Philippians THREE :1-3

“Lord Jesus, teach us to follow you as we work through our salvation, as we live out our salvation in our daily lives.”

Now, my brothers, I say be glad for what the Lord has done for you. It is not hard for me to write the same things to you over and over. And it is good for you. Watch out for those teachers who are like dogs. Watch out for those teachers who do wrong things. And watch out for those teachers who want you to have the mark of a Jew cut in your bodies. We have God’s Spirit and we worship God in the Spirit. So we are the people who have the mark of God. Christ Jesus is our reason for being joyful. We do not trust in having a mark cut in our bodies. Link to World English Bible

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary has a very interesting viewpoint on this section. First, they label the segment as 2:19 to 3:21. Their title for this section is “Following Christ As Ordinary Christians”. Most interesting is their chart depicting how certain people follow Christ. And the implied challenge is for each of us to add our name below Epaphroditus and fill in the columns. They did do this for “Workplace Christians” but I find it a challenge to fill out the columns for me, personally. Of course, their focus is on work. However, they do ask questions about living daringly. 

When I first looked at vs. 1-3 my thinking was about legalism. I’ve pondered this and I still think that’s the issue. In Paul’s day it centered on the Circumcision Party. Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their legalism. If you study Church History, you’ll see that Legalism has been a plague to the Gospel of Grace from the beginning.

Have you ever heard, “Well, we’ve always done it this way” as the proof that it is being done correctly? That’s basically what the “Circumcision Party” was saying: they saw Christianity as Jewish and if you were Jewish, you were circumcised. That’s the Law. That’s what God told Abraham. And this is where it gets difficult. We have to understand what God desired when He required circumcision of Abraham and Moses.

God was setting His People, the Hebrews, the Israelites, apart from the rest of the world. He wanted them to understand that they were different. They belonged to Him. Circumcision marked them as His. In Israel slaves were marked with an earring. Thus, if someone had a hole in his earlobe, he must be a runaway slave.

Now, consider when Joshua led the Israelites into Caanan. Many of the Caananites wanted to avoid being captured and slaughtered by the Israelites. If Joshua found someone wandering around he could easily determine if they were of Israel. The had the mark of God on them. 

So, St. Paul was dealing with this mindset. However, for St. Paul and the believing Christians, Jesus had fulfilled the Law. He was the perfect sacrifice and the atonement for Sin. It now was by Jesus that Sin was forgiven. Jesus had replaced the sacrifice of bulls and rams with His own sacrifice. The Eucharist was now the ritual of sacrifice. And circumcision was no longer a physical mutilation but a spiritual state. Circumcision of the Heart was now the mark of God.  

When you read the Acts of the Apostles you will see that St. Luke recorded in Chapter 15 how the governing body of the Church arrived at the concensus that God had ordained, through Jesus, fulfillment of the Law. However, please note that the Law given to Noah was not changed. That Law was for all humans and now the new Law, the New Covenant, was being given to all humans. 

Gentile Christians like those in Philippi were being confused by these Jews; they may have been ‘of good faith’ in that they wanted things done correctly. It is just that they could not comprehend what God had done through Jesus. Nor did they comprehend the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who resides in the Heart of each and every believer. 

Immigrants to the United States faced a similar problem. They had left their old country behind yet they still wanted to do things the way they had ‘always done’ them. Some of that has become a part of United States culture: St. Patrick’s Day and the Chinese New Year are observed, for example. There is a big difference in the way these days are observed in the USA and the way they were observed in the ‘old country’. The underlying meaning of these celebrations has changed.

The new Christian also has this problem. If I have always gone ‘bar hopping’ on Saturday night I might want to find something new to do on that night. Or my Sunday morning golf may be sacrificed for my Lord. My ritual observance of watching certain TV programs may need to be changed so that I can engage in Bible Study and Prayer. Even thanking God for a meal before eating can be a difficult change for some. 

St. Paul may not have known about golf and TV programs, but he certainly knew that becoming a Christian meant doing away with the ‘old man’ and the ‘way we’ve always done it’. 

The links are: Asbury Commentary; Matthew Henry; IVP Commentary. If this is your first Bible Study, you might find the information quite interesting. The discussion centers on just who these “dogs” actually are. Also, the IVP has many good things to say about the phrase, “Rejoice In The Lord” which makes reading the section on vs.1 worth the effort. 

Butterfly Image by kevin ryan from Pixabay 

Cat In The Sink, Image created by Uisdean.

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