One of the more prominent words in the Scriptures is sacrifice. It appears throughout the Old Testament and in the instructions for the temple priestly service, but it also appears in the New Testament. Paul famously writes: “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” (Rom. 12:1). Sacrifice, therefore, is a word that should describe all Christians, but especially ministers of the gospel. Yet, in our narcissistic culture it is difficult to cultivate the virtue of self-sacrifice. In a world that regularly inundates us with the gospel of self-service, how do we cultivate an attitude of sacrifice, whether in our general Christian walk or in our pastoral service to the church?
The first step in having a sacrificial ministry is to understand the nature of sacrifice itself. All too often people use words without having a good grasp of what they mean. Look at what happened to Old Testament sacrifices, for example. Those who brought sacrificial animals offered the very best of their flocks to the Lord, and these animals died on the altar (e.g., Lev. 1:1-17). In fact, one of God’s indictments against his people was they took short-cuts when they offered their sacrifices (e.g., Mal. 1:14). The Old Testament presents the idea that sacrifices were supposed to be costly. The New Testament carries this idea forward when Paul describes our state as a living sacrifice. Paul uses this language to convey the idea that our service to Christ must be all-consuming. Like the sacrificial animal who did not walk away from the altar, we live our lives in complete and total service to Christ. But unlike the animal, which died, we are living sacrifices. Our service to Christ should be complete, costly, and sacrificial.
How often do we serve Christ out of our wealth rather than sacrificially? In other words, do we serve out of the abundance of time, money, or resources that we have? Or do we serve out of a lack of these things? How often do we give money to the church, but save for other things—say a new TV or car? Do we give of our time but nevertheless leave that “me” time protected? I’m not saying that our service must always be sacrificial, but if Christ calls us to be living sacrifices, shouldn’t that word characterize our conduct at some point? Instead of watching the ball game or going on vacation, shouldn’t we be willing to serve the church? Instead of buying that next gadget, perhaps we should give the money to the church?
If sacrifice is a way of life for the Christian, then this is especially true for the pastor pursuing the cruciform ministry. Once again, our surrounding culture will tell you to put yourself first, but Christ bids you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. There are many things in this life to which you are entitled that you might otherwise sacrifice for the sake of serving Christ’s church. I have plenty of political opinions, but I sacrifice my right to speak about such things so I can minister to people on the right, center, and left of the political spectrum. In the past, I have cut family vacation short because someone in the church needed me to shepherd them through a crisis. At every turn, the pastor must always be ready to sacrifice his rights, time, or even possessions so that he can serve Christ’s church. Never forget that sacrifice and the pastorate go hand-in-hand. And the only way you will be ready to sacrifice is if you rest in Christ. He is the vine, you are the branch, and apart from him you can do nothing. Only when Christ’s life-giving Spirit equips and enables you to live sacrificially will you be able to give freely, cheerfully, and sacrificially of your time, resources, and finances.
In next week’s post, I address the last subject of this series on the cruciform ministry, namely, joy.