Philippians 3:1-7, Confidence in the Flesh

On Tuesday, we will be discussing Philippians 3:1-11. Chapter 3 is another one of Paul’s discourses on his overall theme of what it means to have our citizenship in Christ Jesus. In this chapter, Paul will give a warning about Judaizing Christians and he will hold up his life as an example of fulfilling the Christological Hymn that we looked at two weeks ago. Again, please read all of chapter 3, and you may want to re-read the entire letter, to get a better idea of how this reading fits in with and draws its meaning from, the other parts of the letter.

Rejoice in the Lord: (v.1)

Paul’s argument in chapter 3, begins with Paul’s other great theme of rejoicing. Paul’s command, however, is not simply to “rejoice” but to “rejoice in the Lord.” Paul does not say to rejoice in our present circumstances or our identity or our good works or our obedience to the law or in being a good person. In his book, Paul’s Letters from Prison, Charles Caird writes: “Christian joy flows from acceptance of the free gifts of God’s grace and is the best protection against the book-keeping mentality which assumes that every good thing must be a reward for virtue.” p.132. To rejoice in Christ means to rejoice in God’s unmerited grace, unconditional love, and everlasting mercy and not in the good things or the rewarding things of this world. These good and rewarding things are the subject of the rest of the reading.

Paul’s Warning (vv.2-3)

Paul begins his argument with three warnings – all directed at the Judaizers. These were Jewish Christians who taught that salvation (or at a minimum church leadership) required adherence to the Mosaic law – including those laws concerning circumcision, dietary restrictions, and sabbath observance. These teachers were Paul’s main topic in Galatians, particularly Galatians 3. There is no evidence that the false teachers were in Philippi presently, but Paul knows that they are making their way towards the city.

Paul refers to these teachers in three somewhat ironic ways. First, he refers to them as “dogs,” which is the same epitaph that Jews generally used for Gentiles. He then refers to them as “evildoers” because in the Hebrew Scriptures evildoers were the ones who disobeyed the Law. See, Ps. 119:115. He finally refers to them as “mutilators of the flesh,” instead of those practicing circumcision, in an allusion to pagan priests who cut themselves in service of their gods. See, 1 Kings 18:28. In Psalm 22, dogs, evildoers, and piercers are the ones who crucified Christ. Ps. 22:16. For Paul, those who require obedience to the Law, are not the true followers of God in Christ – they are dogs, evildoers, and mutilators – and are no better than the pagan Gentiles who crucified Jesus.

In Judaism, circumcision was the outward and visible sign of being in the covenantal relationship with God. Gen. 17:10, Jos. 5:2. For Paul, circumcision (and obedience to the law given by God to Moses) has been replaced by spirit-filled, Jesus-glorifying worship. Christ Jesus, not circumcision, is the means of entering into the covenantal relationship with God. As Paul writes, we in Christ Jesus put no confidence in the flesh. In other words, we do not place our salvation in human physical activities or our physical obedience to moral rules like circumcision, dietary restrictions, or other legal observances.

Paul’s Example: (vv.4-7)

In the next few verses, Paul set out why he, probably more than any other Jew, should have confidence in the flesh and rejoice in his identity and good works. (1) Paul was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth as required by the Law. Lev. 12:3. (2) He was of the tribe of Benjamin and named after the first king of Israel who was also from this tribe. 1 Sam. 9:2. (3) He spoke Hebrew, the original language of the Hebrew Scriptures, not only Aramaic or Greek as most Jews did. Acts 22:2. (4) Paul was a Pharisee who studied under the Gamaliel who was the grandson of the great Hillel and the leader of the Sanhedrin. Acts 22:3. (This would be like a lawyer saying he clerked for John Roberts.) And (5) Paul’s observance of the law was both zealous and beyond reproach. Paul easily checked all the boxes for being a good Jew.

The Philippians, as Roman citizens and descendants of the legion that prevailed in the great Battle of Philippi, would have easily understood Paul’s reliance on his lineage and identity as being the source of his confidence and rejoicing. For Tuesday, think about those things of this world that give you confidence and rejoicing – your family heritage, your religious upbringing, or your current religious practices. We will share our confidences as Paul just did.

In the remainder of the chapter, Paul will relate how he now views all of these things as loss. It is not that these are bad things – Paul would not be the erudite apostle that he was without his education – but that these things, in the light of knowing Jesus, are really nothing. Just like Jesus in the hymn, Paul writes that he empties himself of these benefits and he calls us to do the same.

Dinner is 6. Menu is a Low Country shrimp boil. Discussion about 7. Compline at 8. Hope to see you here!

So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:24-28

2 thoughts on “Philippians 3:1-7, Confidence in the Flesh”

  1. Pingback: Philippians 3:12-16, Pursuing Christ – Ancient Anglican

  2. Pingback: Philippians 4:2-7, “Again, I say Rejoice” – Ancient Anglican

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