Read the Text
3:1Consequently, my friends, be glad as people of God. Repeating myself is not tedious to me but for you it is a preventative.
2You Gentile men need to watch out for the hungry-for-blood dogs, the ones who do the dirty deed; watch out for the Excision. 3On the contrary, we are the Circumcision: the ones who serve through God’s spirit and have their basis for boasting in what Christ Jesus has done instead of confidence in a fleshly status; 4I, however, do possess the basis for confidence in a fleshly status. If any other man suggests he is confident in the flesh, I can outdo him:
5I was circumcised on the eighth day;
I am from the race of Israel;
My family is from the tribe of Benjamin;
I am a Hebrew from a long line of Hebrews.
When it comes to the Torah, I’m a Pharisee;
6When it comes to zeal, I persecuted the followers of Jesus;
When it comes to correctness in obedience to Torah, I’m irreproachable;
7Whatever advantages I had, I consider them unprofitable because of Christ in my life. 8In fact, I consider every advantage of life to be unprofitable because of the far superior knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Sovereign. It is because of him I have discounted the value of every advantage of life – and consider them to be a pile of garbage – in order that I might profit from my relationship with Christ. 9I also want to be evaluated by my relationship to Christ: not because I have a right-standing based on God’s covenant in the Torah, but a right-standing because of the faithfulness of Christ, the right-standing God has brought about based on faithfulness.
Think about the Text
Paul comes to some sort of conclusion here that thematically calls back to 2:17-18 before the recommendation sections for Timothy and Epaphroditus. He implies that he is repeating himself, but we aren’t told whether what precedes or what follows is repetitive.
Paul’s admonitions in 3:2 allude to the judaizers who want the gentile male followers of Jesus to become circumcised as an identity marker indicating their inclusion in God’s covenant people. Paul begins by calling them dogs. This may just be an insult, since dogs and pigs are frequently used metaphorically for unclean animals. What this context about a dog has in common with a few others is blood (1 Ki. 20:19; 22:38; Ps. 67:24). Perhaps Paul is depicting judaizers as men who are, in a sense, “out for blood” or “blood-thirsty.” Paul also calls them the Excision (“mutilators of the flesh”). The base word in Greek is the same as the word for circumcision with a different prefixed preposition. In the case of circumcision, the preposition implies cutting around, while the former term implies chopping off. In Gal 5:12 Paul is even more explicit, “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!”
Paul alludes to the biblical concept of a more important form of circumcision, which is to circumcise the heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:23-26; Rom 2:28-29; Gal 5:6). He considers uncircumcised gentile followers of Jesus to have experienced a spiritual circumcision of the heart and have a greater basis for their place in God’s covenant.
Paul establishes his own qualifications as an observant and respectable Jew as a way of saying he is just as good as the judaizers who want to compel Gentiles to become full proselytes to Judaism as a way of being included in God’s covenant people. Paul’s self-praise lists the type of elements included in praise speeches (encomia), such as what stock a person comes from, the person’s education and upbringing, and their deeds.
In the past people have assumed that Paul begins in v. 7 to say that everything he had as a Jew is worthless, nothing more than garbage. It does seem like Paul, as a philosophical guide, has adapted himself to his audience of gentiles. Often he identifies so closely with gentile followers of Jesus that he can say “we.” Paul does not say in his letters that Torah, the covenants, and the promises are now null and void. Quite the contrary. The point Paul is trying to make here is that these types of advantages or gains, whether they are Jewish or Greco-Roman, they are not contributors to a person’s spiritual maturity or progress in the development of the soul. They are not the “things that make a difference” (Phil 1:10). For example, Epictetus (Discourses 1.30) talks about someone who goes in to see the emperor, while recognizing there is Another who sees from above. The One from Above asks what this person learned as a student about “exile, bonds, death, and disgrace” – all potential threats from an emperor. The reply is that they are “indifferent,” using a term similar to Paul’s category. When that “Another” asks, “And the end (telos), what is it?” the person replies, “To follow thee.” The young man then makes the claim about these indifferent things, “All this is nothing; but I have been preparing myself for something great.”
Paul argues in Romans that gentiles are able to be included in God’s covenant through participation in Christ Jesus. The faithfulness of Abraham brought God’s blessing and covenant to Abraham’s descendants. In the same way, the faithfulness of Jesus Christ brings reconciliation to the gentile nations and their inclusion. Paul explains that his relationship with God is not based as a Jew, who belongs to God’s covenant people with the Torah as means of knowing how to live as God’s covenant people. Paul’s covenant relationship is the same as the gentiles, with whom he has adapted himself, based on the faithfulness of Christ.
“faithfulness of Christ” (faith in Christ) – There is a growing scholarly consensus that the proper translation of this grammatical expression of Paul is the “faithfulness of Christ” rather than “faith in Christ.”
Meditate on the Text
Can you think of groups that place demands on Christians: To be a Christian you should talk this way, look this way, act this way. How much of our cultural baggage could be stripped away until we get down to what’s most important about living as a follower of Jesus?
Imagine that you carry a backpack that contains all of who you are. It’s very heavy and needs to be lightened. You have three piles. One contains those things that make you the good person you are. On the opposite is the pile of things that are your vices, the things that bring out the worst in you. In the middle is a pile of what’s left over. These things don’t contribute to your virtue but they’re not necessarily evil either. What’s in this pile? Your finances, good looks, health, job status, some pleasures, reputation? Would you be able to forget those things and just pack the good pile into your backpack?
Live the Text
Pay attention to the way people present themselves. What is important to each person and is it something that contributes to virtue, to vice, or is it simply something that has no positive benefit or destructive effect.
Work on lightening your load throughout each day. Worrying and being anxious about things that are outside of your control is futile. Determine to have your mind be lighter by the end of the day and more focused on things that matter most.