Friday, May 21, 2021

2021.05.21 Hopewell @Home ▫ Philippians 3:1–3

Read Philippians 3:1–3

Questions from the Scripture text: How does the apostle introduce Philippians 3:1? What does he call them? What does he command them? What things is he writing? How doesn’t he feel about this repetition? What advantage does this have for them? Of what three things does he command them to beware (Philippians 3:2)? What does he say that he and the Philippian believers are in Philippians 3:3? What three things make them “the circumcision”? Whom do they worship in Whom? What do they do in Christ Jesus? In what don’t they have confidence?

Many of us who grew up singing Philippians 4:4 “as a round” probably did not understand the context well enough to reach back into the first three verses of the previous chapter, which we have before us now. Rejoicing in the Lord is set over against rejoicing in status, rejoicing in self, and rejoicing in signs.

One good way of summing up the gospel is, “In yourself, you have only guilt and misery and weakness; but, in Christ there is perfect righteousness, blessedness, and strength!” So, one might succinctly make the gospel offer, the gospel call, in these terms: “rejoice in the Lord!”

But the Christian life isn’t something that begins with rejoicing in the Lord and moves on to rejoicing in our covenant status, or our self-righteousness, or our access to the signs. As we’ve been hearing throughout the book, Christ is all of our Christian life, and in each of these (status, works, signs) our rejoicing ought to be in Him. 

So the apostle says he’s energized, rather than weighed down, to tell the same thing that he has always said: “rejoice in the Lord!” And it is well that he enjoys telling them to do so, because there are dangerous people out there trying to get them to have confidence in the flesh (end of Philippians 3:4). So, the apostle here is acting as Christ-sent safety officer saying, “rejoice in the Lord”!

As he warns them against those who might lure them into self-confidence instead of Christ-confidence, he goes on the offensive with the three names he uses for them in Philippians 3:2. Each of these identify an area of the Christian life in which we are in danger of rejoicing in something that Christ gives us instead of in Christ Himself.

Beware of dogs: covenant status. It is a marvelous thing to be set apart to the Lord as His saints, to have membership in the holy assembly that is His church. For centuries, Jews had been exulting in this status, apart from vital faith in the promised Christ. And such habits of heart are hard to break. They viewed Gentiles as “dogs,” which came to mean those outside the covenant. Ironically, someone who is proud of His status instead of rejoicing in the Christ Who gave him that status, shows that he is not genuinely holy. 

The vital, spiritual status of the man’s soul is opposite the status of his earthly church membership. He is a dog. “Watch out!” says the apostle. “There are people in the church who think about membership in Christ’s church in a way that shows that they lack the far more important membership: membership through faith in Christ Himself. Don’t follow them; rather, rejoice in the Lord!”

Beware of evil workers: good works. Good works are good. They come from faith in Christ, and are the fruit of His life as the vine flowing through you as a branch. But works that you trust in, or works for which you feel like getting praise instead of giving it, are not works that proceed from faith. These are dead works, from which we must repent. They have at their heart a violation of the first commandment and the first great commandment. Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

So, when there were those who were tempting Philippian believers to do works for the purpose of showing off themselves instead of showing off the gospel (cf. Philippians 1:27), the apostle chose a name for them that shows how opposite this kind of thinking really is. “Beware of evil workers.” The way they work is evil, so regardless of any outward conformity to Scripture, their works are evil.

Beware of the mutilation: covenant signs. Circumcision wasn’t even a sign of the covenant anymore. To a church that is largely gentile, the apostle says, “we are the circumcision” in Philippians 3:3. The sign of admission into the covenant is no longer the cutting away of flesh, but the pouring out of the Spirit (which we see signified in the pouring out of the water of baptism). So he says, “we are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God.”

Even God’s former sign was meant to show something that God would do to their hearts (cf. Deuteronomy 30:6). Without this hope in the spiritual work of God, and without God actually doing that spiritual work, the cutting away of flesh was never ultimately a blessing to begin with. So the apostle refers to flesh circumcision without heart circumcision in shocking words that expose this truth. “Beware of the mutilation!”

We too are in danger of rejoicing in the mercies that accessorize belonging to Christ, rather than rejoicing in Christ Himself in His mercies. Ironically, someone who recognizes this danger can rejoice in watching out. So, to all of us, the apostle announces again that first gospel call, which is still the continual call of the Christian life: “rejoice in the Lord!”

How are you developing the heart-habit of rejoicing in the Lord? How are you reminding yourself to do so especially when we think about your membership? How especially when thinking about doing good works? How especially when thinking about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

Suggested songs: ARP98 “O Sing a New Song” or TPH281 “Rejoice, the Lord Is King”

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