Watch Out for the Dogs

Watch Out for the Dogs

Philippians 3:1-11

The dogs my wife and I have had have all been easily distracted. The last fella we had, when a squirrel ran across our path, he would practically pull our arm out of its socket, as we tried to restrain his enthusiasm with a leash.

My wife and I would start calling out, “squirrel!” Not when we were walking the dog, but when we were talking and one of us would take a sharp – and perhaps random – turn, departing from the main topic.

Why bring this up? Because in the text today, maybe you think I should be yelling, “squirrel!”

Squirrels-With-Hats-Wallpaper.jpg

Our reading today starts innocently enough. Its starts with a statement, an exclamation even, of joy!

But then it moves to a stern warning about false teaching, and even what appears to be prideful boasting.

Did a squirrel just run in front of St. Paul?

Absolutely not! The entire letter is meant for both encouragement and instruction and its author is keen to do both.

The eye-catching declaration to “watch out for the dogs” is deadly serious.

The Philippian church will only keep its joy if it remains in the Person of Jesus and His Truth. And there are people out selling all sorts of nonsense about Jesus—I call it Jesus-Plus religion. They keep most of the message of Jesus, but then they add to it. It is this addition which I label the “Plus”.

In Paul’s day, it was adding Jewish requirements on top of Jesus. Paul’s listing of his background is basically saying, “So, you think you’re Jewish? Let me tell you how Jewish I am—” and then he lists all his qualifications, how he did everything by the book, and he basically says, “and I add none of it to Good News of Jesus—in fact, I throw it all away.”

How about in our day? What are some of the Jesus-Plus teachings that you hear about?

These teachings can grab our attention like a squirrel that crosses our path. Some are interesting, but they often become deadly when they take biblical themes to non-biblical extremes.

Beyond pointing at others, what is it we each do to keep ourselves grounded? In the past, churches would talk a lot about their doctrine—which is just a fancy word for the beliefs they teach. Nowadays, most people find doctrine boring. Yet knowing what your church believes is vital.

Let’s read again a few of today’s verses:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Everything is rubbish, save for knowing Jesus—and I bring nothing to that, so let me get rid of anything that gets in the way, everything that I foolishly think I bring. Let me get rid of it all so that I may be found in Him.

Now, even in my own writing, I have spent considerable time on things followers of Jesus might consider doing—even should do. But these activities are not to earn God’s love and Jesus’ saving grace. That is a free gift. My suggestions center on responding to Jesus’ love – on how we can do a better job of following him, and also enjoy the peace that comes with following him.

Sometimes, we either hear wrong, or a teacher gets off track, and we start adding to the message of God’s saving love—His Salvation freely offered.

When have I added these Jesus-PLUS requirements to my faith and belief in Jesus? Perhaps this is a better question: what, on my list of things I am trying to do better to follow Jesus, have I allowed to cross into the core message of God’s love?  Often, I strive, I press on, to be a better follower of Jesus, and I fall short. Do I allow my stumbles to somehow dilute my belief in God’s infinite love?

How about you?

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