Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 2:14-18

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

—————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s very real hope that, with the Philippians’ prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus (the Holy Spirit), his imprisonment would work out for his deliverance and honour Christ.

As I go through Paul’s letters to the various congregations, I still do not understand how he could have so much hope and joy with so much suffering.

Today’s post helps me — and I hope others — understand how he was able to rejoice in truly hard times.

Of course, faith is the key, but how exactly did he maintain it?

This post’s quotes from John MacArthur’s sermons are hard-hitting and will take some time to consider. This will not be easy.

Before beginning, here is the first part of Philippians 2 (emphases mine):

Christ’s Example of Humility

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Lights in the World

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Paul tells the Philippians to do ‘all things’ without ‘grumbling or disputing’ (verse 14).

Whenever I used to ask my late grandmother-in-law, a widow who began life as a Primitive Methodist before becoming a Baptist, how she was, she always replied cheerfully:

Mustn’t grumble.

When I met her she was becoming arthritic. She used to journey by bus into Central London to buy her groceries at Marks & Spencer in Oxford Street. As the years passed, she was unable to continue those bus rides that gave her so much pleasure. She was also a regular churchgoer, again travelling by bus into the heart of the capital. By the end of her life, she had to enter a care home and had to give up those two pleasures.

I had not realised until today how many scriptural references there are to grumbling and how much God hates it. God actually killed many Israelites on several occasions for complaining.

The Bible uses the word ‘grumble’ but ‘murmur’ or ‘mumble’ means the same thing.

Reformed Wiki lists 25 verses against grumbling and complaining.

Bible Reasons has 19 of those verses along with Jude’s warning about murmuring:

Jude 1:16 These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.

Matthew Henry’s commentary gives us the Greek origins of ‘murmuring’:

The children of God should differ from the sons of men. Without rebukeamometa. Momus was a carping deity among the Greeks, mentioned by Hesiod and Lucian, who did nothing himself, and found fault with every body and every thing. From him all carpers at other men, and rigid censurers of their works, were called Momi. The sense of the expression is, “Walk so circumspectly that Momus himself may have no occasion to cavil at you, that the severest censurer may find no fault with you.”

John MacArthur explains the Greek origins of ‘grumbling’ and ‘disputing’:

Now, those two words are very basic.  Grumblings is an onomatopoetic word; that is, it sounds like what it means.  The word is goggusmos Goggusmos, ruh-ruh-ruh.  It’s a grouchy, grumbly, onomatopoetic word.  It means a murmuring, an expression of discontent, an expression of dissatisfaction, grumbling, actually muttering in a low voice Ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh, you know.  It’s, by the way, the very word used in the Greek Septuagint translation of Exodus and Numbers where we read about the grumblings of Israel It is complaint expressed in a negative attitude It is an emotional rejection of God’s will It is an emotional rejection of God’s providence It is an emotional rejection of your circumstances that comes through in mumbling, grumbling, griping, verbiage.  It is an emotional rejection of the circumstances God has chosen for your life and the requirements He has for your conduct.

And then, there’s a second word, disputingsDialogismos, dialogue we get from it.  It means questionings, criticism.  It is now an intellectual debate with God.  The first one is an emotional belly-aching The second is an intellectual debate with God You want to argue with God about why things are the way they are Or you want to argue with God about why you have to do what you have to do Or you want to argue with God about why you’re in the circumstance you’re in, the marriage, the job, the singleness, the residence, whatever it is.  Or even the church, for that matter.  Arguing with God out of discontent, debating with God because you’ve got a better idea While the first word means to just grumble, gripe, complain, murmur, almost an emotional guttural kind of thing.

MacArthur says that verse 14 refers to verses 12 and 13:

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

MacArthur explains:

So, Paul is saying, look, in working out your salvation the basic attitude is an attitude that does not complain Why?  You’re living in a very fallen world You’re living in the fallen flesh.  It isn’t always going to be the way you like it, the people around you aren’t always going to be the way you’d like them.  The circumstances aren’t always going to be euphoric and perfect.  It’s not going to be an idealistic world.  You work out your salvation and in all the things that you do, and in all the circumstances you find yourself, don’t ever complain because God hates that, and He has judged it severely as an example to you of how He feels about it.

