Philippians 3:1-7 Should Spirit & Flesh Co-exist in the believer?
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— 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. 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.
Paul warns believers to be aware of ministers who subtly allow the things of the flesh and the spirit to co-exist in the believer. Paul is not concerned about the doctrine of salvation here, but about the dangers of half-hearted commitment to the things of God. Those who places confidence in the flesh, advocates God’s grace as allowing the co-existence of the things of the Spirit and the flesh. The Jews supposed their heritage of the covenant of circumcision grants them the right to be worldly and fleshly in their appetite.
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
Paul felt it necessary to iterate the dangers of keeping fellowship with certain people whom he labels as dogs. The dangers they pose to the Christian community can never be understated nor overestimated. Paul did not consider this reminder as overbearing for the sake of their wellbeing: To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
The term “dogs” is frequently used by Jews to label Gentiles as disdainful and unclean animals. Paul now uses the term “dogs” to label these Judaizers as evildoers, who cut (circumcise) their flesh to justify their righteousness before God. Paul sends the message that these Jews are in fact more dangerous than non-believing Gentiles; they come as deceivers to rob God’s people of the truth and the abundant life in Christ. People who knew the word and who have gone astray with their hearts pose a greater danger to the Christian community than those who never knew God.
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.
Paul declares, “we are the circumcision” as opposed to those who mutilate the flesh; an unusual way to denote the mark of a true believer who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. Paul is not zeroing in on their doctrine of salvation, but rather their hypocrisy; who uses circumcision as a cover for their worldliness. Having confidence in the flesh means standing on the righteousness of man as opposed to the righteousness of God (see Isaiah 64:6). The false believer at different times uses different devices to justify their innocence (the righteousness of man) and cover up their hypocrisy. The Jews uses circumcision, many modern Christians use the doctrine of justification by faith alone; all act to place their confidence in the flesh. The true believer distinguishes himself from a false believer on 3 characteristics:
- We who worship by the Spirit of God identifies one as possessing the Holy Spirit in living out the truth in purity and love as opposed to using religious rituals as a cover for hypocrisy and pride.
- We who glory in Christ Jesus refer to one who pursues the glory and accomplishment that Christ has; he acknowledges Christ as the Lord and Master of his life, being grateful for His forgiveness of sin.
- We who put no confidence in the flesh refers to one who does not use his earthly stature and heritage to justify his goodness and acceptability before God. However, even for those who put confidence in the flesh, not all think they need to justify themselves before God as many do not honor Him. They also do not acknowledge Him as Judge who is ready to execute righteous judgment on earth. Instead, they use their empty achievements to justify their independence from God saying, “Despite my sins, wealth and honor follows me!” Those who put no confidence in the flesh are born again in the Spirit having been regenerated to live the life of Christ in humility and love.
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.
Paul uses himself as an example, though he had greater stature and confidence than most Jews, he could not find its value. Paul’s heritage speaks of a thoroughbred Hebrew where his parents followed Jewish laws and rituals to the tee. Paul’s personal endeavors are impressive, being a Pharisee and totally committed to live under the legalistic requirements of the Law. Paul enjoys great respect within the Jewish community, who also led the movement to annihilate the church.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
The gain here refers to Paul’s achievements as listed above that brought him stature and respect in the Jewish community. However, from the perspective of eternity, these are but hindrances to true eternal gain found in Christ. Therefore, Paul decisively counted these as loss, as having been written off for the sake of gaining that which is of infinite value: I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. The question: is whatever gain he had as a Pharisee mutually exclusive to the eternal gain in Christ? Does Paul absolutely need to recant his identity and heritage as a Pharisee in order to be found in Christ? First, it is not the inadequacy of the old covenant that is the point of contention, but rather it is the vision and values system of the Jewish community that has become apostate. Secondly, the Pharisaical order has rejected the Lordship of God and is antithetic towards Christ; they were hypocrites and violated the very commandments they stood for. Therefore, Paul has to first renounce his association with the Pharisaical order in order to acknowledge Christ as Lord of his life.
- A true believer is not approved by his religious doctrine, heritage or by the covenantal rituals (baptism) he partook but by the evidence of a Spirit-filled life. A person may have understood in great depth and detail the word of God, the doctrine of justification by faith and have experienced His grace, but that does not make him a child of God. People can go to great extent arguing about theology and doctrines and completely miss the point. In fact, one’s knowledge, participation in religious rituals, offerings and services may even blind him (confidence in the flesh) from understanding his true nature and position before God. There are those who are “made” Christians by circumstances and not by true repentance from self-centered living.
- All teachings must be judged under this criterion: Does the main thrust of the teachings motivate the hearer to forsake earthly pleasures in order to gain the glory of Christ through fulfilling his spiritual call? As a rule, one should first decipher the spirit before attempting to seriously examine the interpretation of any teaching. The spirit is the lens through which all bible texts are interpreted and treated; the mind reads, but the spirit interprets. Hence, it is paramount to first understand the spirit behind the teacher: what is his ultimate goal? Is he introducing Christ as the Lord or just the Lover? The Spirit of truth always causes the hearer to acknowledge Christ as Lord of his life, to put off the earthly pleasures and to live according to God’s truth (see 1 Corinthians 12:3). A minister of falsehood can teach the word, and yet causes the people to detract from the heavenly things by focusing on earthly pleasures.
- Light can never co-exist with darkness. Truth can never co-exist with falsehood. Spirit can never co-exist with the flesh. The righteousness of God can never co-exist with the righteousness of man. A person who is half-hearted about the truth and the abundant life will never arrive at it. As Paul is determined to live wholly by the righteousness of God, he makes the decision to sever the beliefs system of the Pharisees that stands on the righteousness of man. False ministers allow the things of heaven and of earth to co-exist in the hearts of the believers. The believer must muster his courage to sever the desires of earthly pleasures in order to gain the freedom and glory of the Spirit life.
- Are you supposing the grace of God allows the co-existence of the things of the Spirit and the flesh? Are there secret sins, immoral relationships and addictions that you allow to fester till this day? Make a decision to cut off these sins and experience the abundant life that God has ordained for you.
- As you have made the decision to live wholly for God in your life goal and lifestyle, let the Holy Spirit come and fill you with His grace and love.
Dear Lord, forgive me for living a half-hearted Christian life. I commit myself to accomplish your plans for me and to live a life of purity and love. I ask your Spirit to fill me and remove pride and the lust of the flesh from me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.