June 21 I Friday
“For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by His Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh...” —Philippians 3:3
Just before the opening verse, Paul exhorts, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh” (Philippians 3:2). Who and what in the world is he talking about? These dogs and mutilators of the flesh sounds like barbaric butchers! But Paul was warning the church of Philippi to look out for
people who insist that in order to be a Christian, one must be circumcised.
Circumcision was something that God ordained for Abraham and his descendants. It served as a sign and symbol of the covenant that God made with Abraham: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: every male among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:10). This practice extended right through to Jesus who, as a baby of eight days old, went through that process along with every other Jewish boy.
By definition, a sign points to something while a symbol represents something. The symbol was the act of circumcision, and the substance of it was a sign signifying the Jews were set apart by God to fulfill His purpose in the world. Any Jew, through the symbol of circumcision, declares this truth. The sign and symbol is simply an indicator, however, and is not nearly as important as the substance to which it points. This is why a recurring theme of the Old Testament prophets is: “You’ve got the sign right but you know nothing of the substance to which the sign is designed to point.”
The tragedy is when we lose the substance to which the symbol points. We only retain the symbol, where the symbol then replaces the substance. On the matter of circumcision, the emphasis is no longer, “Am I part of God’s people, and what are the implications?” Instead, the important thing becomes, “Have you had your little boy done? Have you been through the sign and symbol?” When the symbol replaces the substance, the symbol itself becomes dead.
The symbol is important only in as much as it expresses the substance. The problem with the Old Covenant is that we can engage in all the right symbols but discover, at the end of it, that having kept every law and jumped through every hoop, we are bankrupt and devoid of any sense of reality with God. Paul tells us to “put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3) but instead to put our confidence exclusively in God and acknowledge that it is not what we do for Him but what He did for us.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that it is not a sign from my flesh that validates my relationship with You but my faith in You that secures my bond to You.