Undoubtedly, our greatest spiritual example apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the Apostle Paul. Indeed, under inspiration he tells us more than once to imitate him as he imitates Christ (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:1). This is because the Lord intends the sinner Paul to be a most fitting example to other sinners for how to live the Christian life! Certainly, understanding the Lord Jesus lived as He did not out of His deity but His utter dependence on the Spirit is encouraging to us, and shows that a holy life is most attainable if we depend on the Lord’s power. However, Jesus had no sin nature with which to contend, so His trust in His Father and dependence on the Spirit experienced no hindrances, interruptions, or setbacks. This is why, I think, the Lord has written the Scripture to include other sinners as our examples of fruitful Christian living.
This section of Philippians expands upon the call to sanctification in 2:12-13 and the theme verse of 1:27 by giving us three illustrations of lives lived worthy of the gospel. We begin with the apostle Paul.
Since an outline was not given for this message, I will simply explain the text by verse.
The entire section starting in verse 14 is shot through with OT sacrificial imagery. “Blameless” and “above reproach” are terms used of proper animal sacrifices; the “drink offering” is a key part of certain sacrifices in the OT. This is illuminated by Paul’s words in Romans 15, where he describes the Gentile mission in these terms: “[I am] ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v. 16). (It is likely the verb “written” in verse 15 connects grammatically with “sanctified,” implying that Paul’s written words, those of Scripture, are the primary means to the sanctification of souls.) Paul’s goal was to offer to God a sanctified people from the nations. Indeed, he says that he labors diligently to the point of exhaustion for their progress and joy in the faith (1:12). His whole life is not merely to get people saved, but to disciple them and mature them, as this is the heart of the Great Commission. This is why Paul says, “the sacrifice and service of your faith.” He looks at the Philippians as proper living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) who are “always obey[ing]” (Phil. 2:12) and proving themselves blameless children of God in the midst of a crooked world. He is happy. His heart’s desire has been accomplished!
But what of the drink offering? When an animal was sacrificed, often God would command that a drink offering—made of at least wine and sometimes additional ingredients—would be poured out on top of or beside the altar. The heat from the fire would make the wine evaporate into steam, symbolizing the appeasing and sweet-smelling savor of the sacrifice to God. Moreover, this drink offering capped or completed the sacrifice—it was not finished without it! So what does Paul mean? He looks at the lives of the Philippians as a blameless, acceptable sacrifice. They have offered themselves to God and He has accepted them. Paul’s life of “dying daily” (1 Cor. 15:31) to enable their obedience and sanctification is the drink offering! Why? Two grammatical hints make this clear. First, the ”if” in Greek is a first-class conditional, meaning it can be translated “since” or “because” since the idea is “if this is true (and it is).”
Second, “poured out” is present tense. This is not something that will happen in the future; it is already going on and likely has been for some time. Some commentators wish to restrict the pouring out to Paul’s potential martyrdom as he waits for Nero’s decision in his house arrest. But Paul clearly expected to be released soon, not die (e.g., 1:25, 2:24; cf. Philemon 22). While it is true that Paul perceived his martyrdom as the pinnacle of a life offered to the Lord for the sanctification of others (2 Tim. 4:6), the crown upon a life of sacrifice, he is not talking about that here. Here, he is saying his death to self every day, alongside all the other sacrifices he must make (Phil. 3:8, 2 Cor. 7:5, 11:23-29), is the crown of the sacrifice the Philippians themselves are. His poured-out life is spilled out upon theirs, and God is pleased.
