A Study of the Book of
“Philippians” Unity. Humility. Joy.
At the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz above the entryway were the words, Arbeit macht frei. The same thing stood above the camp at Dachau. It means, “work makes free“—work will liberate you and give you freedom. It was a lie—a false hope. The Nazis made the people believe hard work would equal liberation, but the promised “liberation” was horrifying suffering and even death.
Arbeit macht frei is because it is the spiritual lie of this age. It is a false hope—an impossible dream for many people in the world. They believe their good works will be good enough to outweigh their bad works, allowing them to stand before God in eternity and say, “You owe me the right to enter into your heaven.”
But it’s the love of God that liberates. It’s the blood of Jesus Christ that liberates. He died in my place, and I am free.
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The Inside Circle and the Outside Circle (vv. 1-11)
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 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
Paul has given three examples that should encourage the Philippian church to be selfless, united, and to have no quarreling (Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus). Now he tells the church to be on the lookout for three bad examples, (the dogs, the evildoers, and the mutilators).
These groups that the church is to watch out for, “were posing as Christian teachers, they placed their emphasis on belonging to the Jewish people. They heaped scorn upon those outside the Jewish family by calling them dogs and evildoers.” These are prejudiced words, that Paul is using toward these groups, it is satire, using their own words that they used to refer to outsiders. “Paul is warning against false teachers who, though not yet in the church in Philippi, are nevertheless a clear and present danger.”
Dogs at this time were not thought of as being man’s best friend, or have special places within the family. In ancient culture dogs were despised, because they would eat anything, including dead animals, human corpses, and their own vomit. So there were some Jewish believers who thought of non-Jewish believers (Gentile Christians) as dogs, because of what they ate, and did not follow the ceremonial law – so they thought of them as unclean. They were outside the circle of the holy people of God. So Paul is wanting to show who is on the true inside, and who is truly on the outside – both of these ways of thinking can’t be correct.
Also, this group that Paul is warning the church about, think of themselves as being “servants of righteousness” because they follow the law, and according to them, those that don’t follow the law are evildoers. But Paul uses their own terms against them – they are evil doers because they put their confidence in what they do.
If they are confident in their keeping of the law, as the means of being made right with God, then there is no need for Jesus. They are self-reliant, self-righteous, they have no need to be saved, no need for a Savior – just keep the law. The irony is they in thinking they are righteous in their own efforts, they become evildoers. They are also evil doers because they are working to pull away Christians who place their faith in Jesus alone.
Romans 2:28-29 “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”
For the Jewish people, they were so confident that they called themselves, “the circumcised.” This outward act, was what made them God’s people. Paul says to Jesus’ followers, “we are the circumcision.” “Their identity in Christ gives them the right to be called by the names for the people of God. Followers of Jesus (all followers, Jew and Gentile) are now included as God’s people.
It’s a question of confidence; where does our confidence for our right standing before God come from? Paul says that true Christians are, “put no confidence in the flesh.”
Instead, they “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus,” – Worship is an inward display of faith, that expresses itself outwardly. If you only consider what happens on the outside, then you are an evildoer. By only focusing on the outside, they were just like the pagans around them who wanted to gain their god’s favor by mutilating themselves.
1 Kings 18:27-29 “And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.”
If your confidence to stand before God is you saying, “I am a good person, I have grown up in the church, I am not as bad some other people, etc.” then you are in the same category as the worst rapist, murderer, and child molester. There is a line of salvation – you don’t get across it by being good, or doing good things.
Paul then says, if it’s about doing good things, and following the law, then look at what I have done. . .
— 4 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: 5 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; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
If anyone should have confidence in how they have followed the law, even to the point of hunting down Christians – he surpassed all those who would hold this argument. Paul’s entire life, before his conversion on the road to Damascus, was centered around his pursuit of the law and trying to be a good person. But look at how he views that time of his life. . .
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 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 9 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, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
All of it before Jesus was garbage. Paul jumped from the religious circle into the Jesus circle – look at how many times he points to Jesus just in these few verses (11 times).
He uses financial terms of gain and loss – before Jesus his investment was in going to church, following the festivals and ceremonies (be there for mother’s day), memorizing Scripture, serving on various councils and committees (he was a Pharisee). That was a stockpile of gain, adding all those good works up, he was very confident in those things – until he met Jesus. You can’t have both – your righteousness and Jesus’ righteousness. You have to choose. You can have your righteousness from trying to be a good person, or you can put your faith in Jesus – but you can’t have confidence in both to be made righteous.
You need to get home from the airport, so you ask a friend to pick you up. But you are not really confident that the friend will show up, so you ask another friend to pick you up too. As you are standing at the pick-up point at the airport, they both pull up at the designated time. Can you get in both cars? No, you have to pick a friend to go home with.
