Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 3.1-3

Do you remember from our previous looks into Philippians that Paul’s favorite congregation sent Epaphroditus to Rome and wanted Timothy to come back from Rome to address a problem in their congregation? The Apostle Paul was not in agreement with the Philippians that the problem they faced was of such an immediate danger to them that they had to have Paul’s side kick Timothy come to their rescue at once. That does not mean Paul favors leaving spiritual problems unattended and without resolution. The passage before us today opens the door to a danger to the Philippian church that is on the horizon, as it were, but not immediately at hand. Some spiritual problems need immediate action, while others need eventual action. I am persuaded that no spiritual problem should be unattended, even when immediate is not taken.

Recognize that there are two ways of dealing with spiritual problems in the Christian’s life. Liken it, if you will, to the work of the United States Forest Service. Most of their work goes unheralded, because it isn’t exciting and headline grabbing. It’s the day to day routine of preventing forest fires. It’s clearing brush, checking high power lines, educating the public about fire safety, and things such as that. Then, when the weather turns hot and dry and everything that grows turns brown and fires break out, then the Forest Service begins to do what they are famous for doing, which is fighting fires. Paul has determined that what the Philippians need, at this point in time, is not a fire fighting crew, but fire prevention measures. And with many church congregations and members the same is true. My counseling ministry, for example, can be likened to putting out fires that have broken out in people’s lives. It’s dealing with emergency situations that can arise in everyone’s life from time to time. The preaching and teaching ministry of a pastor, particularly when I am not preaching a gospel sermon, my fire prevention ministry, is just as important, if not actually more important, than my firefighting ministry. You see, by the time a fire has broken out in your life you may actually be beyond recovery. As for my fire prevention work, the work that to some is tedious and time consuming, it is wonderfully reflected in what Paul writes in Philippians 3.1-3. I used to live in forest fire country in Oregon. I’ve been in the fire boss’s command post during a raging forest fire. And I’ve seen foresters in the spring and winter and fall. I know what they do. And what foresters most commonly do is the same thing over and over and over again. How like the pastoral ministry. The things I do I do over and over and over again.

As we stand to read this portion of God’s Word, take note of what we see Paul doing here. Take note of the fact that truths, once taught, need to be reiterated again and again to insure spiritual safety. Christians need to be reminded of important things over and over and over again. Read along silently while I read aloud Philippians 3.1-3:

1      Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

2      Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

3      For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Just a brief comment about the very beginning of verse 1, “Finally, my brethren.” “. . . the adverb ‘finally’ is best understood as transitional toward the final matter to be taken up. Thus, Paul does not intend finally, but ‘as for the rest [of what needs to be spoken to].”[1] He did the same kind of thing previously in First Thessalonians 4.1 and Second Thessalonians 3.1. There are a number of truths, both doctrinal and practical, that need to be reiterated to believers, “Finally, my brethren,” especially young Christians.

Here are three:


Joy and rejoicing is one of Paul’s major themes in Philippians. So it’s understandable that as he begins to deal with an issue that could cause his beloved Philippians some trouble down the road that he would start off by reminding them what you who are saved must always be mindful to do, in thick and in thin; rejoice!

Starting off in verse 1, we find the pronouncement. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” Paul was in jail, facing the possibility of death. The Philippians had their own problems. So, what advice does Paul remind them of? Though it’s a reminder, it’s more than advice. It’s a command. “Rejoice in the Lord.” Think about this, my friends. If all things work together for good to them that love God, Who is in control of all things, how can we not rejoice? Even in the deepest valleys.

Paul concludes verse 1 with a comment about protection: “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” It’s good for you to be told things again and again and again. It’s proper to revisit truths you are already familiar with. A Reader’s Digest story once told of a study that showed children to have learned instructions they were given by their parents 7000 times! To be sure, kids ought to be made to learn a bit more quickly than that, but it does show that repetition is a key to learning. So, don’t feel insulted when I deal with things you already know, things you don’t want to know, and things you only think you know. I do this because it is safe for you for me to visit issues again and again and again. For example: How many times have I urged you folks to live close to church instead of close to work? Many times over the years. I do that for your safety. You see, a drive that you are willing to make here to church may be too far for me to practically make there. And a drive you are willing to make to church, your neighbors you are striving to see saved may be unwilling to make. And then, a drive you are willing to make when you are rested and well, you may not be willing to make when you are tired, or sick, or pregnant. Don’t make work convenient. Make serving God as convenient as you can. But in the midst of whatever befalls you, remember, rejoice in the Lord.


My goodness, people tend to be negligent in this area. Let me read some passages very quickly for you before I comment on verse 2:

Acts 20.29-30:   29     For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30     Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Romans 16.17: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

First Corinthians 5.9-11:   9      I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

10     Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

11     But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

Second Corinthians 6.17: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”

Galatians 1.8-9:  8      But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

9      As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Titus 3.10: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.”

