We can grumble, grumble (see previous devotions) or twinkle, twinkle, but we can’t do both! Twinkling as bright stars in a dark night sky is to hold “fast to the word of Life” as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:16. The mention in the previous verse of being bright shining stars in a dark sky comes from the Old Testament book of Daniel 12:3. It describes the coming age of the Kingdom of God, ruled by God’s anointed. It will be the abode of all who will “shine like the brightness in the sky above” and who “will turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Hughes comments, “Thus Christians who live in humble harmony as they should, considering others more important than themselves, shine resurrection light in a dark world, especially as they are ‘holding fast to the word of life,’ the gospel of Christ.”
Bright stars, holding fast the good news about Jesus, shine for all to see. There are some who think that they can shine forth a good news gospel to believers but shun the unbelieving community and choose not only not to be of the world but also not to even be in the world. On the other hand there are those who want to shine bright among those in the unbelieving world but relate to their brothers and sisters in Christ with indifference or even negative and critical grumbling spirits. But stars in the night, like the sunshine and the rains from heaven, shine on the just and the unjust. God shines his love on the righteous and the unrighteous. The light of the good news of Jesus should shine forth from every believer to everyone. If it shines at all, it shines on all!
I know those who have convinced themselves that a critical, negative spirit is a virtue. Putting themselves in the place of God’s divine bull dogs charged with protecting the sacredness of the assembly, they frown at and hold disdain for the joy expressed by others. They think that their negativity will be good for the church and make others tow their own particular line of righteousness. It’s a form of spiritual manipulation and psychological blackmail. And it’s a sin. Paul says, (as Hughes quotes in his commentary), “…such conduct impedes the working out of salvation in the church. In fact, it can ruin one’s own soul or the soul of another in the church. It can make the church the cultural joke of ‘a crooked and twisted generation.’” This is why Paul admonished the Philippians and he admonishes us to “work out our salvation” with “fear and trembling.” We can either be the grumbling kill joys like the religious leaders in Christ’s day, or we can be the twinkling stars of joy shining with the good news of Jesus Christ!
Paul expressed confidence that God would deliver him from his present imprisonment through the prayers of the Philippian believers. He wanted his freedom! Yet, he continued to assert the fact that the matter was not in his hands and that whether he lived or died, the result would be the same! Christ would be glorified! Now in Philippians 2:17 he returns to that motif. First he encouraged his readers to live lives that are worthy of their calling and to have the same mind that Christ had. This would fill his life with true joy. His own situation wasn’t as important as the situation and circumstances of the fellowship of the believers at Philippi. Then he says, “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.”
Paul’s future is in question. He doesn’t know for sure what will befall him in the days ahead but it didn’t matter. He was glad and rejoicing with the Philippians as they grew in Christ likeness and learned how to pursue the mission of the Gospel in one mind with one purpose, striving together, and seeing the good news of Jesus spread. Paul uses the sacrificial image that all Jewish believers as well as pagan idol worshipers would be familiar with. It’s the image of the “drink offering.” Hughes explains that “A priest would offer a sacrifice and then later pour out a sacrificial libation to complement it.” It seems that Paul is referring to the believers as priests in their own right and their sacrificial offering is “faith.” Then Paul adds his libation, or drink offering, to their offering of faith. The commentators aren’t sure exactly what that offering is that Paul is referring to but it may very well be his own death.
Paul exhorts us to think like Christ. In earlier verses he explained how we should be thinking like Christ who had divine glory but set it aside for the well being of others. We must learn to think like Christ in our relationships with each other. But Paul doesn’t merely speak to us with words only; he also gives us a living example. This was Christ’s teaching method as well. He showed them how to be servants by washing their feet and how to relate to children and many other examples throughout his life and ministry. It is clear that Paul sees his offering as a libation to the more significant offering of the Philippians. Their offering is the significant thing; his is the period at the end of the sentence. He saw himself as simply a complement to their sacrifice. They were not a complement to his sacrifice. Even in his metaphors Paul teaches us to “consider others more important than ourselves.”
Paul explains how he will be “glad and rejoice” over the Philippians even if the price of their faith had to be paid for with his own life. It was well worth it! It would be nothing more than a libation, or a drink offering, that was poured out over the main burnt offering. According to Exodus the drink offering was wine. Not the sour vinegar wine that Jesus was offered on the cross, but a robust healthy wine. If you did a study of the Old Testament you’d see how this high quality wine was the symbol of joy. I like the thought of the symbolic joy of the drink offering and Paul’s claim that he was glad to offer himself for the cause of Christ to the Philippians to produce their faith and growth in Christ-likeness.
Up to now most of the references to Joy have been about how Paul, in spite of all his struggles, was still able to maintain his own joy. It’s mostly about Paul’s own joy. But then after expressing his own great joy again in verse 17, Paul goes on in Philippians 2:18 to address their joy. He writes, “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul literally and liberally invites them to join his double-dose of joy with a double-dip of their own. If it was a song the “joy note” would show up like the chorus. We see it four times in the space of just these two verses (Philippians 2:17-18).
