I am really enjoying sharing this series of posts in the book of Philippians. Here are my past posts in case you have missed them:
- An Introduction to the Book of Philippians
- Paul’s Greeting, Gratitude, and Group Focus (Phil 1:1-11)
- A Leader Rejoices When His Cause Advances (Phil 1:12-18)
- Paul’s Life for Christ (Phil 1:19-26)
- Leaders Lead and Live in an Ethical Way (Phil 1:27-30)
- Leaders Focus on Others (Phil 2:1-4)
- Have the Same Attitude as Christ (Phil 2:5-11)
- Leaders Shine Brightly for Christ (Phil 2:12-18)
Today’s post looks at Paul’s confidence in Christ seen in in Philippians 3:1-6.
Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement”
Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis
A. The Text of Philippians 3:1-6
1In addition, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write this to you again is something I do not shy away from, for it is for your safety. 2Watch out for the dogs, evil workers, and mutilators. 3For we are the true believers. We are the ones who serve in the Spirit of God, boast in the Jesus Christ, and do not have confidence in the flesh. 4Although, I have a reason to be confident in the flesh. And if anyone thinks he has confidence in his flesh, I have even more! 5I was circumcised on the eighth day. I was a member of the nation of Israel—part of the tribe of Benjamin—a Hebrew from Hebrews. I lived according to the law of the Pharisees. 6In zeal I persecuted the church and was blameless because of my adherence to the righteousness found in the law.
B. A Few Fun Jokes about Confidence
- A priest and a pastor from local churches were standing by the side of the road, pounding a sign into the ground that read: “The end is near! Turn yourself around now before it is too late!” As they were pounding the sign into the ground a car sped past and the driver yelled, “Leave us alone you religious nut jobs!” A few seconds later the two pastors heard the screeching of tires and a loud collision. Then one pastor turned to the other and asked, “Do you think the sign should say, ‘bridge out’?”
- An employee was fresh out of college and working at his first full-time job. He was eager to perform well and was confident that college and life experience had equipped him well for his first job. As he was walking to the break room one day he noticed the CEO of his company standing in the copy and file room looking perplexed at the paper shredder. The young ambitious employee walked up to the CEO and offered help. The CEO replied, “This is a very important document. Do you know how to work this thing?” while pointing at the document shredder. The young employee confidently replied, “I sure do! Let me help.” The young employee turned on the shredder, and put the piece of paper in. As the piece of paper disappeared into the shredder the CEO told the young employee, “Now I only need one copy.”
II. REJOICE IN THE LORD BECAUSE OF CHRIST (3:1-3)
1In addition, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write this to you again is something I do not shy away from, for it is for your safety. 2Watch out for the dogs, evil workers, and mutilators. 3For we are the true believers. We are the ones who serve in the Spirit of God, boast in the Jesus Christ, and do not have confidence in the flesh.
A. Paul’s Continuous Message (v. 1)
1In addition, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write this to you again is something I do not shy away from, for it is for your safety.
1. Τὸ λοιπόν – In addition,
This is used as a transition to something new in the discourse. Can also be translated as finally.
2. ἀδελφοί μου – my brothers,
3. χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ — rejoice in the Lord.
4. τὰ αὐτὰ γράφειν ὑμῖν ἐμοὶ — To write this to you again
I also like the NLT’s translation of this clause, “I never get tired of telling you these things.” The observant Bible student needs to ask, what are “these things?” We need to identify what Paul was referring to both within and outside of the book of Philippians (J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians [New York, NY: MacMillan, 1890], 125)
a) Inside the Book of Philippians
- “Rejoice in the Lord” – This would be the closest item as it is in the same verse.
- Phil 1-2 – Paul could be referring to everything he has already written in this letter.
- Phil 3:2-16 – Paul might be referring to the exposition that immediately follows this verse. This is the most likely conclusion. With it clear what the reference is in within this letter, we also need to decide what the reference is outside of Philippians. What had already been said or written to prompt Paul to say that “these things” had already been said.
b) Outside the Book of Philippians
The phrase, τὰ αὐτὰ γράφειν – to write these things, provides good reason that what Paul has previously said and what he was referring to was some type of written communication.
- The duty of rejoicing – This would be the immediate context and matches the theme of this letter about rejoicing and joy.
- The dissension created by false teachers – This matches the similar warnings that had already been written by Paul in his other letters (1 Cor 16:22; Gal 5:15; 1 Thess 5:15; 2 Thess 3:14) (Lightfoot, Philippians, 125). Also a likely conclusion.
