Philippians Day Thirteen
October 12, 2020, 4:00 AM

“To Live Like a Jew”
Philippians 3:3

For we are the circumcision,
who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus
and put no confidence in the flesh—

Earlier in his letter, the apostle Paul mentioned some other teachers, preachers or evangelists who were not discharging the call with the best of motives (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.” Nevertheless. Nevertheless, Paul praised God that Christ was being preached, no matter the motive.

But as we come here to chapter three, we have a (severe) frowny face from Paul. It is highly likely that these blokes be the same cantankerous adversaries he gave a mild free pass to in chapter one! (3:2) “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” What could possibly account for this change of mood in Paul?

Some background and context is necessary: In an earlier blog entry, I touched upon this puzzling about-face, but it never hurts to revisit the matter.

I believe the ones preaching “Christ from envy and rivalry” are Jewish Christians, or perhaps more accurately, Christian Jews. The name by which these men came to be known— the Judaizers— evolved from a clash Paul had with Peter in Antioch. Peter was enjoying table fellowship with the Gentiles (which must have been post-Cornelius), but when some Christian Jewish believers came to town, Peter “drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” (Gal. 2:12-13).

Paul was incensed. He said, “I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Gal. 2:14). “To live like a Jew” comes from the Greek word “Judaize.” Hence, it means Gentile converts must Judaize— i.e. assume Jewish ritual distinctives — to become legitimate believers in Messiah Jesus. So thought the Judaizers. To them, all Christians were still obligated to practice circumcision; to observe the exacting dietary laws; and keep Torah prescriptions of clean-ness and proscriptions to impurity. Of course, requiring Gentile converts to “live like a Jew” with respect to the Jewish ritual practices was diametrically opposed to Paul’s Gospel of God in Christ fulfilling the requirements of the Law.

Nonetheless, when Jewish Christians were sharing the Gospel, even with the mindset of competition with Paul (cf. Phil. 1:15-18), the apostle could still be generously large in recognizing that Christ be still shared— Shared with those who haven’t yet heard; with those who need to hear. Paul took one for the “Team” in that case.

But here in chapter three, it’s a different story. This is not evangelizing; this is tying a large theological millstone around already believers. Paul is upset that Judaizing teaching has seeped into his already-established, beloved church at Philippi. Laying on these brothers and sisters cumbersome requirements now fulfilled and abrogated through Christ.

Ironically, Paul uses the Judaizers’ own epithets of “dogs” and “evildoers” that they themselves used to describe unclean, ritually impure Gentile “dogs.” He even compares circumcision to mutilating the flesh. He says, (3:3) “we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” The Covenant sign is no longer the cutting, bloody ordeal. In Christ, the gentle, cleansing waters of baptism are applied to male and female alike. The New Covenant is about “circumcision of the heart” that the prophets of Old bespoke (Deut. 30:6, Jer. 4:4, cf. Rom. 2:28-29). The Judaizers should have known this!

Putting “confidence in the flesh” is the determination to still keep the Law scrupulously – dietary separation, circumcision, purity observances, etc. – even as Jesus has come to lift the burden of the Law as the perfect Lawkeeper. Remember his beautiful words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17-18).

Paul does go on to speak of ways that he has “put confidence in the flesh”…
…But that is the topic for Wednesday.

 

*Pictured above, "Moses with the Tables of the Law" by Rembrandt (1659)


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