There is a great deal in God’s Word about rejecting those who do wrong, but Paul was compelled by the Holy Spirit of God to remind the Philippians yet again. There was trouble arising on the horizon with the Jewish supposed-to-be-Christians who went around trying to persuade Gentile Christians that they needed to submit to the Mosaic Law to be right with God, or to be more right with God. In other words, they were teaching that you needed Jesus plus something to be saved, or Jesus plus something to be more spiritual. For some of you who have been to the nicey nice evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic churches where the pastor with lace underwear is afraid to point an accusing finger at anyone, take notice how Paul describes such men who would compromise the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With reference to clean. Paul writes, in verse 2, “Beware of dogs.” There was nothing more unclean to Jewish people than a dog. Even Gentiles of Paul’s day found dogs to be generally repulsive, because as trash eating scavengers, you could never tell what filth they were into. How appropriate, then, for Paul to call those Jewish so-called Christians, who were so concerned about ceremonial uncleanness and the keeping of the Law, dogs. And they were dogs, spiritual dogs. Sadly, most 21st century Christians would never sit still for one of their ministers to call such men dogs, would they? Let me tell you something: When you mess with the gospel you are a dog.

Next, with reference to conduct. Paul continues to write, now describing the behavior of these same people. “Beware of evil workers.” There can be no doubt that these false teachers, thinking they had some type of superior insight into God’s Word, were doing such good service to God. Such people are not doing good works. Rather, they are evil workers, because they are confused about the gospel and are not doing God’s will God’s way according to God’s truth.

Third, with reference to the covenant. Paul concludes verse 2, “beware of the concision.” This is the description that really identifies who Paul is referring to. You see, in the Greek New Testament the word for “circumcision” is the Greek word pronounced “peritomh,” which means to cut around. But this word, “concision,” translates the Greek word “katatomh,” which denotes “cutting to pieces.”[2] In other words, the rite of circumcision, which they had taken such pride in as a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham, Paul called a mutilation of the flesh, because they had completely distorted and perverted its meaning. So, why does Paul remind the Philippians about these issues with these men he calls dogs, evil workers, and the concision? He reminds them of these men to rehearse to them to reject the wrong. Again and again and again believers have to be told, and shown, and cajoled, and persuaded, and led, to reject the wrong. We somehow get the feeling over time that we are merciful to wrongdoers by catering to their sin, and that we are more spiritual by overlooking wrongdoing. Or that since we know these people we can handle their error, that it will not affect us so much. Wrong. God’s Word, which is the final word, says that we are to reject them if they are not willing to lay aside their sin and their error. So, reject them we must. How much damage we do to other Christians who follow our example of not separating from such as these, when they are eventually sucked in and overwhelmed by their error.


Verse 3: “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”

Sometimes we need to be reminded what things are really so, and who and what we really are. Hold on a second. Never mind how slick those false teachers are. Don’t pay attention to the fact that they are well financed. We are the real circumcision. You Gentile Philippians may not have circumcised flesh, but you have something more important; a circumcised heart. Notice the observable characteristics of genuinely saved people, people who really are the circumcision:

First, your service is observable: “Which worship God in the spirit.” This word “worship” is the Greek word that refers to worship in the sense of actually doing things as a way of serving God.[3] We worship God in the Spirit. That is, we are the ones who are about the business of observing and performing the will and the desire of the Holy Spirit of God to actually bring sinners to Christ. You do do that, don’t you? After all, this is what we do, Paul writes.

Second, your sound is observable: “and rejoice in Christ Jesus.” You cannot rejoice without making some kind of sound. To rejoice is to verbalize your joy. Is the joy of the Lord your strength?[4] Do you rejoice in hope of the glory of God?[5] Do you experience joy unspeakable and full of glory?[6] Folks, this is not a giddy excitement that resembles a drug high or an alcohol buzz. This is obedience to God, even in the midst of torture, prison, imminent execution, personal tragedy, suffering, disappointment, betrayal, and things like that. God puts His children through things so we will show unsaved people how to suffer. Only you and I can suffer with rejoicing.

Finally, there is observable evidence of our security: “and have no confidence in the flesh.” You and I can do nothing in and of ourselves. We admit that. It is an integral feature of our conversion testimonies. But the others, the unsaved, they have placed their trust in someone or something other than Jesus Christ, or in Jesus Christ plus something else. Whatever the case, their real reliance is in the flesh. But you, if you are really saved, live in a different universe entirely. You can do all things only through Christ.[7] You must pray to ask God to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Pride? It’s something we certainly have to deal with, but it’s not something we try to cultivate and enlarge. There is nothing we should be proud of. Why not? Because our confidence is not in the flesh, our confidence is in our Savior.


Repetition. It’s so important that we are instructed again and again and again. First, because we are so prone to misunderstand. And second, because we are so prone to forget. Have you been reminded of something you’ve forgotten? Rejoice in the Lord. “When, pastor?” Always. Next, reject the wrong. Don’t hang around, or allow to hang around you, wrongdoers. Ever notice the birds that flock together? Third, restate the right. We are the real circumcision, the spiritual circumcision. We are the saved people, not them. And since our gospel is not theirs, we can’t both be saved. Such things as these need to be told to us again and again and again.

[1] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter To The Philippians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 288.

[2] Ibid., page 296.

[3] Ibid., pages 299-300

[4] Psalm 28.7

[5] Romans 5.2

[6] 1 Peter 1.8

[7] Philippians 4.13

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