Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision.
In all of the apostle Paul’s writings, there is perhaps no place where he made a more graphic statement than in this verse. Referring to the false teachers of his day as “dogs” was even more audacious and confrontational then than it is today. But Paul was not using this language merely for effect; he was gravely concerned because there were dangerous people moving around the Philippian church.
Cults and false teachers are almost always joyless, and these evil men in Philippi were no different. They were the opposite of what they claimed to be, insisting that the Old Testament ceremonial law was a necessary qualification for true Christianity. They addressed the Philippian believers, who had discovered joy in the Lord, by asking, in essence, Are you really a true Christian if you don’t pay careful attention to the external rite of circumcision? This warning from Paul to “look out” was meant to remind the young church that an “augmented” Christianity actually distorts the true gospel. Adding to the gospel always subtracts joy and even salvation from the gospel.
Therefore, when we read the word “dogs” in this verse we shouldn’t think of a friendly family pet. Paul was not referring to a golden retriever. Think of a scavenger, a diseased mongrel that roams around garbage cans and could harm you greatly with a bite. Paul was emphatic that these men, in insisting that people meet legal requirements to be qualified for grace, were equally dangerous. They were drawing attention away from Christ, diluting the sufficiency of His death, resurrection, and ascension.
Paul constantly warned of the tragic consequences of false teaching—and, because he loved the people of the Philippian church, describing them as his “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1), he was opposed to anyone and anything that would reroute them from the only way to glory. He wanted them to remain vigilant.
We, too, could easily forget that the good news is not a message of “Do your best, and be good enough!” but rather “Your best is never enough—but Jesus is.”
Here’s the good news, though: by faith in Christ alone, we are the true “circumcision”—that is, those who have been set apart as the true people of God, not because we have had some flesh cut off but because Christ was cut off for us. In each generation, there are always those who wish to insist on the outward features of the faith and—implicitly or explicitly—make those observances necessary for salvation. But no external ritual or religious performance can save. Do not place your confidence in your flesh—in your church attendance, your daily Bible reading, your performance as a spouse or parent or worker or evangelist or anything else. Put it all in Christ. He, and He alone, is enough.
Topics: False Teachers
Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg,