You may recall from our previous studies that we’ve seen how there is to be unity among believers. And in many ways this unity is achieved through humility. Key qualities for the follower of Christ are humility and concern for others.
That’s what we’ve been seeing throughout the second chapter of Philippians.
In verse 2 Paul tells the Philippian believers that his joy would be complete if they were likeminded, of one accord, of one mind. The idea was that they not just think the same but that they would willingly chose to be unified in their actions. Their unity was to be an act of the will. There service for Christ and the advancement of the Gospel of Christ was to be a willing act of service from the heart.
And when humility and concern for others is present in the life of a believer, we learned in verse 3 that unity will be a result—they will be believers marked by a lack of selfish ambition and conceit. Unity will be the result of believers considering other believers as better than themselves. When we think too highly of ourselves we tend to think little of others. True humility and a concern for others will prove itself in a lack of selfishness and pride.
That thought is emphasized in verse 4 where were told not to look out only for ourselves but for the good of others also. To develop a concern for others the follower of Christ must get his eyes off himself and get them on others—to stop being merely focused on his own interests and concerns and to think of the interests and concerns of others.
If we think only of ourselves, worship ourselves and baby ourselves we cannot be likeminded. We will not be looking to the interests of others.
And what Paul did was give the Philippians, and us, the greatest example to live by—Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the spotless and blameless Lamb of God is our example. We are to have the same willingness as Jesus, to serve and give of ourselves with humility that looks out for the interests of others and isn’t selfish and prideful—willing to make ourselves small in our own sight so that we can make Christ great in the sight of others.
Our love for one another is to be based on the love of Christ—we are to have the same love for one another that Christ has for us. And for the follower of Christ, true obedience isn’t merely external obedience but heartfelt, willing obedience. And so when it comes to obedience we can have hope and faith and joy in knowing that it is for God’s glory that we conform ourselves to the likeness of Christ. Because we know that when we do, we will be bright lights that shine in the darkness of the world around us because God is at work in us giving us the desire to do his will and the strength to do his will.
Yes, we will have unity when we willingly obey together and do all things without complaining and disputing (14). It is then we will be able to faithfully hold forth the Word of life to the glory of God. It will be, having done so, that we can look back knowing we have not run in vain or labored in vain (v16).
And unity is important but we must understand that our motivation in all if this is to glorify Christ—to make much of Him in the eyes of others. Paul says it clearly in the first chapter of Philippians when he says in verse 12 that the things that have happened to him have actually turned out to further the gospel. In verse 13 he says that it's obvious to the whole palace guard that his chains are for Christ's sake. He says in verse 14 that the result is that others are more bold to speak the truth without fear because of his chains. In verse 15 he notes that there are even those who preach from envy and strife, some from selfish ambition and others preach from goodwill. And in verse 18 Paul sums it up by saying whether in pretense or in truth Christ is preached.
And this is what he rejoiced in. That in all things Christ was preached. His whole life was wrapped up in making much of Christ in the eyes of others.
I’ve been reading lately, Pastor and author, John Piper’s deeply challenging book entitled, Don’t Waste Your Life. He speaks of the “Christ-exalting paradoxes of life.” There are those who may look at these passages we’ve been studying over the last several weeks and see what they think is the impossible. How does one have true joy by looking out for the needs of others (v4)? How does one truly believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain—as Paul stated back in Philippians 1:21? How are these things possible? Piper speaks of the “Christ-exalting paradoxes of life.”
The life devoted to making much of Christ is costly. And the cost is both a consequence and a means of making much of him. If we do not embrace the path of joy-laden, painful love, we will waste our lives. If we do not learn with Paul the Christ-exalting paradoxes of life, we will squander our days pursuing bubbles that burst. He lived “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing but possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10). The Calvary road is costly and painful, but it is not joyless.1
This, I think is where many Christians struggle. We have a feeling that the Calvary road shouldn’t be painful and costly, but only joy filled. We don’t understand the Christ-exalting paradoxes of life. So when we face the difficulties of life and the difficulties of taking a stand for Christ and our legs wobble under the weight of it all, we don’t understand how we are to have joy in the midst of it all.
But when you truly humble yourself in service to God and others, thinking not only of yourself, and your real passion in life is to make much of Christ in the sight of others—that’s when you realize that though the Calvary road is costly and painful it is not a joyless place to serve.
