A Life Poured Out

A Life Poured Out January 26, 2024

Names.  For the most part in our culture, we think about them in ways that are foreign to the biblical world.  Sound, associations, family traditions, and social trends often figure into the choice of our children’s names in a way that people in the ancient world would have considered strange.

When I was an undergraduate I had a friend whose Father was named after a millionaire.  An old bachelor, the millionaire told my friend’s grandfather that if he named his son using his name that he would remember him in his will.  So, my friend’s father ended up being named, John Charles Breckinridge Marquette.  Over the years my friend’s father discovered that there were real liabilities to a name that long.  The Selective Service cut off one part of his name when they issued his draft card.  The Social Security Administration cut another part of it off, trying to keep track of his Social Security payments.

But he and his wife hit on a strange strategy for avoiding this problem.  They decided use use his nickname and her first name.  So, at his birth, my friend was named Brack Evaughn Marquette.  If you’ve ever been to school or you have heard Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue”, you understand the difficulties this posed.  Which is why, when he reached the legal age to change his name, my friend went to the courthouse and named himself John Charles Breckinridge Marquette II.

By contrast, in the biblical world, names were often chosen with a specific characteristic, mission, or life’s purpose in mind.  And in many cases they were given in the context of a blessing, suggesting the intimate connection between the name of a person and God’s will for them.

The name of God, however, Is of a completely different nature.  It not only describes God’s singular, utterly transcendent nature (“I am who I am”), but it also requires special reverence.  So, in the Old Testament, the word for God that we pronounce, “Yahweh”, is not even “spelled out” in the Hebrew or said out loud in worship.

What is striking about the passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians is that – even as he urges reverence for the name of Jesus, he also urges the congregation to share the mind of Christ – his way of thinking and being.  So, while Paul foresees a day and time “when every knee will bend” and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”, he is also asking those who follow Jesus to live in accordance with his way of thinking and being.  So, it turns out, reverence has implications for the way in which we live as Christians.

In between the call to action at the beginning passage and Paul’s description of the day in which the name of Jesus will be given its due weight, Paul describes what kind of thinking shaped the life of Jesus and should shape ours.  And – at the risk of oversimplifying – a two-word summary of that thinking is a life “poured out”.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but poured himself out,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.  (Philippians 2:5-8)

I realize that many translations of the passage say that that Jesus “emptied himself” but I think that translation both misrepresents the Greek and the point that Paul is making.  Jesus did not become “less divine” or “not-God”.  He “poured out” his life, expended himself, used himself up, in embracing us and our lives.

It is this “pouring out” on behalf of others that Paul tells the Philippians is the Christian’s calling.  And it remains the Christian’s calling.  But what is that life all about?

One, selfishness and self-serving behavior are not an option.  Or, to put it more positively, the Christian life is a life poured out for the well-being of others.

There was a time when I thought his was the kind of thing that only “Captain Obvious” would have to say.  But in today’s world of boundaries and self-care, it is not so obvious any longer.  And the curated lives that you see on Tic-Toc and Instagram are the ultimate expression of the self-serving life.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that a certain measure of self-care doesn’t have its place.  But it does mean – and I think that what Paul is saying – is that we are here – we are alive – for the sake of others.  And it is that value, not our boundaries that should take center-stage in the Christian life.

Practically speaking, this is a way of living that presents opportunities for us every day and everywhere we go.  It requires attentiveness and it requires effort.  But it doesn’t necessarily require big projects and it doesn’t require getting others to work on a common project.  Those are great and – standing here – I can think of extraordinary organizations and ministries that we are engaged in as a church that do great good.

But – talking to the individual Christians at Philippi – I am also certain that Paul had in mind the Christ-bearing that we can all do on a daily basis.  Serving our families, friends, communities, and even the strangers we encounter on a daily basis.  We cannot underestimate the impact that “random acts of kindness” – as they have been called – can have on others.

A second observation, I would make, is that we can and should acknowledge that in serving others, we are dependent upon the mind of Christ and his example.

Far too many Christians are afraid of lapsing into a quid pro quo approach to the Christian life: “I’ll care for you, if you will get baptized.”  As a result, I’ve met no small number of people who refuse to talk about the significance of their faith for the way in which they live.  Wrongly, I think, they have concluded that selfless love has no face or character.

But it is possible to be loving and – loving in the name Christ – without expecting anything in return.  And – in fact – the logic of the Gospel is that it is only in Christ that we truly understand what it means to pour out our lives.  It’s no surprise for that reason, that there is a direct correlation between a lively relationship with Christ and a willingness to give to others.  “Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent).”

That said, however, Paul clearly believes that the “pouring out” to which we are called is a witness to the love of Christ and has an “attractive” nature, that should be made explicit.  When you think about it, there is something strangely self-aggrandizing about serving others without telling them – or allowing them to see – why we serve others.

Growing up, I used to hear people say that the Christian faith was about “One beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread.”  Do we really want to live a life that effectively says, “I’ve got bread, I will give you bread, but I’m not going to tell you where I found it”?  That might make us look good.  But it doesn’t do the world much good.

The third observation that I would make is that the poured out life is not about idiot compassion. 

That last phrase is one that I became acquainted with some months ago.  The phrase does not mean that people who are compassionate are idiots.  But it does mean that some forms of service and compassion are idiotic, meaning “foolish” or unlikely to achieve a desired goal.

There is, in fact, a lot of idiot compassion out there: poverty programs that don’t facilitate the escape from poverty; drug programs that promote addiction.  We have all known cases of idiot compassion on a smaller scale, as well.  Homes where one spouse makes excuses for an alcoholic husband or wife.  Parents who make it far too easy for adult children to remain children.  Friends who help their friends live in constant dependence on their generosity.  All of these practices and others may assuage our discomfort with the struggle of others and make us feel good about ourselves but they are “idiotic” in that they don’t actually accomplish the goals that we have in mind.

The goal of a poured life is a life that is poured out in a way that draws others to Christ and allows them to make their own journey into God in Christ.  This doesn’t mean that it is always “spiritual” care that we offer one another.  It can take the form of meals, transportation, physical assistance, and any number of other forms of service.  But ultimately that care has to be measured against the way in which it enhances the possibility of another person’s spiritual journey, and that requires a sense of connection, community, and purpose – all of which are part and parcel of being made in the image of God.

And – fourth – this also means that the poured out life not the life of a door mat, without strength or character.  Or to put it another way, the Christian life is poured out from a place of spiritual strength.

What is interesting about the ministry of Jesus is that he does not simply do what other people want him to do.  He offers forgiveness of sins to people who think that their only need is physical healing.  He offers the rich young ruler a way forward in his spiritual journey but when the rich ruler goes away, Jesus does not run after him.  The religious leadership and even some of his disciples would prefer he was a different kind of Messiah, bringing a different kind of Kingdom.  But Jesus remains clear about his calling and firm about the true nature of the Kingdom.

This – and not world of self-care or boundaries – lies at the center of the poured out life.  Jesus finds time for prayer and rest.  He lives out of that peaceful center which is not about the absence of chaos but of a grounding in the Father’s will.

And because he lives there, he is not driven by insecurity, ambition, or the demands of others.  This is why, as many people as he touches, the story of the Gospels leaves us in no doubt about his goal.  His ministry is not one long list of demands made on his time and attention.  He isn’t captive to the visions of others or the roles that they project on him.  He is building the bridge between the brokenness of our lives and the fullness of a Kingdom in which the image of God is restored in each of us.  And that understanding of himself both grounds him and is the one, necessary thing against which he measures the way in which he pours out his life.

May we find that center in our own lives and pour out our lives in service to others.

Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash

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