“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!”
Three descriptions of false teachers surface in verse 2. We have already examined “Beware of dogs.” All three portraits involve false teachers. We have a warning for each characterization—”Beware.”
“Beware of evil workers”
The second description of false teachers is that they were evil workers. They were religious workers. Their religion was deceitful work. It was deceitful because it distorted the true gospel and Christian life. Paul again called religious workers deceptive:
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:13)
Their legalism was an evil work. It was a façade for a real relationship with the Lord. They were absorbed in self-righteousness and human effort. They worked hard at enslaving others in their chains of pride. Pride corrupted their work. This is a warning against the legalistic message.
“Beware of the mutilation!”
This phrase reveals the message of these false teachers. The mutilation is a reference to circumcision. The word “mutilation” comes from two words, “to cut” and “down.” It means to cut off. This probably means the removal of the foreskin. Paul was using this phrase contemptuously for the Jewish circumcision in contrast to true spiritual circumcision of the heart (v.3).
The Word of God views any form of legalism as “dogs,” “evil work,” and “mutilation.” Legalism is self-effort versus God’s effort. It glories in the energy of the flesh and the endeavors of man. It mutilates the Christian way of life. The grace of God glorifies God because God does the doing.
“As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised.” (Gal. 6:12)
Legalism is no benign tumor.
Legalism is a cancerous tumor that will terminate a dynamically spiritual life. Beware! Are you caught up in what you offer God? Are you impressed with yourself? Do you view yourself as a spiritual superstar? Are you loaded with rules that make you look good? Are you out to impress others? Beware! Self-righteousness plunders a powerful Christian life that looks to God to provide in grace.