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— (Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3:1-3)
There once was a football player who picked up a fumble and saw no one between himself and the goal line. As he ran everyone was yelling at him and when he crossed the finish line he expected high fives, but instead got boos. He had run the wrong way and scored for the other team.
There will be many contenders for our allegiance when it comes to the gospel. The world cannot handle the free gospel of grace and will constantly offer a counterfeit. Even though the world will seem to be cheering us on in this direction it is still the wrong direction. While Paul has been arguing for, modeling, showing the benefits of and commanding unity, he will make it abundantly clear that this unity must be behind the true gospel.
There were those who continually plagued Paul’s churches, coming in after Paul had done the groundwork of evangelism and seeking to tack their own brand of gospel on Paul’s converts. The Judaizers, as we have come to call them, offered a brand of Christianity that was heavy on Jewish law, big on works, small on suffering, and often led to boasting about personal holiness.
Paul minces no words concerning these false teachers. They are dogs, not our cute lovable pets we are eager to cuddle with, but wild and unclean animals who roamed about looking for prey. Because they promoted circumcision for male converts but only thus made the converts confused about the truth, for Paul they were mutilators of the flesh.
Such teaching did not lead to rejoicing in the Lord, but rejoicing in one’s own accomplishments. Paul was being a good shepherd by warning his flock about these evildoers. His flock needed to see that they were the true circumcision, the circumcision of the heart (see Deuteronomy 30:6). It was they who truly served God in the power of the Holy Spirit, the one, the only one, who can give us power over sin. Only they had a right to boast, not in their own holiness, but in the holiness and sacrifice of Christ whom God raised from the dead.
There is no room for confidence in our flesh, in our own ability to live the gospel. Any gospel that affirms our capabilities and makes our eternal relationship with God dependent on how well we live, is a false gospel. Our unity is crucial, but it is most crucial that it is a unity in the truth. Working out our salvation by standing together as one man for the faith of the gospel is required, but we must be standing for the faith of the gospel, not a counterfeit.
Can you recognize the counterfeits? As much as you should be ready to stand with fellow believers in the true gospel no matter how much you differ about peripheral issues, so you should be ready to break with all who would destroy the church with false teaching about the gospel. Teachers there will be who build with wood, hay and stubble (1 Corinthians 3) but who are nevertheless building on the foundation of Christ. But those who lack that foundation are seeking to destroy the church and will be destroyed by God.