MacArthur derives that from 1 Corinthians 10. God killed some moaners with fatal snakebites and also by the angel of death. He killed many more Israelites through other means, but, here, Paul mentions two:

Warnings From Israel’s History

10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”[a] We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ,[b] as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

MacArthur also cites Lamentations 3:39:

Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?

He says:

Listen now, would you do this?  Try your best to make it through today without complaining about something Would you do that?  And just make a note every time you complain, and you will find that for many of you it is a way of life And it is frankly so utterly habitual that you probably don’t even realize what a dominant characteristic it is And then, remember Lamentations, would you please?  Just remember Lamentations 3 and 39 and memorize it: why should any living mortal or any man offer complaint in view of his sins?  What do you think you deserve?  Work on it today, will you?

In other words, we are all sinners who deserve God’s eternal wrath. Fortunately, we have a Saviour in Jesus Christ. Let us be thankful for His ultimate sacrifice which reconciled us to God.

Furthermore, let us be grateful for our many blessings, all of which come from God.

MacArthur has more on this:

… we throw tantrums because we got seated at a poorly located table in a fancy restaurant.  Or we’re frustrated because we can’t lose ten pounds.  Or we gripe about our monthly debts.  You’ve got problems relative to what?  But you see, it’s the mood of the mob to complain.  And then, the idealistic fantasy oriented consumptive culture feeds the sin of discontent How can we be discontent?  Remember Lamentations 3:39, “Why should any mortal being or anyone offer complaint in view of his sins?”  What do we have to complain about?  So, Paul gives us a general principle in verse 14 And it really speaks to us at a time when we live in a culture of complaint “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.  Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”  What do the “all things” refer to?  The living out of your inward salvation, the working out of your salvation.  Here is the pervasive attitude for the Christians’ experience.  As we work out our salvation, as we live our godly life, we are to do it without ever complaining about the circumstances which God has put around us We are to live a life without complaint.  We are to rejoice always, to use Paul’s later terminology, and again I say rejoice We are to be content whether we are based or whether we abound, whether we have much or whether we have little, whether we like the circumstances or don’t like them.  There is no place for complaining. 

And I only submit to you that it’s much more difficult it seems in this culture than in some because we are breeding a culture of complainers, absolute culture of complainers.  And Paul then gives us a general principle that does speak to us very directly.

Now, note as I pointed out last time, that this matter of doing all things without grumbling or disputing has reference to God.  Not so much grumbling disputing among others, that too is a sin, but the idea here is to accept that providential plan which God has ordained for your life, live out your salvation without any complaints directed at Him A joyful heart, a thankful heart, no emotional grumbling, that’s the grumbling word, and no intellectual disputing or arguing with God.  But rather, without complaint, gratefully we live out our salvation That is what he calls for Christians to maintain in terms of an attitude that pervades all their living.

Paul goes on to give other reasons why we should not grumble or dispute: we should be blameless and innocent children of God, shining our light in the midst of a dark, fallen world (verse 15).

That means we really have to let our faith shine at its best. This, for me, is very difficult to do on a consistent basis.

MacArthur elaborates:

Now, he gives us three reasons why Okay?  And I’ll just lay these before you.  They’re not new, they’re just a brief review, a summary, and I know you will be familiar with them.  But nonetheless, they are the word of the Spirit of God for us today.  Reason number one, in verse 15, “That you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach.”  Let’s say, first of all, then we are to stop complaining for our own sake, for our own sake, that we might be the kind of children that God has saved us to be.  It starts with us.  And this is, by the way, clearly a purpose result clause, a little particle hina with a subjunctive always indicates purpose result And so, it could be translated “in order that,” or “with the result that,” or “given the purpose that.”  In other words, this is the very reason why you are to do this, so that you will be a blameless, harmless, above-reproach child of God You are called to be all that a child of God should be.  In Ephesians 5:1 that very, very important injunction of Paul where he says, Be imitators of God as beloved children, be imitators of God as beloved children.”  If God is your Father, then imitate God, then pattern your life after Him If you are a child of God then live the way a child of God should live, manifesting the character of God As it says in Titus 2, adorning the doctrine of God in the manner in which you live.

So, note again then, we’ll look at the verse specifically, you are to stop complaining, doing all things without grumbling or disputing, in order that you may prove yourselves to be.  Now the Greek literally says, in order that you may become, in order that you may become And I believe here is a process, you are to be in the process of becoming a blameless innocent above-reproach child of God So, you are not to complain in order that process may work, that you may be in the process at the end of which you become a harmless, blameless, above-reproach child of God.

