiting you might be tempted to try to “qualify” yourself. That is what Abraham did. Sarah’s womb was barren, and he thought, “God said you would be a blessing and have a seed so that’s what I have to do”. Legalism creeps in when you turn the promise of God into a commandment or a law, and you try to fulfill it according to the flesh. Now you are not walking in the righteousness of faith, you are walking in works. While you are doing that you are in the flesh. The flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:8) so that’s why Abraham did not hear from God that whole time. He was not walking by faith. When God showed up again, He gave him the covenant of circumcision showing him, “I reject your help. I do not need your help. I do not want your help. Your help created problems in your household”. Many of our problems in our household are from our religious flesh. They are leftovers from religious flesh.
I have been on a spiritual mission before to “help God” and it ruined my first marriage. It produces strife. The flesh produces strife. The wisdom that comes from below is “earthly, sensual and demonic” and the natural strength has the law of sin in it. So, the good I would do when I try to do it, the evil is present with me (Rom 7:21) and stirs up all manner of sin in my members which impacts my household. Sarah was being persecuted because she was barren. Hagar was gaining ascendency and should have been a servant. Ishmael was illegitimate. Abraham was out of fellowship yet trying to raise the seed as the heir. Circumcision cuts all of that off!
Circumcision is the acknowledgement that what God requires only He can fulfill. I cannot do this; I am going to have to cut off my strength in that regard. That is the true circumcision. That is why he says, “we are the true circumcision, which worship God in Spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.” I do not have any confidence in my ability to help God do anything. My confidence is in Christ. I worship God in the spirit. I only rejoice in Christ. He has got to do it. That is the true circumcision and that is a process to get you to the realization where you finally say, “nothing good dwells in my flesh. Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24). Not only is my sin a problem but my service to God is a problem! I cannot win! It is “checkmate” no matter what I do! It is making it worse. All my best efforts to try to raise Ishmael only ended in failure and disturbance and persecution and strife, and now I am ‘backslidden” and I’ve got no fellowship with God and I’m under all kinds of condemnation. Paul spells that out in Galatians 4. He shows us that Hagar is a type of Sinai with the law and the people saying, “all that God has commanded we will do” (Ex 19:8). They look to themselves to try to fulfill God’s will and that brought them into misery.
The true circumcision is what happens when you finally come to an end of yourself. This is especially pronounced in the story of Jacob. In Galatians, Paul says “what matters is not circumcision or uncircumcision, but a new creature. Whoever walks according to this rule, peace be upon them and upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:15-16). Some think that this means the Church is Israel. Actually, I believe this is a reference to the transformation represented in the renaming of Jacob to Isarel. Jacob was named Israel after most of his life being “Jacob”. His climax as Jacob was when he was wrestling with God all night (Gen 32:30).
He had tried everything he could to obtain the birthright that God had decreed was his by swindling. He had gotten himself in a world of trouble, had to run away from Esau (Gen 27:43-45), was at Laban’s house for 14 years (Which was basically a “cult”) and his life was hell on earth. His whole household was in disarray and he had 12 kids that were out of control, with four wives fighting among themselves. It was all the result of the flesh. It was Jacob trying to take care of Jacob for God. Finally, at the end of it all, he is wrestling with the angel. He was so strong that eventually the Angel had to touch his thigh and cripple him to get him to stop, and he still would not let him go! (Gen 32:35). Jacob would not relent, and holding on to the angel he said, “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Gen 32:26). He was so desperate. In that moment of desperation, weakened but still clinging to God, God changed his name to Israel (Gen 32:27-28). For the rest of his life he walked with the support of a staff. He was weakened. He could not hold himself up. But that is the night that God called him “Israel.” He changed his name from Jacob to Israel representing his transformation.
From then on, he started to become the mouthpiece of God and started to prophecy very detailed and accurately over the sons of Israel. He even blessed Pharaoh (Gen 47:10). That is not a small thing to go and lay your hands-on Pharaoh and bless him. The lesser is blessed by the greater (Heb 7:7). Israel was the greatest man in the world at his time. But his life was miserable! Pharaoh asked him, “how old are you” and he answered “I’m too old. Most of my life has been miserable” (Gen 47:9). The reason it was miserable was because he spent a large percentage of it in his uncircumcised flesh, in the strength of his religious flesh, trying to make things happen for God.
