This morning I want us to look at the theological significance of Paul's description of the church of Jesus Christ as the "true circumcision."
Philippians 3:3 (NASB) for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
In the beginning of verse 3, Paul says, "For we are the true circumcision." The "we" is a reference to Paul and the Philippian Christians. But what Paul says of them is true of all Christians. Theologically, this is very significant. This is Paul's description of the church of Jesus Christ. The church is the "true circumcision."
We saw in our study of Philippians 3:1-2, the significance of circumcision to the Old Covenant Jews. Genesis 17, teaches us that circumcision was given as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant. In Exodus 12:44, we see that it was carried over into the Mosaic covenant. As it developed down through the history of Israel and even into the time of our Lord, it became very clear that "the circumcision" was a title, a technical designation of the children of Israel. Jews were synonymously called "the circumcision." There are many passages in Acts and some in Paul's letters in which instead of saying, "Israel" or "the Jews," they are simply called "the circumcision."
Acts 10:45 (NKJV) And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
The Jews who are called "the circumcision" were astonished because the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles.
Acts 11:2-3 (NKJV) And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcisioncontended with him, 3 saying, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!"
The Jews, "the circumcision," were upset because Paul ate with the uncircumcised, the Gentiles.
Romans 3:30 (NKJV) since there is one God who will justify the circumcisedby faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
The circumcision" was simply a way of saying "Israelites" or "Jews." The "uncircumcisied," we the Gentiles.
Galatians 2:8-9 (NKJV) (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), 9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Peter went to the Jews, "the circumcision," and Paul went to the Gentiles, "the uncircumcised."
Ephesians 2:11 (NKJV) Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh; who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcisionmade in the flesh by hands;
Colossians 4:10-11 (NKJV) Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me.
The term "the circumcision" was a technical designation for Israel. The significance of this should not be lost in Philippians 3:2-3. Paul says, "These Jews are not 'the circumcision' they are in fact the mutilators."
Who then is "the circumcision"? Paul tells us in Philippians 3:3, it is those who "worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."This is the Church, Christians, true believers. Paul is saying that the church is the "true circumcision," the true Israel, and the true Jew.
Someone may ask, "Isn't a Jew someone who descended physically from Abraham, and as a sign of his covenant relationship with God had the mark of circumcision?" Paul seems to be telling us that the "true circumcision" is not determined by ethnic derivation, not determined by the blood flowing in your veins, but rather by the faith that is in your heart. It's a matter of circumcision of the heart.
The majority of the nation of Israel rejected Jesus Christ at his first Advent, but he was accepted by the "little flock," the disciples and others. They were what constituted the believing remnant in the unbelieving nation as a whole. Throughout the Old Testament, even in times of extreme unbelief, there was always a remnant. Elijah thought he was all alone, but he wasn't:
Romans 11:3-4 (NKJV) "LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal."
God always has His remnant. And at the time of Israel's national rejection of the Messiah, there still was a remnant who put their trust in Jesus Christ. The little flock that accepted Him were the believing remnant within the unbelieving nation:
Romans 9:6 (NKJV) But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
All are not Israel who are from the nation Israel. There is a true Israel, a believing remnant, within the nation Israel. He was telling them that physical decent didn't mean that you were the true people of God.
John 10:16 (NKJV) "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flockand one shepherd.
Jesus is talking here to the Jews, and the other sheep that he says he has are the Gentiles. There is only one flock made up of Jews and Gentiles who form one body, the true people of God. Jesus saw the realization of Israel's true destiny in the circle of His disciples, they are not a new Israel, that are not a different body but the true Israel, the believing remnant.
Matthew 16:18-19 (NKJV) "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Jesus was not prophesying some completely different body of believers cut off from the Old Covenant people. Who were the people to whom He spoke these words? Who made up the early church? Jews made up the nucleus. They played a very important function in redemptive history. Not only were they the believing remnant of Old Testament Israel who accepted Christ, but they were also the nucleus of the emerging church and those to whom the promises of Israel were fulfilled.
Point: Those disciples who made up the nucleus of the emerging church stand in direct continuity with Old Testament Israel. We are not to think that the church is a temporary interruption in God's prophetic purpose for Israel. It is, in fact, the progressive continuation of that purpose. The church is not some new, entirely different, and distinct covenant body of people but rather the maturation of the believing remnant of Israel.
If you are familiar with dispensational theology, you know that it teaches that God has two peoples, Israel and the church, with two separate destinies, one earthly and one heavenly. This is not what the Bible teaches. The church is not a separate and distinct entity from Israel but we are the Israel, of God.
Philippians 3:3 does not stand in isolation in the New Testament.
