We are the True Circumcision

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We are the True Circumcision

Sermon by  Thomas Thornhill Jr

Passage: Philippians 3:3-7



Sunday, June 9, 2019 pm



We are the Circumcision

Philippians 3:3-7


Tonight, we continue our study of Philippians.  In our last lesson we noted Paul’s encouragement and warning, “Rejoice, but beware”.  Tonight, we want to address the “true circumcision”.


  1. What was circumcision?
    1. It was a physical act that established a covenant between God and Abraham, and his descendants – Genesis 17:9-14 – records Abraham at 99 years old and the LORD appearing to Him. It was time for Isaac to be born, thereby fulfilling the promises the LORD had made.
      The sign of Abraham’s acceptance of the covenant was circumcision.  On the 8th day, every male child was to be circumcised – whether born, or servant, including foreigners.   23-27 – Abraham, that very day had himself, Ishmael and all the men in his house circumcised.
      IMPORTANT: This was a sign between the LORD and Abraham and his descendants (vs. 11-12)
    2. A required element of the LOM, even superseding the Sabbath – Leviticus 12:2-3, cf. John 7:22.
      Both John (the Baptist) and Jesus were circumcised the 8th day – Luke 1:59, 2:21.
    3. It was important for physical Israel – Genesis 17:14 – whoever was not circumcised was to be cut off. We know of its importance, because of the way Jewish converts viewed it as Gentiles began obeying the gospel.  It was a major source of contention and division among brethren.  Major portions of the NT are devoted to addressing the subject – with the conclusion that Gentiles did NOT have to be physically circumcised.


  1. Spiritual Israel
    1. We are the true circumcision – In our text, NASB adds, “we are the true circumcision”. The word “true” is not in the original manuscripts, but clearly the point is there.
      Romans 2:28-29 – Paul describes true Israel – not outwardly a Jew, or physical circumcision, but rather it is inward and of the heart.
      Galatians 6:15 – In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
    2. The OL was nailed to the cross, which is why we do not need physical circumcision today. Colossians 2:13-14, notes that the Old Law was nailed to the cross. Ephesians 2:14-16 – also emphasizes this.
    3. How are we “circumcised” today? Through baptism – Colossians 2:11-12, Romans 6:3-4
    4. The idea of “the circumcision” – we are the ones to belong to Christ. We are NOW God’s chosen and covenant people.


