I remember listening to a ‘friend’ from my church family who was talking to me about someone who had grown up in the church and was making generalisations with ‘all church kids are this’ and ‘all church kids are that’. I found myself cringing inside. I have always been a church kid so what was she trying say? The next time I met with her she was saying the same thing about pastor’s kids . I wasn’t quite sure what point she was trying to make but I cringed inside. Not only am I a pastor’s kid but I am a parent of a pastor’s kid. I felt that her generalisation was being used a a measuring stick for my imperfections and I left feeling discouraged and confused. Once again I felt the discouragement creep in. Why would anyone want to be around Christians like this.
Discouragement is something we have all feel . If we had a choice would we choose to keep allowing ourselves to feel discouragement? If we don’t hear Paul in this chapter we are going to keep dealing with the symptoms of discouragement instead of recognising where it often comes from.
Paul is writing this letter to a local church in Philippi that he planted, pastored and loves deeply. He is writing to say thank you for their generosity and sacrificial giving and uses the letter to bring, perspective and hope to a church that needs his encouragement. They have little but have given much. In chapter one he has exhorted them to be aware of their enemy outside the church. Now he turns his attention to an enemy inside the church. Discouragement has set in because certain people INSIDE the church have become enemies because they are a source of discouragement.
There is potential in every church for people to bring discouragement. That is a reality of any church. We are naive if we think that it is not possible and plain stupid if we choose to ignore that reality. If we do not act on that reality, however, we will continue to deal with discouragement instead of living our life with purpose and promise. If we deny this reality we will end up living to please people instead of Jesus. If there are people who make me feel that I am not doing enough, being enough, and placing expectations on me, I will constantly feel I am falling short. Paul says they are actually dangerous. He calls these people INSIDE the church dogs, mutilators of the flesh, knife-happy circumcisors, evil….some of those he is writing to are the very ones he is writing about. Some of those in our midst are the very ones Paul is talking about. Maybe it is even me he is writing about. I know having grown up in the church how easy it is to play Pharisee… Paul is pretty vicious in his attack on this enemy to people’s faith. I love the protective nature in which he writes this chapter. I feel a bit the same way. Religion and legalism have had a field day with my heart and with the hearts of God’s people. There is nothing more destructive to someone’s relationship with their saviour then a religious, legalistic and super-spiritual approach to their walk and to others
Can you hear the dogs?
Have you felt the dogs snapping at your heals?
Do you sense the feelings of discouragement, confusion and frustration that creeps over you when you hear it? have you felt the cringe or discomfort that is different to conviction?
Do you find yourself striving instead of receiving?
Do you find yourself comparing yourself to others instead of cheering and encouraging others?
Do you feel encouraged by ‘their’ walk with God or pride because you are doing better or shame because you are doing worse?
Paul didn’t say watch out for the symptoms. He shows us the cause. He is actually talking about ‘Christians, church goers’ , people who may well sit next to you on a Sunday, and he may even be talking about you. It is not always your intention and it can often be insecurity and vulnerability that leads to these symptoms but Paul doesn’t excuse it.
He is warning me that there are people in my life that will make me feel that Jesus is not enough. He is is also warning me to not be that person.
There are people in my life that make me feel discouraged and there are people in my life who make me feel arrogant and self important. Following their lead, I will find myself am relying on self effort and comparison for my righteousness and self worth. This is not worship. This is idolatry. OUCH.
Why do I allow the dogs access to my heart. Whenever I spend time with them, they make me feel like I can never do enough.
Why do I allow the knife-happy circumcisors near my soul? They leave me feeling I am not spiritual enough or that that I have to do something more. I don’t mind spending time with them but I have to guard my heart and ensure they do not impact my walk with God in a way that discourages me. Wacth out for people who take advantage of my vulnerability and insecurities and even my ignorance. It is not Jesus plus…more ..more holiness, more pretense, more faith, more service, more activity, more , giving, more acts of justice. those things come from desire and and out working of the Holy Spirit and his leading…..not from a religious spirit.
Who are the dogs, the mutilators of the flesh…
Paul gives us some clues:
They are other ‘Christians’.
They are in the local church.
They are someone you want approval from, someone you want connection with, but could run yr life.
They have the ability to sap you of joy.
They make you feel that God is just tolerating you but doesn’t really love you.
They make you feel you have to work to receive peace and blessing and grace and forgiveness.
They make me wish I had been a Christian for longer.They make me wish I had come for a Christian family.
They make me wish I had come from a difference culture or gone to a different school.
They make me feel less than or inferior because of who my parents wee or weren’t.
They make me wish I knew that Christian celebrity (pastor/singer/speaker) like they do.
After they leave, you have this vague, nagging guilt that comes from feeling like you’re not doing enough for God…You’re not evangelizing or praying or reading your Bible enough, you should be fasting more and serving more. They can be subtle but you always feel discouraged instead of encouraged when they go.
They make you second guess what you heard from God and you come away wondering if you even know what the voice of God sounds like.
When you step out and do something new for God they are the first ones to make you feel fear not faith. They are the ones who make you feel you are not quite hitting the mark.
Remember that time you were able to rest in God’s presence? Oh wait, that never happened because you can’t rest, you need to do more….yep especially if they are on the same team.
They make you feel that the pattern of difficult circumstances you have had to face are because you are not doing enough
Criticism is the native language of the legalist. You aren’t aware of God’s grace toward you and you don’t give much grace to others. You’re like a shark who can smell the slightest drop of sin and the water. When you see someone thrashing and struggling with sin, the criticism frenzy begins.
The next time you hear criticism..watch out..you are hearing a dog about to snap at your heels. A religious spirit is disguised in criticism…criticising the church, criticisms the youth, critic ing the pastor, criticising the leadership, criticising the sermon, criticising the songs we sing …danger!!! if there is something that needs critiquing we must be careful that we do not do it in a way that damages the faith of another believer.
Legalism makes you feel that Christianity is a struggle.
The sound of the dog is the sound of religion and legalism. I don’t want to be legalistic. It impacts on how I parent, how I serve, how I love… I can’t be legalistic about my relationship with God. God doesn’t want me to have rigid rituals with Him. In the new covenant, He is more interested in having a relationship with us.
Have you had your ankles snapped at and heard the the snarls and growls of legalism?
What if what I feeling all this when I am around any Christian?
What if one of these people in my life are not dogs/mutilator of nether flesh but actually bringing correction to my stinky attitude and and wanting me to know Jesus better but I can’t tell the difference because I just don’t like being told what to do, and I just don’t like the sting of rebuke.
What if the person I think is legalistic is actually simply living a life of worship but they make me feel unworthy because my theology is wrong and I simply have a broken lens through which I am viewing their life.
Knowing Jesus…nothing else…to know him myself and help others know him. Be on guard for anything else. …. I want to know Christ so I can discern the truth and the truth will not just set me free but keep me free:free of discouragement! free of criticism! free of perfectionism! and free of religion and free from the snarling dogs and knife happy circumcisors!
I want my church to a church of faith builders and encourages not knife happy circumcisors who use their words to damage my soul. It starts with me.