Rejoice In The Lord And Beware Of Those Who Place Confidence In The Flesh― Part 2 (series: Lessons on Philippians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

who boast in Christ Jesus,
That is, we boast of Jesus Christ, but not the law, which is the ground of their boasting. We have, through Him, renounced the flesh; we have become the true worshippers of God, and have thus attained what was originally thought to be the consequence and benefit of circumcision, and all the other rites of religion. “We are the (real) circumcision.”

and who put no confidence in the flesh
That is, in our own corrupt nature; or in any ordinances that relate merely to the flesh. We do not depend on circumcision for salvation or on any external rites and forms whatsoever―on any advantage of rank, or blood. The word “flesh” here seems to refer to every advantage which any may have due to birth; to any external conformity to the Law, and to everything which unaided human nature can do to bring about salvation. Or, we cannot rely on any of these things for salvation; none of them will constitute a ground for hope. Our hope resides in Jesus Christ.

Both the Judaizers and the unbelieving Jews supported their opposition to Christianity by appealing to their circumcision as proof of their standing within the covenant of Abraham. They called themselves "the circumcision,” which they thought was enough to prove that they were descendants of Abraham and the only objects of God's favor. Here Paul challenged them.

Scripture and Special Notes

[1} My brethren―He willingly repeats the title of brethren, to show the respect he had for them, and to enhance that which he was about to communicate to the Philippians.
2} “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Circumcision Must Occur On The Inside Of A Christian (Romans 2:28-29)

28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;

In God’s reckoning, a true Jew is not simply a man who has Abraham’s blood flowing in his veins or who has the mark of circumcision in his body. A person may have both these things and be the scum of the earth morally. The Lord is not swayed by external considerations of race or religion; He looks for inward sincerity and purity.

Frequently people speak of “Christians” as a term to indicate the opposite of heathen. In another sense, true believers in the Lord are called Christians. Paul is making the case that not all who are called Jews are truly Jewish. Possession of the law does not make one Jewish. Circumcision does not make one Jewish. Even birth in a Jewish family does not make one Jewish. Paul says that two things are necessary to be truly Jewish: First, to be born of Abraham through Isaac (that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh); and the second is found in the next verse.

29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

Second, to be truly Jewish a person has to be spiritually in tune with Abraham’s God (circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit.). The Mosaic Law had already taught that circumcision was of the heart. “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer” (Deut. 10:16).

No one can claim to be Jewish who is not born in the line of Abraham through his son Isaac. But to the requirement of outward circumcision (ancestry from Abraham), Paul adds the requirement of the circumcision of the heart. This spiritual or ethical circumcision is seen throughout the Scriptures, e.g., “uncircumcised lips”—“And Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “The children of Israel have not heeded me. How then shall Pharaoh heed me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” (Ex 6:12); “uncircumcised ear”—“To whom shall I speak and give warning, That they may hear? Indeed their ear is uncircumcised, And they cannot give heed. Behold, the word of the Lord is a reproach to them; They have no delight in it” (Jer. 6:10);“uncircumcised heart”— “And that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt” (Lev 26:41). The Jew who is born out of the seed of Abraham through Isaac yet does not have his heart circumcised in the way that Abraham did, that is, “to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart” (Deut 30:6), is not truly a Jew. He is a Jew outwardly, but not inwardly. He is born of Abraham, but not born again by the Spirit of God. The only true Jew is one who is a Jew by race and a believer by God’s grace. Therefore, birth alone cannot make a Jew righteous. The designation Jew is derived from Judah (The Hebrew meaning is “praise.”), one of Jacob’s sons and one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Chapter 2 does not teach that all believers are Jews, or that the church is the Israel of God. Paul is talking about those who are born of Jewish parentage and is insisting that the mere fact of birth and the ordinance of circumcision are not enough. There must also be inward faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ.

Circumcision Appointed (Genesis 17:10-14)

10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;

This covenant was one that involved great blessings to the world in all future ages, yet it is not made with the world, but with Abraham. God will give the world blessings but it will be through Him. Surely these things were designed to show plainly the great principle on which our salvation should rest. It was the purpose of God to save perishing sinners: yet his covenant is not original with them, but with Christ. With Him, it stands firm, and for his sake, they are accepted and blessed. Even the blessedness of Abraham himself, and all the rewards conferred upon him was for Christ’s sake. Abraham was justified, as we have seen, not by his own righteousness, but by faith in the promised Messiah.

11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

Circumcision (cutting away the male foreskin) is the badge of the covenant. The Israelites did not circumcise themselves in order to become members of the covenant. They did this because they had the covenant from God. Circumcision occupied the same place that good works occupy for the believer today. You do not perform good works in order to be saved; you perform good works because you have been saved. That makes all the difference in the world. The thing that put them under the covenant wasn’t circumcision, but circumcision was the badge of it, the evidence of it. Abraham’s part in the covenant was to mark each male in his house with the sign of the covenant.

Circumcision was practiced elsewhere in the world and in the ancient Near East, especially in Egypt and Canaan. Assyrians and Babylonians, however, refused to have any part in it. Note that David scornfully refers to Goliath as an “uncircumcised Philistine.” (1 Sam. 17:26). But here, in this appearance of God to Abraham, it achieved a new meaning; it too would remind Abraham and his descendants of the everlasting covenant. This religious and theocratic significance of identifying the circumcised as belonging to the physical and ethnical lineage of Abraham (Acts 7:8; Rom. 4:11) was entirely new. Without revelation, the rite would not have had this distinctive significance; thus, it remained a theocratic distinctive of Israel (v. 13). There was also a health benefit; since disease could be kept in the folds of the foreskin, removing it prevented that. Historically, Jewish women have had the lowest rate of cervical cancer. But the symbolism had to do with the need to cut away sin and be cleansed. It was the male organ which most clearly demonstrated the depth of depravity because it carried the seed that produced depraved sinners. Thus circumcision symbolized the need for a profoundly deep cleansing to reverse the effects of depravity.

12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.

It is important to note that circumcision was not a “sacrament.” The performance of it did not convey a spiritual blessing to the recipient. An eight-day-old baby boy (Lev. 12:3{1
) would not even understand what was going on; and when he got older, the ritual would have to be explained to him. It was the obedience of the parents that was important; for if they did not obey God in this matter, their son would be cut off from his people (v. 14). The covenant people must bear the mark of the covenant. Not only were Abraham and Isaac and his posterity by Isaac to be circumcised, but also Ishmael and the bondservants and anyone who worked for a wage.

Scripture reference and special notes for verse 12
{1] And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

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