For reasons only speculation can answer, dogs and their owners often bear a resemblance to each other. History, biblical and otherwise, does not reveal if the Apostle Paul owned pets. If he did, maybe he had one dog while he was Saul and another after he bore the title “Apostle.” Perhaps a hunting dog walked by his side as he hunted Christians. Luke provides this account.
And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Saul hounded and hounded. He hounded, that is, until the Holy Spirit hounded him. Saul surrendered and God altered him forever. As a new person, Saul, now Paul, traveled across the Mediterranean Sea region preaching Jesus and planting churches. If he picked up a new dog, it was most certainly a guard dog. Paul loved Jesus’ bride, the Church, and therefore he guarded her from attack. Attacks from within and from outside.
As we return to his letter to the Philippians today, we read about the guard dog in action. To do so we will first look to two verses.
Paul, who taught them to live with the humility of Christ, instructs the believers to avoid verbal attacks and verbal griping. In other words, he challenges them to join him in guarding against infighting which would dim, if not extinguish, the light they are to shine “in a warped and crooked generation”—a Genesis 3 world.
Through the remainder of chapter two, Paul encourages them by assuring them that their care for him is greatly appreciated. Then in chapter three Paul, in true guard dog fashion, Paul bares his teeth as he warns them of deceptive dogs.
Those to whom Paul refers to as “dogs” were men belonging to the Judaizer controversy. While the issues of the controversy were wide spanning - including such things as disagreement over what to eat and what not to eat as well as other cultural mores - the central topic was the necessity, or lack thereof, of circumcision. As Ernest Scott explains, Paul’s “argument hinges on the conviction that in Jewish ritualism there is no place for Christ, and that those who cling to it are intent on destroying the Christian faith.” (Scott, 73)
Notice, as seen in verse three, Paul understood that the true meaning of circumcision to which Hebrew circumcision pointed was the ultimate circumcision of the heart as expressed through devoted service to God. A marked life rather than a marked body displayed true faith. Paul was qualified, even overly so, to make the argument. In order to convince his readers that his words were grounded he wrote what we could consider to be his resumé, which was full of “Jew of the Year” type qualifications and accomplishments.
He was from the “right” people and the elite among them. He was sold out and on board. I draw your attention to one particular descriptor - “a Hebrew of Hebrews”.
This phrase speaks to identity as displayed through language. Paul’s family, although residing in a Greek city, held to their mother tongue. They lived as foreigners in a foreign land, clinging to their identity.
The white space between the final words of verse 6 and the start of verse seven, to me, represents the time in Paul’s life where his dog ownership would have changed. He would have gone from a hunting dog to a racing dog.
Paul stopped hunting and started racing. He pulled and pulled, pressing on to win the prize. Paul found joy as he continually strove to become more and more like Christ and to make Christ known to others. He desired also, for his hearers to pull and press as well.
Have you ever felt weary and spent as you strove to live for Christ? Well, of course you have! All of us have. Within Paul’s words we discover a truth that serves as a powerful motivator for when we grow weary.
Truth - our citizenship is in heaven. Paul reminds the Philippians of their true home. In doing so he uses an image that we miss if unaware of his use of the title “Savior.”
The word we translate as “Savior” was originally used as a term referring to a king who arrived to save a state (or city) from a time of crisis. Ernest Scott explains that Paul “thinks of the church as an outpost of the mother city in heaven. It looks in that direction for the deliverer, the true Lord to whom it owes allegiance, and who will not forget it in its distress.” (Scott, 102)
The 1st century Christian gained strength from such a promise, and twenty-first century Christians do as well.
We, like they, live in a warped and crooked generation. Hasn’t everyone? Paul teaches us how to live in such a time.
1) Do not grumble.
2) Do not argue (you can disagree).
3) Do not rely on tradition (circumcision, “my way,” etc.)
4) Surrender your resumé.
5) Live in utter devotion to Christ Jesus.
6) Live as citizens of heaven.
For further reading:
Scott, Ernest F. The Interpreter’s Bible: Volume 11. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press (1955).
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