A LIFE WELL SPENT – Philippians 2:17-18
A LIFE WELL SPENT
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 2, specifically, Philippians 2:17-18.
Reflection | Paul has just issued a rousing invitation to the Philippians, beckoning them to light up the night – to brighten the darkness of this world by refusing to grumble or complain. He concludes this charge by calling them to “hold firmly to the word of life” so that at Christ’s return it would be clear that he “did not run in vain or labor in vain” (v. 16). Paul here is not conveying that his salvation somehow depends on the Philippians. He just doesn’t want to end this life empty-handed when it comes to his relationship with them.
Facing the possibility of public execution, Paul exhorts the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner that will glorify Christ and thus prove the fruitfulness of his, Paul’s, ministry. But it is not pride or some effort at self-validation that motivates this appeal by Paul. As today’s passage reveals, it is love – Paul’s love for the Philippians.
In another one of this letter’s more intimate moments, Paul bears his heart: “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (v. 17). In the world of the Roman citizens of Philippi, they probably understood Paul’s reference to “a drink offering” as referring to the pagan practice of wine being poured out as an act of worship to a god. Rooted in the culture of ancient Greece, when someone wanted to seek an audience with their god, they would pour out some of their wine as a sacrifice that would help “pave the way” for their prayer. Over time, this became an inherent custom for a worshipper – to pour out just a bit of each cup they drank, almost as a little “tithe” or offering to their god.
Paul’s word picture, however, likely goes even deeper than this. He also is drawing this imagery from biblical references when wine was poured out on the place of sacrifice. In Genesis 35:14, when Jacob set up the pillar for worship at Bethel, he consecrated it by “pouring out a drink offering on it.” A similar ritual is outlined in Exodus 29 as part of sacrifices made in the then, Tabernacle and later, Temple in Jerusalem. The Levitical priests were to pour out a hin (roughly a gallon) of wine along with the lamb as part of the burnt offering. Being poured on the burning sacrifice on the altar, this liquid immediately would turn to steam, giving off a sweet fragrance from the offering in the process.
This vivid image encapsulates Paul’s perception of his life. He understands all of his daily work, the very essence of his being and doing as an offering to the Lord. But let us notice the synergy being invoked as Paul applies this picture to his relationship with the Philippians. Paul views the energy and effort he exerts for Christ as being connected to and not separate from the “sacrifice and service” coming from the faith of the Philippians. In other words, he is being poured out for them. His labors on their behalf are intended to sweeten, to bring fragrance to the offering of their lives for Jesus.
Notice, Paul doesn’t resent this. Not at all. He rejoices in this. Paul’s attitude is one of gladness and rejoicing. And in the same way, he sees them being bound in sacrifice and service, Paul invites the Philippians to mirror his outlook on all of this: “So you too should be glad and rejoice with me” (v. 18). For Paul, joy comes through sacrifice and service made on behalf of others for the sake of their relationship with Christ & His Kingdom. Joy comes as we work together – sacrificing for and serving each other – in order to share Jesus with the world.
The truth is, all of our lives are being poured out. In every moment, with every choice, with each decision, in whatever we do, we are giving of ourselves. Our time and our focus, our energy and our effort, our experience and our resources are constantly being directed somewhere. The question is not if but in what or in whom are our lives being poured out?
Many of us pour out our lives in the pursuit of our own pleasure, security, and dreams. In the moment, this feels right and can reap some rewards. But eventually as the hours and the days, the weeks and the years roll by and the end of this life draws near, such pursuits prove themselves to be a waste of our potential rather than an investment in our future. We are created not to achieve glory for ourselves that will fade in the span of a few decades but rather to glorify God through the advancement of love and grace that is everlasting. And we cultivate these divine gifts through the sacrifices we make and the service we give to others – following a path that already has been pioneered for us by Jesus Christ.
Consider & Discuss | Paul was ‘poured out’ so that others would be filled up. Where do you resist being poured out for the benefit of others? What are you sacrificing in service for Christ? What have you said, “No” to in order to say, “Yes” to God’s desire to work in and through you?
Prayer Focus | Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Paul, who poured his life out as a drink offering over the faith of these self-sacrificing saints in Philippi. By your grace and out of the work of Your Spirit in us, may we live our lives together as a living sacrifice in service to others. Direct us in expressing and sharing Your love and grace, no matter the cost, for the joy of knowing that in so doing, we are following Jesus and bringing You praise and glory. Amen.