Philippians 3:1-9                                                                                                                                          November 12, 2017



It was about the year 60ad. The Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting either execution or release. And while he was there, he wrote this letter to a church in Philippi; the Philippians. Most of the people in the church probably knew Paul personally because he was the first one to bring the gospel to their city, which you can read about in Acts 16.


And Paul writes this letter for a couple of reasons. First, he writes to reassure them that he’s okay. They were understandably worried about him, and so this letter, especially the first 26 verses, served as a report on his own condition as well as the condition of his ministry. Both, by the way, by God’s grace, were doing very well – Paul wasn’t scared of dying and the gospel was thriving, even making its way into the household of the Roman emperor.


But second, Paul also writes to exhort the Philippians, which means that he urged them to do some things. He did this beginning in 1v27 all the way through 2v18. He said things to the Philippians (and these of course are things we need to hear as well) like “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1v27) and “Do nothing from selfish ambition” (2v3) and “Do all things without grumbling or questioning” (2v14) and “hold fast the Word of life” (2v16), and then finally, in 2v18 “be glad and rejoice.”


And then, beginning in 2v19 Paul begins to give examples of people who are already following those commands; people who are practicing what they preach; godly men for us to imitate; people like Paul and Timothy and Epaphroditus. He also, we’ll see today, gives some examples of men not to imitate. And then he’ll bring this section of examples to a close in verse 17 of chapter 3 where he’ll say:


17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”


Those enemies of the cross of Christ, that brought Paul to tears, are in our text today. We make it a point not to imitate them. This morning we will learn who they are and what they say and, more importantly, who we are as Christians, and what we say as Christians.


Before I preach this sermon, we should pray together.  Please bow your heads with me.


Please open your Bibles to Philippians 3, which, if you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find on page 637.


“Rejoice in the Lord”

Being joyful is not a suggestion to the Christian, it’s a command. Christians are required to be joyful. And so, no surprise, this letter that Paul writes is after joy – joy in Paul; joy in the Philippians; joy in you. In fact, this entire Bible is after your joy. If you read it, understand it, and believe it, indomitable joy is inevitable.


In 1v18 Paul said, (from prison!), “I rejoice.” In 1v25 he told the Philippians that the goal of his ministry was their “progress and joy in the faith.” In 4v4 Paul will say “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” And now listen to the beginning of our text today, verse 1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” That means the words that follow; the words we’re going to read today, are for joy. Read this, understand this, believe this, and indomitable joy is inevitable.


Let’s finish reading verse 1 which sets up the rest of our text: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”


Apparently Paul has said these “same things” before, probably in person, but he feels the need to say them again; and he says two things regarding what he’s about to say again. First, “it is no trouble to [him].” In other words, it is a pleasure to say some things over and over. Some things are worth repeating. And Paul does this; he gladly repeats himself throughout his letters; often communicating one truth in different ways.


The second thing Paul says is: it “is safe for you.” In other words, this is for your good. One of the ways Paul protects the Philippians and protects their joy is through the repeating of certain truths over and over again.


So – Here are two things Paul repeats in his letters – the gospel and Christianity. He answers two questions, over and over again, saying the same thing, using different words: “What is the gospel?” and “What is a Christian?” This morning we’re looking at Paul’s answer to “What is a Christian?” And he will give three answers.


Don’t assume you know. Come to the Bible, no matter how long you’ve been a professing Christian, and hear Paul. Christians who do not feel the need to revisit these fundamental basic truths and examine themselves are not safe.


Let’s continue reading Paul’s words..


“Look out for the dogs”

Here’s the first thing Paul says following his command to “rejoice in the Lord.” Verse 2: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” “Look out!” “Look out!” “Look out!” Three times. The Greek word means “beware, be vigilant, be on the lookout for.” Remember 3v17-18?

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”


Verse 17, “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Christians keep their eyes on other godly Christians. Christians imitate other godly Christians. But Christians also “look out for” bad examples, and Paul gives these bad examples three names: He calls them “dogs,” “evildoers,” and “mutilators of the flesh.”


Strong language. Paul didn’t sugar coat. When asked about these men and their teaching Paul wouldn’t say “no comment.” He wouldn’t say “we’ve agreed to disagree.” When asked about these guys Paul would say “He is a dog. He is an evildoer. He is a mutilator of the flesh.”


Okay. Let me give you some background so that you understand what Paul is saying here. First of all, these “dogs,” as Paul calls them, are false teachers. They were often called Judaizers. They called themselves “the circumcision.” Probably didn’t put that name to a vote. They were called “the circumcision party,” which did not refer to an event (thank goodness) but a group of people with shared ideas, like “the republican party” or “the democratic party.”


Peter dealt with them in Acts 11:2-3: “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” James, we’re told in Galatians 2:12, was afraid of them, and Paul often spoke out against them, like in Galatians 5:6 when he said: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” They were a major problem in the first century church.


And here is the idea that united these men: They were Jews who insisted that true Christians must follow the Mosaic law, including circumcision, in addition to placing their faith in Jesus Christ.  Now here’s the problem with that teaching – it’s not true.


D.A. Carson says “[Paul] insists that they are misreading the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. The old-covenant Scriptures do not establish eternal structures of religious observance …. Rather, they anticipate [Christ’s] coming, they look forward to his coming, they announce his coming, but it is his coming that is the ultimate hope.” (Basics for Believers: Philippians, page 81-82)


So in the OT God’s people had many rules and regulations and these “dogs” preach they’re still binding. But they’re not.


