Gospel-Driven Ministers: Paul (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 2:17-18   |   Sunday, June 30, 2013   |   Code: 2013-06-30-MR



Well we return this morning to our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And in our studies in the Book of Philippians over the past months we have been considering Paul’s instructions to us concerning the Christian life. At every turn in the opening of this letter, Paul expresses confidence in the salvation of his dear friends at Philippi, as well as in their understanding of the Gospel. And so rather than an evangelistic letter, or a full-blown defense of the Gospel, a key theme in the Book of Philippians has been the doctrine of sanctification—the way in which those who have already repented of their sins and who presently trust the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation are to bring the implications of that glorious Gospel to bear on their everyday living.


This is Paul’s chief concern as he writes to this dear congregation from Rome, while under house arrest, chained to an imperial soldier, and awaiting his trial before the Emperor, Nero. He assures them that despite these troubles and afflictions, he is rejoicing, because the very bedrock foundation of his joy is unshakeable. Whether he lives or whether he dies, he is more satisfied by Christ than by all that life can offer and all that death can take. For him, to live is Christ, and to die is gain because it brings him more of Christ. And because of the estimation of the Lord in his own affections, Christ will be magnified in his body regardless of his circumstances. And in this, Paul rejoices.


And so throughout the opening 26 verses of this letter, Paul is modeling for the Philippians precisely what it means to live a life that is driven by the Gospel. And then finally in chapter 1 verse 27, he turns to address the Philippians directly and issues his first command—a command that serves as a thesis statement for the rest of his comments throughout the book. He commands them, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” And in issuing that command he lets the Philippians know that there is a direct link from the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every aspect of the conduct of their daily living. Just like he has modeled for them, they are to live Gospel-driven lives.


And right away we learn what that means for the people of God in the midst of a hostile society—a situation not unlike our own day. Paul tells them immediately that a life worthy of the Gospel will mean an ever-strengthening unity of the church of God as they withstand the opposition of the unbelieving world. They are to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind to strive together for the faith of the gospel. And of course in chapter 2 he issues that great call to unity on the basis of the comfort of Christ, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And he explains that that kind of unity can only be achieved when a congregation is marked by the kind of Gospel-driven humility that regards others as more important than ourselves, and the large-hearted magnanimity that seeks the good of others as if it was our very own good.


Then, in verses 5 to 11, he provides us with the Supreme Example of that kind of humility, which was perfectly embodied in our Lord Jesus Christ, as He left the glories of heaven and the worship of the saints and angels to be born as a man, submitting to all the restrictions of life as a human being yet being without sin, and even to the shameful death on a cross in order to bear the wrath of His Father in the place of all those who would believe in Him. And on the basis of that humility-driven Gospel, Paul calls us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work within us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. And we camped out on that classic text on the doctrine of sanctification for a couple of weeks, seeking to mine out the rich, practical theology that instructs us in our growth in grace.


But then, last time we saw that Paul applies this general exhortation to pursue practical holiness in a very particular way. In verse 14, he commands the Philippians to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” You see, if the Philippians are going to have any hope of conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel—of holding their ground amidst the pressures of the world, and of advancing the Gospel into a hostile society—they must be unified. And there is no way that they will be able to experience that kind of Gospel-driven unity while they continue to bicker and grumble and dispute with one another. And so last time we looked in detail at this command to banish complaining from our lives. We observed the poor example of Israel in the wilderness, and learned how seriously God viewed their grumbling against His providence—so much so that the entire generation of those who were brought out of Egypt were not allowed to enter into the land of Canaan, but died in the wilderness. And so far from being some sort of harmless character flaw, we learned that complaining is a serious sin against our most gracious, sovereign God.


And then we studied the two reasons that Paul gives in verses 15 and 16 for why we must eliminate complaining from our lives. The first was for the sake of our witness. You see, because of the corruption of our world—because of the hold that sin has on the hearts of all people—complaining is everywhere. And Paul says that we won’t be the kind of people who stand out from the world—who show the world the way of holiness, who follow in the footsteps of Jesus and point to Him—if we go on grumbling and disputing. As followers of Christ, as children of our Heavenly Father who tells us, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16), we are to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom we shine like stars in the night sky.