  • We are the true circumcision
    1. Three things are mentioned associated with being God’s chosen people (in this text).
    2. We worship God in the Spirit (In the Spirit of God – NASB) – we worship God following His instructions – John 4:24 clearly applies here.
      As is typically debated, is this a reference to our “spirit” (i.e. attitude) or the Holy Spirit.  The original language can be presented either way.
      That our attitude in worship is important is seen in passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 where he deals with the Lord’s Supper, and singing in Ephesians 5:19, 1 Corinthians 14:15 – we are making melody in our hearts to the Lord, giving from the heart (2 Corinthians 9:6-7), etc.
      BUT, it is equally true that our worship must by as we are divinely directed through the Spirit – cf. John 16:13, 14:26 where the Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth.”  Romans 8:5 speaks of living according to the Spirit, doing “the things of the Spirit.”
      Contextually, this is the better fit, because Paul is contrasting the way they live with the Jews who were following the flesh by demanding physical circumcision.
    3. We rejoice in Christ Jesus – remember this is the theme of this letter. In our last lesson we addressed the admonition to rejoice in the Lord (vs. 1, also 4:4).  The spiritual put their trust in Jesus over the ways of the world.   And we…
    4. We have no confidence in the flesh
      1. Jewish converts of the first century had a problem understanding this. They wanted to bind circumcision and other physical aspects of the law.  They sought to “boast” in the flesh.  Paul dealt with that in Galatians where he noted, that they compelled physical circumcision, lest they suffer persecutions.  Rather they sought to “boast in your flesh” (Galatians 6:12-14).
      2. A continued emphasis on spiritual lives – Colossians 3:2 – we set our minds on things above; Romans 8:1, we walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
        2 Corinthians 5:7 – we walk by faith, not by sight.
  • Paul “confidence in the flesh” (4-6) – Paul now turns to his own example of one who could have benefitted greatly by walking “according to the flesh”. He lists is “Jewish credentials” prior to becoming a Christian.   His respect for the LOM and even his “pedigree” were impeccable.
    1. Circumcised the 8th day – we noted earlier, this is what was expected of Jewish males. Paul here notes that his parents were devout followers of the Law.   Paul was not a proselyte.
    2. Of the stock of Israel – or “Nation of Israel” (NASB) Probably the point here is that Paul could trace his lineage all the way back.  His family didn’t come into Israel some time later, but he was “pure bred” if you will.
      Israel goes back to the name given to Jacob by God Himself (Genesis 32:28) when he struggled with God (an angel).
    3. Of the tribe of Benjamin – he could trace his lineage back in greater detail. Benjamin was the tribe of King Saul (like Paul’s namesake).  Benjamin, was a tribe that remained loyal to Judah after the nation divided (likely a result of being integrated with them).
    4. A Hebrew of Hebrews – Paul was well established in the Hebrew religion. He knew it well.  Consider that even though Paul was born a Roman citizen in Tarsus, and likely given a good Greek education, he was also formally trained as a Jew (educated at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).
      His heritage took Judaism seriously.  Paul spoke Hebrew, the formal language of the Jews (Acts 22:1-2).
      HIS UPBRINGING made him as pure a physical Jew as possible.  Think of some of the famous family names in America (or the royal family), and those born into these families.  The privileges they enjoy because of their lineage.  Paul could boast more than most because of this.   HOWEVER, Paul does not end his “credentials” here.
    5. Concerning the Law a Pharisee – while most of what we read about the Pharisees in scripture is negative, one thing to understand about them is they took the ENTIRE Law of Moses seriously. They are described as “the strictest sect” of Judaism (Acts 26:5).  They were the meticulous, legalistic, keepers of the Law.
      NOTE: In all the condemnation of the Pharisees, NEVER are they condemned for keeping the Law with strictness.  It was binding where God had not bound, their hypocrisy, their arrogance, etc. that brought condemnation.
    6. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church – Paul was a serious Jew. He saw the threat of Christianity to the Jewish way of life and was determined to do something about it.  He wasn’t going to sit around and do nothing.  He was devoted and put his all into his convictions.
      Even when he was wrong, whatever he did was NOT halfhearted.  We can clearly learn from that!
      Galatians 1:13-14 Paul spoke of his zeal for the traditions of his fathers.
      Acts 8:2-3 – while Stephen was being buried, Saul made havoc of the church, entering houses and dragging men and women to prison.
      Acts 26:9-12 again describes what he did – casting his vote against some to be put to death, punished compelling Christians to blaspheme.
      This was the intensity and sincerity with which Paul acted in whatever he did.
    7. Concerning righteousness in the law (of Moses), blameless
      Paul knew the Law of Moses, and as he understood it, he followed it. Thus he was blameless (not perfect, but he faithfully kept it).
      The word righteousness deals with being right.  Doing what is right, keeping the law (whatever that law might be).
      We must understand that we need to be righteous to be pleasing to God, but HE gets to set the terms.
      Paul in Romans 10:1-3 spoke of the righteousness of the Jews.  They sought to establish their own righteousness, rather than Gods.
      We must pursue God’s standard of righteousness – Matthew 5:6, we hunger and thirst after righteousness; Matthew 6:33 – we seek FIRST the kingdom of God and HIS righteousness.
      Romans 1:16-17 tells us it is the gospel that reveals the righteousness of God.
      Paul was righteous according to the standard of the Jews he followed, but he was LOST!  And he knew it which brings us to his conclusion.
  1. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ…
    In summarizing Paul’s description of himself, I say that he was “going places”.
    But he gave it all up.  He counted it as refuse compared to what it meant to be in Christ.
    THIS, is the attitude we need concerning this world.  If we are to shine the light of Christ in this “crooked and perverse generation”, we must be willing view the kingdom of God as greater than anything the kingdoms of men have to offer.  Paul did, and we will discuss this more in our next lesson, as well as WHY he was willing to “give it all up”


So what about you?  Are you considered among God’s spiritual Israel?  What have you learned from Paul as you consider these things?   Let us be willing to “lose” whatever we must, so that we may gain Christ.  And if there is any way we can help you in this, let us.  Think about it.