- Additional letter(s) written to Philippi but now lost – Vincent sees this phrase from Paul as a reference to previous letters written to the Philippians which have been lost (Vincent, Philippians and Philemon, 91). This might be a likely area based on the idea that four letters were sent to Corinth. Out of those four letters we only have two (1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 10:10-11; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:17). Also another likely conclusion.
5. μὲν οὐκ ὀκνηρόν, — is something I do not shy away from,
6. ὑμῖν δὲ ἀσφαλές – for it is for your safety
B. The Dogs Who Do Evil (v. 2)
2Watch out for the dogs, evil workers, and mutilators.
There is a rapid change in Paul’s tone here. My Greek professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Michael Burer, said that is as if Paul wrote 3:1, then to go get a cup of coffee, then came back in 3:2 invigorated and strengthened to begin saying something else. This verse expresses Paul’s feelings towards the people that were doing false teaching. As we think about it we can put Paul’s letters into two categories: to combat false teaching and to help solve disharmony.
1. Βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας, — Watch out for the dogs,
a) Βλέπετε – Watch out for
This is an imperative from the verb, βλεπω which means to learn about something that is needed or hazardous, watch, look to, beware of (Mark 13:9; Luke 21:8; 1 Cor 8:9; Phil 3:2; etc.). It can also mean to process information by giving thought, direction one’s attention to something, consider, note (1 Cor 1:26; Phil 3:2, etc.) (BDAG, 179).
The imperative use here is something that the people were supposed to regularly do. Paul was attempting to describe an ongoing activity.
b) τοὺς κύνας – the dogs
Paul is using this term to refer to the Judaizers. Judaizers were people who taught that circumcision and adherence to the Law was the only way to receive salvation. “They insisted that Christ’s kingdom could be entered only through the gate of Judaism. Only circumcised converts were fully accepted by God” (Vincent, Words Studies in the NT, 443-444). These Judaizers were described in *Acts 15:1, “While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (NLT).
“Dogs” was a term familiar to both Jews and Gentiles. “The dog was an unclean animal according to the Levitical law. See Deut 23:18 and Matt 7:6 (same Greek word). (Vincent, Philippians and Philemon, 92).
While the term “dogs” was often used by Jews to describe the Gentiles (Matt 15:26-27, but a different Greek word) Paul reverses it here! He calls the Jews the dogs!
2. βλέπετε τοὺς κακοὺς ἐργάτας, — evil workers
3. βλέπετε τὴν κατατομήν. – and mutilators
The noun, κατατομη, links circumcision to pagan cutting of the body that was forbidden by the law of Israel (Lev 19:28; 21:5; Deut 14:1; Isa 15:2; Hos 7:14).
The people Paul was describing here were the Judiazers that believed in works-based righteousness (Acts 15:1). These people insisted that the Gentiles adhere to the law and participate in male circumcision. “Unaccompanied by faith, love, and obedience, it was nothing more than physical mutilation” (Vincent, Philippians and Philemon, 92).
4. Circumcision saved believers in the OT?
Circumcision was part of what it meant to be Jewish (Gen 17:10, 12). Yet, to be a true Jew was to have faith. Jews were not saved by cutting skin off of themselves. Instead, they were saved by faith. “Abraham believe God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Gal 3:6) believed. Therefore, these Jews were not even teaching what it truly meant to be Jewish.
C. The Ones Truly Circumcised (v. 3)
3For we are the true believers. We are the ones who serve in the Spirit of God, boast in the Jesus Christ, and do not have confidence in the flesh.
1. ἡμεῖς γάρ ἐσμεν ἡ περιτομή, — For we are the true believers.
a) γάρ – For
This is an adverbial explanatory conjunction that introduces a contrast to Phil 3:2. It explains why Paul used “κατατομη/mutilators” in 3:2 but” περιτομη/circumcision” in 3:3.
b) ἡμεῖς ἐσμεν – we are
- Paul and his companions?
- Only gentiles?
- Only Jews?
- All readers as well as Paul and his companions?
Four seems to be the most likely option (O’Brien, Philippians, 358-359)
c) ἡ περιτομή – the true believers
A literal translation of this would, the circumcision or the circumcised. This is figurative way of describing the true believers of Jesus Christ. The root of this noun is used as a verb to describe the true believers in Deut 10:16, “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart.” Other references to circumcision in the law are Deut 30:6, “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and all the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and should and so you may live!” (NLT).