This is an imperative. We see these constructions as commands. So Hughes says, “Also, this first imperative was totally meshed with Paul’s joy and was a command to rejoice in the midst of suffering. What we have here is a partaking of the fellowship of the gospel at its deepest level (cf. 1:5, 7)—a fellowship rooted in the three-way bond of Paul, Christ, and the Philippians.” Suffering is a part of every life. Christ experienced what must have been the most profound physical, emotional and spiritual suffering of anyone. Paul rejoiced to share in the suffering of Christ. He didn’t go looking for the suffering. Christ did not do that either. But when it came, he made it an offering of joy. Christ suffered as the “whole burnt offering” for the sins of the world. Paul suffered as a drink offering added to the blood of Christ in order to advance the mission of Christ. Our suffering should be viewed in a similar way. In the midst of our sorrow, pain, loss, grief, and misery, let us lift up our eyes to God and offer it all as a second libation (drink offering) with joy in knowing we too are contributing to the joy and faith of others that will follow.
Paul really wanted the Philippians to feel the joy he himself had through all his trials and sufferings. He even used the imperative mood (mood of command) when he said they should be glad and rejoice with him. Christ was God’s whole burnt offering for the sins of the world. Christ had to suffer! He had to die in order for our salvation to be secured. Like the drink offerings of the Old Testament, Paul saw his life as a mere libation added to the great sacrifice of Christ. He offered himself with great joy and encouraged us also to consider all our pains and sorrows as fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. In that way no pain is ever wasted and we too can find meaning and purpose in the miseries of life. Paul wants them to find joy through all their sufferings just like he did.
Then in Philippians 2:19, Paul goes back to the things that bring him real joy in life. He and Timothy were on the team that planted the Church in Philippi years before. They knew Timothy well and Paul intended to send him to them knowing how they will be glad to see him again. But he adds a thought when he writes, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.” They will be cheered upon seeing Timothy again, and Paul himself will be cheered when Timothy returns to Rome with news about how things are going in Philippi.
Paul is expecting the Best! I love this man! He knows of the struggles and divisions in the church and he addresses the need for each and every one, along with the elders and deacons, to cultivate the mind of Christ in all their dealings with each other. He expects them to receive his instructions with open and willing hearts. He expects the two women who had brought division and animosity to respond well. He expects the best from them! We don’t give our best to those who expect us to fail! We don’t get the best from those we expect to fail. It’s nearly a self-fulfilling prophecy. Christ teaches us to expect the best, but always be ready to forgive and restore when someone fails. We all do, and we all will again. So will others around us. I love what Max Lucado said in “No Wonder They Call Him The Savior.” He writes, “Expectations alone are the bullets that can kill; but buffered by acceptance and forgiveness, they can bring out the best.”
Philippians 2:20, Proverbs 27:6
Paul is sending Timothy to the Philippian Church expecting that he’ll bring back good news to him regarding the condition of the church and this will cheer his heart, or bring him great joy. On the other hand he is sending Timothy to them in order that they too may rejoice and be cheered up as well. Timothy was part of Paul’s team that planted the church in Philippi and he is loved and respected there. Paul broached some pretty serious subjects in his letter to the believers. He did so out of a heart filled with concern and compassion for them. It is only those who truly care who dare to take risks to confront us. Paul wasn’t the only one who would do this. He knew Timothy had the same depth of love and concern. In Philippians 2:20, Paul writes, “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.”
Proverbs 27:6 carries a profound truth that Paul and Timothy illustrate for us. It says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” In the United Bible Societies Handbook for Bible Translators there is an interesting comment on this verse: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend means that a true friend’s criticism or frank speaking (wounds of a friend) is based on the sincerity of the friendship. The Contemporary English Version says ‘You can trust a friend who corrects you.’ Profuse renders a word meaning ‘plenty’ or ‘abundant.’” The suggestion is that the kisses of those who don’t really care about you may be excessive, meaning there are too many, yet those who will step out of the comfort zone and tell you how it really is are few. Isn’t this what Paul is saying about Timothy. He had no one like Timothy who cared enough about the Philippians to confront them about their divisive spirit.
We all need some close friends who are willing to wound us in order to help us. A person who does nothing but compliment you may not be a true friend. Some people have hidden agendas and want something from you that they expect to get out of flattery or unwarranted praise. Good friends know how and when to compliment us and they also know how and when to correct us. Good friends don’t always say what we may want to hear, but that’s exactly why we need them. We need friends like that who will ask us the hard questions in life. Good friends will push us and challenge us onward toward Christ likeness even when we don’t want to go. Paul knew the Philippian believers needed Timothy. We need a Timothy also in our lives. Do you have one?