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(018) Philippians XII: Don’t Be a Dog

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Philippians XII: Don’t Be a Dog

Philippians 3:1-11

February 3, 2008

Did you enjoy the snow this week...forgot to screw on wheel.

I am sure you’ve noticed, I start all of my sermons with a short history lesson relating, at least to some extent, to the sermon. I do this for two reasons:

1) Give background to our faith and the Bible.

2) Help us understand that the Bible was written by and to real people in real places.

Several years ago, Marilyn and I went to Israel. The thing that struck me more than anything else was simply how real it was.

Because we grow up reading the Bible right alongside our Dr. Seuss and fairytales, we lose sense of how real the people and places of the Bible were.

·         These are people as real as you and I and places as real as Mt. Vernon or the Cascade Mall.

Today’s history lesson drives that home in a poignant way: The Philippians were just everyday people, just like us. This is a public restroom in Philippi, located in the market place.

Last week I showed you a road that Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus all walked. Here is a place that they all sat.

These restrooms were co-ed, however the fact that everyone basically wore dresses meant that you could take care of business without showing anything off.

These were more than a just 42-seater outhouse: There was actually water running under the seats flushing away the offending matter.

·         And that stuff that was flushed away was called “skubalon,” say that with me.

·         Adds a new meaning to “Scooby Snacks.”

But how did they, um, clean up? This is where there sanitary standard slip below ours:

There would a couple of buckets filled with salt water. In these buckets would be bunch of sticks with sponges attached to the end. You would slip the sponge end though these holes that face forward and scrub away.

Once you were done, you would rinse the sponge in these troughs, which also had water running through them. Then you would put it back in the bucket for the next guy, or gal.

·         That gives a whole new meaning to “Getting the wrong end of the stick.” 

And now that I have resorted to toilet humor, let’s get to today’s passage. We continue our series on the book of Philippians, and we are in 3:1-11, page 831 in the pew Bibles.

You hear a real change in tone in this passage from previous. In other passages Paul is very encouraging and kind. In this passage, Paul goes on the offensive, dealing with some “sheep in wolves clothing” that were attacking the church at Philippi.

And what was this threat? Paul’s old nemesis: Legalism.

Finally, my brothers, 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 men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:1-11 NIV

Back to basics

Even as Paul writes this, he knows that it is a review.

It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Philippians 3:1 NIV

Since day one, legalism has threatened Christianity. Paul fought it in Galatians, in the book of Acts, and in Romans.

It is one of the greatest threats to our faith because legalism undermines the very foundation of the Gospel.

·         Legalism attempts to reach God through our own efforts.

·         The Gospel is God reaching out to us apart from our efforts.

Christianity is the story of God taking that which is damaged and destroyed by sin, and restoring to better than before.

We’re completely incapable of restoring ourselves. We’re far too broken and God is far too perfect for us to ever hope to get it right. Any attempt on our part to reach God will end in failure.

·         Thousands of years of recorded human history has yet to eradicate cruelty, hatred, self-centeredness, and ignorance.

Which, BTW, is one of the many reasons I reject reincarnation: It seems like if we keep on coming back to get better, we should have made some headway, rather than getting worse.

If the story of Christianity is God reaching down to us and restoring us, then the central theme of the story is grace. God didn’t reach out to us because we are good, but because he is.

·         Grace makes Christianity different than anything else.

“It’s Grace.”

Several years ago in Britain there was a conference on comparative religions. At one point, several scholars were debating what made Christianity unique.

·         Incarnation? Many religions have gods becoming men.

·         Resurrection? Other gods have come back to life.

·         Love? Most modern religions highlight love.

·         Virgin birth? That’s how some gods were born.

Then C.S. Lewis walked into the room, ask what all the fuss was about, and he answered, “That’s easy, it’s grace.”

·         The idea of God's love being offered freely, with no requirements on it, flies in the face of every human instinct.

