Verse 11 begins a new section in this letter, a section which continues until verse 22. In the previous section Paul had viewed his readers against the background of spiritual death and how God had provided spiritual life and its blessings for them. In this new section he views his readers against the background of the division between Jew and Gentile and describes how God has brought them together in the church.
So Paul begins this section by mentioning the contempt which Israelites had for Gentiles. The Jews boasted in the fact that they had a physical mark which showed that they were the people of God. They regarded the Gentiles as unclean and detached from God and used the term ‘Uncircumcised’ to describe them. Daily they thanked God that they were not Gentiles.
Paul agreed that the Gentiles were far from God, but he also knew that the rite of Jewish circumcision in itself was of no value. This is why he calls it ‘circumcision made by hands’.
The Jews had forgotten that circumcision was a sign of grace, of God’s commitment to an unworthy people, and of their dependence on him. Instead they became self-righteous and imagined that they were better than others. In doing so, they turned an ordinance of God into a meaningless ritual.
Of course, something similar has happened with baptism throughout the Christian world. Baptism is a sign of grace, of God’s commitment to an unworthy people, and of their dependence on him. But for many it has become a mark of which they are proud because it distinguishes them from others, that it indicates they are no longer heathens. Such an outlook reveals a failure to understand the significance of baptism.
Paul recognised that circumcision was a physical picture of a spiritual reality. It illustrated circumcision of the heart, where a person was dedicated to God. In Philippians 3:3, he writes: ’For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’