Commentary on Philippians, 2:15-18 (A Pure Offering)

“15 that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world;
16 holding forth the word of life, that I may glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.”

“holding forth”  (Gr. epecho – 1907)

Holding out; holding fast; holding firm.

Can mean either to hold forth (hold out) or to hold fast (hold firm). Can also mean to give attention to.

Perhaps Paul had all those ideas in mind, to hold firmly to while holding out. I think that fits the picture, that as “lights in the world” (vs 15), we are to hold fast to the “word of life” while holding it out to a needy world. 

“word of life”

Refers to the Word of God generally, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ particularly

Each of us as followers of Christ must learn to love and cling to the Word of God. We must desire to learn it and apply it above all things. We cannot grow in Christ-likeness apart from God’s Word. We cannot grow in our relationship with God apart from His Word. We cannot walk in obedience apart from God’s Word. We cannot know God’s will or walk in wisdom apart from God’s Word. We must develop an ever growing passion for God and for His Word, or we simply cannot fulfill all that God has called us to.

Furthermore, apart from the gospel message, no one gets saved. We must have a love for the lost and a passion to see them won to Jesus. Thus we must learn to share our faith. We must learn the details of the plan of salvation so that we can lead people to faith in Christ (“holding forth the word of life”). 

“glory”  (Gr. kauchema – 2745)

Boast; rejoice; that I may be proud; for a source of pride to me.

To glory in; to boast in or to be proud of (in a good and humble sense); that which causes one to rejoice in.

“day of Christ”

This refers to both the return of Christ and the Day of Judgment that accompanies His return when we give an account of our lives to Him. This includes rewards for faithful service. 

(Matt 7:22; Matt 12:36; Matt 25:31-34,41,46; Ro 2:16; 1 Cor 1:8; 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Cor 15:20-26; Phil 1:6,10; Phil 3:20-21; 1 Th 5:2; 2 Th 1:10; 2 Th 2:2; 2 Ti 1:12-18; 2 Ti 4:8; 1 Pe 2:12; 2 Pe 3:4-13; 1 Jn 4:17)

“that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.”

Paul’s concern was that his laboring among them would not turn out to be in vain. His desire and goal was that his work among them would produce lasting spiritual results in their lives, and that that the message of life would continue through them. 

While I believe Paul was primarily concerned that they be growing spiritually and in their service to the Lord, he may also have been concerned that some of them would not continue in their faith in Christ, and ultimately, forfeit their salvation. Faith in Christ must endure.

“17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice, and share my joy with all of you.”

“being”

Present danger, present possibility. 

“poured out as a libation”  (Gr. spendo – 4689)

Only here and in 2 Timothy 4:6:

“For I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.”

Paul is referring to his death.

Lit. poured out as a drink offering; offered upon (KJV)

Libation:  A drink offering.

“sacrifice”  (Gr. thusia – 2378)

Victim

Same word used in Romans 12:1:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” NASB

“rejoice”  (Gr. chairo – 5463)

Joy; glad

“share my joy”  (Gr. sugchairo – 4796)

Rejoice with.

Either “shared joy” or to “share joy with another.” Considering Paul’s encouragement to rejoice with him in the next verse, in this context, I think it makes better sense to understand Paul to mean that he is “sharing his joy” (rejoicing) with them, as the NASB and the NLT translate it.

(Note: This word is interpreted by some as congratulate, but seems unlikely by most translators.)

“18 In like manner you also ought to rejoice and share your joy with me.”

Paul is encouraging the Philippian Christians to view his situation as he does, that it’s a result of his faithful service to Christ, that he is where he is because of the name of Jesus. Therefore, they are to “rejoice” and to share their joy with him. Paul is encouraging mutual rejoicing (joy) in the Lord.