The Buddhists have the eightfold path, the Hindus the doctrine of karma, there’s the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim a code of law. All of these are ways to earn approval.

·         Only Christianity dares to make God's love unconditional.

·         Grace is the soul of Christianity and legalism its kryptonite.

Ugly dogs

It is no surprise, then, that Paul responds so viciously to these false teachers who are promoting legalism:

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! Philippians 3:2 NET

The word “dog” was extremely offensive. It was sometimes used by Jews as an insult against Gentiles because dogs were not kosher. And when he says “dog” he is not thinking of the cute little puppy in the pet store window.

·         If you have seen the stray dogs in Mexico, you have a better mental picture – something a little more like this.

Using this insult was particularly ironic, because he is attacking a group known as “Judaizers.” They were legalistic teachers who taught that in order to be saved, Gentiles had to act like Jews.

·         Paul is saying that they are the real Gentiles.

And isn’t it true that sometimes people who think that they are the best Christians are the furthest from it?

LIttle miss Judgment

On the blog I showed a little video of one of the most legalistic and judgmental Christian I have ever seen. It is both horrifying and entertaining to watch, so I just have to show it.

[Dr. Phil video]     

I asked how you would respond to a non-Christian if they asked if this represented Christianity, and you guys wrote a lot of good answers. I’d encourage you to take a look,

In addition to noting that this gal doesn’t know her Bible very well (the Bible has more to say about air travel than piercings) several you said that this gal forgot all about grace.

·         As Nicole and Jewel said, grace and redemption are the core of the Gospel – God wants to forgive and restore.

·         And someone else used the blog to take pop shots at me.

The sad thing, is that she is out there representing us. Granted, I think the world knows she is the extreme, but which word do you think non-Christians would be more likely use to describe Christianity: Grace or judgment

I’ve been reading an eye-opening book called “unChristian.” Contrary to what it sounds like, the word unchristian isn’t to describing outsiders, it’s how we are viewed by outsiders.

Of those in the 16-29 age range, 87% describe us as “judgmental.” Grace does not even appear on the list.

Why am I talking about judgmentalism when the passage is about legalism? They are two sides of the same coin:

·         Legalism says I obey a list of rules to get closer to God.

·         Judgmentalism says I will condemn you because you fail to obey those rules.

Q   And what are both of them missing? Grace.

We’re the dogs

Q   How did the church go from being the people of grace to being legalistic and judgmental?

Q   How did WE become the dogs Paul was warning against?

·         How did it go from an outside threat to an inside job?

And I truly mean “we.” It’s easy to blame it all on a few extreme people, but I am part of the problem. I can see the dog of legalism raging in me.

Q   Can you?

·         I am being a legalist dog when...I am more interested in rules to shape my behavior than the Holy Spirit to shape my heart.

·         Or when I compare my spiritual practices or knowledge to others.

·         Or when I look at people caught in sin with scorn, not compassion.

But one the most common ways that we are little dogs is when we create our own list of rules and hold others to it.

In the Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were fanatical about obeying God’s law, which is not so bad. But they created extra rules, to act as “hedges” around the law, just to be safe and they were fanatical about obeying those.

As children of God, we are called to holiness, we are called to live lives pleasing to him. Sin is deadly stuff and dishonoring to our Father – we should avoid it like the plague that it is.

And sometimes, because of our own weaknesses, we need to set up our own hedges. There are things I cannot do, that other Christians can, because it is too dangerous for me.

·         But the moment I expect others to keep those rules, I have strayed into legalism.

And that legalism very quickly turns into judgmentalism. And the problem gets really bad when we place these expectations on non-Christians.

To be honest, we really can’t expect non-believers to follow any of the rules, God’s or ours.

Never expect an non-Christian to act like a Christian. My mom

Our goal, unlike that gal, is to bring people to Jesus so they can see the transforming power of the Gospel, not to change the way they behave.

·         We aren’t called to change the world, but to bring the world to Jesus who can change it.

