Grace Bible Church
Joy in the Lord, Not the Flesh – Philippians 3:1-7
(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church
July 11, 2004
Joy in the Lord, Not the Flesh
This morning we return to our study of the book of Philippians. Personally, I have enjoyed and greatly benefitted from our study of the first half of this book, and I pray that you have as well. This morning we begin our study of chapter 3 in which Paul returns to his main theme of rejoicing, after writing about the more personal subjects of Timothy coming to them and the reasons for Ephaphroditus’ return. We will only be examining verses 1-7 this morning, but since those verses occur in a passage that runs through verse 16, let us begin by reading that whole section to set the context.
The broad theme in this passage is that the Christian is to have their joy and confidence firmly rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us, and not in our own heritage or personal accomplishments.
Phil 3:1 (NASB) Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things [again] is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 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, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained [it], or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of [it] yet; but one thing [I do]: forgetting what [lies] behind and reaching forward to what [lies] ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same [standard] to which we have attained.
Rejoice in the Lord
Paul begins this passage with the command, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” The word translated here as “finally” in the NAS, KJV & NIV, loipoV / loipos, is not used in the sense that this is the last thing Paul will be saying, for Paul has a lot more to say. The word here means “in addition to,” “the remaining,” or “the rest” as it is translated in both Darby’s and Young’s. Paul wants them to pay attention to the rest of what he has to say to his fellow Christians (my brethren) on the subject of rejoicing in the Lord.
Paul’s statement, “rejoice in the Lord,” is in the imperative voice meaning that this is a command, not an option. That in itself brings up an interesting and important point. If joy is simply an emotion, how can a person be commanded to have it? If joy, like happiness, is dependent on circumstances, then is Paul commanding us to always put ourselves in a position where our circumstances are favorable to our desires? Many people live with that kind of mindset and spend their lives in pursuit of happiness. However, whenever a person does catch up with happiness, like a bird, it soon flies away again. Circumstances are a very poor source of joy. The answer to that question us that joy is not simply an emotion, nor is joy dependent on our circumstances, but rather on our perspective on those circumstances. It is sort of like the boy who got sick with a fever. While his mother was very concerned for him, he was happy because that meant he did not have to go to school!
Paul makes clear in this command that the source of rejoicing is the Lord. This has been his theme from the beginning of the book. He could pray with joy for them because he was confident that God Who began a good work in them would perfect until the day of Christ Jesus (1:4-6). Paul could rejoice even in his imprisonment and despite the fact that there were other believers who were seeking to cause him distress because God was using both as means for the furtherance of the gospel (1:12-18). Paul was not dependant upon circumstances for joy. His joy arose from seeing God work in the midst of the circumstances. This was such a reality and way of life for Paul that he would count it as a gain to die in his imprisonment since he would then be with his Savior, but he also saw that to live and remain would mean joyful service to others, so he would rejoice either way.
The same joyful outlook should be true for us as we respond to our circumstances. Joy is dependent upon perspective, not circumstances. The Christian can therefore always rejoice because our God is not limited by our circumstances but is always at work in the midst of them. Never let circumstances rob you of your joy. Follow Paul’s example and look to see how God is at work in the midst of them and take joy in that.
As we begin chapter 3, Paul turns his attention from dealing with circumstances and other people to dealing with ourselves. While many people leave themselves dependent on circumstances for happiness, there are others that take joy in themselves. This is not only a wrong source for joy, but it is also an evil one. Paul gives three warnings about types of people that do this and that we should not follow their example. Our joy and confidence are not to be based in either our heritage or our own accomplishments.
Paul goes on in verse 1 to say, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” This goes back to what Paul said to them in 1:28 about not being alarmed by their opponents, but now he goes into more detail about these opponents.
It is a good thing to be reminded about things we have previously been taught because it is so easy to either forget what we have learned or we have other things occupy out attention so much that we do not pay the proper attention to the priorities. Peter says a similar thing in 2 Peter 1:12,13. “Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you [already] know [them], and have been established in the truth which is present with [you.] 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this [earthly] dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder.” This is an important truth to those of us who have been Christians for many years. Over time we have learned most of the important Biblical truths, so it is rare that we hear something completely new to us, but very often we need to hear the same thing again and be stirred up to live according to them. That includes the warnings about the dangers we face.