We said that being “blameless” refers to living in such a manner that those around us who are observing our behavior would never be able to advance any legitimate criticism when comparing our lives to the commands of Scripture. And we said that “innocent” translates a word that literally means “unmixed.” It was used to describe wine that was undiluted, that wasn’t watered down, and unalloyed metal—pure gold and pure silver. Paul is saying that our character must be of unmixed purity and innocence. Not only are we to be blameless in our outward behavior, we are also to have integrity, internally, in our hearts. And then, as a combination of those, Paul says we are to be above reproach. This is the word that is used to speak of the Old Testament sacrifices, which were required to be unblemished, spotless, and without defect. Just as the Lord would not receive blemished or imperfect animals from the children of Israel, so also must the living sacrifice of our entire lives must be without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.


And it’s at this point that Paul anticipates an objection, rising in the hearts of the people of God. “Listen to that standard!” some will say. “Be unified. Be humble. Regard others as more important than yourselves. Have the same attitude as Christ. Work out your salvation. Do all things without complaining. Be blameless in your external behavior, pure and unmixed in your internal character, and above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. That’s impossible! Sure, it sounds good on paper. It sounds great to say all that. And sure I’m striving for that! But to realize it? To put it into practice? It’s just not realistic!” And if we’re honest with ourselves, we know what that imaginary objector is talking about! We hear that standard, and we survey our own lives, and we know ourselves. And so we ask, “How could I ever meet that standard of holiness that the Lord Jesus demands? I might as well not even try.”


And in response to that anticipated question, Paul writes verses 17 to 30 of Philippians chapter 2. And in those verses, he provides the Philippians—and he provides us—with three specific examples of how the Gospel-driven life he is calling us to works itself out in practice. In verses 17 and 18, Paul holds out himself as an example. In verses 19 to 24, he presents young Timothy as one who is worthy to be imitated. And then in verses 25 to 30, he commends to them the exemplary service of Epaphroditus.


Speaking of the importance of having examples to follow in the Christian life, Pastor John writes, “Perhaps the single most important aspect of spiritual leadership is having a godly life to emulate. Personal example illustrates biblical principles in action, showing how they should be lived out. When believers carefully consider God’s standards in light of their sins, shortcomings, weaknesses, and failures, those standards often seem impossible to achieve. Jesus is the believer’s supreme example (1 John 2:6). But He was the sinless, perfect, Son of God, and what was possible for Him can seem impossible for His followers. However, when believers see another Christian living out God’s standards triumphantly, they are encouraged.” (MacArthur, 190). The seventeenth-century English Puritan, Thomas Brooks, summed that up simply by saying, “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.”


And so as Paul heaps up command upon command, instruction upon instruction, seemingly raising the bar of Christian faithfulness higher with every stroke of his pen, he recognizes that “example is the most powerful rhetoric.” And since he is seeking to aid the Philippians in their pursuit of living Gospel-driven lives, Paul provides three examples of the kind of life that is worthy of the Gospel. In fact, you could title this section (from verses 17 to 30), “Three Gospel-Driven Ministers.” What does it look like to lay your life down in the joyful service of Christ and His people in a manner that is worthy of the great Gospel by which you have been saved? Of course we look to Christ as our perfect example in all things. But then we also have these three disciples of Christ who were in Rome together as this letter was being written. We have Paul, the Apostle; we have Timothy, a young pastor-in-training; and we have Epaphroditus, a dedicated layman. And the wisdom of Paul in including all of those examples—from Christ Himself, to an Apostle, to a young pastor, to a layman—is just brilliant, because it leaves nobody out. It lets us know that the principles to be gleaned in these verses are not just for the pastors and the missionaries and the super-Christians, but are relevant for all of God’s people across the board.


Now there is so much for us to learn from each of these three Gospel-driven ministers that we won’t get through all of them today. In fact, this morning our focus will just be on the first example of Gospel-driven service, the Apostle Paul in verses 17 and 18. Let’s read Philippians chapter 2, verses 14 through 18: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15so that you will prove yourselves to be 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, 16holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18You too, I urge you rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.”


I. Explanation


Now if I could summarize the main message of our text in plain language, it is simply this: In verses 17 and 18, Paul tells the Philippians that even if his sacrificial, lifelong, apostolic ministry in which he has labored on the behalf of their faith in Christ and their progress in holiness—even if that sacrificial ministry should end in his death at the hands of Nero—he is rejoicing. And he wants his rejoicing to be so shared with the Philippians that they wouldn’t be discouraged by his death, should it come, but would be encouraged by the fact that Christ is being magnified in Paul’s body, whether by life or by death. And, since he knows that they are undergoing the same kind of opposition for the cause of Christ as they labor in sacrificial ministry for the progress and joy of one another’s faith, he calls them to rejoice even in the midst of the persecution that will come, and to share their joy with him.


