Follow Those Who Follow Christ

By Francis Frangipane
(En EspaƱol)

"Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." - Philippians 3:17

Paul faced a major problem in the first century. False teachers had slipped into the church. The apostle warned the Philippians, and us by extension, to recognize the differences between a true man or woman of God and a deceptive teacher or prophet. Without any sense of false humility, Paul declared that both his vision and his spiritual attitude were examples for us to follow. He instructs us in our powers of discernment to look for and "observe" leaders who exemplify the centerpiece of God's purpose, which is to possess the likeness of Christ.

The context in which Paul wrote describes both his self-righteousness before he found Christ and his utter abandonment of fleshly confidence afterward. We will study these verses carefully. For in an age of increasing deception, not everyone who cries "truth, truth" is speaking in defense of conformity to Jesus.

"Beware of the Dogs"

Paul began his discourse by revealing three distinct types of false teachers. He warned, "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision" (Phil. 3:2). These three each have their modern counterparts.

Some believe that Paul was using three phrases to describe one type of false teacher, but it's my opinion that he was speaking of three different ways people become false. The first group Paul identified as "the dogs." The phrase "beware of the dog(s)" is familiar to us today. It means there is a vicious animal here. In Paul's day, most dogs were scavengers that ran in packs. One could find dozens of canines eating off the rubbish heaps outside cities, their faces bent downward as they sniffed and rooted out garbage to feed upon.

Today's church has similar people -- fault-finders who incessantly and self-righteously feed upon the garbage and failures of the human condition. Paul is saying to beware of those who always have something negative to say, who are continually judging or slandering others. If you listen to them, you will become like them. Their words will rob you of vision, leave you without joy, and drain you of energy.

Paul wasn't saying, of course, to completely ignore what is wrong in people. We need discernment. Let me state plainly: there are serious doctrinal errors and sins in the modern church. But when you observe a pattern of angry, self-righteous faultfinding in a person -- when their primary view always seems negative -- beware. Remember, Jesus warned of the Pharisees who "trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt" (Luke 18:9). Beware when your teacher must frequently tear down others to lift himself up.

"Evil Workers"
Paul next warned against the "evil workers." He describes this group briefly in the first chapter of the Philippians. These individuals do, in fact, proclaim Christ, but they do so from "envy . . . strife . . . selfish ambition" rather than from love (vv. 15–17). For them building a church is a competitive endeavor, a business. James also underscores this problem, saying, "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:16).

Part of Paul's efforts as an apostle was to build Christ-centered unity among Christians. However, the "evil workers" were self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Before we follow any leader, we truly ought to see the influence of Christ growing in that individual's character. Look to hear the pastor speak, at least occasionally, of his or her vision of attaining Christlikeness. Look for evidences of humility; listen to hear his burden for prayer, and see how he cultivates unity with other Christian churches. If your pastor or leader is growing in these values, then that individual is also growing in trustworthiness. As he or she seeks to follow Christ, the fruit of their ministry will, most likely, be healthy.

"The Judaizers"
The third warning was aimed against the "false circumcision" (Phil. 3:2). These were the Jewish Christians who, when they were saved, tried to make Christianity an extension of Judaism. This last teaching was the most dangerous because it seemed the most plausible.

The essence of this error was that Christ's atonement was not enough for salvation; you also had to keep the whole system of Mosaic Laws to be saved. Today people continue to import religious obligations into the salvation experience. In exposing and warning against the influence of the "false circumcision," Paul set a firewall against the bondage of legalistic requirements for salvation. And while the way is indeed narrow that leads to life, the way is a person: Jesus Christ. We do not arrive at our goal by keeping laws but by entrusting ourselves to the keeping of Christ.


 Adapted from Francis Frangipane's book, The Days of His Presence available at www.arrowbookstore.com.