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