We are the only ones that actually [rejoice in the Lord], as we realize His critical centrality in our worshipful relationship with God.
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2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evildoers(a), beware of the mutilation(b); 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast(c) in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh
We are continuing our look at the life-giving, life-defining joy of knowing Jesus and the power of His resurrection. Last time I said that even if the party ends in America, we are called to have deep-seated joy in the Lord that culminates in the celebration of rejoicing in Him, not the shallow happiness that bubbles out in the giddiness of a party with Jesus’ name printed out on all of the party favors. We need to be able to say, with the prophet Habakkuk,
Though the fig tree does(d) not blossom
And there is(e) no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive may(d) fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock may(d) be cut off from the fold
And there is(e) no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like a deer's(f) feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
Today, we move from Paul’s reminder to always be rejoicing in the Lord to Paul’s warning to watch out for false teachers who have no share in the Lord, because they have no joy in the Lord, and, therefore, have no share with us.
One of the greatest deficiencies in the church today is discernment - the ability to distinguish what is valid from what is invalid - what is true from what is false - what is profitable from what is dangerous. Regardless of the pressure we are under to give all faiths equal standing, not all religions are created equal - not all spirituality is equally valid - not all worshipers or teachers are true. In our joy in our Lord, we need to remember the contrast between who they are and who we are.
Who They Are
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evildoers(a), beware of the mutilation(b)
The Greek term (kuon /koo·ohn/) translated "dogs" referred to the wild, scavenging mutts that ran the streets in packs, pilfering garbage and sometimes attacking people. The word was used as a derogatory term for somebody who was despised and considered generally worthless. If Paul seems harsh in calling these people dogs, we need to remember that, for true and pure spirituality, all false teachers are despicable and worthless, not as human beings, but as spiritual deceivers who would lead people away from a saving relationship with Christ into the condemning religion of man. We are talking about those that are not merely indifferent to our faith, but opposed to our faith (1:27-30). In the spiritual sense, they are pilfering garbage and attacking people.
In thinking of those that do evil, the tendency is to think of the worst possible specimens of human beings - those that are scraping the bottom of the barrel of humanity. But we tend to think that way because we tend to be out of touch with the core substance of evil. We tend to relegate evil to the general, gutteral wickedness of those that are doing outright immoral acts, when we need to realize that those who are faced with the goodness of God revealed in the Gospel of Christ, but are working against it, are working evil. No matter how well-intentioned, the one that sets himself up against the goodness of God in rejecting the will of God for our good, is an evildoer, even sharing in the evil of demons: the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
Paul uses a play on words (katatomen for "mutilation" compared to peritome for "circumcision") to speak of the Judaizers who lost all understanding of the purpose of covenantal circumcision under the old covenant. Circumcision was an outward mark intended to reflect and testify to an inward reality:
So circumcise the foreskin of(g) your heart, and no longer stiffen your neck(h). (Deuteronomy 10:16)
“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskin of your hearts, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will sweep forward(i) like fire, and burn with no one to extinguish(j) it, because of the evil of your deeds.” (Jeremiah 4:4)
The Judaizers had turned the mark itself into a mark of proud self-righteousness:
Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. (Galatians 6:12–13)
So, their circumcision of their flesh apart from the circumcision of their hearts was nothing more than meaningless mutilation.
Now, just because we don't have Judaizers running around trying to circumcise everybody, that does not mean that we don't have some parallels among false teachers and false worshipers infiltrating our churches today. Some think that by physically and spiritually afflicting ourselves we can exonerate ourselves - that marks of affliction, visible or invisible, can earn merits of atonement. They think that calluses and scars on the body and soul, from great journeys, great strides, and great sacrifices, have value for favor with God; or value for existential advancement toward the divine - achieving a higher and higher state of being until one becomes more than human.
Who We Are
3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast(c) in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh
The True Circumcision
We are the ones in true covenant with God, whose hearts have been circumcised by God:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28–29)
And in him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ... (Colossians 2:11)
As the ones truly circumcised in spirit we are...
