Self-sacrifice in loving obedience to God’s will

There is a story told of an Indian chief who was heavily burdened by his sins. Trembling under his guilt, he approached a priest and offered his rifle to be exonerated of his guilt. But the priest replied that Christ could not accept such an offering. The Indian departed, and soon returned with his tribe, wife, child, and everything he had, hoping that through them he might obtain forgiveness. But still the priest insisted that Christ could not accept these. The chief seemed downtrodden for a moment; then lifted up tearful eyes to the face of the priest, he feelingly cried, “Here, Lord, take poor and miserable Indian too.” This story illustrates what is meant by a self-sacrifice. 

A greater example of self-sacrifice is found in the Bible. Paul paid a fine tribute to the Christians in Macedonia when he said “their extreme poverty have overflowed in rich generosity on their part. I can testify that they contributed to the limit of their resources, and even beyond,” (2 Corinthians 8:2:3) The reason they gave of their poverty, and went beyond their ability is explained by the apostle when he said they first gave themselves unto the Lord. Theirs was a complete self-sacrifice. 

We make a self-sacrifice to the Lord when we surrender ourselves completely to Him and in loving obedience to His will. 

God has alway a required such a sacrifice of His people. He informed the children of Israel that He would not accept thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil as long as they had not first given themselves completely to Him. 

Jesus said, “Rather, seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) The Lord must have first place in our heart or He can have no place. Christ said , “Whoever is not with me is against me,” (Matthew 12:30) There can be no third place in our affections for the Son of God. Our whole self must be given to Him and to him alone. 

Occasionally the faithful act like a group of boys I once saw in bathing in a river. One just paddled his feet in the water and lamented, “But the water is so cold!” Another went in up to his knees, and said it was bone chillingly cold. Another ran to the river bank, dove in fully head first, and rose all aglow, shouting, “Come on in, the water’s amazing!” Some of the faithful in the church are just paddling in the shallows waters of Christianity, shivering between the cold air of worldliness and the warmth of complete consecration. If only they would put an end all compromise with the world, and get wet all over and done with! How it would strengthen their spirit; what resonance and radiance it would give to their Christian lives! 

No man has ever made greater sacrifices for Christ’s mission than the apostle Paul. He expresses some of his trials in these words: “Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; once I was adrift in the open sea for a night and a day. I have traveled continually and faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the desert, dangers at sea, and dangers from false brethren. I have endured toil and hardship, and sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty, and I have often gone without food. I have been cold, and often all but naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:25-27) After all of his sacrifices Paul pleads with members of the church in these words, “… brethren, I implore you by the mercies of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God — a spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1

This plea of Paul is better understood and appreciated when we remember that Jesus said, “Anyone who wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25) To be a disciple of Christ we must deny ourselves and bear our cross every day of your lives, offering our bodies as a living sacrifice. Jesus has taught us that we have to do far more than just something; we must do our utmost and even go beyond. Christ emphasises the maximum and not the minimum. We offer a sacrifice to Him when we have done all that we can; not as little as possible. How many of us are actually offering ourselves as “an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God?” (Philippians 4:18) An acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God: Paul sees the Philippians’ gift to him in terms of the Old Testament sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise (see: Sacrifice of thanksgivingLeviticus 7:12-15; Need for Faith in Daily LifeRomans 12:1; walk in love — Ephesians 5:2; continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise — Hebrews 13:15f). Sacrifice of praise: “sacrifice” here means an offering to God (see Romans 12:1; Philippians 4:18). There is no longer need for animal sacrifices.

The sacrifices we offer to Christ are taken individually. No one can make an offering on your behalf. If it is made, it must be you that makes the sacrifice and not a proxy. Jesus would never ask a nation what sacrifices it has made. He would not judge families by their combined efforts; He will judge you, and for what you alone have done. That is why the challenge of self-sacrifice is so penetrating. It is a personal matter between you and Christ. 

