The Privilege of Saints
“By him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16).
by Tom Gilbert
God chose Abraham and his descendants to be his special people on the earth. He made this choice because of the unwavering faith and obedience of Abraham.
After delivering Israel from enslavement in Egypt, God entered into a covenant with them, giving them laws and commandments for human conduct, rules for healthy living, and ceremonial practices to cleanse them from their failures to follow those commandments and rules.
The ceremonial practices called for various grain and animal sacrifices or offerings to express gratitude to God or to atone for transgressions. The most important of these sacrifices was on the annual Day of Atonement, which involved the sacrifice of a bullock, a goat, and rams. We know from the New Testament scriptures that these offerings primarily prefigured the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus. For Israel at the time, it relieved them of the burden of guilt for their failures and renewed their relationship with Jehovah.
Nevertheless, this covenant arrangement did not succeed in maintaining Israel in a close relationship with God for two reasons: (1) they did not keep the commandments or maintain the ceremonial practices, and (2) they failed to see the lessons of faith and obedience contained in them.
God repeatedly punished or chastised them for their waywardness, but He was always ready to restore that relationship when they turned to him in their distress. At various times, God called Israel to account.
“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people: ‘Gather to me my consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice’ … ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens … Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?’” (Psalm 50:1, 4-5, 7-9, 13, NIV with NASB).
This Psalm describes a scene where God gathers together the whole world for judgment. First, he deals with those in covenant relationship with him (referring primarily to natural Israel in this context). He tells them He is not reprimanding them for their sacrifices and burnt offerings; He has commanded them to perform these services. But, He asks, do they think He has asked for these because He is hungry? Do they think He eats the flesh of bulls and drinks goat blood?
Israel continued to offer these sacrifices, but these offerings had become more or less just habit. What these sacrifices signified was no longer affecting their heart and character.
What God really wants is their gratitude, their keeping of promises made to Him, and their reliance upon and trust in Him. Those are the sacrifices, the offerings, He truly desires from them. These are matters of the heart and mind. “Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God, and give the Almighty all that you promised. Call to me when trouble comes; I will save you, and you will praise me” (Psalm 50:14-15, TEV).
In the very next Psalm, this theme is reiterated. Written by David in remorse and repentance over his adultery with Bathsheba and having arranged the death of her husband, Uriah, he acknowledges that the important thing in God’s eyes is a humble and repentant heart. He says: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:10, 16-17, NASU).
The birth of Jesus and his subsequent ministry initiated a new era in God’s divine plan and His dealings with humanity. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, NIV). In his letters to the Galatians and Hebrew Christians, the Apostle Paul explained that Jesus’ sacrificial death fulfilled the sacrifices under the Law and that these in fact pointed to him (Galatians 3:24, Hebrews 9:12-14).
God began to call individuals to be disciples of his Son, initially from his chosen people, Israel, but eventually from Gentiles too. The standard for these disciples was not following the Law, but love from a pure heart. The sacrifices God requests from these individuals are not animals burned upon an altar, but rather the offering of their lives as a sacrifice.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).
If we are to be a living sacrifice, Paul cannot mean that we should be slain and our bodies laid upon an altar and burned with fire. The meaning is that we should use our human bodies in the service of the new spiritual life begotten in us by the holy Spirit. What does such sacrificing look like in our lives?
Christian sacrifices are not the things that we give up, forgo, or forfeit. God does not count and tabulate those things. He does not have a bookkeeping department where he is telling accountants, “Brother Jim went to help an elderly brother who needed help making some repairs to his house, instead of going to that Chicago Cubs baseball game he really wanted to go to. Markdown that Bro. Jim sacrificed that baseball game.” If that were the kind of record God keeps, then all He would have at the end of our life is a record of what we did not do, did not have, etc.
“To offer up something precious to God” is one definition of sacrifice. The Cubs baseball game that Brother Jim did not go to is probably not all that precious to God. What is precious to God is the act of service that Brother Jim performed for the elderly brother or even a neighbor who lives down the street. What is precious to God is the choice we make to devote time to spreading the good news of the kingdom, even in a small way.
