Philippians 3:1-6 – Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
One thing that kills joy quicker than anything is religion. Man-made religion is the human attempt to control God and others by making rules, judging others, and meting out punishment.
A religious spirit permeates everything from world religions to cults and legalistic Christians. That same religious spirit also permeates everything from politics to social causes and sports teams. We idolize the people like us as good and demonize the people unlike us as bad.
Paul speaks against joy killing religion with three strong images. He calls them mutilators who scar people. He calls them evildoers, which would have shocked them entirely. And, he calls them dogs which was likely a pejorative slander that religious people used for others. If you have a nice pet who wags its tail and chases a frisbee like we do, don’t be troubled. What Paul is referencing are mangy flea infested wild dogs who bark all night, rummage through the trash, terrorize people, and will even eat a human corpse if they stumble across one. In speaking of this same religious spirit in Galatians 5:15, Paul says they “bite and devour”. Their words and works are like a dog bites as they chew people up.
Before meeting Jesus, Paul tells us that he was a mutilating, evildoing, religious dog himself. According to the religious rules of his day, he was born into the right family as a direct descendant of Abraham with a pure bloodline with a Hebrew mother and father. Coming from the tribe of Benjamin also made him a varsity Pharisee as that was the only son born in the promised land and became the most faithful tribe of Israel. Additionally, Paul knew both Old Testament languages – Aramaic and Hebrew. And, Paul was good at harassing people, arresting people, and even killing people in the name of God. Today, we’d call him a religiously motivated terrorist.
After achieving the highest honors in the religious world, Paul was not only dangerous, he was also cheerless. After climbing to the top of the ladder, he realized it was on the wrong wall and did not find joy until Jesus found him. His testimony is warning to us that religion kills rejoicing.
How is religion killing your rejoicing?