Paul begins by reminding them of a warning. He wants to safeguard them against a certain false teaching. The particular false teaching he’s referring to is that from the circumcision group, most likely the same teaching referred to in Galatians, Titus and other letters. Most of the early Christians were Jews and they had a difficult time accepting that Gentiles could also now be part of God’s people. Some were insisting that people had to be circumcised to be saved. But Paul condemns such thoughts. Those who teach such things are dogs, they are men who do evil, they are mutilators of the flesh, from vs 2. The use of the term dogs is significant, because this was the way Jews often referred to Gentiles, but instead here Paul is turning the insult around. It is not them who are the true circumcised people, the true people of God are those with circumcised hearts – in others words, people who put their hope in Christ and follow him rather than trusting in [how much of their genitals they still have] the flesh – and as I’ve heard said before, it’s an awfully small bit of flesh to put your confidence in..
Paul doesn’t put his confidence in the flesh, and he’s got more reason than anyone to do so. He lists them in vss 5-6: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” These were all the things he used to pride himself in. He used to put his confidence in the fact that he was a Jew, and a zealous, righteous Jew at that. But since Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Paul has known that it’s not about circumcision or legalism or birthright. It’s about Jesus dying and rising again, and granting his Spirit to those who put their faith in him – whatever their background.
I’d be very surprised if there was anyone here today who was constantly troubled by the temptation to put their confidence in the fact that they are circumcised or a Pharisee or of the Tribe of Benjamin. But that doesn’t mean that this passage can’t be a warning for us as well.