Philippians 3:1 ‘To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, but for you it is saf
This Week’s Focus Passage: Philippians 3:1
‘To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, but for you it is safe’
Paul begins this third chapter (of course, we must bear in mind the reality that the chapter divisions, in our English translations, are not inspired), but he began here, with the lovely sentiments, Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. The happy allusion to the brotherhood, with Finally, my brethren, seems almost immediately to be dissipated, as he continues, next, this rather fearful sounding statement, which takes upon itself, the connotation, at the very least, of a dreadful warning. We might well inquire, how is it that this apparent ‘giant leap’ is made. The apostle had been speaking of that wonderfully positive, and unspeakable, truth that Christ came into the world to save sinners. Paul informs his readers of the marvelous grace of our loving Lord, who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on and equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. What was it that caused the apostle to turn his thoughts from these glorious teachings of both the ‘mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh,’ along with the love of Christ, that, verily, impelled Him to the death of the cross (yea, He set His face steadfastly toward Jerusalem; He was impelled by love to set His face; to go boldly, and surely, to be impaled for our redemption); what was it, we repeat, that turned Paul’s thoughts to matters which must begin with such language, as, to write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, but for you it is safe.
Let us consider this enigmatic transition. The apostle here asserts that he has something important, and necessary, to write unto them. Evidently, it is not a new thing, per se, Paul refers to it as being among some of ‘the same things,’ that he has, presumably written unto them, either in another epistle to them, or even perhaps, an epistle to an entirely different church; we don’t know which. And while it may be very important for Paul to bring it up once more, he insists that it is not irksome. Indeed, he contends that, for them, it is safe. When he has said that it is safe, we infer that he is saying, that it is something needful; something that might protect them; it is safe for them; it is for their safety. We might contend for a great length of time as to what Paul may have been thinking of with regard to this tripled warning; BEWARE OF; BEWARE OF; BEWARE OF. Who are the dogs? Who are the evil workers? Who are the concision? These are those to ‘look out for; to beware of !’
It would be a great help, then, to be given some concept of just who these persons are of whom we are advised to beware. One 19th century commentator is somewhat helpful, perhaps. He refers to them these negative ‘titles,’ that of “dogs,” “evil workers,” “concision.” But to whom does Paul intend for these titles to point?
This commentator himself asked this question, in his own manner; “Who then are the persons on whom the apostle casts this opprobrious epithet? The general and correct opinion is that they were Judaizers, or, as Chrysostom styles them, ‘base and contemptible Jews, greedy of filthy lucre and fond of power, who, desiring to draw away numbers of believers, preached at the same time both Christianity and Judaism, corrupting the gospel. One is apt to infer that the apostle here gives them the name which they themselves fling about so mercilessly against the heathen. As in the last clause he nicknames their boasted circumcision, so here he calls them by a design-ation which in their contemptuous pride they were wont to lavish on others.”
“Preaching at the same time both Christianity and Judaism;” could turn out thoughts to what are usually called, 'nominal Christians;’ a somewhat polite way of stating the reality; ‘Christians in name only.’ Is it possible that such would warrant the threefold warning? Beware of dogs; beware of evil workers; and beware of the concision? Could these persons be any of those whom Paul warned the elders from Ephesus, in Acts 20:28-29, saying, Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Is this make us to be paranoids? Paul wished, not for paranoia, but for realism. He was not calling upon them to be constantly looking over their shoulders, but nonetheless to be watchful. Is that not one of the most needed attributes of shepherds; that they be watchful? Should they not learn how to recognize ‘ravening wolves’?
Our Savior Himself has told us repeatedly to pray; but He consistently joined watching to that directive; has He not said again and again, Watch and pray!
In the very midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uttered this serious warning; Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. With this warning still in mind, the ‘meek and lowly One’ adds, immediately—don’t miss the connection with false prophets—, this most familiar metaphoric counsel, when He improves on His important and sound advise.
By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth corrupt fruit.
We cringe at the concept of fruit examiners, do we not? And yet, these words are the words of the Good Shepherd Himself. And these words are for the good of the flock of the Good Shepherd. He has directed His people to watch; to pray; to guard His sheep from ravening wolves. Are we to become suspicious inspectors, expecting the worst? Not at all; we are to think no evil; we are to think the best of all men; of all people. And yet, our Lord and His apostles have issued warnings for us. What are we to do then? We must be, not only in prayer, but in the Word. We must know the signs of the deceiver; the ravening wolf, the dogs and evil workers. We must arm ourselves with the truth in order to guard the sheep from falsehoods and from false prophets. The preacher, in Hebrews 5:14, offers sound advice when he has written, But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.
Again, Paul warned the Ephesian elders of the reality of grievous wolves, of the responsibility of taking heed, of watching; of those who might come in among the sheep, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples; God’s sheep. Paul maintained this posture consistently. Writing to Timothy, he warns of some who have made shipwreck of the faith. (1 Timothy 1:19), and expressly sends out a grave warning regarding Alexander the coppersmith, in 2 Timothy 4:14-15, who did him much harm, and so he warns, do thou also beware. Wouldn’t it be nice if the church could assume that there are no dangers to watch for? Christ warns us; Paul warns us; history demonstrates the danger to the churches of false prophets; false teachers. Let us not go about suspicious and fearing, but praying and watching.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, but for you it is safe.
David Farmer, elder
Fellowship Bible Church
More in This Week's Focus Passage
October 1, 2022This Week’s Focus Passage: Jeremiah 6:16 ‘But they said, we will not walk therein.’
September 24, 2022This Week’s Focus Passage: James 1:18 ‘Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.’
September 17, 2022This Week’s Focus Passage: Luke 24:27 ‘He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things conce