But we mustn’t draw too bold a line between Paul’s daily death and his ultimate sacrifice by an executioner’s sword. Certainly, he is happy to crown his life with spilling his blood for Christ—after all, death is gain to him (1:21). And if Nero’s decision during the house arrest meant Paul’s death, he would have accepted it with joy and seen it as the capstone to a life of offering himself up wholly for God’s program. And this joy at being offered up for the Lord’s plan spilled over in abundance to his daily life juts as it would his death. Look again at the end of verse 17: “Since I am being poured out…I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” He rejoices because he is being poured out! What madness is this?! Paul, you’ve lost everything. You have been castigated by fellow Pharisees. You have “suffered the loss of all things.” How can you be joyful? Because he is living for what will last! He is rescuing people from the conflagration of wrath that he writes is soon to come. He is helping people get to heaven and be acquitted at the judgment so they can live forever with God on a real, resurrected glorious earth. Doubtless Paul knew that with the inbreaking of the kingdom of God into the world the church ought to be an image of the future glory and so blessing and answered prayer and restoration ought to shine in our lives. But if God chooses to give starving instead of feasting, aloneness instead of close relationships, poverty instead of a comfortable bank account, he could be content (Phil. 4:11-12). He is willing to suffer loss and have a hard life if it means souls from the nations who have been blinded to the true God will be rescued from Satan and sin and judgment and set free to glorify their loving Creator and live as He intended them to. That is what brings Paul indomitable joy—and the fact that he was once a rebel and a persecutor and now is being used to further God’s program!
Paul closes by saying he wants the Philippians to rejoice with him in the same way and share their joy with him. Both verbs are in the present tense. He is calling them to rejoice as a lifestyle! I think this ties back to the “sacrifice and service” of their faith mentioned in verse 17. Do you remember that a sacrifice had to die? Is dying fun? Death is unto resurrection and abundant life, but it is still dying. It is still loss. Sometimes it is the loss of something very dear to us—a dream, a relationship, a sin that feels very natural and pleasurable. This sense of loss is not necessarily wrong. In fact, it is very human. But we must die “by faith,” sacrificing what God asks us to surrender, trysting that His ways and plans are far better. We must trust Him! And does not the trust usher us into joy—closer fellowship with our Savior, being more greatly used by Him, seeing His power of resurrection and blessing and restoration, seeing His glorious sufficiency in the loss of all things, knowing the very purpose for which you were made (glorifying your Lord and Creator), having the hope of a perfect heaven to anticipate? Is this not rich joy? Does it not make any sacrifice and service and inconvenience and loss worth it? Which would you have—that precious thing and be outside the will and fellowship of God, or lose it and have joy and much more besides?
Paul here is exhorting them to “excel still more,” to continue working out their salvation, to grow and flourish in Christ. For that is the only way they can rejoice as a lifestyle. Growth in holiness leads to greater fellowship with God, more answered prayer, and more blessing. As our minds are renewed and His priorities and values become ours, we become more joyful and more content, and less frustrated, because He no longer has to be at cross purposes with us and let our desires go unfulfilled. When God sanctifies your desires to be like His, you will know an intimacy and union with Him like never before! The exhortation to rejoice is not merely an exhortation to sanctification in having the joy itself—which is a fruit of the Spirit and must often be based upon unseen spiritual realities, not our circumstances—but is a call to sanctification in that only greater holiness can bring the greatest joy.
And this will only make the Philippians a more perfect sacrifice, and bring Paul more joy, and make him only the more willing to spend himself for them and others like them—and to bring the saved and the unsaved alike into the place of great glory and blessing the Philippians have reached.
So how is Paul our model? Isn’t it here, in verse 18? Paul calls them (and us) to rejoice in the same way. And how does he rejoice? By utterly spending himself to bring other Christians to a place of overflowing holiness and sacrifice for God. Isn’t this a call to radically reorient our values, priorities, use of time, perspective, and many other things? Isn’t this a call to prize what God prizes, to be pure and holy ourselves to be most effectively used by Him, to greater love for other Christians instead of self-concern and apathy?
O how few of us exhibit this radical commitment, so unlike Paul! Yet the Holy Spirit tells us to pursue our joy in the same way. May God help us to answer His call by giving ourselves to make other people ready for not only an acceptable (daily!) offering, but for the Wedding to our glorious Bridegroom (Eph. 5:26-27)!