Philippians 2:17–18, “17 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. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
In calling the Philippians to “hold fast to the word of life” so that at Christ’s return, it would be clear that he “did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Phil. 2:16), Paul was not saying that his salvation depended on the Philippians. After all, the Apostle knew he was justified by faith alone (Gal. 2:15–16). Paul, however, also understood that God rewards His children based on their service to Him. Let us be clear — our obedience does not give us the right to become God’s children. Only the perfect righteousness secured by Christ’s work on our behalf, which we receive by faith alone, grants us the privilege of adoption (John 1:12–13). Yet not every Christian works out his salvation in fear and trembling equally. Some, because they are converted on their deathbeds or because they devote less attention to their sanctification than others, are saved “only as through fire.” Resting on Jesus alone, they enter heaven but do not receive the same divine commendation as those who passionately work for the Lord’s kingdom (1 Cor. 3:10–15). Paul sought a ministry worthy of God’s highest commendation; he did not want to build with “wood” and “straw,” a ministry whose surface-level results would fail the test of fire.
The Apostle would gain assurance of his ministry’s worthiness if the Philippians held fast to the “word of life” (Phil. 2:12–16). Essentially, Paul appealed to their love for him, exhorting them to act in such a way as to make him confident of his own reward. His love for them motivated this appeal, as Philippians 2:17–18 reveals.
Paul expected release from the imprisonment during which he wrote to Philippi (1:18b–20), but his reference to himself as a drink offering in Philippians 2:17–18 shows that he could not see the future and knew he might be martyred. The old covenant drink offering was the last thing added to a sacrifice to make it acceptable to God before the gift was burned on the altar (Num. 15:3–10). Describing himself this way, Paul conveyed to his original readers that he would do whatever it took to make their service worthy in the Lord’s eyes. His love for them meant he was willing even to be “set ablaze” as a “sacrifice” to God, a martyr for their good. Paul believed the church at Philippi should return this love and assure him of the worthiness of his ministry to them by heeding his instruction.
Our love for those who minister to us should be part of what motivates our obedience to the Lord. As we grow in holiness, we help to show our pastors, Sunday school teachers, and other church leaders that their labor has not been in vain. Thus, our pursuit of conformity to Christ’s image is a tangible way that we can fulfill the command to love one another, especially those who lead us in the faith (John 13:34).