Topic:The Menace of External Religion
Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.
This is a warning about the menace of external religion. This seems like a rather abrupt change of subject, but there is a very vital connection with the previous verse. What is it that destroys rejoicing in the Lord? It’s dwelling on external circumstances as being the important thing. It’s looking away from the indwelling Lord to the outward event with which you are concerned, and counting that the important thing. That will inevitably destroy a spirit of rejoicing. So he warns against certain false teachers who were posing as Christians, who went about trying to get peoples’ faith centered on outward things.
The terms he uses to describe these men are bold and blunt, because in matters of this importance the apostle never minces words. He calls them three things: dogs, evil-doers, mutilators. The reference to dogs is not to the pampered, shampooed, manicured pets we have today. These were not cultured canines. These were the snarling, half-wild curs found on the streets of the city. They can still be found today. The term dogs is a term of reproach used by both Jew and Gentile. Because of what the dogs fed on, they were regarded as unclean animals. They fed on the refuse of the streets, the garbage, decayed meat, rotten vegetables that had been disposed.
What Paul is referring to is a group of men who continually hounded him wherever he went, following his footsteps, trying to upset the Christians. We usually call them Judaizers. They were men who taught that it was necessary to observe the law of Moses and the food restrictions of the Mosaic Covenant, and especially to be circumcised in order to be a real Christian, that these things were not done away with in Christ. Unfortunately, these people are still with us. Paul says, like dogs they were feeding on the garbage of carnal ordinances. They were holding up as of great value rituals which once were of value, but now they’ve decayed; they’ve become over-ripe. They are fit to be thrown out. They were evil-workers because of their zeal. They were tirelessly seeking to convert young believers to their views, to bring them back under the bondage of legalistic restrictions. They gloried in this activity as a mark of their claim on the blessing of God. The way they thought of it, God had to bless them because they were so zealous, so devoted to their work. You can easily see that these people are still with us, the tireless, zealous workers who go about from door to door with books under their arms, ready to convert anyone to a legalistic, Judaistic system. These are exactly the kind of people to whom Paul is referring.
Now all of this kind of teaching has a strong appeal to our human thinking because of its apparent show of devotion. I think all of us at one time or another have sensed this kind of appeal, the appeal of some ornate, solemn ritual done in a religious manner, as being worthy of some merit before God. The earnest, sincere endeavor of a tireless worker is appealing. It is so gratifying to the religious ego to perform some solemn ritual, and to be constantly busy at religious work, or even to mock the flesh in some way perhaps with a distinctive garb or an identifying posture. All of this, Paul says, is the enemy of true spirituality. It destroys the spirit of rejoicing, and it makes religion an empty, barren mockery. It puts the emphasis on the external, and removes it from the vital, the interior genuine aspects of faith.
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Forgive me. Lord, that I so often opt for external religion instead of the real thing, and miss out on the joy that comes from knowing you live within me and are always working out your good purposes in my life.
Grace, God’s unearned, unmerited favor, is counter-intuitive to the world’s system. Are we learning to serve God and others out of gratitude and worship, rejoicing that He does His work in and through us?