Friday, August 15, 2008

Best of------Philippians 3:1-2: The Security of Sound Doctrine

Hello all.

I am in the middle of working a lot of overtime at work. We are in the process of the largest audit that our office does and there is no relief anywhere in sight. Therefore, I am taking a break this week from Matthew and 2 Peter and I'm going to take the opportunity to re-post a series that I taught in Sunday School when I was substitute teaching for my normal Sunday School teacher. I will be back on a regular schedule on Matthew and 2 Peter next week.

Thank you. I pray God's blessing on your and yours.

Roach poison is made of over 98 % dog food. Less than 2% of the substance used is poison. When I found that out, I was quite surprised. A little bit, so the saying goes, certainly goes a long way. In much the same way, false doctrine, if tolerated in the church, doesn’t have to rise to the level of outright heresy to be deadly. People can mix in a little pop psychology, secular business models, or culturally relevant ideas and create confusion among Christians. In the world today, it is paramount that the Bible be taught as meaning what it means and saying what it says. To fail to do so leaves people vulnerable to the trappings of false teachers who have as their goal to lead people away from the truth to destruction.

Paul’s Celebration

In verse one of chapter 3, we find Paul concluding a thought that he had begun in chapter 2 verse 18. In verse 17, Paul asks the Philippians that even if he was “poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith” to “be glad and rejoice” (v.18) with him. Paul called for the believers to model Christ’s humility in serving (2:5) just as he (2:17) and his companions (2:22, 30) also serve sacrificially. Because of these examples, Paul calls them to “rejoice” with him in verse 18 and again in verse one of chapter 3.

Paul’s Concern

As Paul writes asking these believers to join with him in rejoicing, he also writes to reaffirm doctrine he has taught them before. With the heart of a true pastor, he writes these believers in verse 1 that “For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.” Paul, in all his epistles, wrote a consistent doctrine as revealed by God through the Holy Spirit. While it is not clear if Paul is referring to another letter he may have written the Philippian church (not a lost book of the Bible, just possibly another letter he wrote) or simply other epistles that he had written that they had obtained copies of, Paul includes doctrine in this epistle that is found in other of his epistles. However, at no time does he feel like “Here we go again. I thought I had already taught you this. Haven’t you already learned your lesson by now?” Paul tells them that writing them about doctrines he has already written about is not “tedious” or tiresome. The word that is translated “tedious” is the Greek word okneros (3636). According to Vincent’s Word Studies, this word reflects “the vexation arising from weary waiting”. When I read that, I got the picture in my head of a person waiting for another person to get ready to go somewhere. Because he loves these people and wants to help them grow and mature in Christ, Paul brings the Word of God to the people of God. To do so is not a source of frustration to him nor is it the feeling of having to wait on somebody to finally catch up. He brings God’s Word to God’s people because, as a shepherd, he is responsible for the safety of sheep. The surest protection for the flock of God from the deadly poison of false doctrine is to teach God revealed truth. Paul says to the believers in Phillipi that “for you it is safe” when he talks about writing the “same things”. The word translated “safe” is the Greek word asphales (804). This word is translated certain in the book of Acts (21:34, 22:30, and 26:26) and as sure in Hebrews 6:19. Therefore, the idea that Paul is trying to convey seems to be that he writes these same things to provide them security through a solid foundation of doctrine that they can be certain of. The churches Paul wrote to did not have a New Testament, commentaries, or seminary trained pastors. They didn’t the luxury of studying the work of great preachers and teachers of God’s Word throughout the centuries who have taught the true doctrines of our faith. They had the apostles and prophets who had been given to them and God’s Word as revealed in the Old Testament. However, as Paul and others brought new revelation that would become the New Testament that shed light on the Old Testament, believers were learning things about God and salvation that had never been revealed before. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul continually and consistently taught these doctrines in his writings. He didn’t view it as laborious or tedious because of his love for his fellow Christians.

Paul’s Caution

Paul, when writing to these believers, gives them a word of caution in verse 2. Even with the safety provided by his God inspired epistle, Paul instructs the believers to “Beware” three times. As Christians, we should beware of false doctrine. It promotes disunity, causes confusion, and undermines evangelism. Quite frankly, it is a spiritual poison and must be avoided along with anyone who teaches it. The Greek word Paul uses which is translated here as “Beware” is blepo (991), which is translated elsewhere as take heed (Mark 4:24, Luke 21:8). In Greek, the sense of the verb is that the believers should keep being aware. They should be vigilant and always on guard. There is no room for middle ground. False doctrine cannot be tolerated or permitted in the church. Compromise is not an option. In identifying those who would corrupt the church and lead people astray with false doctrine, Paul uses three different terms.