All such service will cost us something. It may even cost us much, be it monetary, foregoing some earthly advancement, or loss of our earthly reputation. Some Christians have forfeited their lives and suffered terrible deaths for the promotion and defense of their faith.
God certainly takes notice of the costs involved in the choices we make to serve Him and others. It is one indicator of the depth of our devotion to Him. Yet it is not the standard by which He measures our faithfulness. “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3, NRSV).
God’s judgment of us as his children is on the basis of what we do with our resources and opportunities. It is about love; it is about love in action; it is about what love prompts us to do in service to God and humanity around us.
We can more easily keep our focus on what is important from God’s perspective by substituting the word “offering” for the word “sacrifice.” It is an equally valid translation.1 Substituting that word makes it possible to more clearly understand the scriptures that speak about thanksgiving, praise, joy, a humble heart, and doing good and fellowshipping as sacrifices. It makes it possible to see these matters as God sees them.
(1) An editor suggests, “a nearly-equally valid translation.”
Thanksgiving and Praise
“Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing” (Psalms 107:21-22, NAS).
“Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15, NAS).
Paul tells us how we can do this. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19- 20, NIV).
“Therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD” (Psalm 27:6, KJV).
James encourages us to be joyful even in the difficulties of life. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3, NIV).
“My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart” (Psalm 51:17, TEV).
A humble heart attitude is the most precious thing we can offer to God. It is the channel through which we can receive his blessings and grace. “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6, NIV).
Doing Good and Fellowshipping
“But of the doing good and of fellowship be not forgetful, for with such sacrifices as these is God well-pleased” (Hebrews 13:16, Rotherham).
Paul tells us that doing good is the purpose for which God has called us to be Jesus’ disciples. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).
“Therefore, as we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10, NIV).
The prophet Malachi says that our fellowship with Christian brethren is precious to God. “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name” (Malachi 3:16, NIV).
These kinds of offerings to God — thanksgiving, praise, joy, humility, fellowshipping, and doing good to others, etc. — emanate from the spiritual nature begotten in us by God’s Spirit. They are matters of the heart. These are things that we can do because of the new life within us because our renewed minds have been freed from a consuming focus on success in our earthly lives. These are not sacrifices of earthly things; they are offerings of spiritual things that delight our God.
The Apostle Peter refers to them: “As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5, NIV).
A commentary often heard about this passage is that in verse 5 the word “spiritual” before “sacrifices” is spurious, based on its omission in the Greek manuscript, Sinaiticus. However, that is the only manuscript that omits it. All others, including the highly- regarded Vatican 1209 manuscript, from the same historic period, and p72 of the third century, include the word “spiritual.” This passage is speaking of the spiritual offerings we give to God by living as disciples of Jesus.
God is seeking those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). We worship Him in spirit by imitating His character, and that of His Son, making offerings of the growth of these characteristics in our hearts and the manifestation of them in our actions.
If we live this way, we will trade off things of earthly value. We will forgo earthly opportunities and advancement. Still, what it may “cost” us to live this way is not nearly so important to God as to how we manifest the growth of the new spirit life begotten in us. Our Lord made this point during his declaration of “woes” on the scribes and Pharisees.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23, NIV).
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11:42, NIV).
We please our heavenly Father by loving Him and his Son, exercising faith in His plan and His ways, and acting justly and mercifully in our dealings with others. These things, says Jesus, are the “more important matters,” the things that God accepts as precious offerings.
As we consider the spiritual offerings of thanksgiving, praise, joy, humility, doing good, and fellowshipping, we notice that they primarily emanate from our hearts and are expressed by our mouth. Let us, then, be very careful about how we guard and control our hearts and mouths. May we offer our sacrifices with this constant prayer on our lips: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, NIV).
Categories: 2020-July/August, Gilbert