The inward mark of a true Christian believer is a circumcised heart
The visible signs of a Christian in today’s world are found not only in their confession of faith and their outward actions. Faith without works is a faith that is dead. When Christians convey the fruits of the spirit, they are displaying the fact that Christ lives in them.
Salvation does not rest on how effectively a person lives their lives, but the faith and trust they have placed in Jesus Christ.
For the people of Israel in Jesus’ time, salvation depended upon the observance of the Mosaic law. An outward mark of the flesh was the visible sign of Israel’s special covenant relationship with the Lord. Circumcision was this sign and a mandatory act for all Hebrew males. With this in mind, Paul is addressing new Christian believers from the church in Phillipi.
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Philippians 3:4-6)
In this small section of the book, the Apostle Paul is recounting his former zeal and absolute faithfulness to the Jewish church. He fully knew all the commands and rituals. Now, through his encounter with the Christ, following the laws and even circumcision was no longer any benefit to the body or to the soul. The spiritual danger was in the gentle massaging of human reason that we can somehow contribute to our salvation instead of trusting in Jesus alone.
Paul contends that “we are the circumcision.” True believers have a “circumcision of the heart” (Romans 2:29). It is an invisible mark that can only be performed by Christ (Colossians 2:11) and can only be visible by a true faith and a fruit-filled life.
Paul describes people with circumcised hearts as those who are inwardly focused (in Christ) and not outwardly focused (works righteousness). They worship God with a genuine spirit and rejoice, even boast, in Christ alone and not in their human efforts (flesh) or achievement.
If anyone could boast, it could be Paul. He could have been elected to the Jewish Hall of Fame with all his work in defeating the early Christian church. If the Judaizers were so concerned about keeping Old Testament laws, Paul could boast that he had fervently and zealously kept all of them.
In Paul’s mind, the Judaizers were trying to destroy his church by teaching a completely different way of salvation. With this same type of zeal he displayed in persecuting the early Christian church, Paul is now warning all Christian believers of a false teaching that could destroy the freedom of the gospel.
Christians are encouraged to exercise their salvation by recalling all that Christ has done for them. With that spirit of thanksgiving, they can live out their lives with the right fruit that is pleasing in God’s sight. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they are filled with His presence in order to give us the words, the attitude, the power, and the courage to live boldly for Christ.
How a spirit of rejoicing becomes our protection
How often do we see people struggle to find lasting joy, peace or contentment in their lives. Like a misty rain, they dissolve away under the noonday sun when pressures, grief and worries arrive at our doorstep. To find real joy does not rest on the circumstances of life, but solely based on the promises God has given us.
The Apostle Paul got it. He learned how to truly rejoice despite the difficult circumstances in his life. His greatest fear for young believers was teachers who came in and tried to rob that lasting joy and peace from them.
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence.” (Philippians 3:1-3)
To rejoice is a dominant theme in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. Only in Christ can we truly rejoice no matter what happens around us.
A Christian who possesses a spirit of rejoicing will be far more able to respond positively to life’s circumstances and at the same time, protect themselves from the world and its false teachings. Paul’s words of truth and encouragement serves as a safeguard or a life preserver during those times when the waters of life become stormy and treacherous.
His words also serve as a lighthouse. He blasts out warnings of “Watch out!” so we will not crash into the rocky shores of false teaching.
We notice he uses strong and forceful words to get our attention which may cause us to be uncomfortable. However, if you saw a little boy step out from a curb into busy traffic, we would frantically call out to save him from serious physical harm.
Paul calls out to us, his children, to warn against serious spiritual harm. Paul was most concerned about the jagged rocks of the Judaizers, a group of Gentile and Jewish converts to Christianity. They were teaching new Christian believers that it was still necessary for salvation to observe ceremonial laws that God had given to the Old Testament Israelites. Their words enslaved New Testament believers from the freedom Jesus already won for them. They planted in people’s hearts the dangerous idea that we can somehow contribute toward our own salvation.
Paul was so alarmed by these Judaizers that he refers to them as dogs.
It would be helpful to know that dogs in Paul’s day were not cuddly pets. They tended to be large, dangerous beasts that roamed the streets and lived on garbage. You always needed to watch out for these animals or you would be attacked. Paul called the Judaizers “dogs” and men who “do evil,” because they actively opposed the gospel of God’s grace. All the ceremonial laws and regulations came to an end when Jesus died on the cross.
Anything that robs us of the certainty of salvation and our status before God stunts our growth and replaces peace and joy with worry and anxiety. It is this true spirit of joy that protects us from any teaching that may sway us from God’s amazing promises.
