Beware of False Teachers

Beware of False Teachers

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.
–Philippians 3:2

In Philippians 3:2, Paul said, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.” Some background will be helpful to understand this warning.

When the gospel was first preached at Pentecost, it was preached mainly to the Jews in Jerusalem. No problem there. In Acts 8-9, the gospel went to the half-Jews, the Samaritans. No problem there. But in Acts 10, the first Gentile was saved, and the Jewish church went crazy. They wondered, “What are we going to do with Gentiles who convert to Christianity?” One group said, “They ought to be circumcised and keep the Old Testament rituals.” Another group said, “They are saved apart from keeping the law.” So in Acts 15, the church had a meeting called the Council at Jerusalem. At that council, it was determined that nobody should have to keep the law to be saved. But that didn’t stop false teachers from continuing to teach this heresy that Christians must keep the law. A group called the Judaizers went from church to church, teaching, “Faith in Christ is important to salvation, but it’s not enough. It’s faith in Christ plus good works. That’s what it takes to be saved.”

When Paul heard that the Judaizers had invaded the church in Philippi, what was his attitude toward this new message? Did he say, “Well, we have some doctrinal differences with the Judaizers, but can’t we all just get along?” Notice how Paul dealt with these false teachers. First of all, he said, “Beware of the dogs.” He called them “dogs” for teaching this heresy. This word does not refer to cute pets; it refers to the disease-ridden dogs that roamed in packs through the city, barking and snapping at people’s feet.

Next, Paul said, “Beware of the evil workers.” Now, is there something evil about keeping God’s law? Of course not. The things the Judaizers were promoting were good works. But God says good works are evil works if you are trusting in them for salvation.

Third, Paul said, “Beware of the false circumcision.” Circumcision was the rite by which a Hebrew male had the foreskin removed as a sign of being part of the Abrahamic covenant. But in this verse, Paul used the Greek word for “mutilation.” He was saying, “For somebody to get circumcised without having an inward change of the heart, that’s not true circumcision; that’s just physical mutilation.” If Paul were writing today, he would say, “Beware of the false dunking.” Beware of those who tell you that getting dunked in the baptistry will get you into heaven. Baptism is an outward rite symbolizing an inward truth of our new life in Christ. There is only one work that can save you. It’s not the works you do for God; it is the work God has done for you in Christ Jesus.

***

Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Treasure or Trash?” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2007.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.