Now, those two words, blameless and harmless, or some of your translations will say blameless and innocent, really are not a great deal apart in terms of meaning.  They both speak of moral purity Blameless simply means a life that can’t be criticized, a life that can’t be criticized.  There’s nothing for which you can be held responsible by way of sin, evil, wickedness.  It’s a life without blame, it’s a life that has no blemish, no blot on it, no sinful stain which people can discern and see.

And then, the word “innocent” could be translated “harmless.”  It is so translated in Matthew 10:16 where Jesus says, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  It is also translated “simple” in Romans 16:19, I think it is, Paul says that we are to be simple concerning evil It has to do with being pure It has to do with being unmixed, unadulterated, undefiled; it is used, for example, to refer to unmixed wine and unalloyed metal So, he’s simply using two somewhat basic terms, saying that your life is to be a life which cannot be criticized for sin, and which is pure and undefiled and unadulterated and unmixed with evil.  So, really two ways to say, essentially, a pure life, a life without fault and a life without flaw That’s God’s desire for His people, that their character and their conduct should be so pure that they cannot justly be accused, that they are above criticism that is legitimate, there is no foreign element which contaminates their life.  We are to be, in the terms of 2 Corinthians 11, a chaste virgin, a pure virgin, in terms of Ephesians 5, the church is to be a blameless without spot, without blemish bride.  Same concept.

Then, you’ll note also in verse 15 he uses the term “above reproach.”  That too is one word in the Greek, you have amemptos, akeraios, and then you have ammos, all of them have an alpha-privative which means they’re negative terms, and this means above reproach: faultless, flawless, spotless, blemishless.  This word, by the way, is used in the Greek Old Testament in Numbers, I think it’s several times, Numbers 6:14, Numbers 19:2, I found in both places, and it’s there referring to a sacrifice, without blemish, without spot, the kind of sacrifice to be brought to the Lord.  So, really three ways he’s saying the same thing: harmless, blameless, flawless, faultless, sinless, pure.  That’s what he wants.  Why?  And the key is this, children of God.  You are to be becoming the proper kind of child of God.  In other words, the kind that would rightly represent God, that would be believable if you said I belong to God, He’s my Father, I’m His son, I’m His child.  We are to be truly God’s children not only by divine decree, but by testimony as well.  In Romans 12 we are to present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.  So, we are like a sacrifice, to be without spot, without blemish, without stain, undefiled, pure.  We’re children of God.

We have to get in touch with that Who do you belong to?  Whose are you?  Who owns you?  Whose name do you bear?  Whose identity do you share?  Whose life do you share?  The very life of God.  And so, every believer needs to live in consistency with who He is.

MacArthur discusses ‘a crooked and twisted generation’:

Second point, when we talk about the reason for obedience, not only for our own sake but for the sake of the unsaved Here’s a very basic principle here, for the sake of the unsaved.  He says in verse 15, “You are to become blameless and innocent children of God, above reproach, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you appear as lights in the world holding forth the word of life.”  Now, here he is saying this matter of how you live has a dramatic impact not only on whether or not you’re consistent as a child of God, but how you affect the world in which you appear as lights.  Now, we’re talking about the unsaved, now we’re talking about our witnessing, now we’re talking about our evangelistic mandate And this is the heart of the appeal, by the way.  The first part just led into this; the last part just leads out of it.  This is the main issue Evangelism is primarily a matter of God’s children shining as lights in a dark world But doing that effectively comes down to two things: character and content, character and content, or personality and proclamation.  It’s not just what you say; it’s also what you are.  And we know that.  This is good reminder.

Now, would you notice verse 15, just to get you in touch with the specifics, he says, “In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,” and he there borrows a phrase from the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 and verse 5 There, Moses was speaking to apostate Israel and saying you are no more the children of God for you are a crooked and perverse nation So, he borrows that same phrase, only this time he’s not defining an apostate Israel; the writer of Scripture is now defining the society of the world in which the church exists.  In Deuteronomy 32, Moses characterized apostate Israel as a crooked and perverse nation, and here Paul borrows that phrase to characterize the whole world in which the church exists.  And we are living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation And that is something we need to be very careful to understand. 

