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Paul is an Example You Can Follow
Living Examples, part 1–Philippians 2:17-18
Some of you are in big trouble. You think what God requires of Christians is impossible, so you stop trying in your heart, or you give up pursuing Christ altogether. You just get by. It is like the salesperson who is responsible for $50,000 worth of sales last year. So the boss comes to you and says, “Well, you did well last year–$50,000 was good, so this year we will increase that by $5,000 to $55,000 and you think, “Okay—tough, but manageable.”
But if the boss comes to you and says, “$50,000 was good, but this year your quota is $500,000.” Your jaw drops and he affirms, “Yes Chris, that’s a half million in sales for next year!” There are two responses to that scenario: 1) you stop trying to hit quota, or 2) you quit your job. And that’s exactly the way Christians respond when they begin to realize what God expects of them as born again followers. They stop trying or quit in their hearts, leading to a life of mediocrity and boredom.
But there is a third response–the right reaction, which God desires. When you were saved, you came to realize you could not save yourself. You had to depend completely on Christ and His work on the cross on your behalf. You engaged your will, turned from your sin and depended on Christ alone by faith.
Now as a Christian, it is the same. You can’t live the Christian life, you can’t live holy, you can’t walk worthy–God must do it through you. So don’t give up trying to meet God’s holy quota. Don’t quit pursuing Christ in your heart, but step out in obedience by faith, in an act of your will and completely depend on Christ by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. You say, “Lord, I can’t but you can.” You saturate your mind with Scripture, confess all known sin, seek to be a humble servant in all things choosing to obey but relying on the Spirit.
Don’t stop trying to meet the impossible quota of a holy life. Don’t give up in your heart over that sinful bent. Don’t tell the Lord it’s impossible to forgive that hurtful person. Don’t think for a moment you can’t develop a Christ-like quality. No–learn the Word, willfully obey as you fully depend on the Spirit to work through you as you seek to grow.
Paul just told us how to live a worthy walk in Philippians 2:12 to 16. Live obediently (verse 12), depend upon a sovereign God (verse 13), guard your mouth (verse 14), live holy in order to be a witness (verse 15), and depend on the living Word of God (verse 16). But you say, “I can’t”–and that is true, but Christ can through you as you depend and obey.
But you say, “Chris, I don’t know how?” Thankfully, Paul hears you–he now affirms you can live a worthy walk. And I will show you how, through three living examples—1) Paul, an apostle, 2) Timothy, a young minister, and 3) Epaphroditus, a layman. Paul says, “I just gave you the principle, now here is the pattern. I just gave you the instruction, now here are three illustrations.
These three models, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus, are all together in the writing of this letter in Rome. Paul was a prisoner under house arrest in Rome. Epaphroditus was sent from the Philippian church to minister to Paul’s needs in Rome. And Timothy, Paul’s son in the faith, is with Paul in Rome.
So they were all geographically together, ministerially together, and they are knit together in heart, all working for one common goal–that Christ would be exalted in the Philippians. So there’s a deep camaraderie and love bound up in these three men toward this special church. All three illustrate humble, sacrificial service.
They are all living out Philippians 2:1 to 16, so all three model the worthy walk truths. Yet at the same time each example is unique. Each proves walking worthy is possible, and like each one of you they each display a worthy walk in a unique manner. All three are living out 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
So how is Paul a living example of a worthy walk? How is Paul a pattern each of you today can follow? Read verses 17 to 18 from Philippians chapter 2. “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.”
#1 UNDERSTANDING THE PICTURE
Paul is using a potent image. The verb translated “poured out” is a technical word for a certain part of a pagan (and Jewish) sacrificial offering. A Greek or Roman performing such an offering would first kill a valuable animal, then burn it on an altar. Following this sacrifice, the ancient worshiper would make an additional offering called a libation.
He would take a cup of wine or honey or water and pour it on the altar, thus pouring it upon the sacrifice that was already burning. Because the altar was super hot, the libation would immediately disappear in a puff of steam. In verse 17, Paul is describing this libation offering, the additional one, the liquid one, which turns to steam.
