‘Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all’, Phil. 2. 17.
Once again in the Epistle to the Philippians the Apostle Paul occupies our thoughts with terminology that is taken straight from the Old Testament context of the offerings. Here we have a clear allusion to the drink offering of Numbers chapter 15. Paul sees himself as the drink offering adjoining the large self-sacrificial offering of the lives of the Philippian saints. Let us glean some lessons from this for ourselves.
The contrast in size of the drink offering is worthy of note. Many sacrifices were offered upon Israel’s altar: the large bullock, the heifer, the lamb, the ram, even down to the humble pigeon. These all, along with others, had their rightful place upon the brazen altar, but as far as the drink offering was concerned it was something which was comparatively small, in fact it was an adjunct to the other larger offerings, Num. 15. 1-16. It was supplementary in character.
We cannot fail to see the significance of this in the light of the Philippian Epistle. The chapter from which our verse comes may well be summed up by the words of verses 3 and 4, ‘in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others’. To do this, of course, necessitates that we are small in our own esteem, and that we are marked by humility and self-sacrifice.
Four great examples are brought before us in chapter 2. The first, and supreme example is our Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst much time has been profitably spent discussing the significance of each word employed by the Holy Spirit in describing the self-humbling of our Saviour, we can easily miss the mind of the same Spirit if the basic reality of the fact that ‘he humbled himself’ does not bear in upon our lives as a practical reality, v. 8!
This is not so much an unfolding of doctrine, although doctrine is of course involved, but rather it is a deeply practical section of scripture, given to us that we might emulate Christ in His selflessness.
Timothy followed this pattern closely, vv. 19-24. He was a man very like his mentor, Paul; he followed Paul inasmuch as Paul followed Christ, 1 Cor. 11. 1. Thereby he stood in contrast to the self-seeking majority, v. 21, as did Epaphroditus, who, for the work of Christ, put his very life on the line, vv. 25-30. Paul speaks of his own life as the small drink offering which was ‘poured out as a libation’, JND. Have I given over my life to Christ in this manner, or am I holding on to it for my own benefit?
‘Wouldst thou be chief?
Then lowly serve;
Wouldst thou go up?
But go as low as e’er you will,
The highest has been lower still’.
The combination of the drink offering with a bigger offering is clear to be seen when Paul speaks of himself being offered ‘upon the sacrifice and service of your faith’. He views the lives of the saints at Philippi as the much larger burnt offering placed upon the altar, upon which he, as the supplementary drink offering, was poured out. Their lives are described as lives of sacrificial service which sprang from their faith in Christ; lives that were priestly in character. It is interesting that the word used for ‘service’, leitourgia, refers to the priestly service of Zacharias and also to that of our Lord Jesus, Luke 1. 23; Heb. 8. 6. The Philippians had already placed themselves upon the altar, as Paul exhorts in Romans chapter 12; they were living consecrated lives for God.
It is always the mark of a spiritual person when they think higher of the work and service of others than they do of their own. In fact, it is a real test of our spirituality, the weed of jealousy lies buried in every breast and must be kept in the place of mortification.
Paul is putting into practice the selfless example of Christ; in his writing here he rises high in our esteem by bowing low in his own personal estimation. He could call himself ‘less than the least of all saints’, Eph. 3. 8. There was no mock humility with Paul.
How do we see ourselves? Am I always number one? Am I full of my own importance? We too often brush past these things as if they were of little consequence but many of the problems faced in assembly life would be solved if there was a spirit of Christ-like humility amongst us as God’s people.
The case of Euodias and Syntyche is a case in hand in this very Epistle, 4. 2. What the particular difficulty was we are not told, but it was sufficiently serious for Paul to seek to admonish the sisters when he impartially exhorted them to ‘be of the same mind in the Lord’. The one sure way to achieve this was by the practical application of humility. To act ‘in the Lord’ is to bow to His lordship, to recognize His authority, and when we do this we subject our own will to His will. If pride stems from my own wilfulness, then humility results from bowing to His will.
The content of the drink offering was wine, Num. 15. Wine is the well-known Bible symbol of joy, ‘which cheereth God and man’, Judg. 9. 13. How fitting this symbol is when we think of the last clause of our verse, ‘I joy, and rejoice with you all’, and then Paul adds, ‘for the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me’, v. 18. Here is a reciprocating fellowship of joy at the contribution of Paul’s poured-out life to their consecrated lives.
Joy is a prominent theme in this Epistle; the words ‘joy’ and ‘rejoice’ occur frequently. Paul desires that the Philippians ‘fulfil [his] joy’; that is, ‘fill it up to the brim’, 2. 2. The suggestion is that there was something lacking, some hindrance to this fullness of joy. Most likely the case of the divided sisters was the reason.
Another interesting point is that the wine of the drink offering increased in proportion to the size of the offering. For a lamb approximately 0.5 litres would suffice; a ram needed 0.8 litre; and for the bullock 1 litre was required, Num. 15. This suggests that the amount of joy I experience as a believer is dependent upon how much I appreciate Christ. Do we long for joyful lives? The answer is in keeping Christ before our souls. The blessed man of Psalm 1 did not simply find his joy in his separation from all that was wrong and godless, but from occupation with the word of God, ‘his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night’, Ps. 1. 2.
In chapter 3, Paul, with single purpose, desires this full appreciation of Christ as he continually pursues Him as a prize to be won and a person to know, 3. 8, 10. This involves the ongoing pursuit of the life, dedicated and consecrated to apprehending more of such a glorious person.
The completeness of the drink offering is seen in the simple fact that it was fully poured out, nothing was held back, it was given completely and unreservedly. When Paul comes to the end of his life, he views life again from the drink offering standpoint. He speaks with great pathos when he says, ‘I am now ready to be offered’, 2 Tim. 4. 6. Newberry, in the margin of his Bible, indicates the sense of it when he says, ‘already being poured out’. The difference between this pastoral passage and the reference in Philippians chapter 2 is that in Philippians we suggest that it is Paul’s life of service as a drink offering being poured out, whereas here he is clearly at the end of life and in martyrdom he would finally be poured out in death for the glory of God. It is searching that Paul can look back with no regrets and look forward with confidence to the righteous crown from the hand of his Lord and Master.
As we review these few articles, wouldn’t it be something for us all to pursue the crown by God’s grace, to place our lives upon the altar as living sacrifices, feeling the reality and dignity of being part of God’s inner temple. May we live lives of purity in keeping with such a position, emitting a fragrance heavenward as we ‘walk in love’ after the pattern of Christ. Would that we could communicate in practical matters the same sweet odour that ascends towards the heart of God, and be content to be the humble drink offering poured out fully in service for Him.