Please note: we are in the midst of it.  Jesus said in John 17 when He prayed to the Father, I’m not going to ask you take them out of the world, I’m going to ask You to keep them in the world.  There we are as lights in the world.  It is a world of God-rejecters It is a world of Christ-haters It is a tragic world, morally warped, spiritually perverted It rejects God’s message as Israel of old did.  Would you notice those two words, “crooked and perverse?”  The word generation is genea, could translate nation as well But the words “crooked and perverse” are interestingCrooked is a Greek word, skolios.  Have you ever heard of an illness called scoliosis of the spine It’s a curvature of the spine It comes from this word because the word means curved, bent out of shape It describes something that is out of proper alignment, that is off and deviated from the standard.  Proverbs 2:15 describes the society of this world in these terms.  It says, “Their paths are crooked, and they are devious in their ways.”  Isaiah 53 puts it this way in verse 6, “All we like sheep have gone,” what?  “Astray.”  And so, man has a spiritual disease, scoliosis of the heart, in which he is deviated from God, in which he has left the standard, moved away from the straight plumb line of righteousness

And then, an even stronger word is the word perverse This word means to be severely twisted or severely distorted So, man has deviated from the path, and in the deviation become severely twisted and severely distorted It is an abnormal condition By the way, our Lord also used this basic same expression in Luke 9 Jesus said, “O unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you?”  So, this is a good characterization, one used in the Old Testament, one used in the gospels, one used by the writer of the epistle to describe someone who has deviated from the path of righteousness, deviated from the plan of God, become twisted, perverted.

Now, you’ll notice here that it says “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,” and then it says, “Among whom you appear as lights in the world.”  So, in a sense, generation and world go together Generation speaks basically of the popul[ace]; world speaks of the moral, ethical, sinful system in which they think and by which they operate their lives and conduct their behavior.  So, we face a twisted distorted world.  This is continuously brought home to me.  It’s a twisted perverted world.  Fornication is right, adultery is right, homosexuality is right, lying is right, cheating is right, and all the rest of it.  Not the Word of God.  So, the whole culture has deviated from the standard of righteousness, and in the deviation become distorted and twisted, and their thinking is so convoluted that we would never expect the natural man to understand the things of God They are to him what?  Foolishness.

Now, that leaves us then with two very important things.  We are to reach this perverse world, we are to reach this crooked world and there are two ways: one, what we are; two, what we say.  Let’s look, first of all, at what we are.  Verse 15, “You are children of God, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”  Now, this is what we are.  This is what we are.  Among whom you appear, phainomai, probably could be translated “you are shining,” could be, “you must shine.”  But he is saying you have to shine, and this is talking about now what we say but what we are, what we are.  You shine, and here’s his analogy, as lights, phstr, that word in a metaphorical sense can refer to a lot of different lights But whenever it’s used in a specific non-metaphorical sense it always refers to the sun, moon, or stars.  And I take it here that that is probably what Paul is saying. 

We find, for example, such a use of this term in the Septuagint in Genesis 1:14 and Genesis 1:16, we find some non-biblical sources where this word is used to refer to the sun, moon and the stars.  And what he is simply saying is you live in a dark universe, and you are the stars and the sun and the moon; you’re the only light the world has As the sun and the moon and the stars shine in the heavens, and as they illuminate an otherwise dark sky, so you shine in the world, illuminating an otherwise totally dark society.  We shine.

Now, what do you mean by shine?  We demonstrate the light of God What is that?  It’s the life of God I’m not going to go into a whole study, but light and life are one Life, the life of God in us emphasizes the character of that life.  The life of God in us as light emphasizes the impact of that life.  And you find John jumping back and forth to those concepts, light and life, as well as Paul on some occasions Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.”  You are a vessel in whom the light of God has been poured with the life of God and now you have life as to its quality and light as to its impact.  It is a shining life.  It is a living light.  And so, we are called to be what Israel failed to be You remember in Romans 2:19, Paul says, “You’re confident that you’re a guide to the blind and a light to those who are in darkness, but you’re not.”  Israel, the Jew as the Jewish leaders of Paul’s time thought they were the lights but they weren’t, and thus they are called the blind leading the blind, and both will fall in the ditch.  But we are the light of the world.  Why?  Because the light of life shines in us and the light of His life in us shines from us.  We are vessels.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul says God who first ordered the light to shine in the darkness has flooded our hearts with His light.  We can now enlighten men by giving them the knowledge of God’s glory that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ We are lights.  We are children of light.  In Ephesians 5:8, there’s a good reminder of that and you know it very well.  “You were formerly darkness now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light.”  Then, he even talks about the fruit of light and what is it?  The fruit of light is goodness, and righteousness, and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord and not participating in the unfruitful deeds of darkness Our light shines in our deeds: goodness, righteousness, truth, what we are, that’s how the light shines.