A prayer to open our eyes for opportunities to witness
When opportunities come knocking on our door it always seems to be the wrong place and the wrong time to share God’s Word. Timing is important, but maybe we analyze and discern the receptivity of one’s heart too much before sharing the message of the gospel.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Jesus seems to be using a familiar parable among the disciples regarding the message of urgency and applying it to witnessing opportunities.
So often, a person may appear to us as not being interested in going to church or hearing the message of Jesus. Easily discouraged by appearance, we withhold our invitation for others to come to visit our church or share the message of salvation. Jesus is encouraging all of us to open our eyes of faith and trust that the harvest is indeed ripe and ready to be reaped. All we need is to have the courage and sense of urgency to follow through.
We can go to the Lord and pray, “Lord Jesus, forgive me for the numerous excuses I come up with to procrastinate in sharing Your love and good news with those You have put in my life. When You place me in those circumstances, those windows of opportunity, help me seize the moment instead of thinking, “Next time.” Open my eyes to the harvest, Lord. Amen.”
A prayer of encouragement in sharing God’s Word against stubborn unbelief
A soldier going into battle recognizes the importance of having an effective weapon. In confronting the enemy, a poorly equipped solider will have little chance of victory.
For Christians, what weapon are you using to confront the world?
A Christian goes into battle every time an opportunity comes to share the message of the gospel. The weapon we choose will make all the difference. The Bible says, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God….”
Christians must understand that when placed in a position to share God’s Word against stubborn unbelief, it is not entirely a battle of reason. It is an assault to demolish a stronghold of the devil. We must enter the battle with the right weapon to be effective – and that is the Word of God. Our own strength or ability will not be enough.
Equipped with the sword of the Holy Spirit, we are able to effectively slice consciences mired in prideful attitudes opposing itself to Christ. In doing so, we also unleash ourselves from the strands of our own inadequacies that restrain us from sharing the truth.
We can go to the Lord and pray, “Jesus, what an encouragement it is to know that as I share my faith with others, I have such a powerful weapon in Your Word. Sometimes it feels like I’m going up against a mighty stronghold. Help me to persevere and to remember the weapons that I have on my side. Thank You for Your encouragement. Amen.”
God seeks to honor those who are willing to serve
You are living on your own for the first time. Perhaps that first year in college is a little rough. That imperceptive bug called homesickness can plague the best of people. Though we long to be away from the nest, enjoying newfound freedom, we are surprised to find ourselves longing for the familiarity of home. Epaphroditus knew exactly how that felt.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he mentions a young man by the name of Epaphroditus. He was sent by the church to give Paul encouraging messages and financial support. However, we read that Paul was sending this young man back sooner than expected. There seems to be a combination of being homesick and suffering from an illness while helping Paul in Rome. To relieve Paul’s anxiety, a decision is made to send Epaphroditus back home — perhaps even carrying this very letter.
“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” (Philippians 2:25-30)
We get a glimpse of Paul and his love for others when he encourages the church in Philippi to welcome him back “in the Lord” with great joy and honor. It would not be surprising if Ephaphroditus was somewhat sheepish about coming home early. He may have had glorious dreams of being a champion helper for the beloved Paul, before sickness and longing for home overcame him.
We find out that Paul was encouraged by his presence in Rome and the generosity of the church to send him there. He asks the congregation to honor Epaphroditus upon his return in an appropriate way, so God receives the glory for all that is accomplished in his kingdom. He wanted this young man to be welcomed as a hero, and not feel bad in any way for coming home early.
Even though we may feel like failures, the love Paul expresses the same love God expresses to all of us. He picks us up when we are down. He uses us despite our inadequacies. No matter if we are young in age, young in the faith, or even a mature adult stricken by illness or age, we are welcomed with great joy and honor by a heavenly host that rejoice in our willingness to serve. We are useful. And our Lord takes great pleasure in expressing our worth.
A prayer to proclaim — even when we don’t feel like it
The psalms in the Bible expresses our soul. It sings both during the good times when our spirits soar and during difficult times when we look for God in the depths of our uncertainty. Our faith is an ongoing song that longs to be heard.
We read in Psalm 96, “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. … proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”
Faith is singing our song even though we may not feel like it. There are days when the melody just doesn’t seem right. Yet, we are to proclaim His message, declare His glory, and share about His marvelous deeds to the world day after day. How do we keep our faith fresh and strong, and not be redundant or mechanical? How do we consistently proclaim His marvelous deeds?
Notice the verse says we are to sing a new song. A song based on the good news of the gospel, the all-important message of salvation, is renewed every day. It is not a song based on feelings, but one that rests on God’s promises and his completed work on the cross. It is the only song that can completely refresh us, flowing from a thankful heart basking in God’s grace and mercy.
