March 19, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“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. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”—Philippians 3:1–3 (NIV)
In today’s passage, Paul once again reminds the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord in all things and at all times! So far in the first two chapters, Paul has used the words joy and rejoice eight times.
He’s not saying we should be happy about the things or pain we must endure. Instead, he’s saying that whatever happens, we can choose to live with joy because when we have Jesus, we have everything we could ever possibly need, we can endure all things through the strength Jesus gives us, we have eternal hope of future glory, and we have peace that passes all understanding.
He then calls this repetitive encouragement a safeguard because it helps to keep us from tripping or stumbling. This was timely encouragement because there was a group of false teachers called the Judaizers who were doing a lot of damage in the early church.
Paul called them “dogs,” equating them to a group of wild, ferocious killer dogs that used to roam around Israel, like the hyenas in The Lion King. So, what were these wicked dogs doing? They were seeking to deceive believers into forfeiting their freedom in Christ and cutting themselves off from experiencing the power and presence of God by adding works to God’s grace, particularly circumcision. Paul warns the Philippians and reminds them that we are the true “circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”
This teaches us something very important: Our rituals are empty apart from a changed heart. Apart from the salvation that comes by grace through faith, circumcision means nothing. It doesn’t save you or get you into heaven. It’s just an empty cutting away of flesh. What matters is that “when you came to Christ, you were ‘circumcised,’ but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature” (Colossians 2:11 NLT).
The same goes for baptism, Scripture memorization, missions work, outreach, or any other kind of work, accomplishment, or accolade. As Paul says in Galatians 5:6 (NIV), “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
So, he puts “no confidence in the flesh,” which means he isn’t going to bet on himself. He isn’t going to rely on his efforts to earn heaven, because no matter how many good things we do and how many laws we follow, we’ll never be perfect, we’ll never hit the target, and we’ll never meet God’s standard. Instead, we have security in the finished work of Jesus, who forgives our sins and casts them as far as the east is from the west. We have peace and reconciliation with God through Christ Jesus. This is why we can have joy in all things, because no matter how much uncertainty exists in the world, we can have confidence in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Pause: What does it mean to have no confidence in the flesh?
Practice: Consider what your confidence is presently built upon as it pertains to your faith. Are there any areas where you would say you are relying on yourself and your accomplishments?
Pray: Father, may I never put confidence in my own work and instead always find myself firmly reliant upon and living from the finished work of Christ. May I never add anything to the gospel; may I never distort or pollute or complicate the simple good news of Jesus’ reconciliatory work. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.