A little over nine years ago, Heather and I took a trip to the top of Sand Mountain, up in the northeast corner of Alabama. If you’ve never been to Sand Mountain, let’s just say that it is not a destination location! You don’t really go visit just for the sake of visiting. But we had a purpose. We were looking for a dog, for a beagle. We were about to start our life together and we both wanted a dog. When we found the breeder’s house, we got out of the car, and before we knew it, we were surrounded by 8 or 9 beagle puppies. If you’re a dog guy like me, there’s nothing quite like being surrounded by a bunch of roly-poly puppies. The hardest thing about that trip to Sand Mountain was trying to pick just one pup, but pick one we did, and Gator has been a faithful member of our home ever since.
He’s changed a bit in the last 9 years. He’s fat. His face has started to turn gray. He has really bad breath, and he has become the loudest snorer in our house. But he’s still faithful, barking when the doorbell rings, cleaning the floor from any crumbs that get dropped, and sitting at the top of the stairs waiting for us when he hears the garage door open. He’s not one to strike fear into the heart of an intruder, and he definitely is not one to warrant a “Beware of the Dog” sign.
But not all dogs are overgrown lap dogs. Not all are quite so charming. Some are downright nasty. The first time I went to Jamaica, I spent a month in the capital city of Kingston. In that big city, dogs are anything but pets. Millions of stray dogs roam the streets, looking mangy and emaciated, rummaging through trash and looking for any opportunity to steal food left unattended. And though they mostly avoid contact with people, you get the sense that if provoked, they would attack. It was common to see dogs fighting with one another over the tiniest scrap of food. The Jamaicans would throw rocks at the dogs if they got too close. These canines were bad news and nobody wanted anything to do with them.
In Philippians 3, Paul warns the church to “beware of the dogs.” When he does so, he is not referring to the house dogs or the hunting dogs or the herding dogs, all bred with a special function and form. He is referring to the strays, the mutts, the thieves that would come where they were not welcome and take what did not belong to them.
In all actuality, he was not referring to dogs at all, but was making a striking comparison between vicious stray dogs and the false preachers that made a mockery of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were men who prided themselves on adding to the gospel. They were just like dogs, sneaking in where they were not wanted and stealing that which did not belong to them. They preached a gospel of works, not a gospel of grace. In Paul’s mind, they were no better than stray dogs looking to steal – and if necessary, kill.
We have just as many dogs running around today, people adding to the gospel of Christ. They add layers of legalism and religion, demanding that true Christians submit to their narrow-minded “dogma” or else. The scriptures remind us that salvation is gained by faith in Jesus Christ, not through any religiously motivated act or deed. It is not attained by Jesus + some activity; it is attained by Christ alone. Anyone who would tell you differently is no better than a mangy, stray dog stealing food from a child’s mouth.
We put “Beware of the Dogs” signs up for a reason, to protect others from harm. Paul has given us one of those signs today. We would do well to pay attention!
Beware of the Dogs!