You actually light people one way or another You send out an impulsive light, you as a child of God.  You cannot come in contact with other people in this crooked and perverse generation without impacting them in some way And if you are a godly, holy, obedient Christian, you will have an almost startling impact on most people.  And they will feel the light and they may even shy away from the light because it is so obvious that you possess something they don’t possess They may feel the vibrations, to put it in another analogy, of your own holiness; they may feel a yearning to be something better than they are They may even sense the appetite, the hunger, the thirst for the unseen and the eternal which they know they don’t have.  It’s also true that if you’re a bad person, you’ll bring dark vibrations, and your life will touch someone else and it will put out a corresponding current that you’ve induced So, you affect people for good or for bad, everybody does.

MacArthur then quotes F B Meyer (1847-1929), a Baptist pastor and evangelist from London who also worked in the United States:

In a sense it’s a terrible thing to think about.  FB Meyer wrote, “These thoughts press on one’s heart that one can never speak a word, never transact a piece of business that one’s face is never seen lighted up with the radiance of God or clouded and despondent without it being made harder or easier for other men to live a good life.  Every one of us every day resembles Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made other men sin, or we are lifting other men into the light and the peace and the joy of God No man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself, but the life of everyone is telling upon an increasing number of mankind what a solemn responsibility it is to live.”  And we have that responsibility.  You are light.  You have been called to light the dark world.  And the quality of your life is the platform of your personal testimony.  You have to understand that.  By the kind of life you live, you build a platform on which what you say is made believable.  If you have no platform because of your life, your message isn’t believable And a murmuring discontent, grumbling, griping, complaining Christian is never going to have a positive influence on others You can’t be talking about the gospel, forgiveness, joy, peace, gladness, comfort, and be moaning and grumbling and complaining all the time.  People are not going to believe the gospel will do what you’re trying to say it will do That’s why the philosopher Heine in Germany said, “Show me your redeemed lives and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.”

How true.

Returning to our text, Paul tells the Philippians to hold fast to the word of life, so that when he is finally with Christ he can be proud that he did not run (a spiritual marathon) in vain or labour in vain (verse 16).

The word of life is the Gospel.

MacArthur explains:

in addition to our character is our content, it’s what we say Look at verse 16.  Also he adds, in the process of shining as lights in the world you are “holding forth the word of life.”  Now, some would translate it “holding fast.”  Now, my own feeling is that if Paul wanted to say “holding fast” he probably would have used katech, instead he uses epech, holding forth or holding out That same verb used here is used in Homer’s “Odyssey” to refer to holding out a gift of wine for someone to take and drink, so it’s kind of an offer It can mean holding firmly, holding tightly, but the context here is one of shining in a dark world.  It’s one of sending light into a dark world.  So, both the word, its uses, its comparison to other terms and its context seems to me to favor holding forth, holding out.  We are shining as stars in terms of character.  We are holding out the Word of life.  What is that?  The Word that gives life.  What Word gives life?  The gospel, the gospel, the message which gives life, the gospel of salvation that gives life, the life of God to the soul, the soul of manMen are dead in trespasses and sin, Ephesians 2:1 says, they need lifeWe hold out that life We hold forth that life That’s proclamation.  So, on the one hand it’s personality; on the other, it’s proclamation, it’s character, and it’s content.  It’s what we are, it’s what we say.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant by his own evangelistic efforts on the Philippians’ behalf:

Look at verse 16, “So that in the day of Christ I may have cause to rejoice because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”  He says, “Look, if you’ll obey this command, I’ll be happy in the day of Christ, and I’ll look back on my life and I’ll say it wasn’t in vain, it wasn’t in vain.”  So, he says, do it for my sake.  And his pastoral heart is showing here.  He says, “Be pure, be godly, without complaint, for the sake of the one who has given his life in service to you, for the sake of the one who has been called by God, for the sake of the one who has been commissioned by God, for the sake of the one who has extended himself that he might minister to you.  Please do this for my sake, and not for my temporal sake but for my eternal sake,” he says.  Not to make me like my ministry better.  No, but to give me a greater joy in eternity.  Why?  I believe it’s very simple.  This isn’t proud, this isn’t self-serving.  Paul’s saying this, look, “I love God.  I love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  I live in this life to serve God.  And I look forward to heaven for one great reason: I want to glorify God.  And the more effective my service has been in this world, the greater my capacity to glorify Him will be in the world to come So, don’t limit my capacity to glorify Him in the world to come by rendering my labors here in vain because you have not followed through.”