We can pray:
“Lord, I thank You for music and songs. I thank You especially for the song of faith You have placed in my heart. As I sing this song in my daily life, may it not only be pleasing to You, but may it reach the ears of many people. Amen.”
What it means to be a committed Christian in today’s world
In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we see his genuine care and concern toward these young believers in Christ. There was evidently a strong bond that still existed.
Notice how Paul took the time in his letter to let them know of his health and well-being, plus give an update about his pending trial in Rome. He was hoping that the trial would take place soon and that the news would be good. However, Paul was placing the entire matter into God’s hands. The Lord knew what was best for him and for the congregation in Philippi.
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Philippians 2:19-24)
Paul had decided to send Timothy, whom the church was already familiar with, to Philippi for he “had no else like him”. Paul seemed to have considered others, but they were probably spiritually immature or unqualified. He comments sadly, “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”
There seemed to be a lack of total commitment to Christ and his cause even among some of the apostle’s coworkers in Rome. Some were unwilling to make real, personal sacrifices for Christ and his kingdom. Paul was obviously disappointed in them. They wanted to be known as servants of Christ, but they refused to put Christ’s work before their own interests.
A real commitment to Christ means a willingness to place the welfare of God’s kingdom before our own personal pleasures, dreams and desires.
The apostle Peter wrote, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19) We commit ourselves to the Lord despite difficult circumstances, outside pressures, or anything else that may be deemed impossible. We “set before” (commit to) the Lord our lives as one who commits someone or something valuable for safekeeping.
For instance, when a parent commits a child to another adult to care for, there must be a high degree of trust. If I were to commit a valuable jewel or an important document into your hands, I must be able to trust you. The same Greek word is used when Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). Paul and Barnabas committed disciples unto the Lord for safekeeping (Acts 14:23). We obey the Lord and His gentle leading and commit our lives, our dreams, and our plans into His hands.
Even though Timothy was a young man, he was spiritually mature. He had “proven” his faithfulness and reliability. The Greek word used here means to put someone to the test for the purpose of obtaining approval. Paul uses this same word in Romans 5:3b-4 when he writes, “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Timothy has suffered for the gospel and has not only “proved” himself by his character, but has also been strengthened in his character as a result of those experiences. He shared in Paul’s total commitment to Jesus and the preaching of the gospel.
When we band together with other brothers and sisters in Christ, there a common bond forged by the Holy Spirit that simply strengthens our own faith and commitment. This was the same type of relationship between Paul and Timothy. In fact, Paul compares their relationship as a father working with his son. Committed Christians have a way of finding each other.
An amazing adventure always awaits those who band together with like-minded individuals.
We finally notice in this section that Paul expresses confidence that he will be released soon. Tradition tells us that Paul was released after writing this letter and served several more years in the ministry. Paul was an ambitious and goal-oriented person. This has always been his personality. In other letters, we see him sharing his dreams and goals to visit churches, even the prospect of going to Spain.
Paul also expresses supreme confidence in the Lord. If it was the Lord’s will for him to continue his work, he had total confidence that it will be accomplished through him. I believe this is why the Lord created us to be goal-oriented. Dreams, visions and purpose are what drives us to accomplish things in life. However, we can be easily side-tracked by strictly adhering to our own agenda without seeking the Lord’s will.
We see Paul was purpose-driven, but he was also flexible. He recognized that God may have other plans for his life and he would rejoice in whatever plan or circumstance that is placed before him.
Let us follow Paul’s example and be totally committed to God — to His ways, His purpose and His plans for our lives. By doing so, an amazing adventure awaits that far exceeds any other dream or desire.
A prayer for patience when sharing God’s Word with others
When we share the message of the gospel, we hope and pray for an immediate conversion. We conjure up in our minds a wonderful scenario of a person, perhaps a loved one, joyfully receiving salvation and life everlasting. When those golden opportunities to share God’s Word are rejected, we go away disheartened and disappointed. Perhaps we even blame ourselves that may lead us to be reluctant to ever share again.
The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
The fruit of patience is seen in a person who has the power to exercise revenge or retaliation, but instead uses restraint. Affirming His desire to extend a time of grace to make room for all people to come and receive salvation by faith, our Lord is patient.
We, too, can be patient, trusting in God’s Word to work in hearts according to His timetable. Coming to faith is typically a process. God uses our words and actions to further the process along. In the meantime, we exercise patience – recognizing that ultimately, coming to faith is the Lord’s work, not our own.
Armed with this understanding, we can go to the Lord and pray;
“God, what love and patience You have – wanting everyone to come to repentance! Help me stay grafted into You so that Your love and patience may flow through me also. As I bank on Your promises, let Your fruit be evident in me as I share You with others. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.”