Paul presents a picture of an animal sacrifice, and probably has both Jewish and pagan sacrifices in mind. He began to draw this picture in verse 15 where he uses the words, “blameless,” “pure,” and “without blemish.” In the Old Testament, the sacrificial animals were to be without spot or blemish. This, of course, was a picture of Christ, the “pure” sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Vincent (on verse 17):

Quote:
I am offered ( σπένδομαι )

Lit., I am poured out as a libation. The figure is that of a sacrifice, in which the Philippians are the priests, offering their faith to God, and Paul’s life is the libation poured out at this offering. Compare 2 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Timothy 4:6. Ignatius: “Brethren, I am lavishly poured out in love for you” (Philadelphia, 5).

Upon the sacrifice, etc. ( ἐπί )

The image is probably drawn from heathen rather than from Jewish sacrifices, since Paul was writing to converted heathen. According to Josephus, the Jewish libation was poured round and not upon the altar; but the preposition ἐπί used here, was also used to describe it. At all events, ἐπί may be rendered at, which would suit either.

Sacrifice and service ( θυσίᾳ καὶ λειτουργίᾳ )

Sacrifice, as uniformly in the New Testament, the thing sacrificed. Service, see on ministration, Luke 1:23, and see on ministered, Acts 13:2. In the Old Testament, used habitually of the ministry of priests and Levites; also of Samuel’s service to God; 1 Samuel 2:18; 1 Samuel 3:1. Of service to men, 1 Kings 1:4, 1 Kings 1:15. In the apostolic writings this and its kindred words are used of services to both God and man. See Romans 13:6; Romans 15:16; Luke 1:23; Romans 15:27; 2 Corinthians 9:12; Philemon 2:25.
Unquote

As Christians, our lives are to be “living sacrifices” (Ro 12:1) unto the Lord. Paul’s life was a wonderful example of that. He spoke from experience. Our whole lives are to be a “spotless” offering to the Lord, one that is “without blemish.” Malachi goes into detail about what that really means. This is from God’s own perspective (words in bold mine):

6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’
7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised.
8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.
9 And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand,will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts.
10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.
11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.
12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.
13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD.
14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.”  ESV (Mal 1:6-14)

This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. In very strong and descriptive language, the LORD reveals how He views someone who represents Him with a life that is: polluted, blind, lame, sick, profane, blemished.

All those terms represent someone who offers to God a life that is unclean in His eyes, or a life that is less than his or her best. We’re to offer to God a “pure offering,” the best we have. We’re to live for the honor and glory of God’s holy name. He’s not pleased with those who profess Christ, but save the best they have for other things. 

Jesus is a “great King,” and we as believers dwell in His kingdom (Col 1:13), under His rule. We’re to give Him the honor that is due Him. We’re no longer citizens of this world, but citizens of Heaven (Phil 3:20). Therefore, we are to live like it. Our lives are to be an accurate reflection of who we are in Christ, and of who we serve.

Sometimes we look at the Christian life and all that is involved in living it out, and we think “what a weariness this is!” That’s the wrong attitude, an attitude the LORD is not pleased with. In truth, there is no greater pleasure than serving Christ and fulfilling what He’s called us to do in this world. That doesn’t mean we don’t get tired, but He gives grace and strength to those who keep on for Him. There’s no greater honor and no greater reward than serving the King of kings. However, we can only experience the truth of that fact by simply doing it. Once we’ve walked with Jesus, there is nothing else in the world that compares. The more we experience the joys of walking with Jesus, the less attractive the things of this world become.

“Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors…”

We must have the attitude and the desire that if there is only one who will serve faithfully, only one who will take a stand for Christ, “may I be that one!” Someone once told D.L. Moody that “the world has yet to see what God can do through a man who is totally consecrated to Him.” And Moody replied (within himself), “may I be that man!” 

The Lord is looking for that one man (or woman) who will offer themselves to Him in a way that is unlike any other. Paul was that man. D.L. Moody was that man. Will it be you? Will it be me?

I encourage you to spend a lot of time thinking through this Malachi passage. In fact, the whole book of Malachi is very instructive and applicable for us today. It’s a very personal book. Let the words of this book sink in as the LORD expresses His heart in such a vivid and powerful way. It has a very sobering effect.