Philippians Day Four
September 21, 2020, 5:00 AM

That Dog’ll Hunt
Philippians 1:15-18

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.
The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.
The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition,
not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth,
Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.

Here’s a question that gets bandied about when reading Paul’s letters: Just exactly who are his opponents? In this present case, who are these folks who “preach Christ from envy and rivalry?” Paul doesn’t identify these people. He doesn’t say much about them, only that they are not preaching Christ from good motives. He says they are trying to stick it to him. They are preaching competitively, and they glory in besting Paul. Perhaps they are gloating over Paul’s imprisonment while they freely make disciples?

Paul’s high-mindedness in response is unexpected: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, …in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” From Paul’s perspective, Jesus is being named to people who need to hear the Gospel. Even if the motives are not pure, the Word is going forth where it would not normally go forth. For Paul, this is sufficient.

Think of the multifarious ways the Gospel is shared today. Television programs. Books. Denominational flavors. Gospel tracts. Personal evangelism. And so on. Sometimes these are good, accurate presentations. Sometimes they are not so good. But the amazing thing is, God uses all sorts of witness to reach Gospel averse, dead hearts. Afterall, it’s not people who save people; it’s not human wisdom and method that unlocks resistance to the Good News; it’s God doing a miracle in each human heart – as only God can make it happen. Paul’s malicious opponents are sharing Christ, and Paul rejoices in that news. But this brings me back to my original train of thought: Who are these people?

I believe these opponents are Jewish-Christians. That is to say, Jews who are Christians. In Galatians 2:14, Paul chastises the apostle Peter for withdrawing from table fellowship with Gentile believers. Peter refrains because he fears the response of the Jewish Christians who’ve come down from Jerusalem. According to the Mosaic Law, table fellowship with the wrong sort of people would make him ritually impure. But Paul says, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

That last expression – to live like Jews – gives us a word that comes to describe these Jewish-Christian opponents: “To Judaize.” The Judaizers. Paul also calls them “certain men from James” in Galatians 2:12. These men have indeed received and believed in Jesus as the Messiah. However, they believe that Gentiles who receive Jesus ought to become good Jews. Receive circumcision. Observe the purity requirements of the Law in diet and hygiene. Observe the festivals and Temple priority. Although I’m not certain how the Judaizers felt about the sacrificial system, I know they believed the other “badges” of Jewish nationality were to remain in play.

Before Paul embarked on his second missionary journey with Silas, Timothy and Luke, there was a convocation of the elders and apostles in Jerusalem – what we know of as the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. They came together because of the great success of Paul and Barnabas with seeing many Gentiles coming to Christ. The main question: How can the Gentiles be good Christians? Acts 15:5 says, “Some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.’” After what must have been a much heated discussion, James, the Lord’s brother, drafted a letter to the Gentiles that read, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:28-29). The upshot: Becoming a Jew in all the “badges” of Jewishness was unnecessary – as Paul had preached – however, Gentiles must not give overt offense to Jews. However, circumcision was not required. Personal observation of purity laws was not necessary, though don’t eat a pork barbeque sandwich in the presence of a Jewish brother! More significantly, Gentiles are not intrinsically, or ritually unclean, and Jewish believers could – must – have table fellowship with them.

However, even given the pronouncement from James and the apostles, old habits die hard. The Judaizers continued to harass Paul’s Gentile ministry. They would go behind, as they did in Galatia, and teach that the Jewish “badges” of circumcision and purity laws were essential to become a follower of Jesus. You must become a Jew to follow a Jewish Messiah.

Although we do not know where Paul is imprisoned as he writes to the Philippians, he hears there of the mission of his Judaizing opponents. In this case, Paul rejoices, because for him, people who have not heard the Gospel are getting Jesus. Once a person gets Jesus, the Holy Spirit can do His work! Praise God that Jesus is being preached!

There is certainly a sermon here. Doing “church” these days, we often think so stinking tribally. I confess, that is a sin of pastors! (Maybe even of this pastor, personally.) We think of churching as a team sport. Let’s get someone else’s spiritual “customers” in our “store.” We are in competition with the brothers and sisters at the popular church down the street. We like to major in “sheep exchange” evangelism. But this does not have any sanction with Paul. No, it’s about hearing of Christ! Preaching Jesus! Doesn’t matter where; only that it’s done. The particulars can be sorted out in good time. Paul does indeed have a problem with the Judaizers, but he rejoices in their Gospel harvest.

However, if you read a little further into Philippians, when you come to chapter three, it begins this way: (3:2-3) “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

Who are these “dogs”? I think they are, once again, the Judaizers. It seems clear to me by the way Paul crafts his response— (3:4-9) “Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ”

He says, “We are the circumcision!” – an unmistakable rejoinder to Judaizing teaching. “Those who mutilate the flesh” (i.e. circumcision) is a dead giveaway. Paul pontificates on his Jewish credentials, and they are impeccable; but he knows that Jesus has changed the paradigm, and the Judaizers should know this, as well. Jesus has fulfilled the reasons for the “badges” – they are no longer necessary.

Paul’s entry into Philippi was on the heels of the Jerusalem Council. And even though there was not a strong presence of Jews in Philippi at the time of his initial arrival, the time subsequent to his departure to resume the second missionary journey obviously witnessed the arrival in Philippi of Judaizing teachers, or at least the whiff of their teachings had blown into the community.

So the question arises, why was Paul rejoicing in their Gospel harvest at the beginning of the letter, and now he calls them “dogs” and “evildoers”? I think it’s the distinction between naming Christ where he’s not been named, and the proclaiming of a “different Gospel” to the faithful (cf. 2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6). Paul can be encouraged that Jesus is preached, even though he might in different circumstances have strong reservations about how he is preached.

This finds application for me in the way I understand my pastoral responsibilities at New Life Church. I am encouraged by the way the Gospel makes inroads in the Roanoke Valley through various ministries. I have a diverse cadre of ministerial colleagues, many of whom I call good friends; but I wouldn’t invite some of them to preach at New Life, because we have some strong differences of conviction about the Gospel. (Incidentally, that works in the reverse, too. They wouldn’t ask me, either!) I do have a responsibility to ensure that good, solid teaching is done from the pulpit and the Sunday School classroom. Teaching in line with our doctrinal standards, like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Essentials of the Faith. For example, I would never invite a “prosperity preacher” to fill the pulpit at New Life. But even though I’m opposed to that kind of teaching, I do “rejoice” when people who’ve never heard the Gospel hear the Gospel, even if it is through the ministrations of a “prosperity  preacher.” As Paul might think, we’ll let the Holy Spirit settle that matter in individual hearts later! (And hopefully, better teaching ;-)

In the end, let’s rejoice with Paul when the name of Jesus is lifted up, in any voice.
That’s good policy!


*Pictured above is a sculpture of Paul laboring with the pen in the Nave of Mary the Queen of the Universe Shrine in Orlando. Florida.

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