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—
Christian are people with a particular affection for joy. There is a unique capacity within the soul of a reborn man/woman for joy in every circumstance. Because of Christ and His sovereign control and activity in all things, Christians are especially suited toward a joy-filled life. So, Paul writes the constant affirmative exhortation to rejoice. By this point in the epistle Paul has established that there ample reason to rejoice in the life of a Christian. Consider what has been accomplished in the hearts of believers through the work of Christ. He has rescued and has started the sanctification process which Paul observes that God will complete (1:6). With the confidence of an active God who cares deeply for your needs and is engaged in their lives, Christians can rejoice in any and every circumstance.
Sometimes, it can be exhausting to remind people of the truth of who they are. But in the area of rejoicing, it is a delight to remind brothers and sisters that they are privileged to rejoice. Moreover, the particular reminder of rejoicing in the Lord is safe for those to whom the reminder is given. Consider what Paul means by “safe.” He is not here insinuating that there is some sort of physical or material security in rejoicing. Rather, there is a security in the Christian walk when believers focus their attention on living a lifestyle of joy. As Christians focus on rejoicing, it becomes increasingly difficult to allow circumstance to overrule that joy.
Cultivating a lifestyle of rejoicing starts by developing a heart of gratitude. The person who can be grateful to God for the circumstances in which they find themselves will have little difficulty rejoicing. Oh Christian, learn to express thanks in all things and joy will come with much greater ease. Further, when a Christian is genuinely seeking joy, they will not afford the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:27). If one is busy about cultivating joy in their lives, they will have no time for the sins that so easily ensare. So, it is safe for Paul to write these words to the Philippians.
Verse 2 begins Paul’s conclusion to the Philippians. What follows are warnings and reminders beginning with a warning about the Judaizers. These were a group of Jewish Christians in the first century who demanded obedience to the Old Testament Law. Legalistic at their core, they insisted that Christians must observe the ritualistic practices of the Jewish religion, especially that of circumcision.[i] This distinction is why Paul refers to them in such graphic terms. Judaizers were literally insisting on physical harm to the body in effort to uphold the Jewish law. Yet Christians are not bound to the Law. Having been set from the Law, they have now bound themselves to grace (c.f. Romans 6 and the whole book of Galatians).
Paul calls the legalists, “dogs,” warning his hearers to be on guard for them and watch for them. Even in modern culture, the same tendency exists to insist on morality over faith. There are numerous examples of modern legalists in the western church. There are those who espouse a political label, who are dominated by a culture of traditionalism and moralism. There are those who follow ritualistic practices that are nowhere to be found in the Scripture. There are those who espouse a doctrine of morality without faith. Friends, this is not Christian at all. The Judaizers were not believers. Neither are many self-proclaimed Christians in the west.
Paul asserts that there is evil among these people. He explains that they are evil-doers. People who place a legalistic morality above faith are practicing evil. It is simple. Anytime one puts the Gospel into a system that demands morality in order for the Gospel to save, then the Gospel has been nullified and replaced with a moralistic legalism.
There is one group that can claim to be God’s chosen people. That is those who have come to Christ in worship by the Spirit of God. These are the people of God. They are the true circumcision: those who have had the flesh nature removed from their heart and are new creations (c.f. Col. 3 and Gal, 5:24, and 2 Cor. 5). Believers can claim this title because it was given by God. It is not earned or claimed because of some sort of moral excellence. It is bestowed on those who have trusted in Christ. It is in surrender and trust that believers find their confidence. Likewise, the confidence of a Christian must be centrally located in the work and character of Christ. The flesh is of no benefit. Only the worship of Christ in the Spirit can one find the ability to rejoice always.
[i] Poole, M. (1853). Annotations upon the Holy Bible (Vol. 3, p. 695). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.