And so that is the main thrust of the passage in a snapshot. But as we read especially verse 17, it becomes immediately apparent that Paul has not chosen to speak as plainly as my straight-forward, literal summary. He could have simply said, “Even if it turns out that I die a martyr’s death at the hands of the Romans in the service of your faith, I rejoice.” But he doesn’t. Instead, he employs figurative language to communicate a most precious truth in the most beautiful of ways.


And the dominating imagery which Paul employs in this text is the imagery of priestly sacrifice. Look at the text of verse 17. Paul says, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith,” I rejoice. Now that first phrase, “being poured out as a drink offering” translates the single Greek word spendomai, which in the Old Testament refers exclusively to the drink offering which would be offered to God in the tabernacle and the temple. We’ll speak more about this word a bit later, but suffice it to say, for now, that Paul also uses this word to speak of his impending death in 2 Timothy 4:6, where he says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” And that is the only other time that word is used in the New Testament.


Now aside from this word which refers to a drink offering, Paul also speaks of “the sacrifice and service of your faith.” “Sacrifice” is the Greek word thusia, and is, of course, the normal word used to refer to an animal being offered up to God in temple worship. Luke uses this word in Luke 2:24 to refer to Mary and Joseph offering the sacrifice of the turtledoves on behalf of their firstborn Son, according to the Jewish Law. And “service” is the word leitourgia, from which we get the English word “liturgy” and “liturgical,” a word which has to do with religious service. And while it was used to describe all kinds of public service in the Greek world, it had particular reference to the service of the priests and Levites in the temple of the Lord (O’Brien, 308). Luke uses this word in Luke 1:23 to refer to the time of Zacharias’s “priestly service” having ended And even a few verses earlier, in Philippians 2:15, Paul uses the language of “blamelessness” and being “above reproach” (or another translation would be “unblemished”), which I mentioned earlier referred to the standard of the sacrifices the Israelites were to offer to the Lord. So this passage is really dominated by the imagery of sacrifice. What’s Paul’s point here? What are we to make of this?


Well, turn with me to Romans chapter 15. We looked at this text towards the end of our sermon on verses 14 to 16. And I think it’s worth going there again, because it just brings a lot of clarity regarding this imagery of sacrifice and priestly service. Romans 15, starting in verse 15: “But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Now the imagery of sacrifice and priestly service dominates this passage as well. Paul says he is “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.” And that word “minister” isn’t the normal Greek word for minister, diakonos—the word from which we get “deacon.” Rather, it’s leitourgos, in the same family of words as leitourgia back in Philippians 2:17. And then he refers to himself as “ministering as a priest.” And then he speaks here of his offering of the Gentiles, which he hopes to offer to God as a sanctified, acceptable sacrifice.


Can you see the light that this sheds on his language in Philippians 2? Paul says that he views his entire apostolic ministry of bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles as offering to God a spiritual sacrifice. Just as a priest under the Mosaic Covenant would bring a lamb, or a bull, or a ram as an offering to Yahweh—and just as that faithful priest would ensure that it was an animal that was without defect, worthy of being sacrificed to God—Paul views the Gentiles themselves as his sacrificial offering. And so if he is going to be a faithful “priest,” so to speak, he is going to do labor diligently—to do everything he can—to ensure that his offering is acceptable. He is going to give his life to aiding in the sanctification of the Philippians, because he wants his sacrifice to be holy unto the Lord. And so Paul writes to the Philippians, to do all things without grumbling or disputing, “so that,” chapter 2 verse 16, “in the day of Christ Jesus I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” “If you would go on working out your salvation with fear and trembling, my dear Philippians—if you would press on in the fight for practical holiness—all my running and all my toiling will not be in vain! Because on the day when I give an account to the Lord Jesus for the stewardship of the sheep whom He has entrusted into my care, I will be able to boast in Christ that my offering was truly sanctified by the Holy Spirit!” What a beautiful picture of a life of Gospel-driven Christian service to the people of God!


