Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me. (vv. 17-18)
The apostolic writer now goes on to cite, though in an apparently casual way, three examples of men of like passions with their fellow believers who have exemplified in their ways the spirit of Christ. The first of these is himself and of his testimony we shall now speak. The other two are Timothy and Epaphroditus, whose lowly ways and devoted service will occupy us later.
Possibly no other mortal man ever drank into the spirit of Christ so deeply as the great apostle to the Gentiles. Once a proud, haughty Pharisee, glorying in his own righteousness, burning with indignant bigotry against any who pretended to a higher revelation than that given in Judaism, he had been transformed by a sight of the glorified Christ, when, religious persecutor as he was, he was hurrying to Damascus to apprehend any who confessed the name of Jesus. The sight of the once-crucified, but now enthroned Savior, at God’s right hand, was the means of a conversion so radical and so sudden, that probably no other since has been so intense.
From that moment it was the one desire of his soul, overmastering all else, the inmost yearning of his being, to manifest Christ in all his ways. Yet he was not an absolutely sinless man, nor without the infirmities common to the human race. But he was one who ever sought to judge himself in the light of the cross of Christ, with the power of Christ resting upon him. His whole philosophy of life is summed up in his fervent words to the Galatians, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).
It was in this spirit that he could write to his beloved Philippians, “Yea, and if I be offered [literally “poured out”] upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” He had just told them that his joy in the day of Christ would be to find them approved, as having walked before God in this scene as unrebuked saints earnestly engaged in holding forth the Word of Life in a dark world: their abundant service and the reward meted out to them, he would look upon as reward to himself. He would thus feel that he had not run in vain, neither labored in vain. He was willing to count all his service as but an adjunct of theirs, to have their labors and devotedness looked upon as the completion of a work of which his was just the beginning.
In order properly to understand this seventeenth verse, it is necessary to observe carefully what the apostle has in mind. When he says, “If I be poured out upon the sacrifice of your faith,” he alludes to the drink offering. This was a cup of wine, which was poured out upon the burnt offering, and was typical of the out-pouring of our Lord Jesus Christ’s soul unto death, the voluntary surrender of everything that might naturally be expected to contribute to his joys as a man. Wine is the symbol of gladness. What man ever deserved to be happier than the Lord Jesus Christ? To whom was gladness a righteous due, if not to Him? Yet, in infinite grace, He became “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
The burnt offering spoke of Him in the highest sense as offering Himself without spot to God, but on our behalf. In the sacrificial service, the burnt offering having been slain was cut in its pieces, was washed with water, then laid in order upon the fire of the altar and wholly consumed. The drink offering was simply poured out upon it, and in a moment was lost to sight. Now, with this in mind, consider the beauty of the figure the apostle here employs. Whatever service the Philippians might be able to render to the Lord would be in fellowship with Christ, and thus their devotedness could be viewed as an offering or a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor unto God. It was the result of lives surrendered to the Lord, and Paul was willing that his labor should be simply looked upon as the adjunct of theirs, as the drink offering poured upon the burnt offering.
What sublime self-abnegation was this! What delight in the labors of others! What absence of that which sometimes is so abhorrent in professed Christian service today! Laborers sometimes are jealous of the ministry of others, and envious of a success in which they think they have not shared. There was no such spirit in the apostle Paul. He rejoiced in everything that the Lord did through others, and his jealousy was only for the glory of God.
And so in this he followed Christ, and he could confidently appeal to them to follow him, as he walked in His steps. So he would have them joy and rejoice with him in the mutual devotedness of both.
It is significant that he speaks of himself and his service in this incidental way—in but one verse. When he turns to write of his fellow laborer, Timothy, and of their messenger, Epaphroditus, how much more he has to say. He could dwell with delight on the labors and service of others, but when writing of himself, as he tells us elsewhere, he felt as though he were speaking as a fool.