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Model Spiritual Servants, Part 1: Paul

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
November 29, 2023 3:00 am

Model Spiritual Servants, Part 1: Paul

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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November 29, 2023 3:00 am

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This is not a proud man. This is a humble man. This is not a man who can be accused of pride because he used himself as an illustration.

This is a man whose humility comes out in the very way in which he uses himself as an illustration. He thought more of the great sacrifice of the Philippians than he did of his own. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. The Puritan William Bates said that precepts instruct us about our duty to God, but examples show us the infinite value of obedience. And when it comes to the demands of Christianity, it certainly is encouraging to know that other godly men and women have gone before us, demonstrating that God's high standards really are worth pursuing. Today, John MacArthur looks at one of those amazing examples, a former persecutor of the Church who became one of the greatest of heaven's heroes.

That's the title of John's current study, Heaven's Heroes. So John, the hero we're looking at today is the Apostle Paul, and I know from hearing you preach over all these years that you consider Paul to be the primary model for your ministry after Christ himself. So has there been anyone else you could point to and say, he had a significant impact on my life and ministry?

Well, yeah, there have been a number of people like that. I can think, first of all, to my father, an exemplary Christian, a faithful preacher. I was born into his family. He was already a pastor. I grew up under his preaching and teaching, and I've always said about my father, and it was true his whole life, and I affirm it even now with him being gone for over 20 years, he was everything in person that he preached in the pulpit.

There was never any difference between his preaching and his life. What a legacy that is to a kid. I'm watching him. I'm hearing him preach. I'm hearing that he's telling me how I am to live to honor Christ, and I saw him every single day live that way. The greatest gift my father gave me was not his preaching. The greatest gift my father gave me was his life that supported everything he said. And the same was true of my mom, but particularly my dad because of the ministry. There was just no difference between the man in the pulpit and the man in the home, and that consistency gave me the conviction that Christianity was true and the gospel was real and it was transformative. And I would say along the way to some other teachers that I had, but particularly when I went to seminary, I had outstanding scholars, Bible teachers, theologians who taught me in seminary. The one who made the greatest impact on me was Dr. Charles Feinberg, an eminent Hebrew scholar, biblical scholar, a genius of a man, multilingual, so well read. He impacted me in a number of ways, not only in his understanding of Scripture, but in his self-discipline and his demand for the best and being on time and understanding what your priorities were and loving Scripture and holding it above everything else. So, yeah, I'd say my dad and Dr. Feinberg had a great impact on me. Some of my reading would bring Puritans into focus along that line, but maybe Martin Lloyd-Jones, David Martin Lloyd-Jones should be mentioned as having an impact on me. And another man named S. Lewis Johnson, who is a great preacher who's now with the Lord.

So, yeah, I've had many and there probably could be more. Thanks, John. And again, the apostle Paul just about tops your list, so we're going to look at him right now. Friend, follow along as John begins the lesson. We come to Philippians chapter 2, and the text where we find ourselves begins with verse 17 and runs down through verse 30. This particular portion, Philippians 2, 17 through 30, we have entitled, Model Spiritual Servants, because here we have personal illustrations of three men who can be the pattern for our own Christian life, Paul, Timothy, and a man named Epaphroditus.

Before our study of these three men is over, you will have virtually an example that you can pattern your life after in terms of godly living. In this particular text, Paul has been emphasizing the importance of humility. In fact, when he began chapter 2, it was humility that was on his mind. In verse 3, he says, "'Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind.

Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others, and have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.'" And then he goes on to talk about how in verse 8, he humbled himself. So the theme of the first six verses is humility, and Christ is the great example. Paul is teaching us about the importance of humility. And then after discussing the importance of humility and emphasizing how God will honor the humble even as He exalted the humbled Christ, he then in verses 12 and 13 talks about how we are to work out our salvation.

God puts it in, we're to work it out in the way we live. In other words, we're to demonstrate a transformed life in our behavior. So in a humble way, we are to work out our salvation. No matter how difficult it gets, he says in verse 14, do it without grumbling or disputing. And so if we can just sum up everything he said from verses 1 to 16, it would go a little bit like this. We are called to humbly work out our salvation, knowing that it is the power of God working in us to do so in every circumstance and in every difficulty without grumbling and without disputing. And that's the pattern of our spiritual service. Work out your salvation with humility and without complaint.

And now he says, let me give you three illustrations. Let me put some flesh on the principle so you can see how that works in my life, in Timothy's life, and in the life of Epaphroditus. Humility, a non-complaining spirit, working out your salvation in the power of God. That's principle. And here is pattern.