Paul says in verse 17, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.” What he is saying is, I know you are worried about me because I am in prison in Rome and my life may soon be offered up as a sacrifice upon a pagan altar. But my life is not the important thing–the important thing is your faith. Your faith is the substantial and valuable offering–the main offering.
“When I’m killed,” Paul says, “it’ll only be the drink offering poured out upon the far greater offering of your faith.” He says, “I’ll be the libation offering, the small, additional, puff of steam offering, not the smoldering main offering of the animal burning in the fire–which is your faith in Christ and your service to Christ.” Paul is simply placing his own achievements, even his martyrdom, at a very low point on the scale of what is truly important.
In contrast, Paul is holding up the faith and service of his converts as the main offering. Paul says, “My life is minor, but your faith and ministry to Christ is major.” Paul is a living example of humility. Paul is demonstrating what he has just written. Paul is an illustration of his instruction. Paul is putting his own principles into practice.
This is the humility Paul commands in verses 1 to 16. Paul genuinely values the gifts, abilities, wisdom and insights of others as more important than his own. Are you there? I really do believe Mark Petras and Chris Bauer are better servants than I, Nigel is a better counselor, JP is more wise, Robert more relational, Rod a better leader, Shawn a better student preacher, many of you more giving, more compassionate, and all of you are better in some spiritually gifted manner–I really do. Paul honestly sees the offering of their own faith and service to Christ as more significant than his own. What does that look like? I’m so glad you asked.
#2 EMBRACING THE PRINCIPLES
Read these two verses again. Philippians 2:17 and 18, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” What is going on here in verses 17 and 18? You’re listening to a man who loves people.
This is a brother who loves his fellow Christians, a church planter who loves this special church, an apostle who loves the people Christ died for, and a man who loves the Lord God’s people in a deep way. Paul loves people. The New Testament describes Paul’s love for his lost brothers, the Jews, in a shocking manner.
Paul wrote in Romans 9:3, “I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Paul says God is my witness–I am willing to spend eternity in Hell if it would guarantee the salvation of my Jewish brothers. Paul loves people. Feel Paul’s love for the worst Christians–the disloyal Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 2:4? “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”
Paul’s love for people compelled him to labor hard and serve sacrificially. Paul just told us in verse 16, unless he gave his maximum effort, he feared he’d be disqualified or lose his eternal reward. So Paul gave his all in his ministry for Christ. Paul held nothing back–he sought to walk worthy. So in verses 17 to 18, Paul offers himself as an example–not out of pride, but as one who is aggressively pursuing Christ and as one who desperately loves the Philippians. His love is so deep . . .
First Paul is a living SACRIFICE
Look at the first word of verse 17—“but”, saying even if my ministry is lived in vain, a waste, verse 16, and I’m about to die as a lesser offering, I will still have joy, verse 17. Paul adds these two words in verse 17—“even if”, a first-class conditional clause, which describes something known to be true. A more accurate English rendering is because “I am being poured out as a drink offering.” Or since “I am being poured out as a drink offering.”
Paul is saying, “I am good with being offered as a sacrifice for you.” In the Old Testament Jewish sense, “I’m willing to pay the price to have my life poured out to God on behalf of you all.” Paul is not describing his eventual martyrdom. The verb “poured out as an offering” indicates Paul was describing his current experience as a prisoner in Rome. Paul saw his life, not his death, as a current action of sacrifice to the Lord, telling us Paul is describing himself as a living sacrifice. That’s familiar!
Romans 12:1, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” All who love Christ offer themselves daily as a living sacrifice–your friends, your children, your time, your money, and your work are given to Christ daily.
Paul already hinted he did not expect imminent execution, although he clearly understood it was a possibility. He already said in 1:24 to 25, “To remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.” Later he writes in 2:24, “I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.”
