But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share in that joy.
There are times when I will come across a passage or a verse that seems to be exactly what I needed to hear, but every time I do come across such a passage, it’s not something that always leaves me feeling good inside. Actually, most of the time that I do have one of these encounters, the emotional feeling tends to be quite the opposite.
Hebrews refers to the Word of God as being “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It would be a mistake to minimize the sort of violent image that comes with the description of a sword cutting into the soul, spirit, and body. Reading or hearing God’s Word can be spiritually painful because the truth isn’t always something that is easy to hear.
Philippians 2:17 has this effect on me because every time I see or hear those words, I imagine an extreme outpouring of energy and passion over a thing that vehemently refuses the sacrifice (even though it may desperately need it). So many times, I attempt to minister to someone, I try to show someone Christ, or I try to obey some command of God and it feels as though there are absolutely no resulting benefits.
Such sacrifices are the most draining simply because there is no immediate fruit to refresh us.
We enter seasons of life where this seems to always be the case. We serve and serve; we show love; we try to sacrifice until we eventually have no idea how what is coming out of us is coming out of us. It feels as though there is nothing left to give and yet we are asked to give more.
Critical moments such as these tend to draw this response from me: God, what will it take for me to succeed in this situation? Whether it’s a relationship, a job, or a grade, I always want advice on how to thrive and surpass my own expectations. Verses like this one, though, demand that my focus shift away for mere success.
Paul talks about “pouring out [his life] like a liquid offering,” and I know that such an offering speaks to a certain kind of ritual sacrifice in the Jewish tradition.
For me though, I see water pouring out water over a plant. As the gardener, I want so badly for that plant to grow, to bloom, and to bear fruit. The only thing that I can really control, however, is how much care I put into that plant. I cannot get inside of the plant and make it grow.
In this verse, Paul calls for the Philippians (and us by extension) to rejoice in such situations. He says that there is immense joy in faithful service, and that joy does not seem to immediately depend on seeing that service produce good things for us.
This verse seems to implore that we shift our focus from asking God what it takes to succeed in our circumstances to what it would take to please Him in our circumstances.
Of course, such an assessment does not mean that we can be lazy and satisfied even though our efforts are not producing fruit. We should always explore and test every means we can find to make something work, but our ultimate focus must be on Him and what He is up to.
If my work produces no viable fruit that helps me but is a pleasing, fragrant offering to God, then that work was far from being done in vain.