Paul’s words in Romans provides the clearest example of what true circumcision was supposed to look like for a true New Testament believer, “For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.” (Rom 2:28–29, NLT). While the circumcision of 3:2 was only outward, the true believers were circumcised inward (Rom 2:25-29; Eph 2:11; Col 2:11)
Galatians 3 provides the clearest description about the difference between the law/circumcision and faith in the life of a believer. Paul told the Galatians that they received the Holy Spirit because they believed the message of Jesus Christ and not be obeying the Law of Moses (Gal 3:2, 5). Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation, believed God and God counted Abraham as righteous because of his faith (Gal 3:6). Therefore; the true children of Abraham are people who put their faith in God (Gal 3:7).
2. οἱ πνεύματι θεοῦ λατρεύοντες καὶ — The ones who serve in the spirit of God,
a) λατρεύοντες – The ones who serve
b) πνεύματι θεοῦ — in the Spirit of God
See O’Brien’s footnote for an explanation on the textual variant of θεου versus θεῳ (O’Brien, Philippians, 346).
c) Translations of the participle and phrase
- Means – The ones who serve by means of the Spirit of God
- Sphere – The ones who serve in the Spirit of God
- Cause – The ones who serve because of the Spirit of God
- Association – The ones who serve with the Spirit of God
- Respect – The ones who serve with respect to the Spirit of God
3. καυχώμενοι ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ — boast in Jesus Christ,
4. οὐκ ἐν σαρκὶ πεποιθότες, — and do not have confidence in the flesh.
σαρκὶ was the human nature before the Holy Spirit came (2 Cor 11:18; Gal 6:13-14; Eph 2:1). Calvin’s words echo this thought, “All are so degenerate, that in no part of the world can genuine godliness be found” (John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 [Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845], 60).
Phil 3:3 is a direct contrast to 3:2. The false teachers are dogs, evil workers, and mutilators (3:2). Meanwhile, the true believers serve in the Spirit of God, boast in Jesus Christ, and have no confidence in the flesh (3:3).
III. PAUL’S STRONG SELF CONFIDENCE (3:4-6)
4Although, I have a reason to be confident in the flesh. And if anyone thinks he has confidence in his flesh, I have even more! 5I was circumcised on the eighth day. I was a member of the nation of Israel—part of the tribe of Benjamin—a Hebrew from Hebrews. I lived according to the law of the Pharisees. 6In zeal I persecuted the church and was blameless because of my adherence to the righteousness found in the law.
A. The Confidence of Paul Is Greatest (v. 4)
4Although, I have a reason to be confident in the flesh. And if anyone thinks he has confidence in his flesh, I have even more!
1. καίπερ ἐγὼ ἔχων πεποίθησιν καὶ ἐν σαρκί. – Although, I have a reason to be confident in the flesh.
a) καίπερ – Although,
This is a subordinating conjunction used with a participle to express concession. Therefore; translated as although.
b) ἔχων – I have
This is an adverbial participle of concession. In this use of the participle the state or action of the main verb is true in spite of the state or action of the participle (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 634-635; O’Brien, Philippians, 367).
2. Εἴ τις δοκεῖ ἄλλος πεποιθέναι ἐν σαρκί, — And if anyone thinks he has confidence in the flesh,
The “confidence in the flesh” here used by Paul in a broad sense. Anything that is not based on Christ is confidence in the flesh.
3. ἐγὼ μᾶλλον· — I have even more!
Paul draws back the curtain to emphasize what was said in Phil 3:2-3.
B. A Hebrew of Hebrews (v. 5)
5I was circumcised on the eighth day. I was a member of the nation of Israel—part of the tribe of Benjamin—a Hebrew from Hebrews. I lived according to the law of the Pharisees.
Paul listed seven components as part of his “credentials.” Five are in 3:5 with two in 3:6. The first four components are based on his family and heritage; things he was born into. The final three components are based on his work; things which he worked toward.
1. περιτομῇ ὀκταήμερος, — I was circumcised on the eighth day
“Circumcision was named first probably because it was a big issue with the Judaizers. Paul’s specific time, the eighth day, stressed that he was not a proselyte or an Ishmaelite but a pure-blooded Jew. Proselytes were circumcised later in life and Ishmaelites after age 13” (Lightner, “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 660).
2. ἐκ γένους Ἰσραήλ, — I was a member of the nation of Israel—
Paul was a member of the nation of Israel by birth (not by adoption or grafting in). See Rom 9:4; 11:1.
