Whatever Happens, Safeguard Your Soul

A Study of Philippians 3:1-3

Everyone is trying to figure out why our nation is becoming so violent. It’s the mass shootings that grab the headlines, but just try to find out how many people are murdered every day in America, and I don’t think you’ll be able to find that statistic. I’ve looked for it, but the FBI admits their data is very incomplete because many local law enforcement agencies don’t fill out all the reports. In addition to murders, there is theft, assault, and all the rest of it. 

Why? There may be legislative reasons and laws that need to be changed, but at the heart of it is one simple thing—when a society turns away from the truth of Scripture, it begins to disintegrate.

The book of Genesis says that in the days before the flood, the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and full of violence (Genesis 6:11). And Jesus said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37).

Jesus said that the last days would be characterized by “the increase of wickedness” (Matthew 24:12).

The Bible says, “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves… boastful, proud, abusive… without love…without self-control, brutal…” (2 Timothy 3:1-3).

How then do we stay safe in a world like this?

Well, I cannot guarantee that we will never experience threats, dangers, acts of violence, thefts, or any of the rest of it. All over the world, violence is being directed against the people of God. We’re living in a dangerous world, and that’s all there is to it.

But we can live in such a way that Satan will never be able to truly hurt us in any ultimate way. And that’s the subject we’re coming to in Philippians 3, and in this passage the apostle Paul gives us five critical safeguards that we have to keep in place. Let’s read Philippians 3:1-3.

Further, my brothers and sisters, 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 evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—

Chapter 3 begins with the word “further,” and some translations say, “finally,” as though Paul was getting ready to conclude his letter. But the Greek word loipos has a range of meanings, and in this case Paul saying, “Now there are some other things I want to bring up.”

Many commentators see this as a very abrupt change in the letter, but I don’t think it is. Paul’s great purpose is for them to stand firm in one Spirit, and he illustrated how Jesus had done that, how Timothy had done that, how Epaphroditus had done that; and now he’s going to show us how he is doing that, recommending at the end of the passage that they follow his example. In fact, as we’ll see in an upcoming study, he tells them three times to follow his example.

But there is a new element introduced here—that of having needed safeguards set into place in the church and in our lives. 

1. Rejoice in the Lord

First, he told them to rejoice in the Lord. Further, my brothers and sisters, 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.

Apparently Paul had told them this or written it to them in a prior letter, but he is repeating it. There’s something very important here. Notice exactly what Paul is saying. He is giving them a commandment to rejoice in the Lord, and it says that this attitude, this activity, this habit is a safeguard to them.

The Greek word safeguard (asphales – pronounced: os-fa-lace’) meant to be secure, rendered safe. In other words, we rejoice in the Lord because that attitude is like a protective shield around us.  

I have never thought of joy like this before. I’ve studied this subject in the Bible for years. I’ve written about it, preached about it, and learned something about the power of a joyful life.

I’ve known and memorized many verses about joy:

  • I recall the first time I really got hold of Nehemiah 8:10: The joy of the Lord is your strength. I visualized joy as an energy factory inside of me, generating enthusiasm and strength for living.
  • I recall finding Psalm 100 on an occasion when I was serving the Lord out of a sense of duty and drudgery. It says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness.” That really changed the way I went into every day’s duties.
  • I recall learning about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace….” I realized that I could not, within my own natural self, produce the joy of the Lord. I had to be yielded and open to the Spirit and let Him produce it for me and in me and through me.
  • I also learned the importance of joy in leadership during a very difficult time in my pastoral career when everything went wrong at the same time and in very serious ways. I was overwhelmed with it and on the verge of faltering under it all. But the Lord gave me fifteen Bible verses about joy and told me to go onto the platform and smile and teach the Bible with joy. And something about that reassured the people, steadied the church, and got us to a better place.

So I have thought of joy as an electrical generator, as the necessary ingredient for Christian service, as a result of the Holy Spirit’s working in my life, and as a powerful mechanism for leadership.

But I had never before thought of joy as a safeguard, as a shield, as a weapon, an invincible cloak around us, or as a guardian who served as a security officer. 

Paul was drawing from the book of Psalms here, which tells us over and over to rejoice in the Lord. I have a whole list of references, but I don’t think it’s necessary to give them. Paul was using the language of David. What does it mean to rejoice in the Lord?

It means that you have developed the habit of elevating your innermost spirit by learning to recall over and over and over all the truth you know about the Lord and His grace toward you.

  • There is a God and He made you
  • He knows your name
  • He knows your failures but loves you
  • He knows your weakness but helps you
  • He knows your problems but guides you through them
  • Jesus came and died for you
  • He rose again
  • He ascended to heaven
  • He reigns in authority
  • His is coming in glory
  • He has given us the Bible with all we need to know within its covers
  • He wants to use us and has a plan for our lives
  • The troubles of this world are passing away
  • The day of His return is drawing near
  • We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ
  • We have Heaven ahead of us
  • And we are persuaded that neither life nor death, nor angels nor demons, nor the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You cannot bring those things to mind again and again without your heart and spirit being elevated. There is joy in the Lord! And there is joy in all there is about the Lord.

The joy of the Lord is a safeguard. It protects you against…

  • Fear and paranoia
  • Dejection and despondency
  • Weariness and worry
  • Temptation and sin
  • Even against pain and sorrow’

It protects us against the devil and his demonic forces.