Here is illustration. Three model servants who lived their Christian life, who rendered their service to God in humility, without grumbling, without complaining, working on to the outside what God had put on the inside. But there's more here than just three isolated illustrations because there is a tremendously rich note of affection in here. Paul and Timothy and Epaphroditus were all together at the writing of this in Rome. Paul was the prisoner.

Epaphroditus had been sent from the Philippian church to minister to Paul's needs, and Timothy was Paul's son in the faith. So they were all bound together here, geographically together, spiritually together, ministerially together, together in heart. They were knit together in a common cause, all working for a common goal.

And so there's a rich note of camaraderie, personal affection and love bound up in these three men. There is also a sense in which all three of them illustrate the same thing. All three of them illustrate selfless, humble, sacrificial service. All three of them illustrate working out their salvation in the power of God. All three of them illustrate a non-grumbling, non-disputing attitude. In that sense, they all three illustrate the same thing.

And so it's a sort of a rapid fire succession of models for us to follow. But at the same time, there is an element in the testimony of each which is unique to that man. And so I would like to identify Paul uniquely as the humble rejoicer, or the sacrificial rejoicer would be a better way to say it. The sacrificial rejoicer, to identify Timothy as the single-minded sympathizer, and then to identify Epaphroditus as the loving gambler.

And I'll have to explain that when I know. The sacrificial rejoicer, the single-minded sympathizer, and the loving gambler. And in those three ways, each one portrays a distinct and unique personality characteristic, spiritual characteristic, which is very helpful to us as we look at the matter of living out our life to the glory of God. Now, remember where Paul's heart is as he comes into verse 17. He has just said this in verse 16.

I don't want to run in vain and I don't want to toil in vain. Paul ministered out of love. He says in 2 Corinthians 5, The love of Christ constrains me. But he also ministered out of fear. There was in the heart of Paul a healthy fear.

It is expressed on a number of occasions and I'm sure it existed in Timothy and I'm sure it existed in Epaphroditus also. But that fear goes something like this. I'm afraid that my efforts might turn out to be nothing. I'm afraid that I might have run in vain or toiled in vain. He ministered out of a passion and a zeal and a compelling fear that unless he gave his maximum effort, it all might crumble. He says it another way in 1 Corinthians 3 where he says that he has the fear in a sense that even though he has built on the foundation that God laid, namely Christ, that someday his building could turn out to be wood, hay, and stubble and be burned up.

He demonstrates that fear another way in 1 Corinthians 9, 27 when he says, I'm afraid that in preaching to others, I myself could be disqualified morally. So while on the positive side, he certainly served Christ out of love. On the negative side, there was a healthy fear that made him very compelled and very zealous and very passionate in the way he approached his ministry.

And I'm sure that was true of Timothy and I'm sure of Epaphroditus as well. He was compelled to do what he did. He was driven to do what he did. And he knew God had called him and he knew God had gifted him and God had prepared him and God had revealed to him that which he needed to know.

And so he wanted to do his work fully and he wanted to do it well. And so Paul is a passionate man. You will note that Timothy 2 is a passionate man who is consumed not with his own interest but with the interest of Christ. And you will note that Epaphroditus is a passionate man because verse 30 said he risked his life. He literally gambled with his life.

He rolled the dice for his life and became sick near to death for the sake of fulfilling his ministry. So you're dealing with men of passion, men of zeal. These are not indifferent men. They are not apathetic men. They are men driven by the love of Christ on the one hand and by the fear of failure on the other hand.

And it is I believe out of this zeal and passion that they were made to be the men that they uniquely came to be. And so here we meet three men with a passion, a passion to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, a passion to work out their salvation with humility, a passion to work out their salvation without complaint no matter what circumstances they were in. Spiritual servants of the Lord who live to exalt Him at any cost, who pursue that exaltation with an abandonment, who then become models for us to follow. Let's begin with Paul. We'll call Paul the sacrificial rejoicer. He offered humble, selfless service to Christ, but uniquely we see him here as the sacrificial rejoicer.

And he presents himself as an illustration. Let's look at verse 17. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

We'll stop there. Thus does Paul present himself as an illustration of sacrificial joy. Now let me stop at this juncture and bring up a point that might enter our minds.

It certainly entered mine. And that is when you're preaching to someone else or when you're using some spiritual truth that you want illustrated and you want to find the right illustration to use, isn't it a bit much to use yourself as the illustration? Wouldn't it have been better for Paul to just talk about Timothy and Epaphroditus without bringing himself in here? Isn't that an act of pride? Not at all.

The answer to the question is not at all. First of all, you must remember that as Paul writes, he is under the inspiration of whom? The Holy Spirit. Every word he writes is written by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit knew Paul's heart perfectly. He knew exactly what Paul was like on the inside and the Holy Spirit did not hesitate to encourage Paul, literally direct Paul, to use himself as an illustration. Let me make the point that needs to be made. The reason that we are reluctant to set ourselves up as the spiritual model is because we know so much about ourselves as to know the model is not what it ought to be.