So Paul is alive and for now will go on living, but he’ll live as one who has given everything he has and everything he is to Christ every single day, as a living sacrifice. Paul is an example to the Philippians proving they can live worthy, humbly, sacrificially, and deferentially to others in order to get along and show off Christ. Paul is an example you can follow.
Second Paul offers HIMSELF
Both Jews and Gentiles would have understood the implied imagery of a drink offering, the libation–a ritual familiar to most ancient people. You can read about the drink offering everywhere in the Old Testament. The drink offering was done pleasing to the Lord and with a heart which didn’t please the Lord.
Leviticus 23:18, “They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Jeremiah 7:18, “They pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.” Hosea 9:4, “They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the Lord, and their sacrifices shall not please him.”
After placing the sacrificial animal on the altar, the priests would take wine, water or honey and pour it either on the burning sacrifice or on the ground in front of the altar near the flame. As it immediately steamed up, that act symbolized the rising of the sacrifice into the nostrils of the deity to whom it was being offered.
So as Paul says in verse17, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith,” he’s telling the Philippians he was made a sacrifice which he willingly gives. Paul gives himself away to them and for them. Paul didn’t merely volunteer for a project, or serve at an event, or attend a fellowship–but Paul gave his all.
Paul didn’t compartmentalize and merely give one part of himself–Paul was all in with everything he was. Paul was not a Swanson hungry-man dinner. Your Christian life is not a Swanson dinner, all compartmentalized, where the peas of work don’t touch the meat of home, which doesn’t touch the dessert of relationships. Before God, the different parts of your life are not separate.
Some of us think, “Hey, because two parts of my life are good, even though this other part is rotten, somehow God is pleased with me because of my two good parts.” We wrongly think if we sincerely attend church, then everything else in my life must be okay. Swanson dinner worshipers think they can be harsh at work, be a witch with their friends, but as long as they show a little Christ at church, their spiritual life is okay.
Swanson dinner believers think they can separate the different parts of their life and if one part is godly, then everything else is good. But that’s not how the Christian walk works. Your life is not a Swanson dinner before God, but your life before Christ is a chicken pot pie, where every aspect of your life is all mixed together as one offering–one fragrant aroma to Christ. If the peas of worship are good, but the meat of work or vegetables of home life are bad, then before God it is all bad, making your life a poor offering and unacceptable worship before God.
Paul’s living example was a chicken pot pie–he gave all of himself and every aspect of himself in service to the Lord. Paul is an example you can follow.
Third Paul demonstrates HUMILITY
Notice verse 17, Paul’s drink offering was made “upon the sacrifice and service of their faith.” By calling himself the drink offering, he’s telling the Philippians they’re the greater, meaty sacrifice and
Paul is the lesser, quick, liquid offering. Plus Paul spoke as if their faithfulness was greater than his own, which he described as being poured out on their greater sacrifice, their faith and their ministry.
Paul is saying, “You Philippians are the main, big deal and I am the lesser, small deal.”
The apostle demonstrates a sincere humility which a mature believer develops as they become like Christ. This is the humility commanded in Philippians 2 verses 1 to 4, the humility Christ displayed in verses 5 to 11, the humility instructed in verses 12 to 16, the humility modeled in verses 17 to 18, and this is the humility every maturing believer grows into.
Humility is when you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about others. Humility is when you value others more than yourself. Humility is when you will do anything to help others know, love and obey Christ. Paul was an example of humility, an example you can follow.
Fourth Paul willingly gives his ALL for the Philippians
. . . who also gave greatly. Paul’s life was given upon the sacrifice and service of their faith. The Greek word sacrifice was used of actual sacrifices given to God and used figuratively of living as a living sacrifice. Then the Greek word service is where we get our English word liturgy. It was commonly used in the New Testament to describe religious services and to describe financial offerings given in worship.
