Be imitators of God therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph. 5:1-2 (NIV)
Many times people have said to me that they admire the sacrifices we have made in order to be missionaries. And every time they do, I’m embarrassed. I want to assure them that we have gained far more than we have given up. Besides, most of my missionary career I’ve been far more comfortable than a missionary might expect, especially when I consider the life of our Lord and His apostles.
My friend Kim Garrity spoke of sacrifice the other day. We were representing GEM at a Christian university and Kim was talking about the work he does overseeing short term teams coming to Lesvos to work with refugees. He makes no bones about the fact that ministry among those who are in the Moriah refugee camp will be hard work. And it will mean sacrifice. In fact, he constantly tells team members, “If there’s no sacrifice, we need to ask ourselves whether what we’re doing is really “missions.”
What does “sacrifice” actually mean? I’m reminded of the refrain of the old gospel song, where the refrain asks, “How many are the lost that I have lifted? How many are chains I’ve helped to free?” Is true sacrifice quantifiable in this way? The dictionary uses words to describe it like “offer,” “surrender,” and “give up.” So does sacrifice include giving up chocolate for Lent? Yes, maybe. Does it mean giving two weeks or more to work with refugees? Perhaps.
Surely when I look for its meaning I must first consider Jesus’ sacrifice. James Stewart suggests that, for the Apostle Paul, Christ’s sacrifice meant more than simply His substitutionary atonement—the fulfillment of the O.T. slaughtering of animals on altars—though that was undoubtedly in view. However, in Stewart’s words, “The fact that Paul regarded the cross as a sacrifice is not in dispute: the sense in which he so regarded it is the vital question. And the conclusion to which we are brought is that by sacrifice Paul means the utter self-abandonment and self-consecration of love.” (A Man in Christ, 237-238, emphasis mine). Any Christian definition of sacrifice must include love, Christ-like love.
As I ponder the meaning of “sacrifice,” I frankly come face to face with the coldness and callousness of my own heart. I realize today that my “sacrifices,” no matter how noble or how many they may be, are quite meaningless if they are not done out of love for the One "who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Without the abandonment and consecration that comes of love toward God and love toward others, any sacrificial service and asceticism are hollow and empty.
“Jesus, reduce me to love! Let me not claim anything as ‘sacrifice’ that is not done out of costly love for you and others. May I take your yoke upon me and learn from you about true sacrifice! Amen.”
Warmly in Christ,
"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Cor. 13:3 NIV)
How might I practice dwelling upon the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice during this Lenten season?
Is my love for those closest to me, as well as those in my other circles of influence, Calvary-love?
What might the Holy Spirit be saying to me about my own “sacrifices?”