A Jews’ Jew

Now back to the Judaizers, the guys who were trying to get the Philippians to follow Jewish rules in order be good Christians.

Paul makes it clear that he didn’t preach grace because he couldn’t hack their rules. He had played that game before and could beat them at it.

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  Philippians 3:4-6 NIV

If Paul were speaking from our context, he would have said things like: I never missed a day of church in my life, I have never had anything to drink, I never smoked, I only watched “Gmovies, I only had Christian friends, I never uttered a single swear word. Any rule that you threw at me, I followed perfectly.

·         Paul has lived both under legalism and under grace, and he now compares the two:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him... Philippians 3:7-9a NIV


His verdict? Legalism is “rubbish.” This is actually a very polite translation. The Greek word is “skubalon.”

·         Remember that word? It’s the stuff flushed down the toilets.

Only, skubalon was not the polite word for fecal matter. In fact it was the sort of word that polite people didn’t use. In ancient literature there was a story of a sailors exclaiming “skubalon” when the seagulls pooped on them.

·         How many sailors do you know say “Oh rubbish!”

In other words, skubalon is four-lettered word and that means I got all of you to swear in church. And you might want to know we have been teaching your kids Greek swear words in Sunday School.

Paul looks at his legalistic past, his following of law to get closer to God, the judgmentalism that goes with and says it is – well, insert the strongest word you feel comfortable using.

He used the strongest word he could. You and I all know which word I should use, even though it might get me fired. But that is what legalism is.

The point is Paul uses a stronger word to describe legalism than he does sin; legalism has more power to destroy very foundations of the church than sin does.

A church of Grace

So I will end this sermon on this: More than anything, I want this church to be known as a church of grace. I want us to deal with those inside and outside of with grace:

·         Accepting people were they are at, not judging them, not condemning them.

Certainly a sermon like this will be one-sided. God’s goal in salvation was not to clean us up but then dump us back into the wretched, destructive life we were in before. As I said earlier, that is restoration.

And grace is a means to an end, and that end is knowing Christ:

...I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord... Philippians 3:8a NIV

And so holiness and the life of obedience are crucial to Christianity. To be a Christian is to truly call Jesus Lord.

But our response to sin in the lives of others should follow his. Christ gave us the greatest example of love, compassion, acceptance, and grace to the woman caught in adultery.

·         “Neither do I condemn you, go a sin no more.”

So we each need to examine ourselves:

Q   Is there anyone out in the world that you judge?

It might be a specific person, or it might be a group of people: Adulterers, people on welfare, Prostitutes, homosexuals, abortion doctors, Democrats or Republicans?

·         I could keep going, and I’d find someone you and I judge.

Q   Are there people inside the church you look down on?

We are notorious for shooting our own wounded. Sometimes the world is better at offering grace to the fallen than we are.

·         I can think of people I judge, that I don’t show grace. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

I am ashamed to say that I think I am better than some of these folks, which goes to show how little I understand God’s grace.

·         I have a legalist dog in me, and for that I need to repent.

·         We all need to repent.

As I said, more than anything, I want this church to be a church of grace, a place where anyone and everyone can come and find acceptance and God’s love.

Once they have found God’s love, then together as a community we can walk the path toward restoration, towards wholeness and holiness. But we must never reverse that order. 




As people who have received so much grace, we must in turn show your grace to others, inside the church and out. And if we forget how much gave we have received, remind us.

Make this a church of grace I pray. Let us be a safe place to come in and find your love, and then let us walk as a family to the restoration and redemption that can only come from you.

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that rich and magnificent, and the deep love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that draws us together be with you all.  Amen.

The following sources were used in preparing this sermon:

“The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Suffering,” a sermon preached by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church ( on 10/21/07

“Dear Philippians III: The Secret to Enjoying Life,” a sermon preached by Bruce Wersen of His Place Community Church ( on 2/9/03.

The New American Commentary (Vol. 32): Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by R. R. Melick.

Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 43): Philippians by R. P. Martin.

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