Spiritual Sacrifices

Sacrifice doesn’t seem like a beautiful word. It conjures up images of animals, blood, and altars, or it makes us think of something we should give up that we don’t want to.

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.”

On the one hand I think of the sacrifices God made for us. Think of the trouble humanity has cost Him on an everyday basis for millennia. Yet He created us and He desires our fellowship. Amazing! And because He does, He sent only begotten sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to lay down His life and take on Himself our sin and the just punishment we deserved. Jesus, in full agreement and in full submission to His Father, willingly surrendered, sacrificed His life for us. If we repent of our sin and believe on Him, we can be saved, cleansed, forgiven, and made His own children. In addition, we have a home waiting for us in heaven and His grace, presence, and help here and now. We don’t merit that forgiveness and salvation by any kind of sacrifice we make: there’s nothing we could ever do that would be enough to earn it. It’s a free gift based on His sacrifice.

In His example, though, I think the definition doesn’t fit in the sense of surrendering something highly valuable for something of more value. We are certainly not of more value than God’s Son. But He did love us enough to give His greatest treasure for our redemption.

In light of that, any kind of sacrifice we might make for Him pales in comparison. I’ve known of dear folks who echo David Livingstone’s sentiments:

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 get what he’s saying. Jesus did so much for us, and we don’t appreciate it nearly enough. We should be so filled with love and gratitude that we can’t help giving back to Him.

And yet—the Bible calls us to sacrifice to God and acknowledges the high cost. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But God calls us to other kinds of sacrifice.

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. 1 Peter 2:5

What kind of spiritual sacrifices are we to make?

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 in Old Testament times, the sacrifices which were a picture of the coming perfect Sacrifice could be an empty ritual if one’s heart was not broken and contrite before God. I think this is the first sacrifice: our pride, our stubborn clinging to our “own” way, our laying aside of anything in our lives that is not pleasing to God. It’s also a continual sacrifice as we walk daily with the Lord, read His Word, grow in Him, and become more aware of how much that desire for our “own” way is ingrained in our thinking.

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. Romans 12:1

Not just our broken spirit and heart, but even our bodies are to be surrendered to Him. He reminds us that this is only our reasonable service in light of God’s mercies to us.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Hebrews 13:15

I’ve wondered why our praise to God would be called a sacrifice: perhaps because we have to get our attention off ourselves and our concerns.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16

Some years back my husband commented on the honesty of this verse, acknowledging that it does cost us something to do good to others.

I have received full payment, and more. 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

This and the previous verse indicate that sometimes those spiritual sacrifices manifest themselves in meeting physical needs. Paul’s response to the Philippians’ sacrifice shows forth some of the beauty of a sacrifice given and received.

Several years ago, my husband took our youngest son out to shop for my birthday. My son was excited about perhaps buying a little something for himself after getting Mom’s present. As my son chose the item he wanted to purchase for me, my husband told him that item would take all the money he had. It took my son a few moments to process the realization that if he bought that gift for me, he wouldn’t be able to buy anything for himself. Finally, though a little teary, he decided to go ahead with the purchase. I can’t tell you how that touched my heart to realize that he denied himself to do something special for me.

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. Philippians 2:17

Paul was willing for his life to be poured out in ministry to others.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

Even more than Paul, Christ is our example of walking in love and giving oneself.

It’s okay to call a sacrifice a sacrifice. The Bible does. It’s even okay to say it hurts. Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane. Hebrews 12:1-2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We can look ahead, too, to the time when every sacrifice will fade away for joy.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Often, what makes a sacrifice seem hard is the struggle to give up what we think is ours: our time, our schedule, our goods, our lives. But as David prayed after the people of Israel offered the things needed for the building of the temple, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14). If we remember that anything we have is not our own but was given to us by God in the first place, and if we meditate on His mercies and all He has done for us, it doesn’t seem so hard then to surrender it back to Him. Back to our definition, whatever the value of what we sacrifice, it pales in comparison to the worth of the One to whom we are sacrificing.

The beauty of sacrifice is the humble surrender to God of what He freely gave us, in response to His great love and mercy, for use in His service in a life of love and ministry to others, which He regards as wellpleasing, as a “sweetsmelling savour.”

The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! Psalm 118:27

(Revised from the archives)

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