The concept of making a sacrifice isn't a foreign concept to most people. In fact, when you observe the ways in which mankind has lived and worshipped over the course of human history, it seems that there is some aspect of human nature that seems to understand that some sort of sacrifice needs to be made in life and worship.
But it also becomes clear that mankind has also been quite misguided about the nature of the sacrifice God has truly required. During the Old Testament era, the nation of Israel was told to practice certain sacrifices that required the shedding of animal blood. This wasn't a pleasant process. It was costly in nature as well. Why then did God require it?
The requirement of sacrifice was meant as a tutor to help point our hearts to the one who would come and be the ultimate sacrifice, offered once for all, to shed His blood and atone for the sin of mankind. Jesus is the ultimate blood sacrifice. For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross and all of its pain and shame to pay for the sin of us all.
We are no longer required to make a blood sacrifice like those who lived during the Old Covenant. Likewise, we don't need to make a sacrifice to atone for our sin because Jesus has already done that for us. When we make a sacrifice, we do so in appreciation for who Jesus is and what He has already accomplished. What kind of sacrifices are we encouraged to practice that can be used to point others to Christ and give them a glimpse of His loving heart?
I. Sacrificial hospitality
Do you consider yourself to be a hospitable person? I have a friend whose mother truly has the gift of hospitality. The second you set foot on her property, she fills your face with all kinds of food. Particularly cinnamon rolls covered in icing. She loves making those things. I'm convinced that I gain five pounds whenever I get within ten feet of her and her cooking.
The writer of Hebrews encouraged the early church to excel at showing hospitality toward each other. You get the impression when you read the New Testament letters that one of the top priorities for the leaders in the early church was to encourage brotherly love and hospitality toward one another. Why do you suppose? Why was this such a priority? It's evidence of the sacrificial love of Jesus that we have the privilege to show one another and anyone else the Lord brings into our lives.
In fact, we're challenged to also show hospitality, not just to people we know well, but also to strangers. We're invited to graciously share what has been entrusted to us with others. This practice begins with appreciation for Christ, continues through the attitude we show each other, and extends into the realm of us sharing food, shelter, and other provisions with others.
Something the Lord has taught my wife and I is that expressing Christ-centered hospitality to others that we feed or invite to our home has proven to be a great way to introduce others to Christ. It's become something that we've practiced for quite a while as the Lord encourages us to do so.
I'll never forget after the birth of our daughter Julia, my father stopped by our house to visit. While he was there, a steady stream of people kept walking in. Then he noticed some of the people going into our cupboards and making tea and snacks to share with others. He was baffled by this and said, "You just let people come into your house and go through your cupboards? You have more people coming through this place in one day than I have through my house in a year!" That gave us a good laugh, because truthfully, he's a very generous and hospitable person. It was a good reminder to us to take notice once again of something we had grown used to.
Interestingly, this Scripture also tells us that in some contexts, when believers have extended hospitality to strangers, they were actually showing hospitality to angels without even realizing they were doing it. We see some pictures of what this can look like in the book of Genesis, but this unique verse often makes me wonder if we're passing the tests of hospitality that the Lord is intentionally placing before us.
II. Sacrificial compassion
Being a follower of Christ during the days of the early church was not a casual or flippant experience. When you read Luke's account of early church history in the book of Acts, you can read multiple examples of believers being imprisoned, persecuted, chased from their homes, and executed because of their faith in Christ and their faithful witness for Christ in the midst of their culture.
When someone is imprisoned, it can be easy to some degree, to forget them. They're taken away, not easy to access or communicate with, and the busyness and pressures of daily life can result in us focusing on other things and forgetting our brother or sister in Christ who is languishing in chains. The Apostle Paul at times felt forgotten when he was imprisoned for his faith and he expressed how it troubled him.
But those who know Christ are invited to practice sacrificial compassion. We're invited to show our concern for the suffering of others. We're invited to put ourselves in their shoes and see their suffering through the lens of imagining it was happening to us personally, and then treating them in a way that we know we would crave to be treated if we truly were in their position.
I'm always impressed with the faith of those who choose to act upon what God's word tells us, without excessive debate or making excuses. A good example of this was John and Charles Wesley, and their friend William Morgan. They went to college together in Oxford and decided, based on the teaching of God's word, that it was their responsibility to visit those who were in prison. They made it part of their weekly schedule to visit the debtors and felons who were incarcerated in the Castle prison on the outskirts of town. (Source: www.umc.org)
Who is currently suffering in our circle of relationships or association? What is Christ telling you to do for them?
III. Sacrificial faithfulness
This scripture continues by reminding us of another area where we're invited to express a sacrificial spirit. Marriage is something that our Lord instituted and highly values. It's designed to serve as a visible picture of the love of Christ for the church. As the Lord values marriage, we're also directed to honor it as well.
Marriage is quite the learning experience. A friend sent me a message the other day, asking me to pray for him and his wife. They have been married for 9 months and are struggling to show patience and understanding to each other. When my wife and I think back to that season of our marriage, we have to admit that we argued with each other a lot more than we do now. There's a learning curve and a refining process the Lord brings us through during the course of an earthly marriage.
Still, the Lord wants us to be faithful to our spouses. The way that's expressed in this passage is with the challenge to "let the marriage bed be undefiled." The point of this instruction is to inform us of God's desire that we never invite any form of sexual immorality into our lives or our marriage. No cheating. No flirting. No surfing for illicit images online. No physical intimacy of a sexual nature with anyone other than your spouse. God will judge and hold accountable those who engage in sexual immorality and adultery.
When we honor and guard the health and sanctity of our marriages with sacrificial faithfulness, we cherish one of the most powerful testimonies and visible examples of Christ's plan of salvation and love for His church.
IV. Sacrificial generosity
This portion of Scripture speaks of one other area of sacrifice that I think can be referred to as a form of sacrificial generosity. Specifically, we're called to keep our lives free from the love of money. In our world, money can become a very easy thing to love. We know what we can use it for. It can be exchanged for things that we want to own. It can be exchanged for trips or experiences we'd like to have. For some people, it's a sign of personal value and worth. People live for it. People kill for it. People die for it.
Christians are allowed to have money and be good stewards of it, but we're told to never love it. Be generous with it, but don't covet it. You don't need it as much as you think you do. If you have Jesus, you have everything you truly need in this world.
In fact, we're encouraged to know that we can be completely content in Christ and what He supplies because He will never leave us nor forsake us. And if our Lord doesn't plan to leave us, ignore us, abandon us, or forget us, what trial do we really need to fear? Tough seasons may come, but He is present with us in them all. Money won't fix our problems. It's better to be sacrificially generous with what the Lord entrusts to us than to be selfishly covetous with blessings He always intended us to share.
After looking at this portion of God's word, what kind of sacrifice can you sense God is inviting you to make? A sacrifice of hospitality? A sacrifice of compassion? A sacrifice of marital faithfulness? A sacrifice of generosity? All of the above? In the end, Christ has already made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. Any sacrifice we make is simply an act of worship and appreciation toward Him who already paid the debt we owed and welcomed us into His family forever, through faith in Him.
© John Stange, 2017