I know it’s Halloween but even the stores are gearing up for Christmas. My passage today makes me think of Christmas Carols, especially “Joy to the World.” The joy of the Lord is our strength! As long as we remain firmly seated in God’s love for us we remain firmly planted in the Joy of the Lord. It keeps us safe from temptations and assaults from the enemy in so many 25 joydifferent ways. It’s a shield to us and it protects us and we find safety under its wings. This is why Paul repeats the idea of joy so often in this short epistle. To the casual reader it might become redundant and a little tedious to hear the idea repeated so often, but Paul said in Philippians 3:1 that he has chosen to camp on the idea of the joy of the Lord and to repeat himself because his constant reminders, if heeded, will keep us safe. There are many, many dangers to our joy in the Lord in this world and in Philippians 3:2 he lists three of them. He writes, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.”

The Jews often referred to Gentiles as dogs because like the wild dogs of the day they fed on unclean road kill and carrion and filth which pictured the unclean in Jewish society. But Paul uses their very term for Gentiles to refer to them. It’s not the Gentiles who were the Goyim (dogs) it was the Judaizers who stood outside the covenant blessings that were promised to Abraham by faith. The Jews considered themselves “righteous” and workers of “the law.” But Paul reverses their charge by pointing out that the Judaizers were actually “evil workers” who distracted others from true righteousness by grace through faith to a works based system which they failed to observe themselves. When Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he described the self-mutilation that they practiced to call down the favor of their gods. It’s this very term that Paul uses to describe the circumcision that the Judaizers believed separated them from the Gentiles. It was their greatest source of pride. But Paul reverses all their attacks on the unclean Gentiles and points them directly at the Judaizers. It’s Paul’s warnings not only to the Judaizers of his day but to us if we should venture to add legalistic requirements to the Gospel of God’s marvelous Grace.”

Watch out for the newly legalisms of our day; don’t do this! Don’t do that! There are so many it makes our heads swim and robs us of our joy. Trying to conform to the specific choices of others around us we find ourselves losing the joy of the Lord. But there is safety in the Joy of the Lord! Hughes says, “to be so full of joy that no other offers appeal to us, to have tasted what is good so deeply that we have no taste for the allurements of the tempter, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Truly Joy is the currency of those “who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:2).