In verse 2 Paul gives three distinct warnings. Beware of the dogs. Beware of the evil workers. Beware of the false circumcision. Beware is from blepw / blepô meaning to “look,” “see,” “perceive,” “watch,” “take care.”Here it refers to carefully observing so that you will be aware of the true nature of the person by his teaching and actions. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-20, it is by their fruits that you will recognize false prophets. Each warning has distinct aspects to it, but all three warnings can also be applied to the same people.
Beware of the Dogs.
The language here seems very strong, especially for Paul, but it is a very fitting description of the nature of these people. Calling someone a dog in our culture would be considered rude, but not much more than that since our culture has a common favorable view of dogs. Most Americans view dogs as beloved family pets. That is not the usage Paul is giving here. Dogs in the ancient world, and in the Middle East still, we viewed as unclean, filthy animals that were vicious and dangerous scavengers. The term is used throughout the Bible as a derogatory reference to people that have those same characteristics of being unholy, dangerous and scavengers on the weak. That is a fitting description for those that teach false religion and salvation by works.
Doctrinal error is serious for its effects are serious. In Acts 20:29, Paul warned the Ephesian elders “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Jesus gave a similar warning in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Even if their error is not as serious as the doctrine of demons Paul warns about in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, which includes teaching to abstain from marriage and certain foods, they are still blind guides leading the blind and both end up in the pit of hell. Serious consequences demand serious warnings.
There were those at the time of Paul, and there are plenty in our own time, that profess show the path to heaven, but they are instead leading people to hell. It is not uncommon for such people to call others names and proclaim them to be false when they are actually what they are calling others. I can think of several on “Christian TV” who have railed against those that have questioned their teaching claiming that you “should not speak against the Lord’s anointed” even while they pronounce judgements against other pastors. No wonder 1 Timothy 4:2 describes them as those who by the means of the hypocrisy of liars are seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron. Beware of the dogs.
Beware of the Evil Workers
Next, Paul warns about evil workers which in this context is a reference to religious people who pride themselves on their supposed works of righteousness, but are in reality works of self righteousness which result in God’s condemnation and judgement. Paul had in mind the Judaizers who wanted to mix Christianity and Judaism. This was a long standing problem in the early church. As far back as Acts 15 there were those Jews who had come to faith in Jesus as Messiah, but also believed that all the Mosaic Law also had to be kept. They demanded that even Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) heard all the arguments and determined that this was wrong for salvation comes through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and not by keeping the Law of Moses.
Paul had to stand against these people many more times in many different places. Paul’s letter to the Galatians was specifically against them for they had “bewitched” (3:1) them into adding the works of the Law to salvation. They had even persuaded Peter and Barnabas to stop eating with Gentiles and be aloof. Paul withstood Peter to his face over this and corrected him (Gal. 2:11-21). This error was extremely serious, for adding works to grace is another gospel, and those that preach such a perverted gospel are accursed (Gal. 1).
Judaizers still exist, but they pose little danger to the church as a whole because they have such a small influence. Their greatest danger is to those in those involved with Messianic movement. However, there are many other groups that are similar to them. Some groups will pick and choose among Old Testament passages to add additional requirements beyond faith to achieve righteousness before God. Some demand worship to be done on certain days, and many add dietary restrictions (which is a doctrine of demons – 1 Tim. 4). Other groups add requirements of their own making that may have little to do with either the Old or New Testament (the Sacraments of Roman Catholicism, traditions of some main line denominations and cultic demands in groups such as Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, etc.). What all these groups have in common is adding some sort of work they consider to be righteous in order to achieve God’s favor. They all reject the imputation of righteousness by God’s decree based solely on His grace and the individual’s faith even though so many passages attest to it (Romans 3:22; 4:5; Phil. 3:9; Gal. 2:16; 2 Peter 1:1; etc.). The very works they do that they consider righteous are evil in God’s sight because they are the outward rejection of their trust in Him in the effort to earn their salvation upon their own terms. All our works of righteousness are filthy before Him (Isa. 64:6).