Romans 11:17-20 (NKJV) And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.
What I want you to see here is that there is only one olive tree, there is only one root. The natural branches, which stands for ethnic Israel, have been broken off because of their rejection of Jesus Christ. But the unnatural branches, which are the Gentiles, have been grafted in. God did not go out and plant another tree, He put us in the one olive tree of true Israel.
Romans 11:17 (NKJV) And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree,
We, Gentiles, were grafted in with them, Israel, and with them partake of the root of the olive tree. Paul taught that the Gentiles in the Church shared in the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant with Israel.
Ephesians 2:11-12 (NKJV) Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh; who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands; 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
What is "at that time" of verse 12? It is prior to Christ's first advent. They were without hope because they were aliens from Israel.
Ephesians 2:13 (NKJV) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
What were they brought near to? They were brought near to the commonwealth of Israel and the covenants and promises.
Ephesians 2:14-16 (NKJV) For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.
Ephesians 2:19 (NKJV) Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
Believing Gentiles have been admitted as citizens into the commonwealth of Israel. We partake of their promises and blessings.
Galatians 3:16 (NKJV) Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ.
The promises were to one Seed who was Christ. Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham.
Galatians 3:26-29 (NKJV) For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
If you by faith belong to Christ, you are Abraham's seed and an heir according to the promise. It doesn't matter who's blood you have in your veins, but who's faith you have in your heart. It is covenant, not race, that makes one a Jew.
Who is a true Jew? Is it ethnic background that makes you a Jew? NO! Many people today still consider the Jewish people as a race but there is no Jewish race today. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the nation of Israel, after the flesh, was scattered throughout the earth, and lost all tribal relations. This scattering was made immutable due to the fact that all tribal genealogical records were destroyed with the Temple in A.D. 70. The simple fact is that there is no existing Jewish race. Consider the following quotation from
The Encyclopedia Britannica (1973)
The Jews As A Race: The findings of physical anthropology show that, contrary to the popular view, there is no Jewish race. Anthropornetric measurements of Jewish groups in many parts of the world indicate that they differ greatly from one another with respect to all the important physical characteristics." (vol. 12, page 1054)
If you are in Christ, then you are a true spiritual Jew. In 1 Peter 1:1 and James 1:1, the designation "the dispersion" is used for the Church. It is a technical term for Israel.
1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
Who is Peter writing to? The Church, believers. All of these terms are taken right out of the Old Testament, they were technical designations for the covenant people, Israel. Peter is saying, "You believers are the covenant people of God."
Revelation 1:6 (NKJV) and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Who is the "us"? It is believers, all believers. That phrase comes from Exodus 19:6 and it is used when God, on Mount Sinai, constituted Israel as His theocratic community. The terms which God gave to Israel are now applied to us, that's why Paul says that we are the true circumcision.
Are we redefining what constitutes a Jew? No, Paul did!
Romans 2:28-29 (NKJV) For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Being a Jew has nothing to do with ethnic background, it has to do with being in a covenant relationship with God by faith.
Zionism -- is a political movement built on the belief that the Jewish people deserve, by right, to possess the land of Palestine as their own. Do they? No! Modern unbelieving Jews have absolutely no theological, and therefore, no historical and legal right to the land of Palestine. There are no racial Jews today, and those who hold to the Jewish religion are anti Christ.
Christian Zionism is blasphemy. Christians have no theological stake whatsoever in the modern State of Israel. Religious Israelites are anti-God because they are anti-Christ. Judaism is a cult, and unless they turn to Christ, they will spend eternity in the Lake of fire. Look at what John wrote about the Christ rejecting Jews of his day.
Revelation 2:9 (NKJV) "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Jesus said that an unbelieving Jew was of the synagogue of Satan. A true Jew, a true Israelite is one who has trusted in Jesus Christ and has been circumcised in heart.
Those who are the Israelites of God's prophetic purpose are not those who are Jews ethnically or outwardly. But those who are the Israelites of God's prophetic purpose are those who are Jews spiritually and inwardly.
Galatians 6:14-16 (NKJV) But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
We, believers, are the Israel of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
The church is not a temporary interruption in God's prophetic program for Israel. The church is the prophetic fulfillment of that program, because the church is Israel. Covenant, not race, has always been the defining mark of the true Israel of God.
Philippians 3:3, in context, is teaching that fleshly accomplishments don't matter to God, race doesn't matter to God. The true circumcision, the true Jew, the true Israel of God are those who trust completely and only in Jesus Christ. The true believer worships by the Spirit of God, rejoices in Christ Jesus, and has no confidence in the flesh.