But listen carefully. When a person is truly spiritual and truly godly and truly deep and truly walks in intimacy with God, there is the utter lack of self-consciousness that is present in the hypocrite. And so Paul can rather readily, in fact almost easily, use himself as an illustration because it is the reflection of the purest intent and the purest motive and so it is done with no self-consciousness. It is the expression of a genuinely humble man, of a genuinely spiritual man, of a genuinely godly man. And thus it is not a problem for him, as he said in 1 Corinthians, to literally say to us, be ye followers of me as I am of Christ. If you find it difficult for you to say that about yourself and to establish yourself as the standard for others to follow, it is because there is a self-consciousness there about that.

That self-consciousness is born out of a sense of inadequacy because you are not before God what you ought to be. Paul, on the other hand, knows none of that self-consciousness and freely does he express the fact that he is the standard and the model and freely does the Spirit of God encourage him to do that, knowing full well what is in his heart. So this is not a wrong thing to do.

It is a right thing to do. It is just that there are very few who can be self-conscious and humble and so deeply godly that they can do it as Paul does it so easily. So he is the first illustration, rightly so, and it is godly for him to say so because it is the truest reflection of his pure heart.

Now this then is his testimony. It is his testimony of his life service and what he says here in verse 17 and 18 is that I am gladly offering my life. I am gladly sacrificing my life and I find great joy in doing so. Let me give you a little of the imagery, all right?

It's very vivid imagery here. It's the imagery of sacrifice which was so very familiar to ancient people. We talk about sacrifice today.

We don't know what that means. We don't know what a real sacrifice is. We've never seen anybody sacrifice a lamb or a ram or a goat. We've never seen that.

We don't have that kind of thing in our culture. So we don't have the very vivid sense of sacrificial perspective and imagery that the readers of the Philippian letter did and the people in Paul's time did. But Paul is talking about an altar and he's talking about an animal and he's talking about blood and he's talking about suffering and he's talking about pouring out a libation or otherwise called a drink offering.

That's the imagery that's in his mind. And as he looks at his life and realizes that he is to humbly and without complaint work out his salvation, he recognizes that in doing that he will have to offer himself as a sacrifice which he gladly does. And he says, this is what you are of course to follow.

This is the pattern. Now let's see what he specifically means, all right? What he specifically means. Verse 17. He says, but even if I am being poured out as a drink offering. I want to talk about that for a moment.

What is that? What is a drink offering? Well in the ancient world of sacrifice, by the way both the Jewish and the pagan world had these kinds of drink offerings, this is what typically would happen. After the animal on the altar had been killed and was being burned up, there was a final sort of capper, a final topping off of that sacrifice where the offeror came and took wine. Sometimes they used water, occasionally we even have illustration of them using honey, but predominantly wine and pouring wine either on the ground in front of the altar or on top of the burning sacrifice, in which case it would vaporize immediately into steam and go into the air, symbolizing the rising of that sacrifice into the nostrils of the deity for whom it was being offered. So Paul says, I am now offering my life as this final topping off libation or drink offering upon another sacrifice.

This is the completion of this full sacrifice. By the way, if you want some Scriptures to look up on that, 2 Kings 16, 13 describes the Jewish drink offering. Jeremiah 7, 18 talks about the pagan drink offerings and Hosea 9, 4 notes that the drink offering was wine. So there's...and those are just selected out of a number of Scriptures.

The process went like this. The offeror came and before the altar the animal was killed, put on the altar, burned. At some point during the burning, the drink offering was poured out as the final sacrificial act. And that is exactly what Paul has in mind. He sees this whole sacrificial scene, now note this, but what he sees his sacrifice as is the drink offering, the final touch to another sacrifice. Now let's go back to verse 17 with that in mind and see it's unfolding. He begins, but even if I am being poured out and so forth. Now let me just mention, but even if, if I might. Even if is a first class conditional in the Greek which means that it indicates something that is so.

So it should be translated since. But since I am being poured out. I am being poured out is in the present tense, so whatever it is he's referring to it is going on right now.

Some people have tried to make this verse refer to his martyrdom, to his future death in the event that he would be executed while imprisoned here or whenever his martyrdom came that he had that in mind. No, this is not a future. This is a present tense.

There is no reason to push this into a future interpretation. He is talking about something that is going on right now. So he is saying, even if, and it is the case, I am presently being poured out as a drink offering. Note this, he saw then not his death as a sacrifice, but his life as a sacrifice in which his death was only the culmination. His whole life was a drink offering. His whole life had been poured out.

