The Drink Offering: Don’t Waste Your Life (Philippians 2:17 sermon update)

(This is the text of the sermon I preached at First Baptist, Pauls Valley on Sunday, July 13th 2014. It is a revised and updated version of a previous message by this title I preached at FBC Moss Bluff, LA in 2011)

Some time ago, as I was getting out of my car, I saw that I had a can of Coke in the cup holder.  I can’t stand to leave anything in the car, so I picked up the can to take it in, and noticed that I still had a little bit of Coke left in it.  I didn’t really want to drink it right then, so I just poured it out on the ground not far from the car.  It was just wasted.
Then a few weeks ago, Cheryl & I were out driving in Northwestern Oklahoma, and we saw some of those big irrigations systems they have out there, that pour water out on the ground. An ignorant bystander, watching the watering go on, might say, “What a waste, just pouring all that water out on the ground like that.” But of course we know that water was not “wasted”, it was purposefully being poured out to water the crops that feed thousands of people. There is a big difference in something which is poured out being “wasted”, and being “invested” for a greater purpose.

In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul gives us a similar picture of what was happening with his life.  He says it was being “poured out”.  A lot of people might think that like my Coke, Paul’s life was being wasted, but the truth is, it was not being “wasted”, but purposefully poured out and “invested” for the Kingdom of God. Let’s look at Philippians 2:17, where Paul writes: “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.” 

I.  The Picture of the Drink Offering

The situation in Philippians, as many of you know, is that Paul is in prison in Rome for the sake of the Gospel.  He does not know but that it may cost him his life.  But he is not unwilling for that to happen.  In fact, that is the occasion for his words here: he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice …”.  He says, I am glad that I can spend my life in this way. 

And to express his joy at being used this manner by God, he employs the word picture that is at the heart of this verse:  “I am being poured out as a drink offering.”  What does he mean by the “drink offering”?  He is referring to one of two things, both of which are really the same basic picture:

— He may be referring to the Old Testament “drink offering”, in which wine would be poured out on the place of sacrifice.  In Genesis 35:14, when Jacob set up the pillar for worship at Bethel, he consecrated it by “pouring out a drink offering on it.”  There was a similar ritual commanded in the Law: in Exodus 29, it says the priests were to offer a “drink offering” of a hin (about a gallon) of wine along with the lamb of the burnt offering.  They would pour the wine out as part of the sacrifice that was offered. 

— OR Paul may have been referring to the pagan practice of pouring out wine from a glass as a sacrifice to their god.  This practice took root in ancient Greece.  When they wanted to seek their god in a special way, they would pour out some of their wine as a sacrifice that would help “pave the way” for their prayer.  Over the years it became a custom for some to pour out just a bit of each cup they drank, almost as a little “tithe” or sacrifice to their god. 

Some Biblical scholars, like A.T. Robertson, suggest that since the Philippians came out of a pagan Greco-Roman culture, it is more likely that they would think of this latter type of sacrifice, than the Old Testament drink offering.  But either way, the basic meaning is the same: both would involve taking a measure of wine, and instead of using it for personal pleasure and drinking –  they would pour it out as a sacrifice that would please the god who was its object.  The idea was that it was “wasted” as far as their personal use went, but “spent” in a sacrifice to their god instead. 

What we need to see here in Philippians 2:17 is that Paul was comparing his LIFE to this drink offering.  He said, “I am being poured out as a drink offering.”  He compared himself to that glass of wine.  Just as that wine was poured out on the altar of sacrifice, or on the ground, so he saw HIS LIFE as being poured out as a sacrifice for the Lord’s work. 

He wrote later in Philippians about the background, the religious heritage, and accomplishments he had attained — but he said he had counted all those things as “loss”for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. In a sense he had “poured out” his life to God as a drink offering — serving God, instead of living for his own pleasures, family, and career. When he first met Jesus, he began this “pouring out” of his life, and he poured it out until the end.

In II Timothy 4:6, in his very last letter, Paul writes, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering (that’s the same Greek word there) and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith …” and so on in his famous last words.  Paul’s life was indeed “poured out” as a sacrifice for the gospel.

