Featured Columns

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On


"Leadership" has been the buzz word for some time. The marketplace is flooded with leadership models. A survey of pastors’ bookshelves reveals the extent of the impact of the leadership movement and the breadth of leadership paradigms. While some leadership resources may be helpful, many tend to ring hollow. Some people have even begun to question the use of the word “leadership” with all of the baggage it carries. Whether we use the word or not, many of us thirst for something different. We desire a model more substantial than cleverly worded concepts stuffed with tactical advice. We seek a sense of direction deeply rooted in scripture, robust in scope, and faithful to our identity as Kingdom of God people. It appears the Apostle Paul may have been looking for the same thing.

In the Old Testament, the people of God offered many types of offerings to God. One was the drink offering—sometimes called a libation. Drink offerings are described and prescribed more than 60 times in the Old Testament. Usually wine or another fermented drink, it was not considered the main offering, which may have been grain or goat, barley or bull. The drink offering was poured over and around the main offering. What made a drink offering the drink offering was that it was supplementary and secondary.

In two of Paul’s letters, he searched for an image to describe his role in the Kingdom of God. Both times he landed on the image of the drink offering. In Philippians 2, following the familiar passage called the Kenosis Hymn (Greek for empty), the Apostle Paul continued,

“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me”
(Phil. 2:17-18).

Paul described his own self-emptying as a worshipful response to the pattern established by Christ’s example.

Paul drew on the image again in 2 Timothy 4:6, "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near." While the apostle was pointing toward what he believed to be his imminent death, there was a present tense to his being poured out. Paul understood himself to be a drink offering, poured out, over the course of his life, for the sake of the gospel of Jesus.

The image of the drink offering carries connotations of humility, worship, sacrifice, and self-emptying that are consistent with the character of Christ and the call to holy living. Paul shared a summary of what it meant for him to be poured out in 2 Corinthians 11 when he detailed his trials and sufferings for the gospel. Embedded in this image is Paul’s understanding that, while he was being poured out, he was not the main offering. Paul was under no illusion. He knew Jesus was the primary offering—the supreme sacrifice. As Paul spent himself throughout his life, he believed himself to be only supplementary and secondary, poured out in a self-emptying, sacrificial manner that exalted the One true offering—Jesus Christ.

Most popular leadership models build on the characteristics of the leader, emphasizing strengths and assets. The image of the drink offering does just the opposite, calling for self-emptying in the name of Christ. In our collective quest for models that often leave us unsatisfied and unchanged, Paul’s image may provide some direction for which we thirst. As God-called women and men, our lives are to be humbly offered up and poured out in a manner that exalts Jesus.

Lord, teach us what it means to be offered up and emptied for you.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

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