Monday, June 20, 2011
Paul is preparing to conclude his letter, but along the way he gives some important doctrinal exhortations and warnings about false teaching. False teaching undermines our assurance and robs us of the joy that we ought to have in the salvation given to us by Jesus Christ.
I. Be on guard against false teachers.
He calls the Philippians to think carefully about the teaching they’re receiving, and to be on guard for teaching which is not according to Paul’s teaching, which is according to what Jesus taught and told Paul to teach, and which is in accordance with all of the apostles’ teaching.
Paul is countering the claims of the Judaizers, followers of Jesus the Messiah who think that all Christians – especially Gentile Christians – are required, in addition to believing in Jesus as the Messiah to keep the Law’s ceremonial requirements if they are truly going to live as the people of God in this world. And Paul turns the tables on these teachers.
First, he calls them “dogs,” a common term in first century Palestine for Hebrews to use about Gentiles. Paul says to these circumcised Jewish followers of the Messiah who want to require of all Christians that they follow the ceremonial code, “You’re the dogs! You’re not part of the true circumcision!”
Second, he calls them “evildoers”. To go back to the Old Testament ceremonial law is to suggest that Jesus’ finished work is insufficient is evil, because it adds to something that’s already perfect. And to add to Jesus’ perfect work is to call into question its perfection, and anything that calls into question the perfection of Jesus’ work is sin. Even though they think that requiring Christians to fulfill these rituals is right and good, it is actually evil because it adds to Christ’s work.
Third he says, “those who mutilate the flesh.” Of course, one of the things that they wanted is for all male followers of Jesus the Messiah to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. And Paul says, ‘You have turned circumcision into a pagan ritual. You’re just like the nations around you who practice circumcision. They’re mutilators of the flesh. You’re superstitious, pagan, ritual worshipers.’
Paul is directing his focus on these Judaizers, but what Paul says here applies to anyone who suggests that you do one of two things: either that you put your confidence anywhere else but Christ or put your confidence in Christ plus anything else.
This kind of teaching is all around us in the world. You can even hear this teaching in churches. Paul is pleading with us to recognize that false teaching will rob our joy! It will kill us, because God’s truth nourishes faith and humbles pride, and brings joy and exalts Christ and promotes assurance, and establishes grace. But false teaching kills! Look out for anyone who tells you “Believe in yourself,” or “Believe in something other than Jesus, because there are many ways to God,” or “Believe in Jesus plus something, and you can have hope and confidence and assurance.” This is why he goes into the doctrinal exhortation, because if you put your confidence in the flesh, it will kill joy.
II. Remember who you are.
The Judaisers were saying to the Philippians, ‘If you want to really be the people of God, it’s Jesus plus circumcision and ritual law.’ Paul counters by reminding the Philippians who they are.
Paul insists, first, ‘We are the true circumcision! Don’t you understand that? You are the recipients of God’s promises to Abraham in Christ alone! You’re already the recipients of those promises. You’re the people of God, you’re the true Israel as you trust in Christ alone.’
Second, We worship by the Spirit. This calls to mind John 4, Jesus is talking about a time is coming when the Temple will no longer be the place where God manifests His presence amongst His people, but wherever people gather in Jesus’ name they will worship God through Jesus in spirit and in truth. And the Apostle Paul is saying that we worship by the Spirit, not under the old ritual.
Third, We glory in Jesus Christ. If you say you need Jesus plus something, you’re not glorying in Jesus Christ. Paul says that all Christians glory in the fact that Jesus has paid it all.
Fourth, We put no confidence in the flesh because He is sole and sovereign and sufficient in His salvation.
And in those four phrases, Paul just describes what a Christian is: A Christian is the true Israel, who worships by the spirit, glories in Christ, and puts no confidence in the flesh.
III. Remember who I was.
‘If this stuff really worked that they’re trying to sell you, it would have worked for me!’ Paul recounts all the reasons that he had for confidence in the flesh, for reasons he should have had joy because of who he was, but that didn’t work for Paul. Paul gained no joy or salvation or glory from that confidence. Believers glory in Christ, and they put no confidence in the flesh, you can’t be a Christian and think that Jesus is not enough or that He’s unnecessary.
The Christian knows Jesus is more than enough. He’s sovereignly sufficient, and that is the foundation for a life of joy. Because they can take everything else from you, but they cannot take that from you, because He will not let them.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 1:21 PM