Watch Out for Dogs!

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!  It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  Philippians 3:1-4.

I like how Paul approaches the warning by first commanding those reading his letter to rejoice in the Lord!  It sounds like he’s setting out to impress them of their first duty, which is to rejoice in Christ Jesus for not only all He did on the cross but the renewed life they experience daily.  Then once he gets them focused on Christ he sounds a warning bell to be on the look out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

Who are these men who do evil and mutilate the flesh?

Well, anytime in Scripture we see a contrasting or reactive phrase like For it is we who are the circumcision… we can conclude it is a comparative statement.  Paul is drawing a distinction between the church of Christ and somebody else; the fact that he mentions circumcision gives us the first clue to who he’s referring:  The Jewish converts who preached circumcision and the Mosaic Law as still binding on even the gentiles.  In fact, it’s the very people who believed themselves to be of God and everyone else outside of His will who caused the most trouble.  You know anybody like this?

In the first chapter he refers to people who preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will.  I believe he’s continuing this theme and expanding it to include the Jews who were not only unwilling to give up their ceremonial rites, but tried to enforce their hybrid Pharisee/Christian practices on the other converts to Christ.  These people were those who believed in the continuation of physical circumcision as a sign of belonging to God.  Now for Abraham circumcision was a means of identification not of righteousness, though obeying God by performing the rite was an act of righteousness by faith.  It set him apart as belonging to the One God who is spirit.  That state of being set apart is what we call “holiness” or being dedicated for God’s use alone.  Once Christ rose from the dead, the old system of rites and ceremonies became obsolete, though not meaningless.  Jesus fulfilled the law and prophets so that they were no longer needed, since they pointed forward to Him.

It’s sort of like saving for a car.  We scrimp and save and sacrifice till we get enough to buy one, then once we do, our former lifestyle of frugality is no longer needed to get the car.  Frugal living might be a necessity for maintaining the car later, but that’s a decision we make when we assess how much travel we’re going to be doing.

There will always be those who cannot handle the freedom of gospel’s message.  They struggle with self-control, therefore hark back to stricter guidelines for behavior modification.  One sector of humanity who’s especially given to this mentality is former addicts or anyone who had an extremely wild lifestyle.  The pendulum usually swings from one extreme to another, which means they can’t handle anything but a “gung ho” approach to life.  The freedom of Christ’s teaching scares most of us anyway, for it’s kinda’ hard to believe anyone would hand us the keys to the kingdom of God, since we know we are not given to godly thinking or behavior.

A life dedicated to God without God’s Spirit in full control ends up in a push-me-pull-you relationship between Him and the person attempting to live for Him.  Adam’s sin wasn’t heinous as we might measure such things since it was just rejecting God as Master of His own creation.  Yet Adam’s rebellion basically told God He didn’t know how to manage His own creation and all His rules were senselessly arbitrary for them.  I don’t think Adam thought it through to this point of the argument but we have to take into account what was the end result of eating the forbidden fruit.

Too often we get the idea that a heinous crime against God is one of the “greater” sins like murder, extortion (odd one can spend more time in jail for this than just about any other crime), rape, etc., when in actuality the real sin problem began with rejecting God’s place in creation—that of Creator, CEO, Commander and Chief, Owner, Director and the Essence of Life Itself.  Humanity has lied to itself about God’s nature fore so long we are either convinced or extremely confused about who He is.

Deists reject a personal God because they see no contemporary evidence of God’s interest in personal contact.  Of course their view reflects itself in the way they approach their own relationships much of the time.

Atheists deny God exists because they don’t see God or even a god anywhere in their physical reality.  This is kinda’ silly since we didn’t grasp the reality of germs before someone actually discovered them nor did we know about the sub-atomic particles we now measure with pretty sure accuracy.

My point being denying anything outside of our experience is not wise.  I’ve never been raped, so if I deny it happens to others just because I’ve never seen it happen nor experienced myself, I’m being ludicrously obtuse.  I just might doubt the statistics (many times grossly exaggerated for effect on public opinion) but denial of its gruesome reality would be to stick my head in the sand.  This is what atheism is to me.  Richard Dawkins can accept alien life forms seeding our planet with human life without irrefutable evidence of alien life but vehemently deny there is a God based on what?  Preference alone.

Agnostics are the most honest people I know in this argument, although some just say “I don’t know God exists” to escape what accepting Him would mean.  Those who honestly see no where to place the weight of evidence for God earn my respect by not choosing a side at all.  However, there are those who do believe in God but decide it’s morally convenient to remain in limbo.  I find these latter people to be dishonest in quite a few areas of their lives as well.  A practical lifestyle of truth is honored by all.

It’s by no means an accident that self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit.  God continues to build in us a place for His presence, then sets us free to live out of the well-spring of life bubbling up from the depths of His provision.  Self-control grows naturally out of being with Christ.  It is the goal of God to make us masters of our lives within the boundaries of His will.

And this is the very fact of Christ’s mission legalists misunderstand or ignore.  What everyone wants is to matter, be valued, respected and heard, because these attributes are instilled by God to be fulfilled by Him and those who follow Him.  But Law-bound people go beyond this to requiring everybody to be like them.  In other words, they make God in their own image (philosophically) then set about bending the world by either guilt, force of argument or force of arms to accept their perspective of God.  Self-control is based on being able to control ones self in the open spaces of freedom of choice.  To place rigid strictures on others would be outside the realm of willful obedience to God.

Say someone lives in a walled city with no gate in or out.  They cannot be touched by the world outside, though they might see it, nor can they touch it.  A person who lives in such a place and only feels safe there we all agree is paranoid—irrationally afraid of open places.  Christ came to give us a full life (see John 10:10) anything outside of willful loving obedience to Christ is legalism.

Paul fought this mentality to the day he died.  It is also the reason his opponents wanted him dead.  So let’s take his warning to heart and beware of those dogs who go about mutilating the body of Christ for the sake of their own paranoid vision of reality.  True love throws out all fear.  Fear has to do with punishment and the person made whole in love will not be afraid.  The dogs of Christianity set out to fill their disciples with fear alone.  Their fear of God goes beyond the required fear of the All-powerful One into the dark recesses of paranoid religious schizophrenia.

Let me quote Paul again from another of his letters:  You see just at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6, 8.

If this is how much God wants us reconciled to Him, why do we need to be afraid of Him?  Need I say more?

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One Response to “Watch Out for Dogs!”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    Great reminder. As a woman, I am sensitive to the issues of religion because they seem harsher on women. Maybe that’s my perspective but I am always weary of those who want to impose rules to dictate behavior rather than foster relationship with Jesus.

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