Guarding the Gospel
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 3:1-3
With this text, Paul turns in a very different direction from what he has been discussing. He moves on from talking about unity in gospel work to focus in on a theological threat. Paul uses some pretty strong language to warn the Philippians about Paul’s greatest nemesis—the Judaizers.
The Judaizers were a problem, because they didn’t look like bad guys. They knew the Bible. They taught that salvation begins in Christ. So, they talked like Christians, and they looked like Christians. In our day when we like to minimize differences, most Christians probably wouldn’t have much problem with them.
But Paul understood that the Judaizers had compromised the foundation of the gospel, because they believed that we need more than Christ provided on the cross for salvation. Specifically, they believed all Christians must be circumcised and observe Jewish food laws and holy days to be fully saved. But Paul wouldn’t have any of that. So, in chapter 3, he warns the church about the Judaizers, and then he goes on to drive home a positive picture of the gospel and of how the Christian life flows out of the gospel.
Even though we don’t fight Judaizers today, this passage is still very relevant, because there are lots of false gospels in our day that are incredibly deceitful. And sadly, they have claimed lots of victims. Therefore, eternity depends on getting the gospel right. And even if you know the gospel well, you can always grow deeper into the gospel. As well, we are all responsible to pass this gospel to the next generation. We need Philippians 3.
Today, we are going to focus on vv. 1–3. Paul opens with both guns drawn. He goes right after the Judaizers and challenges us with the importance of knowing the gospel well and working intentionaly to guarding the gospel. This is so important, because when we assume the gospel, we lose the gospel. Therefore, Paul provides a pattern of 4 ways that we must guard the gospel. The first is…
1. Master the gospel (v. 1b).
To understand this statement, we need to ask ourselves…What are “the same things” that Paul wants to reiterate? It’s pretty clear in context that Paul has in mind the heart of gospel Christianity, which he is about to unpack. He’s going to emphasize grace alone as the way of salvation, what it means for a Christian to know Christ and walk with Christ, and how we are supposed to pursue godliness after we become Christians. Therefore, the “same things” are the basics of the Christian faith.
And Paul implies that he had been over these truths many times with the Philippians. He had taught the gospel over and over when he was in Philippi. It’s possible that he had written a previous letter detailing the gospel. Therefore, Paul is not saying anything new. They had heard the gospel, many times. Which brings us to a second question.
Why must we repeat the basics? Notice again what Paul says in 1b. Have you gotten tired of giving the same lecture to students, children, or employees? Have you ever gotten bored with hearing the same lecture from a parent or boss that you’ve heard many times? You probably have.
As a result, teachers and preachers are often tempted to find something to say that is new and revolutionary. We want to explore some new mystery or find some hidden fact. We’re tempted to put our own spin on Scripture, so that we can stand out from the crowd.
And the listener faces the same struggle. We can get bored with hearing the basics in a sermon or Bible lesson. We want some new insight that we never saw before, even though we struggle every day to live the basics.
But what does Paul say regarding rehearsing the basics of the gospel and spiritual growth? It’s “not tedious.” Instead, “it is safe.” In other words, we need to know the basics, and we can’t review them too often.
That’s very practical for us as a church. We’re not trying to be cutting edge. Instead, we want to pound the basics, like any good teacher or coach. It’s so important, because I’ve talked with a lot of people who have spent years in gospel preaching churches who really struggle to articulate the gospel well. It’s disturbing. And if they can’t articulate the gospel to me, they probably can’t speak it effectively to lost people or their children.
So, I hope you never get bored with us rehearsing the gospel. We don’t need to move on to bigger and better things. No, we need to grounded in the gospel. And even if you know the gospel well, we sinners all naturally drift into self-sufficiency or despair. We all need lots of gospel.
Therefore, we should all desire the gospel and love rehearsing the gospel. It also means that if you teach a children’s class, you’re a youth leader, or you have any other role of discipleship, don’t take the gospel for granted. Rehearse it constantly, until your audience can spit it out perfectly.
The same is true for parents and grandparents. Don’t ever assume the gospel. Review it constantly. And when you do evangelism, don’t get discouraged when people don’t get it the first time. Speak the truth over and over until the Holy Spirit works and they really get it. So, the 1st way we guard the gospel is by mastering the gospel. The 2nd way is…
II. Call out false gospels (v. 2).
We live in a day of political correctness, where we carefully massage everyone’s feelings. As a result, this verse sound really strong. We would never call someone a dog. But Paul understood that the Judaizers were preaching a false gospel that would confuse believers and condemn others to hell. Eternity was at stake, so this was no time for false platitudes.
Instead, Paul says 3xs, “beware” or “look out”! There’s a strong sense of urgency in his voice. He commands us to always be on the lookout for error.
And then he proceeds to call out the Judaizers. And to drive home the threat they posed he uses three cutting descriptions that are filled with irony. This is because they all turn the tables on the false sense of security the Judaizers enjoyed based on their Jewish identity.