So no more temple. The temple pointed to Jesus, the supreme meeting place between man and God. No more sacrifices. The sacrifices pointed to Jesus, the supreme sacrifice on behalf of the sin of God’s people. And no more circumcision, which (among other things) symbolized a commitment to follow Gods law. As Christians, our hearts have been circumcised, meaning we have been cut to the heart, and changed by God to love him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.


Moses predicted this day in Deuteronomy 30:6 when he said: “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.


And Paul says in Romans 8:28-29: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”


So, with that understanding, see if you can hear what Paul does in verse 2-3? He calls the false teachers (those who claimed to be the real Christians) three names; and then he gives three marks of a real Christian – “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”


Let’s look at these three marks individually, but first let me say this: This is the right way to handle false teachers. If a professing Christian clearly and publicly teaches doctrine that contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, they should meet strong verbal opposition. That’s not mean. It is loving people who would otherwise be persuaded by them and led into destruction. There are still dogs among us, and they offer false teaching. Calling them out is not popular, but it’s necessary. Some churches and most “Christian” bookstores are terrible at this, with no gatekeeper, actually evaluating what is being said in light of God’s Word. And to make a buck, they sell a lot of misleading garbage.


Okay Paul, What is a true Christian? He gives three marks. They “worship by the Spirit of God.” They “glory in Christ Jesus.” And they “put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul spends the most time on number three, and so we’ll move quickly through the first two and emphasize the third.


  1. A true Christian worships by the Spirit of God.


If you’re a Christian, the Spirit of God dwells within you. You don’t have to go to a special place to meet with God. You are meeting with God right now. He couldn’t be closer. This Sunday morning tradition of ours is not important because this is when we can meet with God, but because this is when we can meet with each other.


In John 4 Jesus has a conversation with a woman at a well. She figures out quickly that he’s someone special and starts asking him theological questions. One of the questions she asks is “Where are we supposed to worship?” His answer was “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…23  the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” (John 4:21-24).


  1. A true Christian glories in Christ Jesus.


A true Christian glories in Christ Jesus alone. Jesus is everything to a Christian. He is our greatest treasure. We don’t sing “Jesus paid most of it, I owe him a lot.” We sing “Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.”


Psalm 73:25-26 says: Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.


  1. A true Christian puts no confidence in the flesh.


This third mark of a true Christian is what Paul spends the most time on. Let me read verse 3 again, and then right into vv4-6 where he elaborates on putting no confidence in the flesh. It’s very important we understand this mark of a true Christian.


For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.


Basically, here’s what it means to put confidence in the flesh. When it comes to your standing before God, to trust in anything other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, is to put your confidence in the flesh. To be a Christian is to put confidence (faith, trust, rely) in Christ alone.


Whether we’re talking about your eternal standing before God, or your daily standing before God, the basis of it is not what you’ve done or not done, it is what Christ has done.


Now here’s the point Paul just made in vv4-6: If anyone had reason to “put confidence in the flesh” it was Paul. He lists four inherited privileges, and then three achievements. And there was a day when all this was the source of Paul’s confidence before others and before God.

He was “circumcised on the eighth day,” which means Paul was born into a family that strictly observed the OT laws. He was “of the people of Israel,” a biological descendent of Abraham, not a Gentile convert. He was “of the tribe of Benjamin,” unlike many Jews, for Paul’s family the record had not been lost and he could tell you exactly what tribe he belonged to. He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” probably meaning he grew up speaking Hebrew and we know he ended up being trained by Gamaliel, one of the great Jewish rabbis of his day. Those were not things Paul did or had any control over; that was the family he was born into. But then he lists his achievement. “As to the law, a Pharisee,” Paul was a Pharisee, which was a sect within Judaism, and they were the guys most committed to the observance of OT rules and regulations. As to zeal, a persecutor of the church,” Paul risked his life to exterminate what he considered to be false religion. And finally Paul said “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Outwardly, he obeyed all the rules.


That was the source of Paul’s confidence. But not anymore. Paul goes on to say how he feels about all that now.


(vv7-9) But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,


Paul didn’t put any confidence in his flesh. Instead, he counted it as loss. He put zero confidence in it. It had no eternal value to him. All that Paul was and did before Christ he calls garbage; his education, his heritage, his pedigree, his passion, his achievements, his accomplishments. In that moment, when he came to “know Jesus Christ as [his] Lord” (v8) he threw everything else away.


They held no value any longer. What held value? (v8) “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” There is nothing more valuable than knowing Christ personally. I’m not talking about knowing about Christ. We’re talking about knowing Christ personally. Nothing is more valuable. That’s what Paul is saying. Not money, not possessions, not achievements, not reputation, not social status, not followers, not your family, not your job, nothing.


Paul goes on to explain why he continually counts all things as loss but his personal relationship with Christ.


(vv8b-9): “in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”


Friends, what happens when you “gain Christ?” When are “found in him?” When you place your “faith in Christ?” Well, no self-righteousness, that’s for sure. The veil is lifted. You see who you and it’s not good. No righteousness of your own to boast in.

Even better. The righteousness of Christ is credited to your account.  And that friends, is reason for joy.


When Paul became a true Christian, everything he had in the credit column transferred to the debit column, and the only thing left in the credit column was Jesus Christ. On one side is everything the world has to offer, and on the other side is Christ alone. And that is no contest for the Christian. This is why he said in Philippians 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.”


Let’s pray.