3. φυλῆς Βενιαμίν, — —part of the tribe of Benjamin—
a) The Beginning of the Tribe of Benjamin
The tribe of Benjamin began with Jacob and his wife, “Rachel was about to die, but with her last breath she named the baby Ben-oni (which means “son of my sorrow”). The baby’s father, however, called him Benjamin (which means “son of my right hand”).” (Gen 35:18, NLT).
b) Saul—Israel’s First King—From the Tribe of Benjamin
Later, the first king of Israel came from the tribe of Benjamin, “There was a wealthy, influential man named Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. He was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, of the tribe of Benjamin. His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land.” (1 Sam 9:1–2, NLT). Later Saul is anointed as king over the nation of Israel (1 Sam 10:1, 20-24, NLT).
c) Benjamin as a Loyal Tribe in the South
In 921 BC an important event occurred in Old Testament history. After the death of Solomon the next king, Rehoboam, was unwise and did not deal with conflict presented to him correctly. As a result the 10 tribes living in the northern area of Israel revolted against the two tribes in the south (1 Kings 12). The two tribes in the south were Judah (the tribe of David) and Benjamin (the tribe of Saul).
This is an important distinction that Paul makes because he shows that he is not one of the “lost tribes” of Israel in the north.
4. Ἑβραῖος ἐξ Ἑβραίων, — —a Hebrew from Hebrews
This is not necessarily that Paul was the “most Hebrew” among the Hebrews, but most likely conveys that he was Hebrew man from Hebrew parents. O’Brien translates this as “A Hebrew son of Hebrew Hebrew parents” (O’Brien, Philippians, 371). (Paul as a Hebrew from Hebrews showed when he addressed the crowd in Aramaic [Acts 21:4; 22:2]).
5. κατὰ νόμον Φαρισαῖος, — I lived according to the Law of the Pharisees
Here Paul begins sharing the works based things he has done.
Among Paul’s resume was not just that he was an Israelite, from Benjamin, born to Hebrew parents, but also that he was a member of the prestigious Pharisees. He studied under the well known Pharisee Gamaliel (Acts 22:2-3).
C. Zealous and Loyal to the Law (v. 6)
6In zeal I persecuted the church and was blameless because of my adherence to the righteousness found in the law.
1. κατὰ ζῆλος διώκων τὴν ἐκκλησίαν – In zeal I persecuted the church
a) κατὰ ζῆλος – In zeal
When Paul talks about zeal he is talking about his works of the flesh before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9-19). In Galatians Paul shared, “I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors” (Gal 1:14, NLT). As well in Acts, “I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did” (Acts 22:3, NLT). Paul had a passion for God and to do what he thought was right. Trained in the Jewish laws and customs, he was doing what he believed God wanted him to do. But, it was not until Paul (then known as Saul) met Christ on the road to Damascus that his orientation to God was correctly changed.
b) διώκων τὴν ἐκκλησίαν – I persecuted the church
Paul harshly persecuted the church that was first mentioned in Acts 8:1 during the killing of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, “Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen” (Acts 8:1, NLT). Later the book of Acts shares that “Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison (Acts 8:3, NLT).
2. κατὰ δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐν νόμῳ γενόμενος ἄμεμπτος. – was blameless because of my adherence to the righteousness found in the Law.
When it says “blameless” it does not mean “perfect” or “sinless.” Paul will share in Phil 3:12-13 that he has not reached perfection
3. Phil 3:7, “I once that these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done” (NLT)
This is Paul’s conclusion. What once mattered does not matter because of what Christ has done!
IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
The crux of this passage sits on Phil 3:3, “For we are the true believers. The ones who serve in the Spirit of God, boast in Jesus Christ, and do not have confidence in the flesh.” While some people might have confidence in their efforts and work to be righteous (Phil 3:4), Paul had the most confidence (Phil 3:5-6). Yet, he still relied on what Christ had done because it was faith that made him righteous (Phil 3:3).
People Say You Need To Be Someone Else
In Paul’s circumstances he was trying to advance a message that salvation was by faith based based on the work of Christ (Phil 3:3, 7-9). Yet, at that time there were the evil workers who were teaching false truth.
One sad but false teaching in the leadership sector is that need for leaders to be “charismatic” or “dynamic.” I have heard so many people say that an essential quality of a leader is charisma. When looking at leaders the ones that seem to be most popular and get most of the publicity are the charismatic leaders. However, those that advocate charisma as an essential leadership characteristic are blatantly wrong.
Jim Collins’ research published in his 2001 best-seller, Good to Great, was one of the first studies I read that proved charismatic leaders were less effective than quiet and humble leaders. Collins’ described these leaders are “Level 5” leaders who possessed will and humility, but not charisma. On the topic of charismatic leaders Collins wrote, “Larger-than-life, celebrity leaders who ride in from the outside are negatively correlated with going from good to great” (p. 40). On the flip side, the Level 5 leaders were “more plow horse than show horse” (p. 39, emphasis mine).
As Collins and many others have shown, charisma is not required for great leadership. Those that advocate that leaders need to be charismatic are false teachers of leadership are incorrect.