Online Bible Commentary
Look Out for False Teachers
Philippians 3: 1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. 2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh (NKJV)
The word translated “finally” (v.1a) does not mean that this is the final part of his letter. The Greek for this word is “for the rest”. Paul is referring back to the previous part of the letter, seen in verse two, in which he ended with some unspecified directives and warnings that would be brought orally by Timothy and Epaphroditus upon their visit to Philippi.
Paul opens with the encouraging words “rejoice in the Lord” (v. 1b). Although he is writing from prison, Paul has retained his joy. As Christians, we can always have joy, regardless of our circumstances. Paul is an example of that.
He continues in verse one, writing that it is not troublesome for him to repeat some warnings that he had given previously. The word translated “safe” in the Greek is “asphales”, meaning certain, definite, or the truth. It carries the idea of dependable knowledge.
Paul cites three warnings in this passage. The warnings are concerning false teachers in the church. The actual warnings in the literal Greek are “Look to the dogs, look to the evil workers, look to the concision” (v.2). The verb “look” is a present imperative meaning “to continually be on the lookout for.”
The first warning is to continually look out for the “dogs.” Dogs, in the culture, were wild dogs roaming around eating scraps, fighting over trash, menacing men, and generally being a nuisance. This was a degrading term the Jews used for the Gentiles, non Jews. Paul is using the term here to describe false teachers prowling around the Christian congregations, trying to win converts.
Paul’s second warning is to continually look out for “evil workers” in the literal Greek. The word translated “evil” is the Greek word “kakos” which means depraved, evil, wicked.
His third warning is to continually look out for “mutilators of the flesh”, “the concision” in the literal Greek. The word translated “concision” is the Greek word “katatome” which means to cut away or mutilate.
These are not teachers of the circumcision of the heart but the circumcision of the flesh, which Paul calls mutilation, or concision. Those Jews who were only concerned with requiring “concision” of the flesh, instead of changed hearts were called Judaizers. They taught legalism, a salvation of works and not grace.
In verse three Paul writes that it is those who, by the true circumcision, that of the heart, are the teachers of truth. The word translated “worship” in the Greek is the present active participle of “latreuo” which means to minister, to serve. The literal Greek for the end of the verse is “and glorifying in Christ Jesus, and not in flesh trusting.”
The false teachers are still around today. They are teaching lies to tickle the ears of people and bring them into their own church, like the “dogs”. They are teachers of evil and depravity. And they are teachers of legalism, salvation by works and not grace. They appear to be very religious, hiding behind long robes, tradition, customs, and long established mainline denominations. But they are not teaching the truth of the Bible.
So, we Christians are to continually be on the lookout for false teachers. Just as they were present then, they are present now. And they are teaching the same false doctrine.