Life as a Living Sacrifice
Text: Philippians 2:17-18
The best lives in human history may be summed up in one word: service. A life that cannot be accurately summed up by that one word has missed the point. To be given life is to be given the opportunity to serve.
The epitome of such a life is of course, the Son of God our Lord Jesus Christ who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, gave His life a ransom for many, and laid down His life in His death upon the cross.
But such is the salvation that He provides, that those for whom He died naturally follow in the same spirit. They are to live in a manner that can be summed up by the word, service.
After presenting himself as somewhat of an example in that regard, Paul begins to apply the spirit of servitude to those at Philippi. He calls them to heavenly living and a life of self-denial for the unity of the church, and then gives the example of that spirit in Christ. He then begins to apply the same truths again, pressing harder upon them that they are responsible to work out the salvation God has worked in them, and they are to quit murmuring like unbelieving Israel, and shine like luminaries in a crooked and perverse world.
And his comments in v16 form the basis to launch into a new stream of thought in this concept of servitude, as he begins to present himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus as examples for them to learn from.
Is it right for Paul to use himself as a motivation for them to life right? What does it matter if he has run and laboured in vain? It matters because he is prepared to lay down his very life for them.
I. THE PICTURE OF SACRIFICE v17
“offered” – i.e. poured out “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” 2 Tim 4:6. The only other use—on both occasions in the passive voice and employed figuratively.
“sacrifice” – i.e. idea of ritual sacrifice
“service” – i.e. service in general or in the worship of God.
What is going on here? Numbers 28:1-8
After the animal on the altar had been killed and was being burned up, the offerer came and took wine, and poured wine on top of the burning sacrifice in which case it would vaporize and go into the air, symbolizing the rising of that sacrifice before God.
So the picture Paul uses here is that of the Philippians being a sacrifice to God just like the morning and evening sacrifice to God, and just as it had to be accompanied with the pouring out of the wine upon it, Paul shows his willingness to be offered/poured out upon their sacrifice.
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 1 Pet 2:5 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Rom 12:1.
1. This Picture Recognizes the Saints
Paul recognizes the sacrificial spirit of the Philippians. He will acknowledge there sacrifice in practical affairs in 4:18. His willingness to be poured out is for a people who are showing themselves willing to sacrifice for the cause of Christ. While we have noted the need for improvement among them, we must keep in mind that for the most part this was an exemplary church.
2. This Picture Represents the Servant
So why did he describe his willingness to die in this way? “Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” Rom 15:15-16
Here he explains his priestly function of offering up the gentiles. The gospel preacher functions as a priest in bringing sinners as an offering to God through the mediatorial work of Christ. He then pours himself out upon them as a part of that sacrifice.
What a spirit Paul had. “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” 2 Cor 12:15. “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” 1 Thes 2:8. What an example! But he was only following another…
3. This Picture Resembles the Saviour
All the elements of the Levitical sacrifices pointed to Christ. So while Paul depicts something we are to be, it is primarily because in his action and spirit he reflects the Saviour. “…he hath poured out his soul unto death” Is 53:12
Christ poured out himself by leaving heaven’s glory to come into this world as a man and as a servant. He has poured out his life in the obedience He rendered to His Father. And He has poured out His life by His atoning death. Christ spent everything. What more could He spend having shed His blood?
II. THE POSSIBILITY OF SACRIFICE
Most of the commentators agree that in this language Paul is hinting at the possibility of his martyrdom. The fact that the word offered is used in a more definite sense in “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” 2 Tim 4:6, gives strong indication at the meaning intended. While it is more certain in 2 Timothy, the possibility is suggested here in Philippians.
In spite of this, the attitude of the Apostle was that of joy. To Paul, it would be a joy to give up his life for the needs of God’s people. He had absolutely no reservations about the importance of the people of God, and if it called for the giving of his life, so be it.
Remember Phil 2:4. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” 1 John 3:16.
III. THE PURPOSE OF SACRIFICE
Note the repetition of the spirit of joy here. The purpose of sacrifice for the cause of Christ is to give us an opportunity to exemplify the spirit of Christ. But that is not just in the DOING, it must also be seen in our ATTITUDE.
The degree of success that you’ll experience in this aspect of the Christian life and the call to pour out yourself for others, will depend on your level of affection for Christ and how appreciative you are of all that he has done and continues to do for you.
But the purpose of sacrifice is more than just showing our affection toward Christ. It is also for the purpose of benefiting the kingdom of God, specifically in being a blessing to God’s people and helping them. 3 John v6 talks about the saints who had brought other saints “forward on their journey.” And we should ask ourselves, do I bring other saints forward on their journey? How different would our conduct be to each other if that was always on our minds? Am I like Paul, willing to lay down my life to bring the saints forward on their journey?
Do you see how little reason you have to be complacent as a Christian? Do you see how much more work is required in your heart? I hope you do.
How different is the spirit of our society. It has an obsession for living for self. Even the sermons today are all about self. Listen to them beloved. They aren’t about serving God (excepting giving your money to ministries of course), but the messages are all about feeling good about yourself.
But the gospel is not about the joy of man. The gospel is about the joy of God in the redemption of man, and how God is glorified as we become more like His Son. But that’s not the message of the global evangelists today. That’s not the message of most of the celebrity preachers. Victoria Osteen, “…just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy.”
Churches are built on the message that God is there to serve you, and you just receive all the benefits and live life as you please in the enjoyment of them all. Then when bad things happen their world comes crashing down and they doubt the love of God and abandon their faith because they had built their house upon the sand.
But let’s not just point the finger outward. Let us look at our own hearts. Let us identify selfishness in ourselves. Let us be honest about how far we fall short in this selflessness that’s prepared to die for the benefit of God’s people.
Notice his passion for God’s people. Notice his continual driving at them to get them to improve. I want you to see that. I don’t want you sitting there thinking I’m a terribly demanding preacher. You perhaps think I push too far. You say, preacher, you make me feel uncomfortable about myself. I don’t really feel better when I come here. But look at the language of Paul. He was not in the business of trying to make God’s people FEEL better, but getting them to LIVE better. And that’s my responsibility.
And if you feel uncomfortable with this text, try being the preacher. Paul makes me feel shameful.
Listen believer, God is calling us to lay down our lives. I believe He is calling us this morning to address inconsistencies in our lives. Perhaps He is calling you to a rededication of your life. You have let things slip. You’re living the Christian life on your own terms.
This morning as we bow our heads, just give your heart afresh to the Lord. Ask Him what sacrifices He wants you to make, and be sensitive to His leading.
“We who have Christ’s eternal life need to throw away our own lives.” George Verwer