Beware of “Dogs”

Nathanael Winkler

In chapter 3 of the epistle to the Philippians, Paul begins with the words, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” This idea of joy is like a scarlet thread going through the whole epistle. It is about a joy that is independent of the momentary situation. We all rejoice when things go well for us; when we are healthy, when we have no problems, when we have peace with our neighbors, when our financial situation is good, and when we face no persecution. But Paul makes it clear that we should rejoice in every situation—no matter what happens to us. This joy is not dependent on something earthly, but on our Redeemer Jesus Christ. It is a joy that always has its eyes on Him and the hope of being with the Lord one day. Christians are people who always have joy. It is understandable when trials depress us, but we should have inner joy whatever happens.

In Philippians 3:2 we read, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” Paul mentions this kind of warning in almost all his letters. He is warning of false teachers entering the church and teaching something other than that taught by Paul and the apostles. He describes the false teachers as “dogs,” as “evil workers” and the “concision,” or mutilators. Today, this is not politically correct. Many in our day, particularly politicians, attempt to speak so that no one is hurt. 

Who are the “dogs” that Paul is talking about? Dogs were different at that time from those we know today. The dog is a pet now, pleasant, friendly and the best friend for many. At that time, however, dogs were wild and went around in packs with only one aim—to find prey. In exactly the same way, the false teachers had crept into the church. They seek prey and where the weak spots are.

In Psalm 59:4-5, it says, “They run and prepare themselves without my fault: awake to help me, and behold. Thou therefore, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors.” Solomon describes here the unbelieving, the Gentiles. But who is Paul thinking of? In a sense, Paul meant the unbelievers. He emphasizes, “For we are the circumcision.” The false teachers were Judaizers who preached circumcision. They claimed believers had to be circumcised to really be part of the church.

Paul experienced the most resistance from the Judaizers. Wherever he went, he first visited the synagogue. This was also the best place to missionize a city. Through the Jews usually a commotion arose, because they were not in agreement with him. Where a disturbance took place, a lot of people came as spectators. Such an opportunity could be used to preach the gospel. Many Jews in the Roman Empire at that time were scattered in all the countries, and God used this situation to spread the gospel. Paul experienced resistance through persecution. The Judaizers taught “Jesus and the circumcision,” or “Jesus and the Sabbath,” or “Jesus and another law.” It was no longer grace alone.

These “dogs” Paul also called “evil workers.” The word “worker” refers to those who were active; in this case, presenting another gospel. This was the problem in Galatia, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so I say now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9). Paul is very clear here too. He is saying that whoever preaches another gospel than that which the apostles preached was a false teacher and therefore condemned.

These false teachers were maybe outwardly perfect; maybe their lifestyle seemed flawless. Maybe you have seen this or that person, and were surprised by how exemplary and how decent he or she looked. Let us not be deceived, however. Satan is not dumb, and knows how he can fool believers. In Philippians 3:18, Paul writes in tears, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” The apostle knows what these enemies can accomplish. He warns the Philippians that they should beware of the Judaizers and of legalism.

We are so quick to think we must bring God something, so that we receive something in return. This is human nature: If I work, I will receive a reward. We think this partly in relation to the work of salvation. I have to do something to earn it.

No, we cannot bring God anything. Jesus Christ accomplished everything for us. It is grace and grace alone. Does this mean we can do or not do as we please? No, a Christian who thinks like that needs to ask himself whether he really is born again. A Christian in whom the Spirit of God lives, wants to live according to God’s standard. He is changed by the Spirit of God. But when we begin to preach that we have to do this or that in order to attain redemption—such as keeping the Sabbath, for instance, or other feasts, laws about purity, fasting, going to confession, etc. then this is “another gospel” which we do not find in the Bible.

At that time, it was the Judaizers, and in addition rites from the heathen religions that came into the church. What is it like in our churches? We read in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

These are the ones in the church who are active, but their motivation is not biblical. They are not born again, and come inside the church to profit themselves. These people, whom Paul calls “dogs” and “evil workers,” will bring in division.

Was Paul against circumcision? He says of himself, “circumcised the eighth day.” But here he is speaking about his life before he was a believer. So, what did he do with Timothy? Acts 16:1-3 reports, “Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.” Paul had Timothy circumcised. The mother of Timothy was a Jew, and his circumcision was an expression of his belonging to the people of Israel. He was a Jew, and so it was no problem for him to be circumcised. The circumcision was done so that he would not offend the Jews. Paul himself wrote, “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20). This was a very wise step of Paul, so that he did not give any offense. But this does not mean that he preached circumcision. He emphasized that those who bring the concision require circumcision of all.

We too must take care that in relation to Judaism, we do not concern ourselves with things that lead back to the law of the Old Testament and away from grace in Christ. I ask myself why a Christian suddenly has to wear a kippa on his head, when the Lord and the apostles have not ordered it. Maybe a person has the desire to do this, but for whom is he doing it? Maybe someone wants to keep the Sabbath. Then he should do so, but then this person should keep much more of the law of the Old Covenant. We have One who fulfilled the whole of the law: Jesus Christ. He saved us. It was Paul’s desire to proclaim that we no longer have to return to the law.

He explained, “We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). We are the circumcision who belong to Jesus Christ, both Gentile and Jew. God does not want us to live in our own strength, as we will fail. We will despair in our own strength.

When Paul says “flesh” here, he does not mean sinful behavior. The law is not sin, but rather the law reveals our sinfulness. We often understand the word “flesh” to mean sin, immorality, adultery, fornication, but this is not about sin, but about something that we want to achieve in our own strength. Flesh is our self: I have to do it; I have to keep the law; I have to pray five times a day, etc., etc. To trust in our own flesh is salvation from works. In this case, we would be lost. When we are in the Spirit, we do not boast about our own achievement, but in the Lord Jesus alone. This is just what Paul does in the next verses, by showing that if a Jew could be proud of what he accomplished in the flesh, then Paul would be the best candidate. But Paul counted everything as loss, as “dung.” For Paul, Jesus Christ had become everything. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Midnight Call - 03/2018

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