By Gregg Bing
During Jesus’ ministry in Judea, a certain ruler came to Him and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked the young man, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” Picking up on the ruler’s emphasis on what he had to “do,” Jesus then pointed him to the law, saying, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother'” (Mark 10:17-19). Jesus wasn’t implying that this man, or any man, could inherit eternal life by keeping the commandments of God; He sought to have this ruler see and acknowledge his sinfulness.
However, this did not happen; instead, the ruler boldly claimed, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Like the Pharisees of his day, this man felt he was righteous and was looking for Jesus to confirm this. With a heavy heart, Jesus looked at this young man, knowing he was blind to his true spiritual condition. Nevertheless, Jesus loved him, and said, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me” (Mark 10:20-21).
How did this young man respond to Jesus’ words? “He was sad … and went away sorrowful.” Why sad and sorrowful, when he had just been told how to have eternal life? Why walk away from the One who could give him this life? The Bible tells us, “For he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22) and, obviously, he loved them.
The Apostle John, in his first epistle, told believing Jews not to love the world, nor the things that are in the world, because the world and everything it has to offer is passing away; only “he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
The Greek word translated “love” in verse 15 is “agape.” We usually associate this word with God’s unconditional love for us, however, it also speaks of what you value the most, what you are unwilling to give up. This is certainly true of God’s love for us; He highly valued us, even when we were sinners, and was unwilling to give us up to sin and death, therefore, He sent His Son to die for our sins and to reconcile us to Himself (Rom. 5:8; 1 Pet. 3:18).
In this passage, John is cautioning his Jewish audience not to value the things of this world so much that they are not willing to give them up. The rich young ruler did exactly that. He loved his worldly possessions and refused to let them go to follow Jesus.
Jesus asked a sobering question in Matthew 16:26, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or, what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
In the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul explores the question of what is most important in life; he begins with these words:
“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.” (Phil. 3:1)
Paul introduces this section of the letter with the word, “Finally,” not as a conclusion, but to indicate a change of subject or tone. He tells us, as believers, to “rejoice in the Lord.” The tone of the whole letter is one of joy and rejoicing, but here Paul focuses on the cause or source of our rejoicing: the Lord Himself. Even in difficult times, “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).
Warning Against False Teachers
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” (Phil. 3:2)
Paul then reiterates a warning he had previously given these dear brethren. To repeat this warning was not grievous to Paul; it was necessary for their spiritual safety and security. Repetition is an important learning aid in secular education; it is also needed to help us learn and remember spiritual truths. Warnings about spiritual dangers, such as temptation, false teaching, and worldliness, should be heard again and again.
“Beware” Paul says, admonishing us to see or discern, to be aware of, and to be wary. Three warnings are given, but all refer to the same group: the Judaizers, legalistic Jews who insisted that circumcision and keeping the law were necessary for salvation (Acts 15:1).
“Beware of dogs!” is Paul’s first warning. “Dogs” was a term used to describe those who were unholy, unclean, or impure. Dogs are animals that do filthy things such as returning to their own vomit (2 Pet. 2:22) or licking a beggar’s sores (Luke 16:21). The Jews referred to the Gentiles as dogs because of the filthy behavior associated with their idolatrous worship, worship that included sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1) and even sacrificing their children in the fire to their gods (2 Chron. 28:3).
Paul applies this same term, “dogs,” to self-righteous Jews who were outwardly religious, but whose hearts were filthy. Jesus spoke of the unclean hearts of the Jewish rulers: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27-28).
“Beware of evil workers!” The Judaizers demonstrated their wicked hearts by their wicked works. They professed devotion to God, but in works, they denied Him. Jesus pronounced woe upon the scribes and Pharisees for their evil opposition to the kingdom of God. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13). When Jesus came, proving Himself to be Israel’s Messiah and King, the Pharisees rejected Him and plotted to destroy Him (Matt. 12:14; Matt. 26:3-4).
In his letter to the Galatian churches, Paul denounced the evil workers who troubled the saints there by preaching a different gospel, a perverted gospel that denied the grace of Christ and sought to bring them back under bondage to the law. Paul denounced them, saying, “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9). These warnings are still needed today; Paul told Timothy, “Evil men and imposters (seducers) shall grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).
“Beware of the mutilation!” Paul here addressed the Jewish practice of circumcision, a physical sign given to Abraham to remind him and his descendants (Israel) that they were to be “cut off” or separated from all other nations (Gentiles). This rite was later made part of the Mosaic covenant (Law). The Jews used the term “uncircumcision” as a derogatory term for the Gentiles (Eph. 2:11).
Paul wrote the Philippian letter after the close of the Acts period, when God was no longer in covenant relationship with the nation of Israel. Paul had begun fully unveiling the mystery, the revelation of God’s plan and purpose for the Church, the Body of Christ, a joint body of believing Jews and Gentiles.
The truth of the mystery made it clear that through the death of Christ, the law of ordinances, which placed a wall of separation between Jew and Gentile, had been abolished in Christ; it was no longer in operation (Eph. 2:13-18). The Law could not give life; it was merely a shadow of good things to come (Heb. 10:1). Christ and His finished work on the cross provided the substance, the spiritual reality of what the Law merely pictured (Col. 2:17).
Believers in Christ are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10). Continuing to practice physical circumcision is nothing more than a “mutilation” of the flesh, a meaningless religious ritual, no different than the Gentiles cutting themselves as a part of their worship of idols (1 Kings 18:28).
The True Circumcision
“For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil. 3:3)
Paul declared, “We are the circumcision,” the “we” including both believing Jews and Gentiles. True circumcision is not an outward work in the flesh, but an inner work in the heart (Rom. 2:28-29). It is a work of the Spirit, “made without hands;” not a cutting away of the flesh, but a “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11).
The true circumcision are characterized as those “who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”
“Who worship God in the Spirit.” Our worship and service (both ideas are implied in the word) of God must be spiritual, not fleshly. The word “spirit” can refer to our human spirit, which enables us to know God, but, more likely, it refers to the Holy Spirit which indwells the believer. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Genuine worship of God cannot be accomplished in the flesh, for “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things you wish” (Gal. 5:16-17). The continuing religious practices of the Judaizers under the Law had become nothing more than the works of their flesh.
“Who rejoice in Christ Jesus.” The word “rejoice” literally means to glory or boast. Legalizers, who want to lead people back under the Law, “desire to make a good showing in the flesh” and they make their boast in the flesh (Gal. 6:12-13). Our righteous standing before God has nothing to do with the works of our flesh, for “by the works of the law, no flesh shall be justified” (Gal. 2:16).
Our salvation is based solely on the finished work of Christ on the cross, thus it is “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). This led Paul to tell the Galatians, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14)
“Who have no confidence in the flesh.” We must be persuaded, as Paul was, “that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Rom. 7:18). We cannot rely on our flesh to produce anything good, certainly nothing that would please God. Yet, so many people, both then and now, are guilty of this very thing: confidence in the flesh, persuasion that they can be good enough to satisfy God.
The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day, particularly the Pharisees, felt this way, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness,” they refused to submit “to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).
Continued next issue.