This chapter of the epistle begins with Paul telling the brethren to “rejoice in the Lord,” continuing his encouragement. Then he begins his typical “beware” admonition. This time, however, he speaks of “dogs” and evildoers, and then a clever mention of “mutilators of the flesh.” All three of these refer to the same group of people – Judaizers. This is a faction of the Christian movement who, despite what Paul and the other apostles have made clear, were still teaching others that circumcision was still necessary – in particular, to force such teaching on Gentiles. This was causing problems in the church in many places, and Paul wanted to make sure the brethren at Philippi were vigilant to “nip it in the bud.”
Paul tells them that “we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” What he means is that the faithful Christians are the new children of Abraham. Referring to these Judaizers as “dogs” is intentionally ironic, as Gentiles were often so called by Jews in times past. It is in verse 4 that he refers to their unjustified pride, noting that if anyone has reason for “being confident in the flesh,” he himself does. He then recounts all of the things that he had always placed a high value on in his life. He was a Jew, circumcised on the eighth day according to the law of Moses. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, had been a Pharisee, and righteous and blameless under the law – a respected Hebrew among Hebrews.
Noting that he had lost all of those things he had valued, he now counts them as rubbish that he may know Christ, become like Him in His death, and attain the resurrection of the dead. It is with this in mind that he urges them to stand fast in the face of their enemies and trials, and press on to that goal.
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