Sacrifice is a part of everyone’s life. You sacrifice time, money, energy, your own desires–whether it’s for someone else or in pursuit of achieving a goal. But sacrifice is about giving up something you value. And that’s almost never easy.
In Jesus’ earthly ministry, he constantly modeled sacrifice. And, of course, he offered the greatest sacrifice the world has ever seen–his life. This is the foundation of the gospel. So the Christian life is marked by sacrifice. Our lives are to be living sacrifices for the glory of God.
And while this sounds really beautiful and poetic, it’s hard to do in the day-to-day. As we seek to be living sacrifices, we have to be cautious of our intentions behind every sacrifice.
There are sacrifices God will accept and ones he will reject. That might sound harsh, but it’s a principle we see throughout scripture. God isn’t just interested in your sacrifice as a ritualistic process you take part in. He want genuine sacrifice, because it’s a marker of the Christian life.
We all have a way of lying to ourselves or masking the intentions of our heart behind something good. And when our intentions look good on the outside, we can easily fool others. We can even fool ourselves. But we can’t fool God.
This type of insincerity in our sacrifice might not even be something we’re overtly aware of. So it’s important to search your own heart and ask God to bring to light what lies within you.
Here are two times when your sacrifices are not truly sacrifices.
“Sacrifices” For Personal Gain
You might tirelessly serve in your church season after season and year after year. You sacrifice your personal time, energy, and maybe even social events to be the person your church can depend on. The staff and other volunteers are constantly thanking you and reminding you how much they appreciate your continued sacrifice.
Certainly there is nothing bad about that.
The trouble is when we only sacrifice the things we value for our own personal gain. If you place value on the recognition you receive after you’ve served tirelessly and that become the sole reason that you serve, then that’s not a true sacrifice. So if you find yourself being upset, hurt, or frustrated when you aren’t thanked for your service, you might be sacrificing for your own personal gain.
If you look forward to any self gain when you sacrifice for others, then your heart isn’t in the right place. You might see financial, social, or even relational gain for your sacrifices. If these are the motives or excitement behind your sacrifice, then your heart is in the wrong place.
This is not the kind of sacrifice we see modeled by Jesus.
“Sacrifices” To Maintain Control
In the book of 1 Samuel, God rejected King Saul’s sacrifice. As an act of faith, the Israelites would offer a sacrifice to God before going to war. King Saul was told by the prophet Samuel to wait seven days before he would arrive to offer the sacrifice. But Saul began to panic as his soldiers were leaving, so he took matters into his own hands. He offered the sacrifice himself.
When Samuel saw this he said, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue.” (1 Samuel 13: 13-14)
Not only did Saul offer a sacrifice that only a priest should offer, but he directly disobeyed God’s command spoken to him through Samuel. He grew impatient and wanted to maintain control. Saul’s heart was absorbed with him own self interest. He had no care for why he was offering a sacrifice to God.
Though we aren’t offering burnt sacrifices to God, we can easily act out of our desire to maintain control. One of the most common ways we see this today is when someone makes a great financial sacrifice.
You might give of your finances to an organization or even your church. But in return, you feel as if you have a say in how that money is spent. You offered your own finances to a specific project with the desire to control that project.
This can even happen if you lend or give money to a friend or family member. You might feel you have the right to speak into their life regarding matters you would otherwise need to stay out of.
When we’re called to be sacrificial people, that means with no strings attached and no ulterior motives.
Biblically Modeled Sacrifices
You might be feeling a bit self-reflective as you think about how genuine your sacrifices are. And that’s a good place to start. Jesus will journey with you in that.
Here are key examples in scripture that help us gauge if our sacrifices are genuine.
Acts of Trust in Jesus
The book of 1 Samuel opens with a heart wrenching story of a barren woman. Hannah longed to have children. But year after year, she was reminded of the fact that she couldn’t conceive. The Bible says, “she wept bitterly” and pleaded to be able to have a baby. From the depths of her soul, she prayed for God to move.
She even made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11)
She vowed to give her baby to God if her prayer was answered. And that’s exactly what she did. After she had weaned her son, she took him to the high priest, Eli. And he became a servant of the Lord.
Hannah’s story of sacrifice displays her trust in the God who would care for her and her son. The cost was great. It was her firstborn son, whom she had been waiting for year after year. But her trust in God was greater than her deepest desire.
When we choose to make sacrifices that are difficult and painful, we’re taking active steps to trust Jesus. We are trusting that Jesus will care for the thing we are letting go of and care for us after it’s gone.
Sacrifice is uncomfortable. But it’s a proclamation that we trust Jesus.
Love for others
The world’s greatest sacrifice was for the sake of others. Jesus went to the cross to make redemption possible. The sacrifice of the Father to give his only son and for the son to lay his life down, was done out of his love for humanity.
No greater act of love will ever be known. This is what sacrifice looks like. As followers of Jesus, we are to sacrifice out of our love for others. It’s our love that should drive us, rather than selfish motives. This is what we do. We should be known by our love.
I should pick up my husband’s clothes off of the floor out of my love for him, rather than out of my frustration or confirmation that I’m always cleaning up after him. I should sacrifice my personal time to spend with my son out of my love for him, rather than my need to hear him stop crying. I should sacrifice my spending money to buy my friend a thoughtful gift out of my love for her, rather than getting points for being the better friend.
Whatever you are sacrificing in your life, may it be out of your love for others and not your personal gratification. People shouldn’t see what we are doing and ask, “What’s the catch?” or “I will have to pay this back somehow.” That’s not the kind of sacrifice Christians are called to.
Let your love for others flow into genuine sacrifice. This is what Jesus modeled and what we should follow.