Like a scale all of our actions are piled up on one side, and on the other is to know Jesus; when you compare the two, our righteousness is not enough to make us right with God, Isaiah 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Paul calls his good works garbage – he does not have a high view of all his accomplishments – we have to have the same view as Paul. We can’t be our own savior, our attempts to be our own savior need to be thought of as garbage.
By placing our faith (Paul says it twice here), having right standing before God comes through faith in Jesus Christ, when we do this we, “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” We are able to have power over sin and death, and join Christ in his second advent appearance, by our faith in Jesus – what we gain by faith in ourselves is garbage.
Living Inside the Right Circle (12-21)
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
The dogs, the evil doers, and the mutilators are teaching that you can be spiritually perfect by following the moral law, and adding Jesus to your life. Jesus, plus being a good person, equals perfection. Paul says that in Christ, he has come to realize that as a sinful man, he has a long way to go – but he strains forward. To strain means to “exert oneself to the uttermost.”
“Paul knows that his passionate intention to know Christ does not in itself make him perfect. His decision to consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ was only the beginning of a daily discipline to press on toward the goal. The authenticity of faith in Christ cannot be measured only in the intensity of one’s initial decision to receive Christ. Receiving Christ is a lifetime adventure.”
There are two things that Paul mentions here that cause Christians to stop in their journey with Jesus. One is to look back, “forgetting what lies behind,” — your right standing with God has nothing to do with what you did in your past – it doesn’t matter, your focus is Jesus, not your past. Paul stood and held the coats of those that stoned Christians, Acts 7:6 “Then they cast him (Stephen) out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Even more recent in Paul’s life he says, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (v. 3:6)
The other reason people stop striving is because they feel they have already arrived; there is no need to try, you are already perfect. When asked if they love Jesus, they would say, yes, look at all the things I am doing for Him. But it has been a long time since you have been broken over your sin. When we enter into a true time of worship, a true time of wrestling with God’s Word, and spend time with Jesus, we realize how far we have to go. Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.”
Strive. Stretch. Strain.
Don’t Quit Because of Your Past. Don’t Be Self-Righteous.
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
“The temptation to drop out of the race and simply “enjoy life” seduced many to “set their “minds set on earthly things” – faith is not simply a decision in the past or a static state of existence; faith is running a race, straining toward what is ahead.”
(v. 18) Paul, through tears, now mentions those that “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” There was a path they were following, then came a fork in the road, and they went the wrong way. They went from being focused on Jesus, to being focused on themselves.
(v. 19) “their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame” – we tend to associate our belly with food and it may seem like Paul is saying that these enemies of the cross are over-eating, etc. but in Paul’s culture, the belly was the seat of desire. Their bodily appetites dictate their actions.
They are so focused on their bodily cravings because their “minds set on earthly things.” They have even received glory in something that should bring them shame. Paul’s focus for the Philippian church was that they would be united, or like-minded, partners in the gospel – but these people are like-minded in their desire for the things of this world. The fork in the road they chose was that Jesus was not enough, so they turn back to the world.
(v. 20) “But our citizenship is in heaven,” – earthly minded and heavenly minded. If your mind is set on the things of this world, and satisfying the desires of your belly then, “Their end is destruction,” – Seek after Christ, strive to hold on to him with all that you have.
“In the story of The Wizard of Oz the characters have some famous lines, “If I only had a brain!” The Scarecrow doesn’t believe he is smart because he doesn’t have a piece of paper that tells him he is smart. Yet he masterminds the journey to Oz and rescues Dorothy, proving he already had a brain. “If I only had the courage!” The Cowardly Lion is afraid even though his species is supposed to be fearless. He learns that he can overcome his fear when he cares more about Dorothy than himself. Finding meaning and purpose helped him gain courage. “If I only had a heart!” The Tin Man is sad because he is hollow and doesn’t have a heart. But his compassion and care for his companions along the journey showed that he could love and be loved. It didn’t matter that he was made differently. “There is no place like home.” Dorothy learns she had the power inside her all along and so had all the others.
“The Wizard will know what to do!” Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow believe that there is some powerful being that will be able to solve their problems. But, as they are unmoored from familiar environments, they learn to be responsible for themselves and band together to help and support each other. When the curtain is pulled back, they realize that the Wizard was not the all-powerful savior they expected. They had saved themselves.”
This is the story that the dogs, the evildoers, and the mutilators tell – this is their favorite story; you can do it, the power to save yourself is within you. But, from what Paul has shown us today, do you think this is true?
You have to pick the car that will take you home, your eternal home – you can drive your own car, or you can get in Jesus’ car. Which one will you choose?
 G. Walter Hansen, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan; WM. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009) 217.
 Hansen, 219.
 Ps. 22:16, 20; 59:6, 14
 Psalms 14:4-6
 Hansen, 249.
 Hansen, 257.