In the early 1900’s, Bill Borden was young man, an athlete and scholar at Yale. He was also rich, inheriting over a million dollars (about $100 million today) from the Borden dairy fortune. He could have lived a life of riches and ease, on corporate boards. Instead he gave his money to mission, most of it to the China Inland mission, and headed overseas for missions himself. But on the way, in Cairo, Egypt, he contracted meningitis and shortly afterwards died. Borden’s life — and all that it “could” have been — was “poured out” as a drink offering to the Lord. Many said “What a waste!” — but Borden didn’t “waste” his life; he invested it, and poured it out as a drink offering for his God.

Jesus commanded us in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” He commanded us to deny ourselves the things in this life that people might say that we have a “right” to — like our desires, our career, our goals, our own “pursuit of happiness” – and that we will sacrifice those (“pour them out’) for the sake of following Him, and advancing the Kingdom of God.  There are things we could do, that we will NOT do for the Kingdom’s sake. There are places we could have gone, that we will NOT go for His sake. There are pleasures we could experience, that we will NOT experience, for God’s sake. There are things we could attain, that we will set aside — because we will devote that time and energy to serving God’s kingdom, and advancing the name of Jesus instead. Jesus gave this command to every one who would follow Him: “If ANY man” — it was not just for a “select few” like the Apostle Paul or Bill Borden. Each of us who is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be ready to pour out our lives as a drink offering for the Lord.

II.  The Choice of the Drink Offering

Now, I understand that this concept of being “poured out” as a drink offering may not sound very attractive to many people.  Who wants to give up their own “pursuit of happiness” and “pour out” what could have been your life, like an unused drink?!

But I think it should also be pointed out, that there is a sense in which your life WILL be “poured out”, regardless of what you choose to do with it.  Paul said his life was being poured out as a drink offering for the faith of the Philippians — in other words, for God’s Kingdom’s work. And he said “I rejoice” in it. He CHOSE for his life to be poured out in service for God. He knew it wasn’t being wasted, but invested in the Kingdom of God.

But the truth is, all of our lives being poured out. Time is fleeting.  Psalm 90:10 says of our lives, “Soon it is gone and we fly away.” Moments and hours and days and weeks and years rush by.  Every week you read it on Facebook: “Is the weekend over already?”  Weeks are spinning by.  If you are very young, it may seem like time is dragging to you, but the truth is, the older you get, the faster it seems to go.  The hours and days of your life, your strength, your vitality, are being poured out – and poured out quickly. In a sense, EVERYBODY”s life is being poured out.  You are either pouring it out for the Lord, or you are pouring it out on something.

Nate Saint was the missionary pilot who flew Jim Eliot and 3 others on a mission trip to a remote tribe of natives in Ecuador, where all 5 of the missionaries ended up being killed by the tribe after they landed.  Nate Saint was not as well-known as Jim Eliot, but had a great heart for the Lord and His work as well.  Before his death, he wrote these words:

“People who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives … and when the bubble has burst they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.”

You can pour out your life like Paul did, in service to God, or you can waste it on things that won’t matter in eternity, which is tragic.

When our daughter Libby was getting married, we visited with (Steve Gaudet) one of our church members, who owns the wonderful Gillis Grocery and Meat Market in Gillis, Louisiana, about catering the rehearsal dinner.  As we were talking about the arrangements, and how many pans of food he was going to bring, he said something about how they always plan for what he calls a “drop pan”.  He said that often, when they are bringing the food in to the dining room, whoever is bringing it in will drop one of the pans.  Over time he’s learned it just IS going to happen; someone IS going to drop one, and so he plans in advance for a “drop pan.”  While he was telling us about it, I was just sitting there thinking what a WASTE that would be – for a whole pan of that Cajun cooking to just be dropped on the ground and wasted!  That’s a shame! 

But how much more of a shame is it when not just a pan of food, but a whole LIFE that has been wasted!  Can you imagine, that your whole LIFE would be like a “drop pan” – all the years of your life, spilled out and wasted for no good purpose?  And yet that is actually the way that most people live their lives!  They might look at someone like the Apostle Paul and say, “Man, you’re a fool for pouring your life out” – but the truth is, THEY are pouring THEIR lives out too!  Their days are slipping by; their lives are being poured out.  A “pouring out” is actually inevitable! 