This is an error that can also be found even within evangelical churches and those that consider themselves fundamental. I have met many within Baptist groups and even Bible churches whose testimony of salvation is filled with this damning “I disease.” “I am saved because I went forward,” or “I raised my hand for the evangelist,” or “I was baptized,” or “I prayed a prayer,” or “I do this, that or the other thing.” Such testimonies reveal trust in self instead of trust in the Lord. I am saved for only one reason. The great and awesome God that created me and Whom I disobeyed has paid the price for my sin in Jesus’ death on my behalf and has forgiven me and imputed His righteousness to me based only on my simple faith that all He has told me in the Bible about Himself, what He has done and what He will do in the future is true. In the words of Paul in Romans 4, God has reckoned my faith as righteousness. My salvation from sin is all of God. I am only a responder to what He has done because I have believed Him. The testimony of those that are truly saved should not reflect the “I” disease, but rather make the healthy proclamation, that God saves sinners by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Beware of the False Circumcision
The third group Paul mentions are those who are the false circumcision. Again, the Judaizers are the specific group Paul has in mind, but the emphasis by the use in this term is their reliance upon their genealogical heritage and traditions. Circumcision was the outward sign God gave to Abraham and all his descendants to identify them as His people (Gen. 17:10). The term “the circumcised” eventually became a synonymous reference for the Jewish people. It became common for many Jews to believe God would save them simply because they were descendants of Abraham, but that has never been true. Circumcision was to be the outward sign of an inward reality of willing submission to the Lord. All the way back in Deut. 10:16 God told them to “Circumcise your heat, and stiffen your neck no more.” Jesus warned them about this false hope in Luke 3:8f that they could not rely on their genealogy to save them, for they were in danger of God’s judgement if they did not repent, and that God could raise up children of Abraham from stones.
Heritage cannot save you no matter how good it may be. The Jews have a wonderful heritage and many advantages, as Paul points out in Romans 3, but to becoming a child of God and part of His eternal family is an individual relationship entered into by individual faith in Christ Jesus. No one enters heaven based on an inheritance from their parents. That was true of the Jews then and it is still true of everyone today. There is no such thing as second hand faith. While godly parents are a great asset in coming to know and believe the truth about Jesus Christ, you come to salvation based on your own faith alone, not theirs. That is an important point for our own time because there are many people who think they are going to heaven because their parents were godly, they were raised in the church, and they are active in their own church now. Regardless of what church you go to, including this one, or how active you are in its activities and ministries, if you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior, then all you have is religion, and religion will not get you to heaven.
Paul makes this point personal in verses 3-7 by explaining three characteristics of those who are truly saved and telling the story of his own heritage and zeal in keeping Judaism, and how worthless they were in contrast to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ.
Characteristics of True Christians
First, Paul says that he and those believing the same as him, are the true circumcision. They were the ones who had circumcised hearts and were the true children of God. Paul wrote of this in Romans 2:28,29 saying, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” Belonging to God as His child is a spiritual matter, not a physical one. In 1 Peter 3:9-10, that apostle applies several Old Testament passages to Christians in saying, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” The reality of being one of God’s people is demonstrated in fulfilling God’s purpose in choosing you to proclaim His excellencies.
Worship in the Spirit of God
The second characteristic of true Christians is that they worship in the Spirit of God. True worship starts with God, not man. Worship is man responding to who God is and what He has done, not God responding to man. The purpose of worship is to give praise, honor and glory to God simply because He is worthy of it, not to somehow earn something from Him through various ceremonies and rituals.
This is a truth that is easily lost in a religion that has a lot of ceremonies and rituals such as Judaism and its off-shoots. That is why Jesus had to correct the woman at the well in John 4 when she sought to divert Jesus’ attention by bringing up the Samaritan’s contention that Samaria was the proper place to worship, not Jerusalem. Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24). Jesus could have just as easily said the same thing to most Jews of the time which is why Paul brings out the point here.
The greater tragedy is that so many Christian groups have fallen into the same error and have replaced the reality of personal worship of our Creator with liturgies whose meaning have long been forgotten. This is not to say that ceremonies and rituals are wrong in themselves. In fact, they cannot be since God proscribed them to the Jews and has commanded Christians to practice the ordinances of Baptism and Communion. The problem is that the meaning of the ceremonies are forgotten and they become meaningless rituals. People practice them because they have done them all of their lives just as their parents did before them. Our worship of God is to be done in both spirit and truth. This requires an active mind that is responding to the Spirit of God with not only praise to God, but also with resolve to change any areas of life that do not match God’s truth. Worship is to be done both in word and deed as we give Him the sacrifice of praise from our lips in thanksgiving (Heb. 13:15) and have our lives conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29b). Don’t allow yourself to become complacent and have less than that in your own life.
No Confidence in Flesh
The final characteristic of true believers Paul mentions here is that they do not put their confidence in their flesh. The Judiazers that Paul was battling with did that, but as already pointed out, there is no good work that you can do that could earn you God’s favor, for all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags before Him (Isa. 64:6). In verses 4-7 Paul uses himself as an example of this.