First, Paul says, “beware of dogs.” Today many people LOVE their dogs. They spend thousands of dollars on their dogs, pamper them, and love them like a child. But that wasn’t the case in the ancient world. Dogs were were scavengers. They ate dead animals, trash, rotten food, and whatever else they could find.
As a result, the Jews commonly referred to Gentiles as dogs, because they ate everything, not just what the Law permitted. It’s worth noting that it was not necessarily derogatory and hateful. Even Jesus referred to a Gentile woman as a dog (Mark 7:27), and she took no offense at the statement.
However, Paul pulls quite a stunner here by calling the Judaizers dogs. They would have responded, “We aren’t the dogs; the Gentiles are.” But they didn’t understand that Christ changed everything. Being in Christ, not circumcision, is now the mark of grace. And Colossians 3:11 states that in Christ, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”
As a result, the Judaizers were now the outsiders, because they rejected salvation in Christ alone. So, Paul makes an emphatic point. “The truth is in Christ, and anyone who rejects Christ alone for salvation is an outsider, no matter how religious they look.”
Second, Paul says, “beware of evil workers.” This phrase is also filled with irony. The Judaizers boasted about their impressive works, and they were urging Gentile Christians that they needed to adopt the same Jewish works if they were going to be truly spiritual and earn eternal life.
I’m sure the Judaizers looked spiritual, but Paul understood that their confidence in their works was contrary to confidence in Christ. Therefore, no matter how good their works may have looked, they were evil.
It’s a startling statement, but it’s an important perspective as we consider the religious works of people today. God says that if someone wears a certain clothes, goes to religious events, prays certain prayers, or participates in a fast in order to earn salvation, it is an evil work, because it violates the gospel. We have to see these things for what they truly are, no matter how impressive they may look and no matter how sincere people may be.
Third, Paul says, “beware of the mutilation!” This is the strongest of the 3 warnings, because Paul goes after circumcision, the pride of the Jews. He does so through an ironic twist of vocabulary. The Greek word for circumcision was peritome, which means “a cutting around.” But Paul uses katatome, which means to “cut off.”
It’s significant because the LXX uses katatome in Leviticus 21:5 for pagan mutilations of the body. So, Paul is saying that after Christ died, if someone trusts in circumcision for salvation, it’s just as bad as pagan cuttings.
I want to emphasize that the issue was not circumcision in itself. Paul encouraged Timothy to be circumcised to broaden his ministry. Rather, the issue is trusting in a physical mark to earn acceptance with God. And Paul is very clear that any such work is contrary to the gospel.
So, what should we take away from this verse? First and foremost, we must be clear about the gospel. This is important, because we live in a very emotional culture. People live by how they feel. Just watch a political add There’s no logic, just emotional manipulation. And if someone sounds good, looks good, and connects emotionally, we’re sold. And it carries over to religion. Most people evaluate religion based on feelings.
But Christianity is not defined by feelings; it is defined by believing and embracing a body of truth. Therefore, we must be educated, discerning, and clear. And then we need to clearly communicate the truth to others, because the moment we assume the gospel and assume everyone grasps the gospel, we will let in all sorts of Trojan horses, like the Judaizers.
Second, we must be clear about heresy. We must call it what it is. Again, this is worth emphasizing, because Christians worry way too much about offending unbelievers. Just hop on Twitter sometime and watch how “Christians” respond when a Christian leader calls heresy what it is. They get blasted as being uncharitable, judgmental, and arrogant.
Of course, we want to win people, not drive them away. But we can’t win people to Christ if we do not call out their false beliefs. Love demands that we tell people that their legalistic works will end in condemnation. We have to be clear that any “church” or organization that denies the gospel or adds to the gospel is an enemy of the truth.
So, I want to urge you to be discerning and compare everything you hear with Scripture. And be clear about the truth with your kids, your family, and fellow church members. Telling your kids to “discover their own path” is awful advice. Jude says that if someone is straying down a wrong path, “save (them) with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (v. 23). God demands that we call out false gospels. The 3rd way we guard the gospel is….
III. Rehearse the gospel (v. 3).
After calling out the Judaizers as imposters, Paul reassures the Philippians that they have the real thing. He begins with what can only be described as a shocking statement to come from the pen of a former Pharisee. He says…
“We are the true circumcision.” Paul just called the Judaizers the “mutilation.” Now he turns to Gentiles, and says that they are the “true circumcision.” I want to be clear that Paul is not saying that the church has replaced Israel. The NT is clear that God still has a purpose for Israel, and he will fulfill every promise he made to them.
But God also promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” speaking of the salvation that Christ would provide. And Galatians 3:29 picks up on this promise when it says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
In other words, even though we may not be Abraham’s physical seed, those who are in Christ are his spiritual seed, because we have received the primary blessing of Abraham—salvation. Therefore, Christ is the true mark of God’s blessing, not circumcision.
BTW, Christ is far more important than any other identity marker. He’s more important than race, gender, economic status, job status, or marital status. Nothing defines my life and my destiny more than my standing in Christ.