Piper goes on to say,
When we embrace with joy the cost of following Christ, his worth will shine in the world. The cost itself will become a means of making Christ look great. The apostle Paul had one great passion in life. We have seen him say it several ways: to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2); to boast only in the cross (Galatians 6:14). 2
I think this is what we often miss. We don’t embrace with joy the cost of following Christ. For some of us there is fear in considering the cost—so we’d rather not. We’d rather just float through life and think only of the good things. But what we must learn, as Paul had learned and is teaching us, is that there is real value in the cost of following Christ. It is the way in which we make much of him as bright lights in the darkness.
Piper says more about “Paul's single passion in life and death”,
He talked about his great passion and another way that shows us how the cost of making much of Christ is also the means. He said to the Philippian church, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life for by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:20-21). Here the question is raised and answered: How do you honor Christ by death? How can the cost of losing everything in this world be a means of making much of Jesus? Let's listen carefully to Paul. Christ has called us to live for his glory and to die for his glory. If we know how to die well, we will know how to live well. This text shows both.
Again we see Paul's single passion in life—"that…Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death." If Christ is not made much of in our lives, they are wasted. We exist to make him appear in the world as what he really is—magnificent. If our life and death do not show the worth and wonder of Jesus, they are wasted. This is why Paul said that his aim in life and death was “that…Christ…be honored." 3
I’m afraid if we’re not careful we’ll miss this so I want to make it very clear that this is the whole point all that we’ve studied. It is that in all that we do it is all to be for God’s Glory. Is the church to be unified? Yes and it is for God’s glory. Are we to look out for the needs of others? Yes and it is for God’s glory. Are we to live out our faith? Yes and it is for God’s glory. Are we to stop complaining and disputing? Yes and this too is for God’s glory. And we are to be blameless and harmless children of God for God’s glory. When we do these things as followers of Christ we make much of Christ in the eyes of others. This is to be our passion—to know Christ and make much of him to those who need him so desperately.
We must understand his purpose for leaving us here on earth as followers of Christ is to make him known. And so it is that we can look at the life lived for Christ knowing that there may be difficulty and ridicule and persecution because of the name of Christ but that it will all be worth it because it is all for God’s glory—it is all for the advancement of the gospel of Christ.
So when we come to the passage we find in Philippians 2:17-18 we can make sense of what is says in light of what God has been teaching us from His Word.
We have been learning from Paul the importance of humility. We find this theme in the first six verses of chapter 2. We’re to be likeminded, of one accord, without selfish ambition and conceit, looking on others as better than ourselves and looking out for the interests of others. And Paul makes it clear that Christ is the greatest example of this humility and that God will honor those who live this humility just as He highly exalted Jesus and gave him the name that is above every name (v9).
And remember Paul says we are to work out our own salvation—we are to live our faith—we are to live in a way that is transformed by what God is doing in us. So we are to humbly live out our faith in Christ and we are to do it without complaining or arguing, no matter how difficult life gets.
Now what we find in verses 17 and 18 is that Paul begins to give us the first of three illustrations in how we are to do this humbly living out of our salvation without complaint or argument. We’ll see in this study and the next studies that Paul uses himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus as human object lessons.
We’ve been taught that we are to humbly work out—live out—our salvation with God’s power in us, without complaining and arguing—that’s the instruction, the plan and Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus are going to be the examples of this in real life. Let’s begin with Paul in verses 17 and 18.
17 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.
Paul begins by using himself as an example and we might think this is a little strange after what we learned in the first six verses of chapter 2. True humility is demonstrated in putting others first, isn’t it? Is it strange that Paul uses himself as an illustration of humbly living out your salvation?
First let’s remember that what Paul is writing is inspired by God—it is what God wants him to write. So if God wants Paul to use himself as an illustration this is not out of place.
Second, we might think it’s inappropriate for Paul to use himself as an illustration because we would be hesitant to use ourselves as illustrations of righteous living. We know ourselves like no one else does. But I think what we see in Paul, is a man who is truly spiritual and godly and is walking in real intimacy with the Lord and when this is true of a follower of Christ there is a real lack of self-consciousness. So he is able to honestly use himself as an example of Godly living.