If Paul were to compare himself to the dogs, evil workers and false circumcision on the same basis as they valued, he would have reason to have confidence or boast, for Paul far surpassed them in his own deeds of the flesh.
Paul’s deeds of the flesh began before he even had any control over them. Paul’s parents carefully followed the Old Testament command of Leviticus 12:3 and had Paul circumcised when he was only 8 days old. Paul was born with the right heritage since he was a descendant of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, the line of inheritance. But more than just being of the nation of Israel, Paul also knew that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. In a time when many Jews did not know which tribe they belonged to, this was significant. Records were destroyed or lost during the years of captivity and intermarriage between tribes had also blurred the lines of distinction. Being a Benjaminite was also an honor since Benjamin was the second son of Rachel, Jacobs favorite wife, and that tribe had remained loyal to David’s kingly line. It is also the tribe through whom God delivered the Jews from genocide by the actions of Mordecai and Esther.
As Paul grew up, he actively pursued those things he thought would make him righteous before God. First, Paul was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews.” That is a reference to his strict adherence to his Jewish heritage. Though he was born in Tarsus in Asia Minor, Paul successfully resisted the pressure to adapt into the Greco-Roman culture and become a Hellenized Jew. Paul even studied under the famous rabbi Gamaliel.
Paul was also, as to the Law, a Pharisee. Paul’s father had been a Pharisee, and so Paul also became part of Judaism’s strictest sect (Acts 23:6; 26:5). Though they were relatively few in number, they were very influential and well known for their strict adherence to obedience to the Law according to their own traditions. Paul was not a passive member of this group either, for he was “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” He was devout in his beliefs and viewed Christianity as a threat to God’s law and therefore deserving of the greatest punishments he could bring against it. All of this resulted in Paul being “as to the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” This does not mean that he was sinless, but rather that he met all the requirements of Pharisaic interpretation of the Law.
Paul knew what “the dogs,” “the evil workers,” and “the false circumcision” were like because he had been one of them, and he had become the epitome of what they tried to be. He also knew the reality of being the true circumcision, worshiping in the Spirit of God and placing no confidence in the flesh, for that was the change that had occurred in his life when he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and was saved (cf. Acts 9). That is why he concludes in verse 7, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Nothing compares to having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
True joy can only be found in Jesus Christ. Happiness is fleeting because it is based in circumstances, and circumstances are constantly changing, but peace, contentment and satisfaction are possible when those same circumstances are viewed from God’s perspective and you see Him at work. The Christian can be joyful in any situation including those that are personally painful, because Jesus is always with them and always at work .
Many people pursue being religious in order to have peace with God, but no peace is possible for those that try to work their way to heaven, for no amount of work can reach God’s standards. The Christian can have joy in Jesus Christ because He proved His love for all time and eternity by paying the price of their sins, and He will fulfill His promise to return and take them to be with Him forever.
The only source of true Joy is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you do not know Jesus, talk with myself or one of our church leaders. We would love to introduce you to Him. If you are struggling in your walk with Christ, then also talk with myself or one of our church leaders and we will pair you up with someone who can help by walking with you and showing you how to walk with God. That is the reason we are here, to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “joy” is used. Talk with your parents about what it means to be joyful and how it is found in Jesus.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What have you learned in our study of Philippians 1 & 2? What changes have you made in your life as a result? What changes do you still need to make? Why is Paul able to command us to rejoice in the Lord? Define joy. What is the relationship between joy and circumstances? What does Paul want to remind them about (vs. 1)? What does it mean to “beware”? Who are the “dogs”? Why does Paul call them that? Who are the evil workers? What makes their work evil? What are modern examples of such people? What is “I disease”? Who are the false circumcision? What is required of the Jew beyond physical circumcision? Who are the true circumcision? Support your answer. What are the characteristics of those who worship in the Spirit of God? What causes people/churches to turn from this to ritualism? Why is it wrong to have confidence in or boast in your flesh? What is the significance of each of Paul’s statements about his own works of flesh? – circumcision the 8th 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 isn in the law, blameless. What is Paul’s conclusion about all of this? How can you apply his example in your own life? What is your source of joy?
Joy in Jesus, Not the Flesh – Philippians 3:1-7
Rejoicing in the Lord
– vs. 1
– vs. 1
– vs. 2
Beware of the Dogs
Beware of the Evil Workers
Beware of the False Circumcision
Characteristics of True Christians
– vs. 3
Worship in the Spirit of God
No Confidence in the Flesh
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