“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:1-3).
We understand that Paul had written the Philippians a previous letter dealing with similar themes, hence the reference to repetition in :1. It is also possible that he is simply encouraging them to continue rejoicing, for this letter mentions this need several times.
This teaching about the need to rejoice is all the more pertinent since Paul is suffering in prison himself, so we are left with the understanding that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we can still praise and worship the Lord. It was in the Philippian’s own city jail that both Paul and Silas “sang praises unto God” at midnight and almost brought the house down. This in turn led to the salvation of the jailor and his household (Acts 16:23-32).
Before we look at the false teachers mentioned in this passage, it does appear that Paul includes the theme of rejoicing to indicate the fact that those who truly worship God are unlikely to be led astray by falsehood or destroyed by difficult circumstances. “True worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). As we are confronted with the awful realities of everyday life, we can continue to rejoice in Christ rather than allow them to diminish our faith in Him. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18) … “For the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Life will never be free from trauma, tribulation or testing, but that does not mean we cannot walk in victory and praise. It is impossible to press on without worship and the knowledge that we are secure in Christ. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39) … “Rejoice evermore” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) … “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13). The prophet Isaiah informs us that no matter our earthly lot we can still glorify God. “The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:19).
Paul now turns his attention to false teachers once again with the use of the word “beware” or ‘have your eye upon’. This contrasts with “mark” (Philippians 3:17) in relation to following true men and women of God. Notice that he has nothing nice to say about those who seek to undermine the gospel of Christ, but instead uses some terms that modern-day compromisers would find too harsh. Paul lists three types of people that true believers need to avoid, but they can be simply referred to any kind false teacher. We have to be on our guard for such people are never far from gaining a foothold in the church. False teachers are used by Satan to contaminate the purity of our faith.
1. Dogs. To call someone a dog was, and still is, a term to express utter contempt. We see then that Paul did not expect believers to entertain false teachers let alone unite with them. Isaiah viewed such teachers as “dumb dogs” (Isaiah 56:10-11). The Lord Jesus used a similar turn of phrase regarding those He considered to be opposed to the truth. He called them “wolves” (Matthew 7:15). The apostle Peter labels them as dogs and pigs (2 Peter 2:19-22) who are on the payroll of the “roaring lion” who “walketh walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). All this proves that we are not here to debate theology with those who stand against the Scriptures but instead win souls by preaching the word of truth. These “dogs” are an abomination to God and will not enter Heaven unless they repent (Revelation 21:18).
2. Evil workers. This is probably means the same as “deceitful workers” found in 2 Corinthians 11:13. These descriptions of false teachers reveal that there is absolutely nothing good or commendable about them. In part Paul is referring to those who claim to preach the truth yet conveniently dismiss the doctrine of holiness and sanctification. Usually their lives are proof enough that they do not understand or have little regard for the righteousness of God. “Evil workers” also include those who teach a gospel of works rather than grace. We should not be surprised that there are “evil workers” in some of our pulpits today. “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). These people fail at a very important and vital point, for failure to study Scripture for what it says rather than approaching it with preconceived ideas always produces heretical doctrines. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
3. The concision. This refers to Judaisers (legalists) who believer that circumcision is necessary for salvation. The word literally means ‘mutilators’.
“Concision” (Gk. ‘katatome’) is used in the Septuagint Version of Leviticus 21:5 and 1 Kings 18:28 uses the same word for the heathen practice of cutting the flesh to placate a false god. Paul is clearly writing about those who think and teach that Gentiles must practice various forms of the Jewish religion to be a true follower of Christ. They often keep the ‘holy days’ of Judaism, something we are warned not to do. “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:10-11). These people condemn themselves. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). Neither do they understand what they think they do. “Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:7). The “concision” were the ‘Jewish Roots’ advocates of Paul’s day.
Believers in Christ Jesus, Gentile or Jew, are the true circumcision, that is, they have been cut off from the flesh rather than flesh cut off them. It obvious that Paul is speaking of spiritual circumcision. “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28-29) … “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ … Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 2:11, 3:11).
This is the reason our worship is not according to ritualistic laws and ceremonies but totally spiritual. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) … “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Let us not forget that Abraham’s faith was sufficient to make him righteous centuries before the Law of Moses was implemented (Romans 4:9-10). No wonder then that we are called the children of Abraham rather than of Moses! True Christians do not put faith in religious practices, no matter how sanctified they appear to the flesh. Our confidence is in the finished work of Christ rather than unreachable Laws of Moses. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Our worship is inspired by the Holy Spirit rather than ritualism or ceremony, for the latter are founded upon legalism. Biblical righteousness is of the heart and in the spirit and never according to rules and regulations. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
It is rather unfortunate that some ‘Hebrew Roots’ practitioners think of other Christians as second-class or void of spiritual understanding. They divide churches since their beliefs are opposite to what the Scriptures teach. They think of themselves, just as the Pharisees did, as superior and elevate themselves with their own brand of righteousness. We can rejoice in the fact that Jesus really and fully set us free. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free … If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:32, 36). We are a new creation in Christ. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17) … “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Galatians 6:15).