There are many ways in which we can offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. We can give up some of our comforts so that the cause of righteousness may disseminate more expeditiously over the world. Our Lord expects us as Christians to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to “make disciples of all nations,” and “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” What a small sacrifice of comfort we have made when we crowd the family car on Sunday to convey people to the Lord’s house. All of us can give up so many little things, such as cigarettes, alcohol, sweets, and soft drinks so that we may help those in need. We can even give up one meal per week so as to help in the crusade for virtuousness. We need to adopt the same mentality as the Prophet Job who said, “I have not strayed from the commandments of his lips; I have treasured in my heart the words of his mouth. But once he has made a decision, who can oppose him?” (Job 23:12) If we are Christians we can surely give up our armchair on the Lord’s day so that we can join with Christ in worship. 

A parish priest in Bournemouth, wrote during the war, “We have been a pleasure-loving people, dishonouring God’s day, picnicking and bathing — Now the seashores are barred; no picnics, no bathing. We have preferred motor travel to church going—- . Now there is a shortage of motor fuel. We have ignored the ringing of the church bells calling us to ship—Now the bells cannot ring except to warn of invasion. We have left the churches half empty when they should have been filled with worshippers— Now they are in ruins. We would not listen to the way of peace— Now we are forced to listen to the way of war. The money we would not give to the Lord’s work — Now is taken from us in taxes and higher prices. The food for which we forgot to say thanks — Now is unobtainable. The service We refused to give to God — Now is conscripted for the country. Lives we refused to live under God’s control — Now are under the nation’s control. Nights w e would not spend in “watching unto prayer” — Now are spent in anxious air raid precautions. The evils of modernism we would not fight — Now see what Germany, the seat of this teaching, has produced! We are no better than other nations. Why should God spare us? What can save us from war save revival?” (“Cause and Effect Noted in Sermon In English Church” Scarsdale Inquirer, Volume XXIV, Number 11, 10 April 1942.)

In presenting our bodies a living sacrifice to God we must give much of our time to His work. We have plenty of time to provide a living for our family, and we spend much of our time looking after the health of our children. We do all within our power to see that our little ones do not contract some dreaded illness. And we are careful to see that their heads are filled with the knowledge of mathematics, science, history, geography and language. But according to a statement in a paper published by the Bible Society, “over 50% of boys and girls in the United Kingdom of each generation are not taught to read nor know the Bible, they do not go to church, nor do they know how to pray.” Jesus said we should put the kingdom of God first, but many Christian parents do not make the sacrifices necessary to teach or train their children. Some Christian parents permit their children to miss the Bible study that hey may stay home and study something else instead. Listen friends, Caesar has died, but Christ is alive! Your children need to learn about Him, for He is the way, the truth and the life. 

In the process of self-denial for Christ we could easily give up some of our designer clothing. In describing the sacrifices of early Christians the inspired writer of Hebrews said, “They were stoned,[a] or sawed in two, or put to death by the sword. They went about in skins of sheep or goats—destitute, persecuted, and tormented.” (Hebrews 11:37) No disciple of Christ in the United Kingdom has had to make any such sacrifice. Surely we can deny ourselves a few simple luxuries so that the Lord’s work may go forward. 

A few years ago a church was trying to buy a more spacious building in which to gather for worship. An elderly couple in the congregation who lived on a pension took their meagre savings of forty-five dollars,  borrowed five, and gave fifty dollars. These good people had learned the lesson of sacrificial giving. Jesus admonishes us to lay up treasures in heaven. The way to do this is through using what we have to help others. When you die you can take your money with you, but you must first change it into heavenly currency. Money can be taken with us by changing it into good works, charitable donations, food for the hungry, clothing for those in need and teaching the nations about the Word of God. 

