Paul begins the letter with a warm greeting and exhortation to continue their partnership in the gospel, then he calls the church to gospel-centered community and unpacks to them what that looks like. Now he will begin to warn the church about the danger of those inside and outside of the fold who (whether knowingly or unknowingly) wish to destroy the work of the gospel, and also to watch out for our own self-righteousness which is just as (if not more) damaging than any evil dog. With that brief summary, let’s get into the text:
1a: Finally (Well then; And so; Moreover); This means Paul is about to wraps things up, but gets the case of the preacher syndrome and goes on for another two chapters.
1b-c: rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you; What is the same thing that he has written to them? What else could it be other than rejoice in the Lord in your afflictions (cf. 2:28, 29; 3:1; 4:4)! Paul says it’s no trouble for him to exhort the church to rejoice in their affliction (which is one of the occasions of the letters). Paul says, “This is no trouble to me!” Why? Paul understands the joy of the Lord to be “safe”. No matter what life brings, the joy of God is what brings strength (Neh. 8:10)!
Joy in or from the Lord is inherently strengthening. This is implicit in Psalm 81:1: “Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!” The books of Chronicles tell us that after King David had installed the ark in Jerusalem, his song of thanks linked strength and joy: “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place” (1 Chronicles 16:27).1
Matthew Henry, the Puritan expositor, wrote, “The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.” 2
The joy of the Lord is a battlement that guards you and protects you while in the midst of battle. It is heavily fortified, it’s raised high off the ground to protect you from hand-to-hand combat and gives you the upper hand in battle. Paul knows this, and he also knows this is the only thing that will allow them to partner for the sake of the gospel in the midst of what he writes about next. It’s clear to see why Paul freely reminds them to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of afflictions; because rejoicing will serve as a battlement throughout all of life? Are you safe, or are you in danger?
2: Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. Wow, no wonder he was prepping them to rejoice in the Lord. He just went off! Just who is his target? Who is he talking about when he says “dogs”, “evildoers”, and “those who mutilate the flesh”? Well, we learn about it in what he says next.
3: For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—Paul is seemingly attacking the Judaizers whom he has been in conflict with for years (in and out of the church; Acts 15 – the Jerusalem council; circumcising new believers). Judaizers were Jewish Christians (seemingly, but maybe not really), who preached a gospel of works that adhered to the Mosaic Law and said that Gentile Christians must adhere to it as well, including circumcision (“Thanks for fighting for us Paul”, says the new Gentile believers re:adult circumcision!)
We see Paul rebuking them in Galatians as Judaizers tried to distort the gospel in the new church in Galatia: Gal. 1:6-9: Paul saw no use in the circumcision party, only in the true gospel!
Back to verse 2: And his idea of evildoers is very different than our list. The three terms Paul uses to rebuke these Judaizers actually are the same words these Judaizers would use, but Paul flips the meaning. Let’s allow commentator Kent Hughes to unpack this for us:
1) Dogs: First-century Israelites didn’t have pets, and they had no use for dog food. Dogs were coyote-like scavengers who fed on roadkill, carrion (decaying flesh), filth, and garbage — they were vivid images of the unclean. So for the Jews, a dog was a perfect metaphor for those who did not keep Israel’s dietary laws, and thus a powerful metaphor for Gentiles and lapsed Jews. But here in Philippians, by warning Christians, “Look out for the dogs” Paul effected a stunning reversal, charging that the Judaizers were the unclean “dogs” who stood outside the covenant blessings; like an unclean Jew!
2) Evildoers: “look out for the evildoers,” is likewise a barbed irony because it is a pun on the Judaizers’ who claim to be doing the works of the Law (the Lord). “The works of the Law” was a pious slogan used to distinguish Jew from Gentile, or the observant Jew from the non-observant. Thus by Paul’s calling the Judaizers “evildoers,” Paul was saying that rather than doing the works of the Law, they were literally “evil workers” (kakous ergatas). The irony for the Judaizers was that all their attention to the works of the Law made them evil workers — and therefore spiritual Gentiles —dogs.
3) Mutilators: “look out for those who mutilate the flesh” is particularly scathing because the word “mutilate” (katatomÓ) is a sarcastic play on the word for “circumcision” (peritomÓ). Thus, as Peter T. O’Brien concludes, “Circumcision, their greatest source of pride, is interpreted by the apostle as mutilation — a sure sign that they have no part in God’s people at all.”
In case you are wondering just who those people are in your church today, take your finger and point it to yourself. All of us are unclean an din need of a savior. All of us struggle daily with self-righteousness and looking to ourselves. All of us boast about things other than the works of Jesus. We are the dogs at times. We are the evildoers at times. We are the mutilators of the flesh at times. This is the beginning of Paul unpacking why it’s all about Jesus.
What’s your greatest source of pride? Is it your righteousness? Your deliverance from sins or struggles that others are still marred in? Your service to God which is greater than your contemporaries? Or the finished work of Jesus Christ on your behalf?
Brilliant! Nothing was more important to Paul than the true, full gospel, and he used current, contextual slogans to etch in the minds of the Philippians of the damage they are to the gospel. Paul is very serious about not adding legalistic requirements to the gospel of grace or looking to your own righteousness for approval before God.
Now back to verse 3: Paul here begins to unpack what it looks like to be of the true circumcision party: For we are the circumcision (the true children of God), 1) who worship by the Spirit of God and 2) glory in Christ Jesus and 3) put no confidence in the flesh—
1) Upward worship of God directed by the Spirit of God; “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6)
2) Outward boasting of the glory (beauty, majesty, splendor, power) of Christ Jesus; “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:4-6)
3) Inward boldness because of what Christ has done, not what we have done. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
And the the evidence of the new covenant and circumcision of the heart is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:8, 9).
