Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Study Thirteen: Don’t let anyone steal your joy
• • •
PHILIPPIANS 3:1-11 (JB Phillips translation)
In conclusion, my brothers, delight yourselves in the Lord! It doesn’t bore me to repeat a piece of advice like this, and if you follow it you will find it a great safeguard.
Be on your guard against these curs, these wicked workmen, these would-be mutilators of your bodies! We are, remember, truly circumcised when we worship God by the Spirit, when we find our joy in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in what we are in the flesh.
If it were right to have such confidence, I could certainly have it, and if any of these men thinks he has grounds for such confidence I can assure him I have more. I was born a true Jew, I was circumcised on the eighth day, I was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, I was in fact a full-blooded Jew. As far as keeping the Law is concerned I was a Pharisee, and you can judge my enthusiasm for the Jewish faith by my active persecution of the Church. As far as the Law’s righteousness is concerned, I don’t think anyone could have found fault with me.
Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead.
The world can be a dangerous place — spiritually as well as in a variety of other ways. A wise parent, a wise teacher, a wise pastor will not only provide an emphasis on what is good and positive, but will give appropriate warnings about staying away from that which may be hurtful and damaging.
From all that we know, there is no indication that the Philippians were in immediate danger from the kinds of law-promoting Jewish missionaries that he warns about in chapter 3 of Philippians. However, remember that Paul was in prison, he did not know whether he would live or die or see his friends in Philippi again. He wants to encourage them to find their joy in Christ always (3:1, 4:4). That’s the positive message. The other side of the coin is that they must be careful about attending to any message that takes their focus off Jesus.
Since Philippi straddled the Egnatian Way, the east-west turnpike through Macedonia, this church was always in danger of the Judaizers’ showing up with their subversive teaching. (Gordon Fee)
Paul frames his warning against the possible incursion of Judaizing false teaching in the strongest terms, with three repeated “bewares” —
- Beware the dogs!
- Beware the evil workers!
- Beware the mutilators of the flesh!
These are three direct shots. “Dogs” was what some Jewish people called Gentiles. “Good works” (of the Mosaic covenant) were what they required of the righteous. Circumcision was the outward sign of belonging to the covenant — Paul likens them to pagans who put permanent marks in their flesh as signs of devotion.
But Paul doesn’t linger there. Instead, he moves on to tell his own story, the story of how he came to see that all his advantages of having a respected Jewish heritage, possessing the Law, being strictly observant, and even fighting against those who advocated a different religious path, did not make him righteous before God. He came to see that Jesus had come to introduce a new covenant, a covenant he procured by his own faithfulness that people enter by trusting him and not by trying to conform their lives to the demands of the Law covenant.
For Paul, it came to be all about Jesus. Knowing Jesus. Dying with Jesus. Rising again with Jesus. Gaining life through Jesus. Becoming united to Jesus and thus sharing in all that Jesus has. Anything that he had previously considered a “credit” on the positive side of the ledger was now moved to the “debit” side and replaced by one thing — faith in Jesus the Messiah.
This is what he means by “Rejoice in the Lord” (3:1).
Don’t let anyone, anything, any message, any messenger steal your joy.
• • •
Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel
- Study One: A Friendship Letter
- Study Two: Background
- Study Three: Greetings in the Gospel
- Study Four: Before Anything Else, Thanks
- Study Five: All You Need Is (Overflowing) Love
- Study Six: The Persevering Pastor
- Study Seven: Every Way You Look at It You Win
- Study Eight: Courage and Unity
- Study Nine: Tending to the Roots
- Study Ten: Humility We Must Sing to Imagine
- Study Eleven: Tom Wright on Phil. 2:12-18
- Study Twelve: Examples of the Jesus-shaped Life