Not only does the Lord expect individual Christians to make a sacrifice, but he expects churches to make an even greater sacrifice. There are some church leaders who seem to think the church is some kind of a sacred coffer into which members are to pour their money for safe keeping. It is just as wrong for a church to hoard money as it is for an individuals. Giving into the church treasury is not a goal that is pursued in its own right to the exclusion of others; it is a means to an end. The church was established by Christ as a means of saving the world. It must be active and it must use the Lord’s money solely for the Lord’s work. It is the obligation of the church to teach the gospel to the entire world. Missionary labours can begin at home, but it must never remain at home. 

Among the tales coming out of the world war is one of a Churchill Mk IV tank and its map. A big “push” was in progress on the British front. The Nazi’s had retreated. The great tanks that could flatten out anything in front of them were lumbering forward. Then suddenly, one tank stopped. The mechanism was not damaged, they had plenty of gasoline. An officer came, and demanded in vociferous language as to why the commander had brought the huge beast of a tank to a halt. “The trouble is, sir, we’ve reached the edge of our map” was the reply.  Some congregations do not have far to go to get to the edge of their map. They go to the city limits and stop. But the risen Christ said “go forth into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to all creation.” Every congregation should have a world map and not simply a local map to guide them! 

The Lord expects the church to sacrifice that it may help the needy. In the first century the Christians in Palestine were in dire need because of a severe drought and churches throughout christendom gave them succour. Those early congregations visited the orphans and the widows in their affliction. In the twentieth century a great deal of stress is laid on resplendent and costly  church buildings with ornate trimmings and the latest must have technology. In 1936 I drove past an exceedingly expensive church building in a large city. My guide in the car was a lay reader in this particular church. He volunteered the information that many members of that very church were at that moment receiving unemployment benefits. Whilst in Italy a priest reported that people were fighting for food directly across the street from a guarded statue encrusted with gems and gold.

An issue of Life Magazine (1970s) some years ago contained the photograph of a statue in Spain set with precious jewels with an estimate worth £3,613,975.00. In a recent letter by a church member the author quoted that it must be the Lord’s church, because it is the richest of all other churches. Christ did not establish His church to be wealthy. He built it to be poor in funds and spirit. He built it to serve the world. I know of congregations that borrow money to help the needy and to preach the gospel. The ambition to have glittering church buildings, and full treasuries is opposed to the teaching of Christ. Jesus came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and gave His life as a ransom for many. The church must make every sacrifice possible in order to save the world. 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked for only few personal favours? They could be numbered on the fingers of one hand: He asked for a drink of water from an old well, He asked for the hospitality of a household in Bethany, an hour’s watching with Him in Gethsemane, use of a guest chamber for the Last Supper, and, finally, “this do in remembrance of me.” He asked much of others —for the poor the friendless, the sick, and the sinful— yet so very little for Himself. 

Have you ever thought of what Christ gave? He gave His head to the crown of thorns. He gave His back to the cruel Roman scourge (flagrum) which consists of a rope with metal balls, bones, and metal spikes. He gave His cheeks to those who smote Him. He gave His face to the disgusting, vile, human sputum. He gave His clothes to His murderers. He gave His hands and feet to be hammered with nails to the accursed cross. He gave His blood to this earth for the remission of sins. He gave His body for the life of the world, and He gave His spirit to God. 

Abandoned and desolate, with no friend or confrère’s near Him, Christ gave Himself unto death. While He was on the cross the sun withdrew, and behind the black pall of mourning a cold, a cruel world shivered. Finally, He said, “it is finished” and He gave up His life. 

Brothers and sisters, His sacrifice was made for each one of us. Paul said, “For you are well aware of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for your sake so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

What have you given in return to Christ? All He asks is your heart and life. He asks that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice to Him. “… he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” (Hebrews 5:9). He asks you to believe in Him, repent your sins, and asks you to be buried with Him in baptism that you may rise to walk in newness of life with Him. Why not resolve at this moment to do these things in obedience to your Lord? 

“Give of yourself as Christ would give of Himself”