Friday, January 28, 2011

Poured Out

Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17-18, NKJV).

The Apostle Paul would not have been very popular in today's academic and intellectual circles. He was an absolutist. He was passionate. He gave his all, always, first to Judaism before his conversion on the Road to Damascus, and then, afterwards, to Christ. He was neither "nuanced" nor did he entertain "gray areas". He was most emphatically NOT an Universalist, affirming instead that there were not many, but only ONE way to Heaven - through Christ by faith.

I am certain he would have been mocked and scorned today for being so "narrow" and "intolerant", but that would not have mattered to him at all. He did not care what men thought about him. He didn't even care what he thought about himself. He was one of those people who was incapable of less than full commitment, and of this you could be certain: when he focused that commitment on you, he would give everything he had to promote your good. Even if it cost him everything.

That is what he is alluding to in the two verses above, and in one simple phrase, where he writes that he is being poured out as a drink offering, he is conveying the depth of his commitment, past, present and future. Drink offerings were instituted by God, through Moses, the Lawgiver. These consisted of wine poured around the altar of sacrifice in the Tabernacle and Temple, and were part of the meat-offerings presented daily, on the Sabbath, and on feast-days (Ex 29:40, 30:9; Nu  6:15,17,15:5, 28:9; Ho 9:4; 2Ki 16:13; Joe 1:9,13 2:14).  By picturing himself as the wine that was poured on the sacrifice and service of [their] faith, he was inextricably linking himself to the believers in Philippi, for whom he had already given much, and was joyfully willing to give all. Including his life, if need be.

The love of Christ constrained Paul to offer himself fully to those under his care. He could do no less, and he considered it a privilege, something to be glad about. He also expected his audience to have the same perspective (I am glad and rejoice with you all). Here's the thing he knew and believed - that service in Christ transcended both life and death. Note that, please. Whether he lived or died was insignificant in comparison to his either living or dying in, and for, Christ. That meant he would gladly do all that pleased His Lord, at whatever cost, because there was nothing more important - neither life nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing - that outweighed the glory, beauty and eternal satisfaction of doing the Lord's will.

Paul had the epitome of a pastor's heart.

But there's more, here. Notice his description of what he is being poured out upon: the sacrifice and service of [their] faith. This speaks of a mutual commitment between the church and its founder, with a common mode of operation, namely sacrifice and service. It means something to be a Christian. Repentance and faith look like something, and often that something is viewed unfavorably by the unbelieving world. Be steadfast for what is right, and pure, and true, be definite as to where you stand on the issues of life and faith, and you are bound to suffer. Especially in these last days, when lawlessness and disbelief abound.

If you are a "moderate" Christian, one who prides him or herself on not coming across too strongly, then I exhort you to look closely at whether or not you are really in the faith. If you see sin and worldliness around you and are not grieved and heartbroken, then in who, and in what exactly, do you really believe? If you do not speak up when God gives you the opportunity to share your faith, perhaps enabling someone to escape ETERNAL damnation, then exactly what service to God are you performing? If you can abide in friendship with a dark and Christ-rejecting world, then you are at enmity with God. If you doubt this, read 1st John.

What you sacrifice as a Christian IS friendship with the world. It can be no other way. It may cost you everything you have in this life, family, friends, livelihood, even your life, but that loss is rubbish compared to what you gain in Christ. Paul will say these very things later in this marvelous letter, but he is previewing those truths right here.

To live this way does not mean being obnoxious, or self-righteous, or condemning of others. It doesn't mean being shrill or preachy or unapproachable. In fact, it means the opposite; being holy, harmless, loving, gentle, and inviting. But you CANNOT accommodate the world. You cannot blend in. In short, you must stand like a rock in the midst of the winds and the waves of this life, not blown about, but steadfast and certain in what you believe, and why.

And that kind of service will cost you. That kind of faith will cause some to hold you in contempt, or maybe even want to kill you, but so what? It's Christ you serve, not the world or your flesh. And for that service He guarantees more that you can ask or think or imagine.

Be poured out on behalf of others. Don't hold back. Don't try to fit in. The time is short. Make the most of it.