It was not until that night that he wrestled with the angel and became the real “Israel of God.” He entered his rest. That is what Paul is saying in Galatians, where he says, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters but a new creation.” This is the Israel of God. We walk according to this rule. The old creation ended at the cross. Now we are in Christ and Christ is in us. That’s the transformation and the reality of the true circumcision, not a cutting off of the flesh with hands but the circumcision of the heart to realize that righteousness of faith is given to the person who works not but believes on Him that justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5).
Back to the Beginning, to Have Nothing but Faith
When Abraham cut off his foreskin, he was going back to the “beginning” of when he was justified, saying “everything I’ve done for the Lord since I was justified by faith is unprofitable. Once again I’m standing here with nothing to believe in but God’s promise.” Romans 4 says he waxed strong in faith, giving glory to God, not counting the deadness of Sarah’s womb or the deadness of his body but believing that God who calls those things that are “not as though they are” and gives life to the dead would fulfill His word. He was firmly persuaded (Rom 4:18-21). That is the true circumcision.
This is like a “second baptism” in a way. When the nation of Israel was brought out of Egypt they were brought through the Red Sea and were baptized into Moses (1 Cor 10:2). But then they had 40 years of wilderness wanderings and unbeliever and trying to “do it themselves” and not believing they could take the good land because they didn’t see that God was the one that would have to bring them into it. They thought, “we are grasshoppers. There are Nephilim there. There is no way we can take it” (Num 13:33). For that reason, the 11-day journey through the wilderness (Deut 1:2) lasted 40 years.
Then what did they do? They had to pass through another river. When they were finally ready to take the land, they went through the Jordan (Josh 3:1-8;17). The Jordan was another baptism. That is where John baptized hundreds of years later (Mt 3:13). John said “the axe is being laid to the root of the tree. The whole tree has to be thrown out! We’re starting over!” (Mt 3:10). That’s what Christ is He is the beginning of a new creation in resurrection. The old man is being cut off because he is totally unprofitable.
When Israel went through the Jordan, it says that the priests went first. When the water rolled back, they put 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel in the riverbed and when they crossed over, the water passed over, burying the stones (Josh 4:4-9). This represented their burial; their acknowledgement that the old man had to be terminated. The Jordan actually rolled back to a city called “Adam” representing the old man (Josh 3:16). The water covered the 12 stones and buried them. This signified the circumcision of Israel, the acknowledgement that from here on out it had to be God doing the work, and not them – “We are dead.” The water of the Red Sea covered the Egyptians, but the water at the Jordan covered the Israelites themselves!
This is “I am crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). I do not have any righteousness; my “Ishmael” did not work. He is rejected. I have no confidence in the flesh. I boast in Christ. Paul is saying that this is the kind of living and ministry that we have. In contrast, there are the “dogs, the evil workers and the concision.” You are in the flesh or in the spirit, and if you are ministering in the strength of the flesh you are nothing but a dog, an evil worker. You can believe the gospel but still have a mix of justification and your strength as a result of not seeing that sanctification is by faith. Your motives are unclean, your works are evil, and you are bringing people into bondage, and boasting in your shame. Later in Chapter 3 Paul describes “enemies of the cross” in this way (Phil 3:8).
Nothing to Boast
It is ironic that the circumcision ever became a boast that the Jews would boast, “we are the circumcision”. Because the circumcision was performed on a private member that you keep hidden. How do you boast in circumcision? I do not even want to know what that looks like! It is shameful. There is nothing to boast in with circumcision. It is the exact opposite of a boast. They are actually boasting in something that is shameful. They are boasting in what should be an admission of weakness. The whole life and disposition of the uncircumcised and circumcised are totally different. The dogs are different. I have met plenty of believers who work zealously for the Lord entirely in the strength of their flesh. They are working for a reward. They think they are going to be rewarded at the bema seat for the things they are doing. They think they are accumulating crowns and are boasting in their flesh. But they are bringing people into bondage. I can’t say they’re not justified if they believe the Gospel, but I can say “beware the dogs, beware the evil workers, beware the concision. Not only that but I can keep reminding you about it.” Paul says “For me to say these things again to you is not grievous but for you it safe! I’m going to keep warning!” Either people will repent or get really offended.