So, now that we’ve seen the general way Paul is using this wonderful imagery of priestly service in relation to his own ministry on behalf of the Philippians’ holiness, let’s look at the metaphor more specifically. Back to verse 17. Paul says, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” Now, both (a) the Jews and those who were familiar with the Old Testament sacrificial system as well as (b) those who had been converted to Christ out of a life of paganism would have been very familiar with the concept of a drink offering. After a priest would place an animal upon the altar and burn it in act of worship, he would take wine (and sometimes even water or honey) and pour it out either on the burning sacrifice or alongside it on the ground. And the heat of the altar would cause the liquid to evaporate, and the steam that would rise in the air was supposed to be a soothing aroma to the deity that was being worshiped.


And we can observe this in prescriptions for Israel’s sacrifices. Turn to Numbers chapter 15. In this text, the Lord directs Moses to instruct the people regarding the kinds of sacrifices they will offer when they enter the land of Canaan. In Numbers 15 verse 8, God says through Moses, “When you prepare a bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a special vow, or for peace offerings to the LORD, then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil; and you shall offer as the drink offering one-half a hin of wine as an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD.” And so, the faithful worshiper of Yahweh was to slaughter a bull and burn it on the altar. But the sacrifice of that bull was not complete unless it was sprinkled with the flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, as well as a half-gallon of wine poured out as a drink offering. The drink offering was what capped and completed the sacrifice to God.


So how does that imagery translate into Paul’s point? Paul has said that the entirety of his life of ministry, in which he has been running and toiling and laboring (cf. 2:16) for the progress and joy of the Philippians’ faith (cf. 1:25)—all of his labors in the ministry are like the labors of a priest endeavoring to offer a holy sacrifice to God. And now, as he waits in house arrest to stand trial before Nero to find out if the Emperor will allow him to live or will sentence him to execution, he says that if indeed this sacrificial ministry will end in his martyrdom, he won’t be discouraged. He’ll rejoice; because his death in the service of Christ and for the sake of the Philippians’ progress in holiness will be to him the drink offering that completes the sacrificial offering of His ministry. He’ll rejoice; because his martyrdom would be a fitting climax of all of his apostolic labors. “If one thing remains to make [Paul’s sacrifice of the Philippians] perfectly acceptable, [he] is willing that the sacrifice of his own life should be that one thing” (Bruce, 63). He is willing to follow his Lord in becoming, chapter 2 verse 8, “obedient to the point of death.” It’s as if he says, “Oh my dear Philippians, if the Lord has decreed that my life be poured out as the drink offering that seals and sanctifies the offering of your holy living, so that you become an acceptable sacrifice unto God, I’m not made sorrowful by my death! I rejoice! My life could not be better spent—it could not be better sacrificed—than in the cause of your holiness, which abounds to the glory of God!”


And you can’t detect a hint of backwardness in those words! Paul’s attitude in this toilsome labor of the priestly ministry of the Gospel is not one of begrudging obedience and miserable duty! Paul is not like the priests of Malachi’s day who said of the priestly service of offering sacrifices to Yahweh, Malachi 1:13, “My how tiresome it is!” and who, the text says, “disdainfully sniff at it.” No! He is rejoicing! He is saying, “If my blood must be spilled so that God will get what He is worthy of in your lives, then I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls! What greater privilege can there be to lay down my life to ensure that God can have what He desires!”


You see, Paul understood that the greatest sacrifice brings the greatest joy. He understood what Peter and John and the apostles understood, who, after having been flogged for preaching the name of Jesus, “went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41)! This was the man who said in Acts 20:24, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God;” and in Acts 21:13: “I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus”! This was the man who while chained 18 inches from a Roman soldier could exclaim from the depths of his soul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 1:21; 3:8). Paul knew that the greatest sacrifice for Christ brings the greatest fellowship with Christ! He yearned to know the sweet fellowship to be had with Christ as one who would share in His sufferings (Phil 3:10–11)!


“And so,” he says to the Philippians, “Don’t be discouraged by my imprisonment. Don’t feel defeated. Don’t sink into despondency if I have to die for my testimony for Christ. I’m rejoicing, and I share my joy with you all. The Gospel has advanced because of my imprisonment (cf. 1:12–18). What good reason is there to think that it won’t advance as a result of my martyrdom?”


