Philippians 2:17-18 Devotional
Philippians 2:17-18. 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. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Reflection. I find the NIV’s rendering of 2:17 a little unclear. The ESV is more plain, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith.” It was this attitude that enabled Paul to rejoice in gospel proclamation that came at his expense (1:18). That joy paved the way for one of the most tattooed Bible verses in history: “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). Unfortunately that verse has in many ways become little more than a platitude, for we pay scant attention to its serious implications and immediate context. Paul’s life-orienting hope was the fame of Christ’s name, whether that came about through his life or death (1:20). This is what Paul means when he says, “to live is Christ.” Christ’s glory directed his life and defined his ambitions. This enabled him to be gladly poured out for others. Truly living for Christ meant he could literally rejoice in being spent - suffering, and even dying - for Christ’s glory and the good of others. This outlook on life is often worlds apart from my own.
So how is it achieved? What are we meant to do? How might we live for Christ? These questions can be answered with a single word, found in our passage: “sacrifice.” When we read about the apostle Paul, Timothy (2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (2:25-30), this word aptly describes their actions, decisions and desires—or more broadly, how they lived. Sacrifice. It’s not a popular word today. In fact, many modern people find the concept appallingly primitive. Yet it is one of the ways that Paul described the Christian life (see Romans 12:1-2). Paul actually alludes to an altar here, in Philippians 2:17, where he is poured out as an offering. He did not bear the cost with mere resolution, but with rejoicing. He went to this personal altar for the sake of others and their faith. He did not consider the cost because with it knew he was purchasing Christ’s glory. If we have that same ambition for our own personal sacrifices, we too might be able to rejoice when we feel spent or poured out for others.
The above is tied to the preceding verses of Philippians. Paul was desperate to see other Christians persevere, for then his efforts would not be in vain (2:16). I spy at least two problems here, linked to Paul’s joyous sacrifice. Firstly, it’s very easy to be caught up in my own perseverance, spiritual needs and personal struggles. So much so that I am not overly concerned with other Christians. Of course, we would never say this, and we might be able to point to a select group for whom our concern is evident. But Paul was spent, or poured out, suggesting a much larger group of believers who benefitted from his personal ministry.
Secondly, our concepts of joy have been transmuted in the 21st century through advertisements, social media, opportunity and affluence. Because of these we battle to see how making sacrifices and experiencing joy might go hand in hand. Joy and sacrifice seem mutually exclusive. But for Paul they were almost one and the same. He delighted in Christ’s glory, gospel proclamation and the good of others. There is joy in those things for us in the present and not only the future. But are we willing to make sacrifices in pursuit of them?
Following from the above, Paul writes, “So you too should be glad and rejoice with me” (2:18). Paul did not only rejoice in sacrificing his own well-being for others, he exhorted believers to rejoice with him. To paraphrase, Paul commands the Christians at Philippi to be glad that he is poured out and spent in sacrifical service. He says, ’Be happy that I have suffered for others.’ It is a strange request. Was he a masochist? No. I think we are better off understanding his purpose here as persuasive. His unwavering and sacrificial service of Christ was something that should inspire others to the same. For in his life he demonstrated that to live is Christ. How I wish I could write the same words. So let us pray God would transform our desires for this life. Paul, along with Epaphroditus and Timothy (2:19-30), experienced the joy that comes from giving ourselves up in selfless service of God and others. May God help us to long for that same joy, and therefore emulate these men as they themselves imitated Christ.