PAUL’S PUNGENT WAY
OF MAKING A POINT
WITH THE WORD “finally,” the apostle Paul seems ready to conclude his epistle to the Philippians (Philippians 3:1). Then thoughts of other matters that needed to be written enter his mind, and he puts closing the letter on “hold.” Judaizers were a constant problem facing the early church. They were professed Christians who sought to bring the church back under the Law of Moses. What Paul says in Philippians 3:2-8 has them, and other Jews, as a backdrop to his thoughts. The church needed to be warned about them. Read this section.
In Paul’s digression, he warns, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” It seems that dogs for the most part were not of good repute among the Jews. “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whole [harlot], or the price of a dog, into the house of the lord thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 23:18). Even in the New Testament they are used to illustrate that which is bad (Matthew 7:6; 2 Peter 2:22; Revelation 22:15). The Jews commonly called Gentiles “dogs.” Here the apostle turns the table on the Jews and calls them “dogs.” As far as Paul was concerned, that’s what they were in disrupting the unity and purity of the church.
In contrast with the Jews, Paul asserts, “For we [Christians] are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” In God’s sight, the church is the Israel of God today (Galatians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 10:18), and a Jew is not one who is one outwardly, but one whose circumcision is of the heart (Romans 2:28, 29; Romans 9:8). Physical circumcision (Galatians 5:6; 6:15) and emphasis on the physical characterized much of the Old Testament and what the Judaizers had to say. If Paul had wanted to go that route, and trust in the flesh, he certainly had a prestigious pedigree to put on display. What he wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:12 would have been impressive to the fleshly mind Judaizers, but he said that they should listen to him as a “fool” speaking. Read what he had to say about his background here in Philippians 3:4-6, too. However, he cuts short what he is saying with, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”
Then he further rejoins with this emphatic statement, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Christ was everything to Paul. He strongly declares this in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” And anything that competed with this was regarded by him as “dung” (and especially in this context talking about the Judaizers).
The meaning of the word “dung” is quite interesting, as Paul pungently makes use of it. The etymology of the word, we are told, has its roots containing the word “dog” and “throw” (or an off scouring). A wide range of uncomely associations are brought to mind in the use of this word. The most gross is that represented in the King James translation, “dung,” or more exactly, excrement, dog manure. Others see in it an off scouring from dogs or that which has been thrown from the table to dogs; while others think of the word as simply representing garbage or refuse. Then many modern translations have settled for a more sanitized word, “rubbish.” Regardless how we literally look at the word, the idea is that of utter worthlessness and disgust. And since this word translated “dung” involves dogs, we wonder if it could in some way refer back to the first of this chapter, Philippians 3:2, where Paul says, “Beware of dogs.”
Paul’s surrender and commitment to Christ is most impressive. He did not hesitate to give up all for him. There was salvation in no other. Likewise, let us not hesitate to follow his example, looking upon that which we have left behind as being no better than “dung” that we might know Christ and the power of his resurrection in our lives.