Then Paul adds that true believers are those who “worship God in the Spirit.” 2 things about this phrase. First, the word translated worship does not so much have to do with our worship on Sundays but with the service we render to the Lord in all of life.
It’s the same word used in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service/worship.” Paul is saying that everything we do is an act of worship to our Lord.
Second, we perform these acts of worship/service in the power of the Spirit. We don’t please the Lord by drumming up some internal power to earn his favor. No, our worship is fundamentally different from that of unbelievers.
This is because the Spirit changes our hearts and our desires. He strengthens us to worship and serve in his power, not ours. It’s an important reminder that we don’t get saved by grace and then worship and serve in our strength. No, we “walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him” (Col 2:6–7). And he is pleased as we do so.
Christian don’t forget where your strength comes from. Humbly recognize your weakness and run to Christ for the grace that he alone provides. And praise the Lord that when you walk in Christ, all of life becomes worship. He is pleased with us, and he is glorified.
Finally, true Christians, “rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” This statement states the dividing line between true Christianity and every other religion. A Christian “rejoices (i.e., puts “confidence”) in Christ alone for salvation. He is my security, my peace, and my joy. And nothing else stands beside him. The gospel excludes any “confidence in the flesh,” speaking in context of good works. We don’t trust in Christ+… No, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
It’s an important reminder that we cannot boast in ourselves. I have nothing to offer the Lord. Instead, my joy, my hope, my strength, and my confidence is all in Christ. We need this reminder, because we live in a culture that is obsessed with status, identity, and success.
We are constantly pressured to keep up with the Joneses, to look beautiful, to be successful, and to stand out. It will kill you if you let it. But praise the Lord that we have a more sure source of joy and confidence than any of those things. I am in Christ, and I am complete in him!
But maybe there is someone here who is utterly confused by that kind of language. Your whole life has been about doing stuff, whether to make people happy, to make yourself happy, or to make God happy. But God calls you to something radically different.
Being a Christian begins with humility. It begins with saying, “I cannot put any confidence in my own flesh.” I admit that I have no hope to earn favor with God or to achieve anything of significance. But then I believe that Christ is the answer. He bore the punishment for my sin on the cross.
Therefore, I turn from my sin and trust in Christ alone. When I do this I am be placed in him and he in me. I receive his righteousness and his power. And I can live forever “rejoicing in Christ Jesus” as my righteousness, my confidence, my hope, and joy.
If you have never received Christ as Savior, I pray that you will come to him today and be saved. We’d love to talk with you about how you can know him.
In sum, v. 3 rehearses the foundational truths of the gospel. If we are going to guard the gospel, we must constantly come back to these truths. We’re all prone to wander into self-sufficiency and legalism, so we must work to keep our hearts firmly rooted in the gospel of grace. And we must never assume this gospel in the hearts of others. We must rehearse it to each other. Then the 4th way we guard the gospel is…
IV. Rejoice in the gospel (v. 1a).
Paul begins the text with the command, “rejoice in the Lord.” Of course, joy is an important theme throughout Philippians. He just commanded them in 2:18 to rejoice with Paul over what God was doing in Rome. Now he again commands them to rejoice.
But the emphasis in 3:1 seems to be especially on “rejoice IN THE LORD.” He’s not just telling them to have joy; instead, he is urging them to find their joy in Christ and in what he has provided in the gospel.
I say that because of what follows throughout chapter 3. Philippians 3 is clear that our confidence is in Christ, not ourselves. As a result, our joy is not in the weather, politics, sports, money, work, family, or religious observance. No, our joy is in Christ, in the righteousness that he has credited, in the relationship that we have with him, and the hope he gives for eternity.
Therefore, Christian, God invites you to rejoice in the gospel. You don’t need to look anywhere else for confidence and joy. It’s all right here in the gospel.
We need lots of reminders to rejoice in the Lord. Of course, we live in a materialistic culture that is always promising joy in stuff and success. And life is filled with pressures. We have this deadline and that trial, and it’s all overwhelming. We want our problems fixed and gone. And then there’s just the natural pride of our hearts. We like to think we are pretty spiritual on some days and on others we wallow in the pit of despair.
No matter what struggle we are having today, the fundamental answer is joy in the gospel. I have to stay anchored to Christ so that I see myself for what I am and this world for what it is and so that I truly see my only source of confidence.
And when I rejoice in the gospel, I will be in a much better place to guard the gospel. If I’m happy in Christ, I won’t feel much temptation to stray from Christ, and I will be much more eager to speak of Christ to those around me.
In conclusion, my basic takeaway today is, when we assume the gospel, we lose the gospel. It happens all too frequently to individuals and churches. They begin to look for something bigger and better, and they lose the very foundation of it all and greatest treasure we could ever possess. So, let’s recognize that the center of who we are as Christians and as a church is the gospel. It’s precious, so let’s guard the gospel by mastering the gospel, calling out false gospels, rehearsing the gospel, and rejoicing in the gospel.