Philippians 3:1-2 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.
We can feel Paul’s deep heartfelt concern as he pens these words. What was tending to stop the young Christians in Philippi from REJOICING in the Lord? It was the constant pressure being brought to bear upon them to EARN their salvation by ‘pleasing/impressing’ God by the things they DID. In the case of Philippi, this ‘works righteousness’ took the form of obeying God’s LAW in every detail, including, and especially, the Law regarding circumcision (cf Genesis 17:12; Exodus 12:48).
But what Paul writes is relevant to any situation where an emphasis is placed on EARNING one’s salvation instead of relying in faith on God’s grace ALONE. ‘Justification by faith’ is acknowledging that it is Jesus alone who has kept God’s Law perfectly, and the righteousness that is therefore his is transferred or accredited to the believer, the believer’s sin being forgiven, and God’s wrath against it being turned back, on the basis of Jesus’ atoning, substitutionary death.
It is this fact that enables the believer to ‘rejoice’ in the Lord. “Christ the Lord is risen today, sons of men and angels say; raise your joys and triumphs high, sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply! Lives again our glorious King, where, O death, is now thy sting! Once He died our souls to save, where thy victory, O grave? Love’s redeeming work is done, fought the fight, the battle won! Death in vain forbids His rise, Christ hath opened paradise.” (Charles Wesley).
The reason Paul sees his writing to them as ‘no trouble’ to him, and a ‘SAFEGUARD’ to them, is his knowing how easy it is for our fallen nature to BEGIN a spiritual journey of faith, but then to slip back into a dependence on ‘works righteousness, and therefore making it harder for us to ‘Rejoice in the Lord’! It is also why he uses such strong language against those who preach ‘works righteousness’, referring to them as ‘dogs’ and ‘mutilators of the flesh’.
Paul wrote to the Galatians about the crucial importance of this: ”If righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). “Jesus paid it all, all to HIM I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, HE washed it white as snow.” (Elvina Hall).