But not only is he encouraging them to rejoice in his circumstances. He’s calling them to imitate his example of sacrificial service, and then to rejoice in whatever persecution they may face! Verse 18: “You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Paul is not unaware of the opposition that they are facing. That’s why he writes to them in chapter 1 verses 29 and 30: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” They’re experiencing the same conflict—the same opposition and persecution which comes as a result of their commitment to Christ. And Paul is stirring them up to follow in his footsteps, as he is following in the footsteps of Christ. As they lay their lives down for one another in sacrificial service for the advancement of each other’s faith, and as they risk their worldly comforts for the sake of preaching the Gospel to the lost world around them, Paul exhorts them to labor with joy, because the greatest sacrifice for Christ brings the greatest fellowship with Christ.


II. Application


And oh dear friends, I hope that even as you’ve been listening the Holy Spirit has already begun to press this text upon your conscience so that you can see how deeply and how thoroughly this applies to your own lives.


The first line of application I can draw is to aim Paul’s imperative directly at you. We are to rejoice in the midst of persecution. If we can learn one thing from the political events that have transpired in this last week, it’s that it is plain that the Gospel we believe, the Word we live by, and the Lord we serve are no less subversive and antithetical to our world than they were to the world the Philippians lived in. It has just been reaffirmed, loud and clear, that our society is going to give us plenty opportunities to show the world that for us to live is Christ and to die is gain (1:21)—to show that we count all things as loss for the sake of the surpassing value of knowing Him (3:8)— to show that He is more satisfying than all that life can offer and all that death can take—because it’s going to force us to choose between faithfulness to the Lord and the worldly comforts we’ve grown so accustomed to.


As we simply seek to follow the Lord Jesus in trusting His Word and faithfully proclaiming His Gospel, opposition will come. 2 Timothy 3:12 tells us plainly: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And so when it comes, don’t be surprised by the fiery trial, as if something strange were happening to you (1 Pet 4:12–13). But stand firm, and rejoice, because the Apostle Paul has taught us that the greatest sacrifice for Christ brings the greatest fellowship with Christ. Because of that, he was ready to follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ and lay down his life for his friends. And along with him, if we live to see the sort of persecution that Paul and the Philippians saw, if we live to face the threat of the loss of our jobs, of the loss of our property, of imprisonment, and even the threat death itself, that we will count it a privilege to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice of our entire life lived as a sanctified offering to God.


But you know, sometimes the idea of suffering in those more grandiose ways—like being fired, put in prison, or even dying for the sake of the Gospel—sometimes that can almost seem easier to us than smaller forms of self-denial. And that’s because those forms of persecution tend to have a romanticized flavor to them. We think of such things as acts of heroism, and so for some of us there’s even sort of an attraction to suffering in those ways, because we like being the hero. We know that that will put the spotlight on us and our dedication and our commitment.


But if we really want to follow in the footsteps of Paul as he follows Christ—if we really want to have the implications of this passage take root in our hearts—we need to remember that Paul was not only willing to die once for his ministry of the Gospel to the Gentiles, but that he was willing to die daily for the sake of the growth of the people of God. That’s precisely what he says in 1 Corinthians 15:31: “I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” Romans 8:36: “For your sakes we are being put to death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Acts 20:23: “The Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. That kind of          devotion doesn’t just happen!


I’m sure there were days when Paul woke up and he asked himself if he really wanted to get arrested again—to get beaten again—to get stoned again. Five times, 39 lashes. Three times beaten with rods. Stoned, shipwrecked. Dangers from rivers, from robbers; from Jews, from Gentiles. Dangers in the city, in the wilderness, and on the sea. Labor, hardship, sleepless nights; hunger, thirst, cold and exposure (2 Cor 11:23–27). I’m sure there were mornings when he asked himself if it was all worth it! But if he ever felt like giving up, even for a split-second, he remembered that the joy to be had in fellowship with Christ as a sharer of His sufferings was so satisfying, that he joyfully took up his cross daily, died to himself daily, and followed the Savior.