We are the true circumcision, the true Israel of God. We have passed through the Jordan. We see that not only did Egypt have to die but we had to die! Not only did the sin get dealt with, but we got dealt with! Jesus died for our sin as our Passover, but we had to die with Him at the Jordan and get crossed out and be circumcised and truly enter the rest of God. We realized, “only our Joshua can bring us into the Good Land.” We cannot do it. If it is up to us, we will fail. Yet God has declared that He will bring us in because he swore a covenant to our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and for that reason he is bringing us in with a strong hand. It is because of the covenant that He cut with Christ that He is bringing us into the riches of our inheritance. There is nothing we could do to earn it.
Do you want to see the fruit of the spirit? You had better become the true circumcision which means, “I can do nothing”. That is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 3. “How did you receive the spirit, was it by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish, having begun in the spirit are you now going to be perfected in the flesh?” We realize that the way we began is the way we have to continue, just like Abraham in Genesis 15. He had the promise with no evidence. God said, “I’m going to make you father of many nations and bless your seed.” But then he tried to develop “evidence” through the flesh, and he had an “Ishmael”. At the end of that the Lord did not say anything about it, he just had him cut off with the covenant of circumcision and then he repeated His promise to Abraham, giving him further details. Abraham had nothing more to boast of in order to merit that blessing than he did when he started 15 years before. It is like Ishmael never happened!
This is how God deals with us. He does not credit anything we do in the flesh. Some people are tempted to fight for the legitimacy of “Ishmael” and that is why they get so offended and persecute the sons of promise. They cannot stand the fact that their religious righteousness avails nothing before God. It does not make God move on your behalf. In fact, it slows you down. Maybe Isaac would have come sooner had Abraham not had Ishmael. Just like Israel was supposed to enter the good land 11 days after entering the wilderness but ended up taking 40 years! It is an 11-day journey from Egypt to Canaan. But it took them 40 years because of their unbelief.
Religious righteousness and uncircumcised flesh slow you down. God is patient to wait until you come to the end of yourself and agree with Him. Abraham had to participate in the circumcision. Believing unto justification did not require anything. He just believed and he was justified and qualified. But circumcision required his own hand to acknowledge “Okay, God is saying that none of this works”. We judge ourselves. That is very much a part of my entering the rest of God and entering a place where it is no longer I who live but Christ within me. Only those people really are qualified to be entrusted with ministry. It is not because they are great, but because they have received mercy (2 Cor 4:1). They are not going to adulterate the word because they are not trying to build anything up for themselves. They are living by faith. They were justified before, but maybe everything they did was a mess to slow them down. Their ministry is accounted as nothing and something to be avoided and warned about. Eventually they can enter rest. If you had known me 15 years ago, I can tell you I would warn you about that guy. I am not ashamed to say it. I was uncircumcised. But now I know that what I am preaching is different because I am different. There has been a process of circumcision. We are the true circumcision.
- Philippians Chapter 1 – Introduction
- Philippians Chapter 2- Offense or Fruit – Depends on What We Approve
- Philippians Chapter 3- Present Tense Salvation – the Supply of the Spirit
- Philippians Chapter 4 – New Paths in God’s Salvation by the Supply of the Spirit
- Philippians Chapter 5 Lessons from Undercover Boss and Pinocchio
- Philippians Chapter 6 – 2:5-12 How Rich People Work It Out
- Philippians Chapter 7 – Genuinely Concerned for Your Estate
- Philippians Chapter 8 – Dogs, Evil Workers and the True Circumcision
- Philippians Chapter 9 Our Heavenly Conversation
- Philippians Chapter 10 -Gaining Christ and Being Found in Him