Several years ago, a man in our church who had spent much of his life as a missionary in Africa spoke of not liking the word “sacrifice” in reference to his service. He said it was his privilege to serve the Lord and not at all a sacrifice.
David Livingstone said something similar:
People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in, and for, us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. (Speech to students at Cambridge University, December 4, 1857.)
I understand what these dear men meant. God did so much for us, and loves us so much. How can we help but lovingly serve Him in return?
Yet the Bible calls us to sacrifice.
We don’t sacrifice as people did in the Old Testament. The sacrifices for sin were fulfilled in Christ. The book of Hebrews goes into great detail about how so much of the OT sacrificial system symbolism comes to fruition in Jesus.
And according to Galatians (as well as many other places in the NT), we are no longer under the OT law.
But 1 Peter 2:4-5 tells us: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.“
What are these spiritual sacrifices?
A broken and contrite heart. In David’s psalm of repentance, he says, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17). Even under the OT system, God didn’t want His people to simply go through a rite. He wanted their hearts.
Our bodies. Romans 12:1-2 tells us, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We don’t just yield our hearts or souls, but our very bodies. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Praise. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Why would praising Him be considered a sacrifice? Perhaps because we’re turning our thoughts and words away from selfish pursuits to think of Him. Perhaps because some situations are hard to praise God for. Praising Him reminds us of His power, His care, His wisdom even when life is hard.
Service and giving to others. Hebrews 13 goes on to say, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (verse 16). When the Philippians sent a gift to Paul, he wrote back, “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).
Love. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). When we love others, we set aside our own desires and needs to minister to them.
When you minister to people, sometimes you feel spent. That’s because you have been. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “ 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.” We pour out, and it’s okay to feel drained. Paul reminds us later in chapter 4 that God will supply all our needs (verse 19) and we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (verse 13).
What makes a sacrifice a sacrifice? Definition.org has this as one meaning of sacrifice: “Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.” When David was repentant for taking a census that he wasn’t supposed to in 1 Chronicles 21, God told him to “go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (verse 18). When David tried to pay for the threshing floor, Ornan wanted to give it to him. But David replied, “I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (verse 24). Sacrifices cost something.
But God doesn’t want us to moan and groan or whine about sacrificing to Him. Nor does He want us to be prideful about it. Our definition of sacrifice above says we give something of value “for the sake of one considered to have a greater value.” We give to Him not only because He gave to us, but also because we love and value Him.
We appreciate more than we can say the soldiers, firefighters, and policemen who endanger themselves for others, even to the point of giving their lives. But dying physically is not the only way to lay down our lives. Soldiers also sacrifice time with their families and normal comforts for our protection. We admire missionaries and mission workers who work much more than a 9 to 5 job in places far from home.
Yet sacrifice does not occur only in the big things. We lay down our lives, dying to our own will, being poured out in everyday love and service. We seek grace to welcome an interrupter kindly when we longed for a few moments alone. A husband works hard to provide for his family. A mom wakes up at night to feed or comfort her children. A friend makes time for a long phone call. Volunteers at a church work day give up leisure or family time to pull together on a project.
Missionary and writer Elisabeth Elliot often used the phrase, “My life for yours.” We give ourselves to Him first of all, and then serve Him by serving others.
So we don’t have to shy away from the word “sacrifice.” God calls us to it. All that we are and have belongs to Him anyway. But when we yield everything back to Him, “such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).
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