We know the poor Philippian saints gave generously. Second Corinthians 8:1ff, “the churches of Macedonia, …in … their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity … they gave … beyond their means… they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
Desperate to feed their own families, these Philippians continued to support Paul’s ministry to the churches and gave generously to feed the starving Christians in Jerusalem. Plus, these Philippians were suffering severely for their faith in an extremely hostile pagan environment. In Philippians 1:29 Paul reminded them, “To you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
The Philippians were also persecuted like Paul was being persecuted. Philippians 1:30, “Experiencing the same conflict which [they] saw in [Paul].” The more the Church grew, the more the Church was persecuted in Philippi. So Paul says their sacrifices for Christ and services for Christ are worthy of him giving his all as a sacrifice for them. Their current ministry, even under persecution, makes what Paul did in ministry for them all worth it.
In verse 16, Paul hoped his ministry to the Philippians was not a waste, in vain. Now in verse 17, even as Paul is spent in his ministry efforts, he tells them it’s all worth it because of their sacrifices and service. Paul models a man who gave his all for others. Paul is an example you can follow.
Fifth Paul rejoices over the JOY of sacrifice
Paul says at the end of verse 17, “I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” Fact, I continually rejoice. And fact, I continually share my joy with you all. Throughout this letter, the apostle mentions several reasons for his joy. Simply remembering his beloved brethren at Philippi was cause for rejoicing in 1:3 to 4.
Paul rejoiced over His imprisonment, which gave him an open door to influence future Roman leaders, even Caesar’s household. Paul rejoiced that Roman believers had more courage to preach the Gospel in Rome because of his arrest. Paul even rejoiced over those preaching from envy, that they were still proclaiming Christ. And Paul rejoiced because of his love for the Philippians and their love for him in chapter 4.
And here in verse 17, Paul viewed his sacrificial service to Christ as a privilege and a cause for great rejoicing. I am still overwhelmed by the enormous privilege I enjoy serving Christ with you. To be supported to feed you God’s Word, train men, seek to cultivate a healthy church, and serve with JP, Nigel, Patrick and Morgan. Plus invest in Daniel, Aaron, and Loyza; shepherd with Rod, Robert and Shawn, our deacons, our TC grads and lay leaders is enough to make me cry cause my joy is overwhelming–even on the difficult days.
My worst day here is like other pastors’ best day. And my worst day at FBC doesn’t even come close to the suffering of Paul and the Philippians, yet Paul rejoiced with joy over the privilege of service, sacrifice, trial and hardship for Christ. God promised in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Romans 14:7 to 8, “For if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
It didn’t matter to Paul, live or die, difficult or easy, he served the Lord and experienced joy in that service. Sadly, many believers only experience joy the same way as the world does. When circumstances are good, they are happy. But when circumstances are bad, they’re sad. The only circumstances that bring joy to them are those events which promote their own self-interests.
But Paul was different and so were the Philippians. Verse 17, “I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” When they sought to do the Father’s will and please Him, they viewed sacrifice for Him, hardship with Him, even trials surrounding them all with joy. The reason many believers know little about Paul’s kind of joy is they know little about his kind of sacrifice.
I have missionary friends who rejoice over having a house with a dirt floor and a week without snakes in their house. But self-centered believers find it difficult to understand how missionaries can live for years under primitive and dangerous conditions, yet still maintain their joy. Through it all these servants rejoice, because like Paul, they offer their lives as a continual sacrifice to God. They’ve learned that the greater the sacrifice, the greater the joy.
Just like the apostles in Acts 5:40, “After being flogged… went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Selfless service for Christ is a sacrifice only in the sense of being an offering to God. It’s never a sacrifice in the sense of loss. A believer can sacrifice nothing for the Lord that is not replaced with something infinitely more gratifying and eternal.
It is why Paul writes in Philippians 3:8, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” What Paul forsook was “rubbish”–but what he gained was Christ and the immeasurable blessings of eternal life.
As a result, Paul was not only an example of sacrificial service, but also the joy which serving produces. Paul, James and Peter say, “I rejoice in my sufferings . . . Consider it all joy… when you encounter various trials; to the degree … you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.”