And so, here’s his third and compelling motivation: do it for your sake that you might be a proper child of God.  Do it for the lost’s sake that you might shine as a light in the world holding forth the Word of life.  And do it for my sake that out of love for me and esteem for me and desire to see me fully able to glorify God in eternity, do it.  Marvelous point, isn’t it?  He had given his life for them.  He was the human instrument of their salvation.  It’s recorded in Acts 16 how the Philippian church was born.  Now, he’s in prison.  He doesn’t know how long he has.  For all he knows at this point he may lose his life It turned out he didn’t lose it until later in a second imprisonment But at the time he faced that prospect He looks forward to meeting the Lord and he says, “When I meet the Lord,” verse 16, “in the day of Christ,” and that, by the way, is different than the day of the Lord It’s a different emphasis.  Day of the Lord emphasizes judgment; day of Christ emphasizes rewards Day of the Lord focuses on the unbeliever; day of Christ focuses on the believer So, he says, “As I look forward to the day when I see Christ and I receive my reward,” he says, I will have cause to glory,” or better, “cause to rejoice, cause to rejoice.”  And why will I rejoice?  “Because I will know that I didn’t run in vain,” and that’s a word that’s used to speak of runners in a stadium, making a maximum effort to win a great event, “and I didn’t toil in vain,” that’s kopia, work to the point of sweat and exhaustion In other words, I want to get to the end, I want to see Christ and know that none of the tremendous effort that I made was for nothing …

It’s not egotistical It’s that you so cherish the responsibility of ministry that you want God to know you have rendered the very best effort possible Paul, if he’s going to boast, Romans 15 says, in Christ Jesus, I have found reason for boasting, but I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.  He knows.  Whatever we rejoice in Christ has done, whatever good happens in your life Christ has done But be faithful for the sake of those who have poured their life into you.  Be faithful for the sake of those who planted the seed and those who watered the seed

Paul, considering his ongoing imprisonment, says that even if he becomes a drink offering on the sacrificial offering of the Philippians’ faith, he is happy and rejoices with all of them (verse 17).

MacArthur explains what a drink offering was in the ancient world when an animal sacrifice was made:

Paul is talking about an altar and he’s talking about an animal and he’s talking about blood and he’s talking about suffering and he’s talking about pouring out a libation, or otherwise called a drink offering. That’s the imagery that’s in his mind. And as he looks at his life and realizes that he is to humbly and without complaint work out his salvation, he recognizes that in doing that he will have to offer himself as a sacrifice which he gladly does. And he says this is what you are, of course, to follow, this is the pattern …

Well, in the ancient world of sacrifice…by the way, both the Jewish and the pagan world had these kinds of drink offerings…this is what typically would happen. After the animal on the altar had been killed and was being burned up, there was a final sort of capper, a final topping off of that sacrifice where the offerer came and took wine, sometimes they used water, occasionally we even have illustration of them using honey, but predominantly wine, and pouring wine either on the ground in front of the altar or on top of the burning sacrifice in which case it would vaporize immediately into steam and go into the air, symbolizing the rising of that sacrifice into the nostrils of the deity for whom it was being offered.

So Paul says I am now offering my life as this final topping off libation or drink offering upon another sacrifice. This is the completion of this full sacrifice. By the way, if you want some Scriptures to look up on that, 2 Kings 16:13 describes the Jewish drink offering. Jeremiah 7:18 talks about the pagan drink offerings. And Hosea 9:4 notes that the drink offering was wine. And those are just selected out of a number of Scriptures.

The process went like this. The offerer came and before the altar the animal was killed, put on the altar, burned. At some point during the burning the drink offering was poured out as the final sacrificial act. And that is exactly what Paul has in mind. He sees this whole sacrificial scene…now note this…but what he sees his sacrifice as is the drink offering, the final touch to another sacrifice.