Satan doesn’t know what to do with a joyful Christian. He can do a lot with believers who have lost their joy, but you might as well try to hold an inflated soccer ball underwater as try to submerge a joy-inflated Christian.

Joy is an attitude, an activity, and a piece of armor. It is a safeguard for the soul.

2. Watch Out for Error

The second way to safeguard ourselves is by watching out for errors and adhering to the truth of Scripture.

Further, my brothers and sisters, 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 evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision….

He referred to false teachers here as dogs. Now, most of us love dogs. According to Dr. Gordon Fee in his commentary of his passage, though, it wasn’t that way in biblical times. Dogs were scavengers, running wild; and the Jews considered them unclean. Paul used that word to characterize the false teachers who were dogging him everywhere.

Who were they? They were Judaizers, teachers who believed you have to convert to Judaism or at least adopt Jewish practices if you want to become a Christian. They said, “You have to receive Christ as Savior—plus be circumcised, plus keep the Jewish calendar, plus keep the Jewish diet if you want to be saved. Jesus was a Jew, and Christianity is the evolution of Judaism, so you have to adopt Judaism if you want to embrace Christianity.

The whole subject of circumcision is a strange topic for the pulpit. But the writers of the Bible had no qualm about talking about it, so let me try to delicately explain what Paul is talking about.

When God called Abraham and chose that man to become the first Jewish man on earth and to produce a family that would become the nation that would produce the Messiah, He (God) ordained this ritual or practice of male circumcision. It was certainly a hygienic practice in biblical times, but it represented something more. 

When a Jewish man and woman came together in Old Testament days, they were potentially creating the lineage that would lead to the Messiah. God told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). 

What is seed? It is seminal fluid produced by the male reproductive tract that contains sperm cells capable of connecting with corresponding cells produced in a woman’s body so as to bring about conception. That’s the most delicate way I know it.

This seed was passed down from generation to generation, and so the great symbol of the covenant was circumcision, which represented the transmission of the seed of the Messiah.

But after the Messiah was born, He established the church; and the church was made up of both Jews and Gentiles. To some of the Jewish believers, the ritual of circumcision was so important they thought a Gentile man could not be saved without undergoing this medical procedure. They would say to a man—Good, you want to become a Christian. Let’s go see a surgeon….”

As you can imagine, that was a significant barrier to church growth. Plus it was totally untrue.

Paul spent vast portions of his entire ministry fighting this heresy. Just read Galatians 5! His message was that we are saved by grace through faith alone. We do not have to come to Christ through Judaism. We come to Him just as we are, by faith alone. It’s not faith plus ritual, or faith plus circumcision, or faith plus baptism, or faith plus anything.

To keep yourself safe, Paul told the Philippians, you need to guard your theology and keep your beliefs anchored to the Scripture.

I do not personally know of anyone preaching the exact same Judaizing message that Paul confronted, but the danger of false teachers is greater now than ever. If you are thinking of joining a church, you have to know what they teach and believe.

When I was a pastor we articulated our beliefs in our church material and on our website. We talked about the Bible, the person of God, the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Second Coming.

But let me read you the statement of faith I found on another website. I’ll not identify the church, but you can find something like this on many church websites. I picked this church at random, went to their beliefs, and this is what it said:

We are a Progressive, Reconciling church defined by these principles:

We accept and celebrate human diversity – being radically inclusive in welcoming people of every color, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, physical and cognitive ability, and economic status.

We believe in social justice and support advocacy with persons experiencing poverty and oppression. We maintain a deep belief in the instruction to “love one another” – made clear in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

We live out these beliefs with spiritual vitality while believing that our church flourishes with many points of view, opportunities for creative expression, and participatory worship services. We are open-minded, but we also strive to be open-hearted and a true haven of acceptance for those who find their way through our open doors.

We are followers and Disciples of Jesus Christ who calls us into ministry with the marginalized.

Some of that sounds pretty good; but some of it is code language for beliefs that are distinctly unbiblical. And notice what is missing. There is nothing about God, nothing about the Bible, nothing about sin and justification and redemption, nothing about eternal life and death, nothing about Heaven or Hell. And Jesus is only referenced as a teacher who taught us to love others and minister to the marginalized. Well, He did do that, but there’s much more about Him, isn’t there?

This is why I am almost beside myself over pulpits that don’t teach the Word of God in a consistent and sound way.

Recently I articulated my views on this for a post on social media that I want to share with you: 

From the beginning of my ministry, I’ve believed that there cannot be biblical conduct without biblical content. Trendy sermons and motivational talks don’t build a church or those who attend it. The pulpit is not a practice field but a battlefield, and our weapons are not sticky points but Bible verses, well exegeted in their context. My greatest joy as a pastor was teaching and preaching “to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1:1). Other goals are laudatory, but this is mandatory. The pulpit is the foundation of a healthy church; the Word of God is the foundation of the pulpit; and Christ is the cornerstone! 

We cannot be safe if we don’t rejoice in the Lord and maintain our biblical theology, doctrine, worldview, and lifestyle.

I believe we can glean all of that out of Philippians 3:1 and 2: Further, my brothers and sisters, 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 mutilators of the flesh.

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—

Whatever happens, safeguard yourself with the joy of the Lord and the true doctrines of Scripture.