A humble man, a humble woman is a servant who sacrifices. As they do, they are more joyful than others, because they’ve learned as you give yourself away, as you are the vessel for the Spirit to work through the more joyful you will be. Why? Because you experience Christ working through you, you see Him work, you know it’s Him–it is sweet so you are joyful. If Paul can experience God’s joy in sacrificial service, so can you. Why? Paul is an example you can follow.
Sixth Paul calls the Philippians to share their JOY
Verse 18, “You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Going through a difficult time together binds your hearts. It could be a short-term trip, a long-term ministry, the deep waters of grief, a physical battle, or a great struggle–but if you are in Christ, there can be great rejoicing and shared joy between you. Paul is amazing because he shows us the greater the sacrifice, the greater the joy.
Look at verse 18–“rejoice” and “share your joy” are from the same verb. It is the same word used to describe the great rejoicing of the man who found the lost sheep and lost coin in Luke 15. And since Paul and the Philippians had sacrificed and served together, Paul commands them, “Let’s rejoice together.” The Philippians are to rejoice the same way Paul is rejoicing.
Paul states the Philippians are going through suffering and persecution just like I am, so “Let’s rejoice together. I have put my life on the altar, and you’ve put your life on the altar as a living sacrifice in order to please God, so let’s rejoice together in our joy as we serve Him.” Paul says to them, “Don’t you be sorry for me, you rejoice. I’m sharing my joy with you, so now you share your joy with me.”
This joy is not related to circumstances. For most, if the circumstances are positive, we have an earthly joy. If the circumstances are negative, we lose our earthly joy. Many Christians have never known the exhilaration of a spiritual joy born out of sacrifice. But here Paul says, “I rejoice and I share my joy so together we can be glad.” He tells this church, “It’s your duty to rejoice with me.”
Christ is too great to not rejoice over. Christ’s service is too wonderful not to rejoice over. Sacrificing for Christ is too superb not to rejoice over. In other words, FBC Christian–if this is you, then stop being a pickle juice, pruney, sour-faced believer. Stop waiting until Heaven before you share your joy and rejoice about what Christ is doing in and through your church, in your fellow-servants and in you!
Philippians 2:17 and 18, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.”
#3 BEGINNING THE PRACTICE
First What is JESUS doing in you, friend?
Some of have come today saying, “Well I’m coming to church hoping to learn some God stuff so I can improve my life.” Let me tell you what God wants from you. He wants you to submit to Christ. Christ is God who became a man in order to take the punishment you deserve for your sins. Then rose from the dead to provide a way for you to be forgiven by God and delivered from being eternally condemned, because you rebelled against your Creator.
He can take your sin upon Himself and give you His righteousness, so you can live forever before a perfect God. Plus, when He forgives you, He will give you a new heart which leads to a new life. But only Christ can do that, meaning this–stop trying to fix your life and surrender completely to Jesus Christ.
Paul was a murderer filled with hate, but when he surrendered to Jesus Christ, Paul becomes an example for you to follow in salvation. Listen to what Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:16, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” If Jesus can save a murderer like Paul, He can save you.
Second What is JESUS doing in you, Christian?
As a genuine Christian, God is at work in you. It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80, God is at work in you. The question is, are you responsibly responding, cooperating, pursuing, and maturing in Christ? If today, you’ve given up, or fallen into cruise mode, or plateaued in your growth, or stopped studying the Word, or are weak in faithful prayer, or casual about church attendance, or lax in sacrificial giving or serving others . . . then right now repent.
Are you too distant from mature Christians who can impact you and be a model for you? There are incredible living examples to follow right here at our church. Are you with them enough for their pattern to impact your life? Christian, you must repent of coasting and dependently step out in obedience and join a ministry, a place where you have to depend on Christ to work.
Put yourself in a place of weekly sacrifice where you will learn the joy of ministry. Join a place of service so someday you can boast about what Christ did through you for His glory. Stop complaining about your life, and start serving Christ with your life. Let’s pray.