So Paul tells us in verses 17 and 18 that he is gladly giving his life for the name of Christ and he’s experiencing great joy in doing so. Does this seem strange that Paul would say I'm gladly sacrificing my life? That's what he saying here. And this may seem strange to us because we don't understand what sacrifice is. If you were to look up sacrifice in the dictionary you would find the word defined as "the act of losing or surrendering something as a penalty for a mistake or fault or failure to perform."
But to the Philippian believers the word sacrifice painted a very vivid picture. Our culture doesn't have that kind of sacrifice. We've never witnessed the sacrifice of a lamb. But Paul talks about the altar, the animal and the blood and about the suffering and when he speaks of being poured out as a drink offering that is the picture Paul has in mind. He realizes that the life lived for Christ must be a willing sacrifice and he gladly chooses that kind of life.
And what is this drink offering? Both Jews and Gentiles would have understood the implied imagery of a drink offering, or libation, a ritual that was familiar to many ancient people. After placing the sacrificial animal on the altar, the priests would take wine (or sometimes water or honey) and pour it either on the burning sacrifice or on the ground in front of the altar. That act symbolized the rising of the sacrifice into the nostrils of the deity to whom it was being offered. 4
This is the imagery that Paul uses for his own sacrifice—the drink offering. Paul sees his sacrifice as the topping off of another sacrifice—a greater sacrifice. We begin to see this in the words we find in the first part of verse 17 where he says and if I am being poured out. These words in the Greek, if I am, really could be translated “since I am.” I am being poured out—present tense—that’s what this means. Some have interpreted this passage with the idea that Paul was speaking of his future death being a sacrifice. But that’s not what we see here. He is a living sacrifice. He is sacrificing in the present tense. He is already being poured out, paying the price for the gospel of Christ, imprisoned, chained to a Roman soldier. And he willingly goes through these difficulties and others desiring to be a pleasing sacrifice to God.
And Paul sees his sacrifice as the drink offering—the topping off of another sacrifice—a greater sacrifice. Where is that? Look at verse 17 again. Paul says,I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith. He’s saying his sacrifice is the topping off of their sacrifice. And he’s just the drink offering—in his eyes theirs is the greater sacrifice.
Paul knows that though he suffers for Christ the Philippian church also suffers for Christ. They also must endure hardship. In Philippians 1:28 he tells them not to be terrified by their adversaries. And in verse 29 that they will suffer for Christ. And in verse 30 that they will experience the same conflict that he experienced. And Philippians 2:15 reminds us that they were in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. So Paul tells them their sacrifice was significant and his is just the topping off of their sacrifice.
But this is not just a comparison and contrast of a greater and lesser sacrifice. There’s a real sense that Paul and the Philippian believers are unified here in this sacrifice—that it’s really one sacrifice.
It was customary for the sacrifice to be laid out on the alter and then the one who had brought the sacrifice poured out the drink offering as the final element of that one sacrifice. 5
There was real joy in this sacrifice too. Paul says, I am glad and rejoice with you all. It’s a loving bond of unity he has with the Philippian believers that he and they can sacrifice their lives together for the cause of Christ.
The suffering he is expierincing and they are experiencing is a willing and joyful expierince. So much so that Paul tells the Philippian believers that for the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.
He says, “Don’t worry about me, I suffer for the cause of Christ willingly, just like you. We’re in this together. And I do it joyfully and so should you.”
And one of the most important lessons we should learn from this passage is in verse 17 and can be summed up like this—Paul is saying—Since I am being poured out as a drink offering I rejoice. I rejoice because I’m being poured out as a drink offering. Note what Paul isn’t saying. He isn’t saying, “Well you know all the trouble I’m going through and what a painfully difficult time I’m having with it, but, I’m choosing to rejoice in spite of it all.” This is not Paul’s attitude—this is not his experience. He’s saying he is rejoicing because his life is an offering. He’s not joyful in spite of his life being poured out as an offering, he’s joyful because his life is being poured out as an offering.
And don’t we look at what Paul is saying and just wonder, how? How does he do that? How does Paul rejoice in being poured out as an offering? We can’t relate to that. And what’s even more confusing to some of us is that Paul’s own testimony is that he experienced his greatest joy as a result of his greatest sacrifice. And he invites the Philippian believers, and we are invited, to experience this same joy—For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me (v18). We have difficulty understanding Paul’s joy because I think most of us know nothing of that kind of sacrifice.