MacArthur says Paul was speaking of his circumstances at the time he wrote to the Philippians, not the prospect of death:

“Even if” is a first-class conditional in the Greek which means that it indicates something that is so. So it should be translated “since.” But since I am being poured out. “I am being poured out” is in the present tense, so whatever it is he’s referring to it is going on right now. Some people have tried to make this verse refer to his martyrdom, to his future death in the event that he would be executed while imprisoned here, or whenever his martyrdom came that he had that in mind. No, this is not a future, this is a present tense. There is no reason to push this into a future interpretation, he is talking about something that is going on right now. So he is saying even if, and it is the case, I am presently being poured out as a drink offering. Note this, he saw then not his death as a sacrifice, but his life as a sacrifice in which his death was only the culmination. His whole life was a drink offering. His whole life had been poured out. It is happening right now. I am being spendomi, I am being poured out presently. It cannot mean his death, it can end with his death but he is talking about his sacrificial life. Here he is because of the cause of Christ a prisoner, chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day, he is bound, he cannot carry on his ministry the way he had been free to carry it on prior to this time. And in the difficulty of being chained to a Roman soldier, no privacy and under whatever kind of abuse that might have involved, he sees himself as pouring out his life as an offering to be pleasing to God.

Now note this. This kind of sacrifice is a willing one and Paul was making it with a willing heart. By the way, those who think that Paul’s referring to his death are assuming that he was anticipating that he might die. But I don’t sense that he really felt he was going to die, it was a remote possibility.

MacArthur explains ‘the sacrificial offering’ of the Philippians faith. In short, they were suffering persecution:

Now did you notice there is a greater sacrifice than the drink offering? The drink offering is Paul’s sacrifice, the greater sacrifice he indicates is that of the Philippian church. Did you see that? This is a very powerful point. I’m poured out as a drink offering on top of or upon the real sacrifice which is your sacrifice. You are making the great sacrifice, I am just the topping off of it

Well, in the first place, we know that the Philippians were suffering greatly for their faith. Go back to chapter 1 verse … 28, he says, “I don’t want you to be in any way alarmed by your opponents.” Don’t be alarmed by your opponents. Then go down into verse 29, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake.” So they have opponents, they are suffering for the sake of Christ. Then verse 30 says, “You’re even experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me and now here to be in me.” You’re going through what I’m going through. They were in a hostile environment. They were in an ungodly environment. They were in a pagan culture. And it was bringing on them that persecution which is indicated there in those verses. So Paul says yours is the great sacrifice. You are the one suffering as you proclaim Christ in Philippi. Mine is just the pouring out a libation on top of your great sacrifice

Some translations add ‘service’ so that the verse reads ‘the sacrifice and service of your faith’:

Now notice that phrase “upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.” The sacrifice they were making was really the giving of their lives the cause of Christ…preaching, teaching, proclaiming, living for Christ. And he calls it “the service of your faith…the service of your faith.” The word “service” is leitourgia from which we get liturgy. Why? Because it means sacred service, religious service, priestly service.

Paul tells the Philippians to be glad in the midst of their suffering and to rejoice, just as he is rejoicing (verse 18):

So Paul looks at them and he sees them as priests. Just like Peter says, holy priests, royal priests, 1 Peter 2. And he sees the Philippians as priests who are offering up their lives as a sacrifice, and his by comparison is just a little topping off compared to theirs. They were a faithful people. They were a sacrificial people. He rejoiced over them. He just rejoiced over them because of their faithfulness to the Lord

Well, you’re going through suffering and you’re going through persecution and you’re going through opposition, you rejoice too and I’ll rejoice and we’ll rejoice together that you have put your lives on the altar, that I have poured my life on the altar that it is all well pleasing to God and in that is our great joy.

MacArthur poses difficult questions for us in the context of these verses:

You look at trials and difficulties, hard places, physical discomfort, pain and even death as dark and forbidding. But when you get to the point where you totally abandon yourself to the will of God to be pleasing in His sight, nothing is dark, nothing is forbidding, light is shed on everything and ultimate sacrifice leads to ultimate joy. And the reason we know so little about that kind of joy is because we know so little about that kind of sacrifice.