It is happening right now. I am being spendomai, I am being poured out presently. It cannot mean his death. It can end with his death, but he is talking about his sacrificial life. Here he is because of the cause of Christ, a prisoner chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day. He is bound.

He cannot carry on his ministry the way he had been free to carry it on prior to this time. And in the difficulty of being chained to a Roman soldier, no privacy, and under whatever kind of abuse that might have involved, he sees himself as pouring out his life as an offering to be pleasing to God. Now note this, this kind of sacrifice is a willing one and Paul was making it with a willing heart. By the way, those who think that Paul is referring to his death are assuming that he was anticipating that he might die. But I don't sense that he really felt he was going to die.

It was a remote possibility. But back in chapter 1 verse 24, even though he was in chains, he says to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake and convinced of this I know I shall remain. Then in chapter 2 verse 24, I trust in the Lord I myself shall also be coming shortly. All of his indications are that he's going to live and he sees the present sacrifice that he is making for the cause of Christ as an offering, a drink offering being poured out.

Now follow the thought in verse 17. Since I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and the sacred ministry of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. Now did you notice that there is a greater sacrifice than the drink offering? The drink offering is Paul's sacrifice. The greater sacrifice he indicates is that of the Philippian church.

Did you see that? This is a very powerful point. I'm poured out as a drink offering on top of or upon the real sacrifice which is your sacrifice. You are making the great sacrifice.

I am just the topping off of it. And the question comes immediately. Now why does he say this? Why does he say to the Philippians, yours is the great offering, yours is the real sacrifice, mine is just a little drink offering poured on the top.

Why does he say that? Well in the first place, we know the Philippians were suffering greatly for their faith. Go back to chapter 1 verse 29, well verse 28. He says, I don't want you to be in any way alarmed by your opponents.

Don't be alarmed by your opponents. Then go down into verse 29. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake. So they have opponents, they are suffering for the sake of Christ. Then verse 30 says, you are even experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me and now here to be in me.

You're going through what I'm going through. They were in a hostile environment. They were in an ungodly environment. They were in a pagan culture and it was bringing on them that persecution which is indicated there in those verses. So Paul says, yours is the great sacrifice. You are the one suffering as you proclaim Christ in Philippi.

Mine is just the pouring out of libation on top of your great sacrifice. Now does this tell you something about Paul's character? What did we say the theme was of the first six verses of Philippians 2?

What is it? Humility, isn't it? Do you see his humility there? Did Paul not just say, go back to chapter 2 verse 4, do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others. And even stronger than that, verse 3, with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as what? More important than himself.

Do you understand why now he sees theirs as the major sacrifice and his as the minor one? It's simply the reflection of the humility of his heart. This is not a proud man. This is a humble man. This is not a man who can be accused of pride because he used himself as an illustration. This is a man whose humility comes out in the very way in which he uses himself as an illustration. He thought more of the great sacrifice of the Philippians than he did of his own.

And that's just contrary to human nature. I mean, some of us might be saying, Lord, why am I a prisoner? Why am I chained to a Roman soldier when I have lived a godly life, when I have served you faithfully, when I have proclaimed the truth, why is it so hard on me? And the Philippian church over there is free and they're moving around and having a wonderful time. And look how much more I've done for you than the Philippian.

No, it's not that kind of thinking at all. That's the thinking of a proud, self-serving heart. Paul never asked the question, why am I suffering?

He never asked the question, why am I in chains? He said, this is my drink offering, a very small one compared to the great one which you have offered in your service to Christ. This is a humble heart. That's John MacArthur, chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, examining the Apostle Paul, a man who has greatly influenced John's own ministry and who is an amazing model for you and me today. John's current study on grace to you is titled Heaven's Heroes. Now, friend, just a reminder that if you'd like to add the complete series Heaven's Heroes to your library, you can download those sermons free of charge in MP3 and transcript format.

Just contact us today. Our web address is and you can go there to download all five lessons from Heaven's Heroes free of charge. In fact, at you can download all of John's sermons.

That's more than 3,600 messages, all of them free in MP3 and transcript format. And you'll also find daily devotionals, helpful articles, Q&As, and more at And friend, just a quick reminder that Grace To You is able to make verse-by-verse Bible teaching available to millions of people around the world every day because of the support of listeners like you. If you'd like to make a tax-deductible donation, you can do that easily online. And thanks for remembering that about a quarter of our annual budget is met by gifts we receive at the end of the year.

If you'd like to help us start 2024 on a strong footing, go to Or you can send your gift to Grace To You, Box 4000, Panorama City, California 91412. Or call us weekdays from 730 to 4 p.m. Pacific time at 800-55-GRACE. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Remember to watch Grace To You television Sundays on DIRECTV Channel 378. And be back tomorrow for another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-29 07:53:24 / 2023-11-29 08:04:18 / 11

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