Warren Wiersbe says,
“I once heard the late Jacob Stam pray, “O Lord, the only thing most of us know about sacrifice is how to spell the word!” 6
We know nothing of the kind of sacrifice that believers all over the world suffer today. We know nothing of the kind of sacrifice that some Chinese Christians have suffered—like the Chinese couple Eric Feldman speaks of meeting in Hong Kong while traveling to China.
“A friend took me down a narrow alley to a second-floor flat to meet a man recently released from prison in China. I knew I would be pressed to carry Bibles and literature on my trip. But I was hesitant and tried to mask my fear with rationalizations about legalities and other concerns. A Chinese man in his 6Os opened the door. His smile was radiant, but his back was bent almost double. He led us to a sparsely furnished room. A Chinese woman of about the same age came in to serve tea. As she lingered, I couldn’t help but notice how they touched and lovingly looked at each other. My staring apparently didn’t go unnoticed, for soon they were both giggling.
“What is it?” I asked my friend. “Oh nothing,” he said with a smile. “They just wanted you to know it was OK—they’re newlyweds.” I learned they had been engaged in 1949, when he was a student at Nanking Seminary. On the day of their wedding rehearsal, Chinese communists seized the seminary. They took the students to a hard-labor prison. For the next 30 years, the bride-to-be was allowed only one visit per year. Each time, following their brief minutes together, the man would be called to the warden’s office. “You may go home with your bride,” he said, “if you will renounce Christianity.”
Year after year, this man replied with just one word; “No.” I was stunned. How had he been able to stand the strain for so long, being denied his family, his marriage, and even his health? When I asked, he seemed astonished at my question. He replied, “With all that Jesus has one for me, how could I betray Him?” The next day, I requested that my suitcase be crammed with Bibles and training literature for Chinese Christians. I determined not to lie about the materials, yet lost not one minute of sleep worrying about the consequences. And as God had planned, my suitcases were never inspected. 7
We don’t know anything about that kind of sacrifice. We know nothing of what the Apostles experienced when they rejoiced as they were living sacrifices for the cause of Christ as they had been beaten bloody. Acts 5:41 says (NLT), The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus.
Are you ready to embrace the sacrifice for the cause of Christ and experience the joy that comes as a result of living a life that is poured out as an offering? Are you facing the “Christ-exalting paradoxes of life” with real joy? Are you living the costly life that makes much of Christ? Is it your passion to live in such a way that exalts the name of Christ in all that you do no matter what the cost?
I ask those questions and I think some of you are thinking, “Yes I see the importance of living that way but how do I do it?”
John MacArthur has said,
You look at trials and difficulties, hard places, physical discomfort, pain and even death as dark and forbidding. But when you get to the point where you totally abandon yourself to the will of God to be pleasing in His sight, nothing is dark, nothing is forbidding, light is shed on everything and ultimate sacrifice leads to ultimate joy. 8
And you might say, “Yes how do I get there—where ultimate sacrifice leads to ultimate joy?” If that’s your desire I want you to know that there’s real joy in the sacrifices you make for Jesus Christ. And if you want to know how to sacrifice your life for Christ, for His honor, to make much of Him in the eyes of others then you must surrender your life to Christ. Paul learned from Jesus what surrender and sacrifice was and so can you.
If it’s your hearts desire to live a life for Christ that makes much of him in the eyes of others, then I would suggest that you cannot do it in your own strength. You cannot find the answers in running everywhere but to God’s Word. We tend to do that. Look for the books and the seminars and the radio and TV programs that answer our problems and we fail to go to The Book.
And you cannot find strength to live the life poured out as an offering for Christ apart from the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.
And you cannot grow strengthened in your faith to live for Him apart from the sweet fellowship you’ll experience when you spend time in prayer with your Heavenly Father.
The follower of Christ must find their strength in him and the unrepentant sinner must turn to Christ and be saved.
He is at work in you giving you the desire and the strength to live the life that makes much of him in the sight of others. For the one who has not trusted Christ his desire is for you to believe in him today and be saved.
1 John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, Crossway Books, © 2003, Pg. 63-64
4 John MacArthur, Heaven's Heroes–Part 1, Tape GC 50-24
6 Warren Wiersbe, God Isn’t In a Hurry, Baker Books; Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p. 22.
7 Eric Fellman, Moody Monthly, January, 1986, p. 33
8 John MacArthur, Philippians Comentary