Philippians 3 v 1 -16
Paul throughout his ministry as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ had to contend with Jewish Christians – known today as the Judaisers, who were false teachers who often followed Paul wherever he went. They would try to bind the act of circumcision and the law of Moses itself upon the Gentile Christians (Acts 15:1-2).
These Judaisers held on to the law of Moses and especially the ceremonial, dietary and all kinds of other laws, wanting to attach that to the Gospel, and say that though you are saved by faith you still need to be circumcised and keep all these rules and rituals. That is what Paul had to confront time and again in his ministry, and even as he wrote this epistle of joy, encouraging the brothers to rejoice in the Lord, he finds in necessary to warn them of these false teachers, doing so in very strong terms, even calling them dogs.
We find in these verses the Apostle Paul making a play on words, in verse 2 calling the Judaisers Catatome, which means mutilation. In verse 3 he refers to true Christians as Peritome, circumcision.
Paul, in doing that declares that people of the true circumcision – the circumcised in heart – are those who worship God in the Spirit, they rejoice in Christ Jesus and they have no confidence in the flesh. Paul uses himself as an example to further define the attitudes and characteristics of those who are the true circumcision of God. Later on he sets out his stance in Romans 2:25-29:
“For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
Paul uses himself as an example of what he described, doing it in reverse order.
- Have no confidence in the flesh (vv 1 – 8)
Paul’s argument is that if anyone could have had confidence in the flesh it could have been him. He could have boasted in things of a racial nature – circumcised the eighth day (a genuine Jew from birth, not just a proselyte). He was of the stock of Israel – directly descended from Jacob. The Arabs could boast of their descent from Abraham, the Edomites could boast of their descent from Isaac, but Paul said he was descended from Jacob. But only the Jews could boast of being descendants of Jacob, who had prevailed with God and was given the name Israel (meaning one who strives with God).
Paul goes further in telling us his pedigree, namely that he was also from the tribe of Benjamin, the son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel – the only son born to her in the promised land. It was the only tribe that remained true to Judah when the kingdom was divided.
Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews – both his parents being Jews. He was true to the customs of the Jews – not a Grecian, nor a Hellenistic Jew.
Concerning the law, he was a Pharisee – a very religious person, belonging to a sect known for their loyalty, patriotism, conservatism and adherence to the law of Moses.
Concerning zeal, he was persecuting the Church – had no tolerance for anybody who contradicted his pedigree. That illustrates his sincerity and enthusiasm for his religion.
Concerning the righteousness which was of the law he was blameless. He had an amazing pedigree, yet what did that avail him? He counted it all as loss for Christ (1 Cor. 4).
Do we have confidence in our fleshly accomplishments – all the things we do in service to the Lord? Do we take pride in our racial background – coming out of the great Western Christian civilization – our religious heritage, or do we also consider such things as rubbish compared to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ?
The answer helps to determine whether we are the true circumcision of God. You grew up in a Christian home, in Sunday school – you had home devotions every night, eventually teaching Sunday school and went to church regularly and you still go and hold these things up as noddy badges that are supposed to get you into heaven – or do you trust in the true circumcision of God?
- Rejoice in Christ Jesus (vv 9 – 11)
Their joy is not in something material or fleshly, but in the Lord Jesus Christ. As in Paul’s case he considered fleshly accomplishments as rubbish. His overriding desire is to gain Christ (verse 8). What does it mean?
a. To be found in Him – not having my own righteousness which is from the Law – not trust in keeping the Law of Moses to save, or going through religious motions, but that which is through faith in Christ Jesus. The righteousness that is from God by faith – experiencing salvation as a free gift from God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. To know who He is, to agree and assent to what He is, and to trust Him alone.
b. To know Him – to recognize / become acquainted with Him, up close and personal. It’s a personal knowledge, not theoretical or even theological – not only knowing many things about Him, but to know Him personally – in particular to know the power of His resurrection. We live in a time of mass death – many people are dying for all kinds of reasons. To know Christ is to know the power of His resurrection – that power that raises the dead unto life – the same power Paul wanted the Ephesians to know in Eph. 1:18-20: “…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places…”
It’s to know that – the power of His resurrection. Every day of my life I become aware of more patches of sin and deadness inside of me that I desire the Lord to raise me from in the power of His resurrection. The Holy Spirit wants you and me to know that power. It’s a power that is experienced as we come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour by faith alone and it continues throughout our lives, and ultimately we’ll know it in our own bodily resurrection, as Paul points out in verses 20-21.
To know the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, which include turning from sin and turning from self – involving much hardship for the sake of Christ. For the Apostle Paul it finally meant martyrdom. You and I should be willing to do the same.
c. To attain to the resurrection from the dead – the ultimate experience in gaining Christ. It is a personal and experiential knowledge of the power of His resurrection, where He raises us up from the deadness of sin that lurks everywhere in our minds and members. This was the goal of Paul’s life and his only source of true joy. What about us?
We look in this life at so many things to give us joy and happiness. Prof. Jordan Peterson said especially to young people: You need to stop pursuing happiness in this world, but rather pursue meaning, because when we pursue happiness we look for things. When we pursue meaning, and we do it with all sincerity and prayerfully, we will find meaning in Christ and that will be our source of true joy.
Is it our goal in life to truly know Christ? If it is, then what Paul continues to say will also be our attitude, for the true circumcision of God is not only to be found in those who have no confidence in the flesh, in those who know and rejoice in Christ Jesus, but also in those who:
- Worship God in the Spirit (vv 12 – 16)
The Lord was the first to define true worship as Spiritual Worship – His discussion with the woman at the well (John 4) says that those who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Since God is a spirit our worship of Him must be of the Spirit as well, and not limited to particular locations. Paul describes the attitudes of those who worship God in the Spirit:
a. Never satisfaction with their present spiritual condition (v12) – we’re never satisfied with where we are now – always striving to where we can be – with perseverance we press on (vv 13-15) – not looking back or resting on past laurels or bemoaning our past failures, but pressing on to be perfected in Christ – ever reaching forward. That is a mark of spiritual maturity. We do that all the while living up to the standard of knowledge that we’ve attained, as Paul says in verse 16.
Do these attitudes characterise our devotion to God and His Son? Do you and I worship God by allowing His Spirit and the Spirit-given Word to rule over our complete lives? Do we consider the relationship we are developing with Christ to be our primary joy and our focus in life? Do we place no confidence in the flesh? If so, then we are the true circumcision of God.
As Paul invites us in verse 17 to do, you and I need to follow his example. How does one begin to become the true circumcision of God? It begins when we by faith submit to the working of God in us, in which we experience the circumcision of Christ. We read about it also in Col. 2:11-12: “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
Have you had the circumcision made without hands? I pray that you have.