First of all, Paul calls these people “Dogs” which is kind of funny because Jews used this term for Gentiles. Here, Paul takes their own slur and turns it around on them to describe their character. We must remember that these are not cute little furry pets that sleep at your feet at night and play fetch with you when you’re playing in the front yard. These are snarling, vicious, carnivorous, disease ridden, filthy, nasty, mean creatures. They were quite dangerous. In Vincent’s Word Studies, the author writes about these animals that “[t]hey lie about the streets in such numbers as to render it difficult and often dangerous to pick one's way over and amongst them - a lean, hungry, and sinister brood. They have no owners, but upon some principle known only to themselves, they combine into gangs, each of which assumes jurisdiction over a particular street; and they attack with the utmost ferocity all canine intruders into their territory. In those contests, and especially during the night, they keep up an incessant barking and howling, such as is rarely heard in any European city.” They roamed in packs and were guided by their own hungers. In much the same way, a false teacher is more dangerous than any foamy mouthed dog. The false teaching they spread is worse than any disease spread by these mangy mutts, and they also follow their own lusts. As Peter notes in 2 Peter 2:12, these false teachers are “like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption.” These people lead others astray for their own selfish gain. They truly are vicious “dogs”.

Paul also tells these believers to “beware of evil workers”. If you were to look at the website for the National Council of Churches, you would find that they have lots of activities going on. They work to feed starving children. They work to bring disaster relief to storm damaged areas. These are worthwhile activities. Certainly meeting people physical needs is one way to minister to them. I would have to imagine if you asked most of the people involved in these activities why they were doing them, their answer would be something like “For Jesus, of course.” However, the NCC represents churches that deny the virgin birth of our Lord, the inspiration of the Word of God, and they allow homosexuals and women to serve in pastoral roles. These people are doing things that they call ministry. They are quite active and work hard at what they do. However, since their heart is not right with God, they are not good workers but “evil workers”. The word “evil” translates the Greek word kakos (2556) which can mean worthless, injurious, or evil. The Greek word ergates is translated “workers” and literally means a toiler. When Jesus Himself spoke of these people in Matthew 7:22 that “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” In much the same manner, Paul reminds the Philippian church that these people, because of the wrong condition of their heart, are not actually performing good works but evil works. We must remember, as Paul here warns these Christians, that activity is never a substitute for a relationship.

Finally, Paul tells the Philippians to “beware the mutilation”. Jewish people placed great spiritual significance on circumcision. They are even called the Circumcision by Paul in Ephesians 2:11. According to rabbinical tradition, for a Jew to go to hell, his circumcision would have to be undone as John MacArthur notes in his commentary on the book of Romans. Some false teachers taught that a Christian had to convert to Judaism before they could become a Christian. Therefore, these Jewish legalizers taught that Christians had to agree to become circumcised. However, they failed to see that the circumcision that God would perform would be a circumcision of the heart (Deu 30:6). Paul uses a Greek term here katatome (2699) that is translated as mutilation. The same word is used in the Septuagint in Leviticus 21:5 when the nation of Israel is forbidden to make any cuttings in their flesh. Paul was probably using a play on words here by calling them the mutilation (katatome) and in the next verse referring to those who are truly saved as peritome (the circumcision). Paul realized by attempting to require these believers to be circumcised, the false teachers were actually trying to force them to submit to their legalistic observance of Mosaic code and their tradition rather then relying on faith in Jesus Christ to save them and transform them. In Galatians 4:10, Paul writes that those Christians were attempting to follow Jewish law in regards to feasts. Paul admonishes them that they were leaving their faith in Christ to turn to “weak and beggarly elements” in order to be saved (Galatians 4:9). Paul says they should not do this. In fact, in the book of Galatians, Paul goes further and says he wishes that those false teachers who troubled those believers with their insistence on ritual circumcision for salvation would simply go ahead and cut themselves off (Galatians 5:12). These false teachers had completely misrepresented the truth of salvation and were attempting to compel others to follow their legalistic standard of righteousness. Even as they did in Paul’s day, we still encounter false teaching today. The only sure defense that we have against false teaching and false teachers is the truth. The only source we have for divine truth is the Word of God. Let us faithfully and boldly proclaim God’s powerful truth in this dark, perverse world.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

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