For us, you see, the only thing that brings joy is what we do for ourselves, and once in a while the joy of seeing something done for someone else. But I wonder how many Christians really aren’t consumed with the joy that is theirs because of the total sacrifice they have made for Christ. We get joy out of what we do for ourselves, we get some joy out of what we do for others as a satisfaction in feeding the hungry, helping the poor, whatever it might be, helping little children, sick people. But how many of us are exhilarated with joy in the sacrifices we make for the cause of Christ? Let me ask the question, what are you sacrificing in service to Christ? What amount of treasure, what amount of time, what are you sacrificing for the cause of Christ? I’ll put it another way. What have you said no to in order to say yes to God’s will? What have you said no to in order to say yes to God’s Kingdom? What have you said no to in order to say yes to God’s church? That’s the question. Paul lived a life of sacrificial joy. And I’m telling you, and I’ll say it probably till I die some day, the reason we have such a discontent, unhappy society is because, and even among Christians, they are trying to find joy in possessions rather than in sacrifice where ultimate joy lies. And so they are chasing an illusion.

You say, “Well I don’t mind my life, it’s not that bad.” Well that may be true, God is gracious and you may have a modicum of happiness. But you will never know true joy, surpassing joy, sacrificial joy, the joy that allows a man being burned at the stake to sing with expressions of joy in his lips, the hymns of his great God and Savior, you may never know that exhilarating joy, the joy that comes out of sacrificial giving, sacrificial effort, the greatest joy.

… Jesus is the perfect illustration of ultimate sacrifice and ultimate joy. Jesus in giving His life, enduring the cross, did so for the ultimate joy of offering to God the ultimate sacrifice that was well-pleasing to Him. Paul learned it from Jesus. And he longed…he longed to learn Christ in his own life.

MacArthur contrasts our spiritual condition today with that of St Paul:

Let me make the point that needs to be made. The reason that we are reluctant to set ourselves up as the spiritual model is because we know so much about ourselves as to know the model is not what it ought to be. But listen carefully. When a person is truly spiritual and truly godly and truly deep and truly walks in intimacy with God, there is the utter lack of self-consciousness that is present in the hypocrite. And so Paul can rather readily, in fact almost easily use himself as an illustration because it is the reflection of the purest intent and the purest motive, and so it is done with no self-consciousness. It is the expression of a genuinely humble man, of a genuinely spiritual man, of a genuinely godly man and thus it is not a problem for him, as he said in 1 Corinthians, to literally say to us, “Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ.” If you find it difficult for you to say that about yourself, and to establish yourself as the standard for others to follow, it is because there is a self-consciousness there about that. That self-consciousness is born out of a sense of inadequacy because you are not before God what you ought to be. Paul, on the other hand, knows none of that self-consciousness and freely does he express the fact that he is the standard and the model and freely does the Spirit of God encourage him to do that knowing full well what is in his heart. So this is not a wrong thing to do, it is a right thing to do. It is just that there are very few who can be self-conscious and humble and so deeply godly that they can do it as Paul does it so easily. So he is the first illustration, rightly so, and it is godly for him to say so because it is the truest reflection of his pure heart.

In closing, here is another F B Meyer quote, which really brings home the sacrificial spiritual passion we see in Scripture:

It is certain that before any service that we do for God or man is likely to be of lasting or permanent benefit, it must be saturated with our heart’s blood. That which costs us nothing will not benefit others. If there is no expenditure of tears and prayer, if that love of which the Apostle speaks in another place which costs is lacking, we may speak with the tongues of men and of angels, may know all mysteries and all knowledge, may bestow all our goods to feed the poor but it will profit nothing. Let us rather seek to be poured forth as an offering, then to do much without feeling the least travail of soul. As the fertility of Egypt in any year is in direct proportion to the height that the waters of the Nile measure, so the amount of our real fruitfulness in the world is gauged by the expenditure of our spiritual force. It was because Moses was prepared to be blotted from the book of God for his people that he carried them for forty years through the desert and deposited them on the very borders of the promised land. It was because Jesus wept over Jerusalem that He was able to send a Pentecost on that guilty city. It was because Paul was prepared to be accursed for his brethren according to the flesh that he was able to turn so many from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto GodNo heart pangs, no spiritual seed.

Never mind the length of this post, the question is whether the content is difficult to comprehend and digest. I will be considering it for some time to come.

Next week, the tone changes as Paul discusses Timothy’s faithful ministry.

Next time — Philippians 2:19-24

Advertisement