Here’s a fun fact about me: I used to swear like a truck driver (no offense to truckers).
After years of good Christian rule following, I quit church. I thought I didn’t need God or a faith community. But when tragedy struck my family, I needed His comfort and His people. This coincided with the birth of my first child, so for both reasons, I retrained my potty mouth.
There are times when strong language is appropriate, even necessary.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul rants against those who insist becoming a Jew through physical circumcision precludes becoming a Christian. Paul appropriately calls these Jewish believers “dogs”, the very name that Jews used to express their sentiments about the disgusting, filthy Gentiles. Don’t Be a Dog tells the full story.
In the same rant, Paul swears!
Paul sees their motives. Much is at stake.
- They are born insiders and marked by circumcision.
- National pride runs deep.
- Family names establish prestige within the community hierarchy.
- Joyful obedience to the Law gives them special standing before God.
The Jewish believers agree that Jesus opened the door for Gentiles. However, if the Gentiles receive righteousness (right standing before God) without following the rules, Jewish believers lose their insider advantage.
The way the dogs see it, Jesus invited the Gentile outsiders to join the Jewish insiders.
The way Paul sees it, Jesus destroyed the insider/outsider distinction. Jesus invites every person to know Him without precondition.
Paul enumerates his superior insider credentials and achievements that he has forfeited for something much better – knowing Jesus. Physical marks and traditions have no relevance in our standing before God.
I myself could boast as having confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he is confident in the flesh, I have more reason: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation 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 the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ.
Phil 3:4-7 NASB
This means that our standing before God isn’t based on our parents’ faith, our weekly appearance in the same pew, or our highly moral lives.
Just know Jesus and His unconditional love.
Likewise, we don’t have to sing in the choir, attend Bible study, and wear a cross necklace before we call ourselves Christians.
Spiritual practices are excellent and bring us close to God, but relying on them for salvation causes prideful self-confidence. Paul calls this “confidence in the flesh”, confidence that our works, even our life-long participation in the church, earn God’s favor.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.
Phil 3:8-9 NASB
Knowing Jesus is the highest goal. Nothing we have done or can do increases God’s love for us. Paul’s intense conviction is an occasion for strong language:
Self proclaimed righteousness is mere rubbish, the translator’s sanitized word for dung.
Paul repeats the word loss to emphasize his rejection of self-confidence. In the original language, the word means damage and loss. The prestige and status? The highly moral life? Those advantages Paul considered gains? They’re dung. They cause damaging pride that prevents us from knowing Jesus.
I count them mere rubbish so that I may gain Christ.
Phil 3:8, emphasis mine
Refuting the dogs, Paul says:
- Believe that Jesus’ death alone puts you in right standing with God; nothing you have done or can do accomplishes this.
- Receive God’s gift of grace that has no prerequisites.
By believing and receiving His love in the depths of our soul, we know Jesus beyond intellectual assent. Paul proclaims that gaining Christ, being found in Him, and knowing Him as your Lord has surpassing value over all else.
This is the second in a series about Philippians 3:2-11 in which Paul passionately refutes false teaching. Next we’ll learn how to avoid being compared to self-interested dogs and discover a unique intimacy with Christ because of our difficulties.
Do you ever wonder if you hold a valid “ticket to heaven”? Me too. I used to wonder if God could love me with all my poor choices. Here’s my story.
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