Sometimes I will spend a day, and not really get anything of note accomplished. Maybe I slept in late, or just goofed around and watched tv or scanned Facebook and Twitter, or whatever — but when I get to the end of those days, I feel badly when I look back and think, I didn’t do anything of consequence, anything that was worth spending my life on that day.

How much more will it be with your whole life? When I was first called to ministry, a lawyer in our church asked me why I was going to preach. I told him that when I came to the end of my life, I didn’t want it to be wasted: if I was going to be an architect, all my buildings would be destroyed, etc., but serving in ministry what I did would be an eternal investment. I see now that my theology was a little limited back then. You can serve God in a secular career and not waste your life: if you walk with Him every day, and do your best at your job to glorify Him, and witness to people He brings you in contact with, and tithe and give from the income you make to further His kingdoms’ work, and go on mission trips — you aren’t “wasting” your life if you serve God in a secular career that He calls you to.

The same thing is true of Bill Borden. Some would say he “wasted” his life — gave away all his money, and laid down his life. But the truth is, that would all have happened anyway! His money was all going to go somewhere anyway — it was just a matter of where it was going to be spent. He was going to die some day anyway — the question was just: HOW would he die?

That is just what the point we see here.  The truth is, it is not just Christians whose lives are being “poured out.”  In a sense, we are ALL “losing our lives”; in a sense, we are all being “poured out.”  The only question is, ON WHAT are we going to pour out and expend our lives:  on temporary things that will have vanished in the using – or on things that will last for eternity? 

C.T. Studd grew up in England, in the home of a father who had made a fortune overseas, and Studd was an heir to that fortune.  He was also a successful college student and star cricket player in England.  But one day when missionary Hudson Taylor visited and called for missionaries to come to China, C.T. Studd and 6 others from Cambridge surrendered their lives to be missionaries and headed to China.  They were dubbed “The Cambridge 7”.  Studd went to China were he served for a number of years, and when his father died and he was left with a large inheritance, he gave it all away to the China mission and to other Christian evangelistic causes.  He had to return to England because of poor health, though he later recuperated and went as a missionary to India and Africa as well.  Just before his death, Studd wrote one final letter back home:

“As I believe I am now nearing my departure from this world, I have but a few things to rejoice in; they are these:

1. That God called me to China and I went in spite of utmost opposition from all my loved ones.

2. That I joyfully acted as Christ told that rich young man to act. (he gave away his fortune to gospel causes)

3. That I deliberately at the call of God … gave up my life for this work … for the whole unevangelized World.

My only joys therefore are that when God has given me a work to do, I have not refused it.”

C.T. Studd could look back on his life – a life some would say he “wasted” – poured it out – and say no, as I look back on my life, the only joys I have are in how I did what God told me to do. 

The question is: are you doing those kinds of things with your life? What did you do this week that will make an impact for eternity? When you look back on your whole life, what are you going to rejoice in having done?  You are not going to find joy in countless hours spent watching television.  You are not going to rejoice over how many hours you spent surfing the internet.  You are not going to wish you spent more time watching football games.  You won’t even care about the awards that seemed so important to you, how much money you made, what kind of promotion you received, or how many “things” you accumulated.  Your joy, when this life is over, is only going to be found in the ways that you “poured out” your life for the Lord.  And that is all.

Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 16:25, “He who wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.”  Spend your life in serving yourself, and you will have lost it forever.  But lose your life in serving the Lord, and you will have made an investment that will last forever. 

Before he died, C.T. Studd wrote this poem – you’ve probably heard at least part of it before – and it hits right at the heart of this message from Philippians 2:17:

“Two little lines I heard one day, traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,  and from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, and stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice, gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave, and to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. ”

And then at the very end, he added one little extra line:

“And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be, if the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”

Don’t waste your life; invest it: POUR IT OUT, as a drink offering to the Lord!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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