Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Philippians 3:1-2 Devotional

Philippians 3:1-2 Devotional

Philippians 3:1-2. Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.

Reflection. I am unsure how to break up 3:1-11. Evidently, it is a sustained argument. Paul warns against a heretical practise in the early church, possibly a ‘circumcision sect’ (3:2). He then - confusingly for many readers - calls either the apostles or all true believers “the circumcision” (3:3). Central to this identity is serving God by his Spirit, boasting in Christ, and putting no confidence in the flesh. From this description we can infer that the false teaching at Philippi involved “confidence in the flesh”—both literally and metaphorically.

Paul goes on to outline his credentials, the greater reasons he had for confidence in the flesh (3:4-6). He lays out his religious pedigree, ethnicity, zeal for God, and fidelity to the law. In a word, he was: “faultless” (3:6). Yet all of that is counted “loss for the sake of Christ” (3:7), “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (3:8). Paul goes as far as calling these claims to a personal righteousness “garbage” (3:8), because those who hold onto them are kept from gaining Christ (3:9) or experiencing God’s power (3:10). But this week we will hone in on the first two verses.

Paul’s graphic language - “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh” (3:2) - is arresting (3:2). Especially when we read it after 3:1, “rejoice in the Lord.” Joy is in many ways the watchword for this epistle. Thus moving from 3:1 to 3:2 we should not move too quickly over the remainder of 3:1, “It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” Here’s the point: because of Paul’s intense interest in true Christian joy, he alerts believers to whatever may threaten it. He wants them to “watch out” (3:2) and is writing to “safeguard” their joy (3:1). This purpose explains his vivid word choice. He is alerting Christians to practises and beliefs that will endanger their joy and delight in God. Now we must ask ourselves at least two questions.

Firstly, is this my approach to other believers? We have repeatedly seen throughout Philippians that because of Paul’s ultimate commitment to Christ his great concern was the good of others. His ministry and writing aimed to create Christian joy—delighting in God, desiring his glory, wholly depending on his gospel and being devoted to the good of others. While this has numerous positive expressions, here we see that it also entails identifying dangers to such joy.

Paul is pointing out a group within the church who were teaching and practising lies. He calls them “evildoers” (3:2). But this is not a reference to some version of the occult or even committing heinous acts. Rather, whatever they are doing is leading people away from God. Paul is desperate to see the Philippians avoid whatever threatens their joy in Christ. We should be too. From sin to false teaching, when we see Christians being mislead or simply meandering away from the truth we show our love by correcting them. Like Paul we must be willing to act as a “safeguard” to other believers’ delight in God. However uncomfortable and awkward such conversations are, they are far better than seeing people walk away from Christ—from true joy and life. Christians desperately need to rediscover this corporate responsibility for one another.

The second question is linked to the first. Do I invite others to hold me accountable and correct error and sin in my life? Forgive me. That’s a wordy question. More simply: am I teachable? If a concerned brother or sister addresses how I was living would I shut them out or welcome their correction? If someone raised questions over a Christian teacher or author I learn from would I be willing to hear them out? We should be.

Paul is not squabbling over theological minutiae. Already we have seen that he celebrated the preaching of his self professed enemies, as long as it proclaimed the gospel (1:15-18). The group he refers to are therefore very possibly a similar sect to those mentioned in Galatians. This would explain Paul’s jarring word choice: “dogs…evildoers…mutilators of the flesh” (3:2). Whatever they are teaching is a danger to Christian faith—and therefore gospel joy in God. Because false teaching of such a serious nature has plagued the church since within one generation of its inception, on going vigilance and discernment is necessary. Furthermore, we must welcome correction, seek accountability and create communities where teachability is prized.

This devotion has been longer than I intended. In fact, I originally planned to cover 3:1-6 in a single post. So let me bring the above together as neatly as possible. Because of Paul’s dogged and selfless concern for Christian joy he warned believers against whatever threatened that joy. From this point we derived two applications. The first was that if we are committed to good of others we will correct error and challenge sin. Secondly, we must afford other Christians the right to call us out—whether it is sin or doctrinal error. The reason we don’t rebuke is most likely because we don’t want to upset each other; we want people to like us. The reason we don’t readily hear criticism is down to pride. Both of these miss Paul’s purpose for writing: joy. “Rejoice in the Lord” (3:1). And rid yourself and others of every single threat to that joy.

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