And friends, this is the kind of joyful self-denial that must characterize your life! You need to wake up every morning and bring your mind into subjection under the Word of God. And you must make a conscious decision by the grace of God and because of the delightfulness of the glory of Christ that you are going to die to yourself for the sake of following after Jesus and serving His people! That you are going to lay yourself on the altar, and, by the mercies of God, to present your body and your mind and your time and your energy as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Rom 12:1)! One preacher asked, “Do I have the passion that my life shall be the most perfect sacrifice that the grace of God can make it?” Yes, there may be things, according to your fleshly desires, that you would rather invest yourself in! Yes, there may be comforts and lawful pleasures that might be permissible for you to enjoy. But rather than asking “What’s wrong with it?” you need to ask, “What benefit will it bring? How will I live my life, how will I use my time, my money, my energy to contribute to my own pursuit of holiness, to the sanctification of God’s people, and to the glory of God Himself?” “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk 9:23).


How can we pour our lives out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of the faith of those whom God has brought under our influence and into our lives? You husbands, you know that just as Christ gave Himself up for His Bride, the Church, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word—in the same way your dear bride has been entrusted to you by God as a stewardship, so that as you nourish her and cherish her, washing her as it were in the sanctifying water of the Word of God, at the end of your life you will present her as an acceptable offering unto God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:25–29). In what ways, husbands, are you pouring out your lives upon the sacrifice and service of the faith of your wife? Are you setting aside time to be in the Word with her, to pray with her, to disciple her, and to lead her?


You mothers. Every influential voice in our society screams at you to refuse to be “marginalized” and “oppressed” by the “burdens” of keeping a house, of serving your husband, and of caring for your children! You need to fulfill your own potential! Pursue your own career! Put the children in daycare! Hire a maid! Assert yourself! Express yourself! Theseare lies from the forked tongue of Satan himself! While the world screams for you to sacrifice your family on the altar of your self-actualization, the Word of God calls for you to pour yourself out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of the faith of your children. Every moment that you are home with them, nurturing them, modeling biblical womanhood for them, and taking those opportunities to direct their hearts to the Word of God and to the Gospel, you are laboring for their progress and joy in the faith, and engaging in something of greater significance than any female CEO or politician ever dreamed of!


And fathers. I know that there are days when you come home from work and you are tired. But your kids are there, observing from you what it means to be a man who lives according to God’s Word. And while there are weekday evenings when you’d really like to watch the game, and Saturday mornings when you’d really like to sleep in, you need carry yourself up onto the altar of God and die to your own interests. You need to order your family in a thousand different ways so as to labor for your children’s faith in Christ and their growth in holiness.


And finally, what I think is the primary application of this text to all of us here this morning. Whether we’re husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, singles, grandparents, or whatever—we are all part of the family of God; we are all members of the Body of Christ, of the Church. And dear friends we need to know something of this Spirit which animated the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul as we lay down our lives to minister to one another in the Body of Christ. We need to know something of the Spirit that caused Paul to cry out in Galatians 4:19, “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” We cannot just play church—just get dressed up on Sunday morning, smile and greet one another politely, endure a sermon or two, and then just retreat to our own separate lives throughout the week. We need to be asking ourselves, day by day, how we can pour out our very life’s blood upon the sacrifice and service of the faith of our brothers and sisters in Grace Community Church. How can I give myself for the progress and joy in the faith of my fellow believers? What can I do to stir up my Christian friends to love and good deeds?


There are real needs in this congregation, my friends! There are real needs even within this fellowship group! There are people who are hurting financially. There are people who would love to come to a Bible study or even to GraceLife on Sunday mornings, but who need rides. There are people who are moving who need help packing and loading. And ten thousand other needs! And there are people who are battling with sin, people who are struggling in their walk with the Lord and who need encouragement and fellowship and accountability. There are people who need to know that there are faithful brothers and sisters praying for them, interceding on their behalf before the throne of grace. We need to be in Bible studies, friends! We need to be in each other’s lives! I know that your schedules are crazy and everybody’s busy and it can be uncomfortable to share certain struggles with people. But we need to die to our comforts and our preferences and to our selfishness, and offer ourselves up upon the sacrifice and service of the faith of our fellow Christians—and to do it joyfully, gladly willing to spend and be expended for the souls of our brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 12:15). To have the attitude of the Apostle Paul, that your life could not be better spent—each day of your life could not be better sacrificed—than in the cause of advancing the holiness of God’s people, which abounds to the glory of God!


Why? Because we know that the greatest sacrifice for Christ brings the greatest fellowship with Christ, and that the surpassing value of knowing, and loving, and serving, and enjoying Him is worth suffering the loss of all things and counting them but rubbish, so that we may gain Him (Phil 3:8).