Those Who Worship by the Spirit of God
When God saved us, He put His Spirit in us: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19) Being the temple(s) of the Spirit of God, worship is not something that happens outside of us for us to get in on, but worship is what happens from within us, as the Spirit of God works in us to raise our spirits up to God. We are spiritually "hard-wired" to God by His own Spirit. This is why Jesus told the woman at the well that the whole paradigm of worship was radically changing from what she had always known it to be:
"But an hour is coming, and now is here(k), when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father seeks such people(h) to worship Him(l). 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:23–24)
We now worship God in spirit by His Spirit.
And we don't go to God with an exalted view of ourselves. We go to Him with an exalted view of His Son Who is our access to Him. So, we are...
Those Who Boast in Christ Jesus and Put No Confidence in the Flesh
We must see how all of this is coming right out of Paul's admonition to rejoice in the Lord. We are the only ones that actually do that, as we realize His critical centrality in our worshipful relationship with God. Before God and man, we do not boast in ourselves and put confidence in ourselves for what we are able to accomplish in making our way to God. No, we boast in Him. As the Greek word (kauchaomai /kow·khah·om·ahee/) translated "boast" means, we express an unusually high degree of confidence in Him as being exceptionally noteworthy. Why?
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish(m) of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak(n) of the world to shame the strong(o), 28 and God has chosen the insignificant(p) of the world and the despised(h), the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no human(q) may boast before God. 30 But because of Him(r) you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)
While we have nothing to bring to the table for God, Jesus has brought everything to the table for us.
We are to keep a careful eye on the scavengers of false religion. They may look, smell, and talk nice, but when you dig down to the substance of who they really are and what they are really doing, they are evildoers, whether they realize their evil error or not. They believe that marks on the body and works of the body earn favor with God in the delusion that our alliances and efforts can outweigh, override, and obliterate our sins and sinfulness.
We have no part with them in our relationship of worship with God and Christ. Who we are in stark, black-and-white, night-and-day, evil-and-good contrast to them is precisely why we must watch out for them. They want to infiltrate and break down our ranks by leading us into their flesh-mutilating, flesh-centered, cold, dead, condemning religion, in which they do not worship by the Spirit of God nor boast in Christ Jesus. Not only does our rejoicing in the Lord set us apart from them, it is our reason for guarding ourselves against them, so that they do not diminish or destroy what we enjoy with Him.
Does 1 Corinthians 1:28-31 speak of you? Please read it again:
God has chosen the insignificant(p) of the world and the despised(h), the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no human(q) may boast before God. 30 But because of Him(r) you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Do you know that you are going to stand before God one day? You are going to die - the judgment is going to come - and whether you die before Jesus returns or not, you will face the judgment seat of Christ. What will be your defense for deserving to go to Heaven? Will your boast be in yourself? Are you going to offer Him all the good you have done? Are you going to say to Him, "I was basically a good person - I was nice - I was moral"? Or will you say to God, with Paul, "Because You put me in Christ, Who is my wisdom from You - Who is my righteousness, my sanctification, and my redemption. I have nothing to offer You, God, except my Lord. I am His, and He is mine. I know Him, and He knows me." Stand before God as one who boasts, not in yourself, but in the Lord.
*Scripture quotations taken from/based on the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Changes in wording by the author are marked with lower-case letters in parentheses, and the NASB's original wording is noted below.
Original Wording in the NASB
(a) "evil workers"; (b) "false circumcision"; (c) "glory"; (d) "should"; (e) "be"; (f) "hind's"; (g) "the foreskin of" not in NASB but in the Hebrew; (h) change in word order; (i) "go forth"; (j) "none to quench"; (k) "here" added; (l) "to be His worshipers"; (m) "foolish things"; (n) "weak things"; (o) "the things which are strong"; (p) "base things"; (q) "man"; (r) "by His doing"