by Doy Moyer
After Paul encouraged the brethren to do all things without grumbling or disputing so that they could be lights in a dark world, he also wanted to have confidence that, in his own influence, he did not run or toil in vain (Philippians 2:16). He then made this statement using a metaphor for sacrifice:
“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” (Philippians 2:17).
This is not the only time he used the picture of a drink offering to express the nature of his sacrificial service. He later told Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (II Timothy 4:6). He had confidence that he had fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith. With unquestioned faithfulness, he poured himself out as a drink offering in service to the Lord and others.
To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls” (II Corinthians 12:14-15). The sacrifice of self for the sake of others, as a parent does for children, is a hallmark of Paul’s service in Christ.
The drink offering (libation) is found in the Law. Usually, it was a wine that would be poured out upon an altar or object of worship during a cultic ceremony. Jacob made an altar and poured out wine and oil on it (Genesis 35:14). The Law gave instructions for drink offerings on various occasions in conjunction with other sacrifices like burnt offerings where the quantity was in proportion to the size of the animal (Exodus 29:38-41; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 28:7,14-15; 15:3-10). Sadly, drink offerings also came to be associated with idolatrous practices (Jeremiah 7:18). The point, however, was to express complete devotion to the one who is being worshipped.
The concept of pouring out was also used of the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53:12 prophetically says that the Servant “poured out Himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors.” This connects to the description Paul gave in Philippians 2:7-8 that Christ “emptied himself” to the point of death. Christ completely gave himself up in service to the Father and for the sake of all others. Part of the point Paul is making is that Christians need to seek this same mindset (Philippians 2:5), doing nothing out of selfish ambition but treating others as more important than self (Philippians 2:3-4). As Christ poured himself out, so must we seek to do the same.
We should not be surprised, then, when Paul uses the libation metaphor later in the same chapter. He was following the example of Christ, and in so doing he was being poured out (emptying self) as a drink offering “upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.” Paul demonstrated the mind of Christ in his own work for the Lord.
Christians ought to understand the significance of sacrifice in Christ. We are a royal and holy priesthood who are intended “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5, 9). Paul also wrote, “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” (Romans 12:1-2). While various sacrifices were given under the Law, the point is that Christians themselves are both the priesthood and the sacrifices, just as Jesus is both the High Priest and the sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 8-10).
Paul’s commitment to the Lord as a drink offering illustrates the extent of his sacrificial service. Faithfulness to the Lord is not to be partial or haphazard. Sacrifice is never convenient or based on whims that people think they can afford as a leftover in life.
In some ways, it is difficult for us to understand this level of commitment. Many of us have been raised in a culture of ease and wealth, but Paul reminds us of how important it is to lay aside the worldly in order to sacrifice for the eternal. This requires daily choices, daily commitment, daily self-denial, and taking up the cross in order to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). In doing this, Paul found true joy, and he indicates that others can share in the joy if they follow this example.
“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. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (Philippians 2:17-18).