COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” (Phil 3:2, NKJV). “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision” (KJV).“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (NIV).
The Holy Spirit is not gentle when dealing with those proving harmful to the people of God. While men have developed a certain tolerance for those teaching novel and detrimental doctrines, the Lord is unusually intolerant of such people. Believers must remember they are in a war zone–a battle arena in which fierce and relentless foes exist. The principalities and powers against which we wrestle (Eph 6:12), beguile and use unstable souls to corrupt the people of God. We must not recoil at the strong language employed in this text. It is designed to awaken us to both the seriousness and aggressiveness of our adversary. If we cease to be vigilant, we will inevitably fall into the snare of the wicked one. A watchful spirit, however, will be undergirded by Divine power, enabling us to stand against the “wiles of the devil.” It is not possible to overstate the weightiness of this passage. While, from one viewpoint, it is not pleasant to consider, from another perspective it is most needful to both probe and ponder. Our salvation is not automatic, requiring our involvement.
BEWARE OF DOGS
“Beware of dogs . . . ” The word “BEWARE” is certainly not to be taken lightly! It assumes imminent danger. Think of the many times this alert is sounded. “Beware of false prophets . . . Beware of men . . . Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees . . . Beware of the Scribes . . . Beware of covetousness . . . Beware lest any man spoil you . . . Beware, lest ye being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness” (Matt 7:15; 10:17; 16:6; Mk 12:38; Lk 12:15; Col 2:8; 2 Pet 3:17). I fear we are living in a time and place when the “bewares” of the Spirit are not taken seriously. The casualness that plagues innumerable congregations is sternly rebuked by the presence of this word. If the commendable congregation at Philippi was warned to “Beware,” what body of believers in our time could possibly be excluded from the admonition.
Throughout Scripture, people are viewed from the standpoint of their character. Thus, they are frequently likened to various members of the brute, or impersonal, creation. Both good and bad associations are developed in this regard. Believers are to be “harmless as doves” (Matt 10:16b), “wise asserpents” (Matt 10:16a), “bold as a lion” (Prov 28:1, thirst “as a hart” (Psa 42:1), soaring as with “wings as eagles” (Isa 40:31) ), fed “as lambs” (John 21:15), following the Shepherd as “sheep” (John 10:27), able to hide from danger like “the conies” (Prov 30:26), and finding residence in the courts of the Lord like “the swallow” (Psa 84:3).
Wicked men are also likened to impersonal creatures. They are compared to a “generation of vipers” (Matt 3:7), “a wild ass” (Hos 8:9), “raveningwolves” (Matt 7:15), with “the poison of asps under their lips” (Rom 3:13). Thus, in creation the Lord has personalized traits that are brought to their full measure in mankind–both good and wicked.
Frequently, those oppressing the saints of God are said to be “dogs.” The term refers to wild and ravenous dogs, not the domesticated type. Jesus is depicted as being surrounded by such ravenous beasts in the 22nd Psalm. “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me” (Psa 22:16). Again, that Psalm shows the impact of such souls upon our Lord.“Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog”(22:20). Our blessed Lord warned us, “Give not that which is holy unto dogs,” declaring they would “turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt 7:6). In a remarkable statement of the case, it is said of the glorified church, “But outside are dogs” (Rev 22:15). The Spirit, then, uses this language frequently.
First, for personal gratification, like wild dogs, these teachers bark, making noise and degrading pure doctrine. Of such, the Psalmist said, “They growl like a dog, And go all around the city” (Psa 59:6,14). They offer nothing of substance, but only make noise.
Second, they are harmful, biting and devouring the saints because of the conflict they create. Thus “dogs” were frequently depicted as devouring their victims (Jer 15:3): “greedy dogs which can never have enough” (Isa 56:11).
Third, such teachers are like “dumb dogs that cannot bark” (Isa 56:10). They do not warn the people of impending danger, but lull them to sleep with their erroneous doctrines and views. Beware of such men!
BEWARE OF EVIL WORKERS
“ . . . beware of evil workers . . . ” “ . . . those men who do evil” (NIV). The Spirit is not speaking of unreligious men in the grasp of Satan. Rather, He is referring to those who come under the pretext of godly men, but who are really ungodly. They are not only “evil,” or exactly the opposite of “holy,” they are “workers,” aggressively seeking to promote their cause among the godly. Many a soul has been led astray because of them. Of such false prophets, Peter wrote, “And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Pet 2:2).“Hymenaeus and Philetus” were evil workers described as those who“overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim 2:8). The “words” of such men are malignant, spreading like cancer wherever they are found (2 Tim 2:17).
“Evil workers” are “workers of iniquity.” Covered with the garb of religion, they work wickedness in the name of Jesus, and among His people. Whenever recognized, they are not to be tolerated. We must remember the word of the Psalmist to the holy God. “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: Thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (Psa 5:5). Such “speak peace”with their mouths, but “evil is in their hearts” (Psa 28:3). Rather than bringing any advantage to the saints, “They utter speech, and speak insolent things; All the workers of iniquity boast in themselves. They break in pieces Your people, O LORD, And afflict Your heritage” (Psa 94:4).
Although “evil workers” represent themselves as ministers of righteousness, their works are evil, and their ministry wicked. Their activities are not aligned with God’s purpose, and their ministry is driven by the flesh, not the Spirit. What they DO is in sharp conflict with what God is doing, and is therefor harmful to the saints.
Let no person doubt the existence of such people–religious people that are actually doing what is evil. Speaking to some of His critics, Jesus said, “When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity'” (Lk 13:25-27). The same assessment was made of people who, in the day of judgment, boasted they had “prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” Our Lord’s appraisal of their works, however, was quite different. “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:22-23). Their works were not constrained by love or driven by faith, and therefore they were “evil.”
This text assumes we understand the devil’s strategy. He “transforms”himself “into an angel of light,” offering illumination and understanding. He additionally has “ministers” who are also “transformed” into “ministers of righteousness.” Their end, or final destination, we are told, will be “according their works” (2 Cor 11:15). They come in the name of the Lord, but they are “evil workers.” Beware of them! They are dangerous.