“Rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same
things to you again, and it is a safeguard to you.”
Thoughts… Paul is saying that the joy of the Lord is such a critical piece to an authentic experience with Christ that he doesn’t mind reminding us of this truth over and over until we finally and fully “get it.” In fact, Paul says that Christian joy is so important that it actually serves as a guardrail to our faith.
Now just what is it that our faith needs to be safeguarded from? Simply this: Trying to achieve salvation—which is the fountainhead of our joy—through human effort. That is the crux of Paul’s attack in the next several verses.
The truth is, we can never achieve our way to either salvation or joy. So Paul launches an assault in verse 2 against those who teach that you can: “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” He’s talking about a group of “false teachers” who came to be identified in the New Testament era as Judaizers. These folks believed that Jesus was the Savior, but they taught that true salvation was evidenced only as believers observed the Old Testament Law. In their theology, you not only had to believe in Jesus, but you also had to conform to the Jewish rituals, observe the Jewish feasts, follow the Jewish traditions, and above all, submit to the Jewish rite of circumcision. This was a very big controversy in Paul’s day—the first heresy the Apostles came up against.
Did you notice the “kind” words Paul uses to describe these Judaizers? He calls them “dogs,” and he is not referring to the kind of family pets we’re used to, but the kind of dogs you see a lot in the third world: mangy, flee-bitten, vicious, dangerous scavengers. Paul also calls these Judaizers “men who do evil.” That is, they pervert the Gospel of “salvation by grace through faith” by teaching that salvation is by grace plus by works of the Law. People who corrupt the truth that our good works are the result of and not the means to salvation are, frankly, evil! Literally, the Greek says they “promote evil.” And Paul takes it a step further calling them “mutilators of the flesh”. He is referring to the practice of circumcision and he uses a very descriptive and forceful word. The normal word for circumcision is “peritome”, but the word he uses in verse 2 is “katatome”, which some translations render as “false circumcision”, but the NIV translates with blunt and brutal accuracy, “mutilators of the flesh.”
Paul uses such graphic language here since what these false teachers were insisting on was akin to butchering the precious work of Jesus Christ on the cross to provide your salvation free of charge. Paul himself understood the folly of trying to gain salvation apart from grace. He describes his own well-intentioned but fatally flawed efforts in verses 3-9, which I will paraphrase this way: “I was a church member all my life. I attended church every Sunday—it was the biggest and best in town. I took notes, sang in the choir, served as an usher, taught junior high. I was a deacon, too! I was sprinkled as an infant, and just to make sure, baptized as an adult. I never missed communion and I always gave more than my tithe. I spoke in tongues and even interpreted my own messages. I was the model Christian. But it was all a waste…I was still completely lost!”
Paul had climbed the ladder of spiritual success, only to realize when he got to the top, his ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. All the accomplishments, awards, and applause that were once the foundation of his righteousness and joy were gone in an instant when he met Christ on the Damascus Road.
Here is what Paul is saying: The joy of our salvation that safeguards our faith from the devastating effects of trying to gain salvation by works is simply the pure pleasure of knowing—intimately knowing—Jesus Christ as our Savior—the one who saves us by his grace, and as our Lord—the one who rightly rules over our lives with love and mercy.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss …to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Verse 7-8)
You can safeguard your faith today, and each day, by making every other pursuit, every other effort, every past accomplishment, everything else, a distant second to the simple pleasure of just knowing Jesus. Rejoicing in the Lord places guardrails around your faith by reminding you of the powerful and profound fact that Jesus paid for your salvation in full—when you couldn’t pay a dime for it. The joy of the Lord will prevent you from steering into the ditch of human effort by keeping you focused on the fact that your salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone—and nothing else.
So I will join Paul and say it again—rejoice in the Lord!
Prayer… There is no greater thing than knowing you, Lord Jesus. You are first, you are best, you are the greatest, you are my all in all. And I lovingly give myself to you.
One More Thing… “Everything that Jesus did while He was here, He did it for you.” —Maze Jackson