And it is through these 3 descriptions of the new Israel that Paul uses to help the Philippian Church (and Kineo Church) to rightly understand the true gospel of grace. In verses 4-9 Paul uses his own life and tells us that if anyone had reason to boast in what he has done, it would be him. At the end of his rant, Paul says all that he has done is “rubbish” compared to knowing and worshipping Jesus the Christ by the power of the Spirit, displaying the beauty and worth of Jesus, and living with bold confidence in what Jesus has already done!
The word “rubbish” in Greek is “skúbala”; something thrown to the dogs; spoken of the refuse of grain, slaughtered animals, and, are you ready for this: dung! By first century standards, the word “skúbala” would be considered a curse word (crap, or even, pardon my irreverence, shit!)
Paul’s past accomplishments had become detestable to him, not because they were bad (because they weren’t), but because they kept him from Christ. (Mark 9:34b)
While Paul pursued a life of righteousness, and exhorted believers constantly to live lives worthy of the gospel (holiness, obedience to Christ, love God and people, etc.), he placed no emphasis of hope or salvation on to the flesh (holiness, obedience, etc.). Paul was done with self-righteousness, and only preached the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.
This righteousness is brought about by Christ’s faithfulness but is appropriated by human faith — “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9b). This is saving faith because it includes abandoning all those things with which we would credit ourselves, relying instead on the faithful work of Christ.3
Why does he look away from himself? Why are we to look away from ourselves? Why can’t we make it about us? What’s the deal with God’s economy? I want it to be a bout me for once!
Brother and sister, you and I are weak. We lose heart. We get easily discouraged. We are unfaithful. We have doubt. Our brokenness is overwhelming. We have questions that we can’t answer. We can’t get out of bed some days. We get angry and lash out at those we love the most. We complain constantly about how hard life is. Our children annoy us and we want to run away. We are self-righteous and feel better than others. We cheat and lie and pretend, and neglect you and on and on….
What about us is worth being the center? What about us will give us hope in the midst of despair? Do you want me to be the center of God’s agenda?
I don’t want you to be the center of God’s agenda. BUT JESUS….Jesus is the center and he is radically for you and I. And he is the image of the invisible God, He is the one who took our shame. He is our redemption. He is the light that has shone “out of darkness,” and “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God…” (2 Cor. 4:4-6) JESUS!!
Paul concludes with this exhortation and I take it for myself and ask that you hear this for yourselves this morning as a prayer of your heart:
I pray “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (vv. 10-11)
There’s just no way that one could read this passage properly (in it’s intended meaning) while being detached from emotion and conviction. Actually, we should probably all confess that we have never truly given this passage it’s due or have fully grasped Paul’s heart in it.
At the core, if we read this in light of what Paul has just written, this comment is a by-product of him worshiping Jesus correctly, believing and preaching to himself the full and true gospel!
And if you look at the sentence structure of these 11 verses (and we could add vv. 12-16 as well) you can see that vv. 4-9 are an unpacking of why Paul has not put confidence in his flesh and then picks right back up in verse 10 saying what he was wanting to say.
So let’s read vv. 1-3 and 10-11 as if vv. 4-9 are a footnote at the end of v. 3:
1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh… 10 [so] that I (we) may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I (we) may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Was Paul uncertain about his participation in the resurrection? Not at all. The resurrection was certain (Rom. 6:5; 2 Cor. 4:14; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12; Phil 1:21-23), but the intervening events were uncertain as to timing and circumstances. Would he die and later rise from the dead? Or would he remain alive and undergo transformation to his new resurrection body (the return of Jesus)? By any means, martyrdom, death from old age, hunger, sickness, or living to see Christ bodily return. Either way, he is expectantly looking forward to the day of his resurrection and is “all in” either way, as long as he dies!
Okay, so let’s close this up for today. Here are three things that must take place in the life of a believer if they are to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection:
1) Upward worship of God directed by the Spirit of God (fellowship with God); The first time we see this word in this letter is in 1:5 (“your partnership [koinonia] in the gospel”). Ok, I can handle that. The second occurrence is in 1:7 (“partakers [sugkoinōnós from koinonia] with me of grace”). Fellowship with grace! That’s my kind of church body partnership! Then we find it in 2:1 (“any participation [koinonia] in the Spirit”). Now we’re getting charismatic…I dig it! But “the fellowship [koinonia] of his sufferings”, now you’re talking stupid! Who wants to join that fellowship? “That church has good suffering. Let’s join!”
2) Outward boasting of the glory (beauty, majesty, splendor, power) of Christ Jesus (know Jesus); Paul adds “and the power of His resurrection”, but at the core, it is Jesus’ resurrection that typifies the power of Jesus (power over death itself!). This is life giving power. Many people have power over us, but no one as the power to give us life like Jesus does….that’s God’s power (Eph. 1:19-20; 2:1-9)! Paul wants to know that power, and to know that power, he must see Jesus: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
3) Inward boldness to obey Jesus because of what Christ has done (be like Jesus); “Literally, ‘being conformed to his death’. Paul coined this compound word — this is the only place it is found. It is a present passive participle. So the sense is that Paul is being conformed to Christ’s death by the transforming activity of God and that it is an ongoing process.” 4 At the core, Paul wanted to be a man who “took up his cross and followed Jesus”. Paul knows that as he took up his personal crosses (sufferings), it started a process of “mini” resurrections that led Paul to deeper and deeper intimacy with Jesus.
…This is the way to know Jesus; to truly know Him and the power of His resurrection!