Sacrifice


Honor the LORD with your wealth

   and with the firstfruits of all your produce.

Proverbs 3: 9

These thoughts of reflection on this proverb need to come with a warning attached. So, to be open and honest, the reader should bear in mind the fact that I am a pastor and specifically that I am responsible for the area of finance for a church. Thus, the things that I say about what God’s people should do with their wealth could be thought to hold an inherent bias toward giving it all to the church. Well, you have been warned. It seems that a good starting point for these thoughts is to be found in a definition of wealth. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “abundance of valuable material possessions or resources.” I agree with this with the possible exception of the use of the word abundance, for I think that each of us has something that can be referenced as wealth, but not all of us possess this in equal or in great amounts. Our wealth is the sum total of our financial resources in combination with our intellectual, spiritual, and emotional ones. These are then combined with skills, knowledge, and wisdom to form up the wealth that an individual has to use and to share with the world.

So, when Solomon says that we are to honor the Lord with our wealth, he is speaking of something much greater than just the money that we may have or obtain over time. When he says that we are to honor the Lord with it he is also advancing the concept far beyond the act of giving or donating funds to the church or even to the work of serving in the various ministries of God’s global kingdom. To me, honor suggests worship; it is an expression of praise, respect, and participation in God’s calling to proclaim the gospel of Christ to all peoples in every corner of the world. Thus, we honor the Lord when we seek out His will for the use and the distribution of the money that we have, of our time, with the skills and the understanding that we have acquired, and with all other assets that are under our control. God’s underlying desire is for each of us to be so committed to Him out of our deep love and respect for Him that we are truly seeking to follow the Lord’s lead and to take His direction in giving away the totality of our lives, that is our very being, to His use in service to God’s kingdom.

That defines the firstfruits of our produce in a more complete manner than does Solomon’s contextually appropriate agricultural example. The idea of giving the first harvest of our crops to the Lord involves trust and reliance, for there is no surety to the grower that the rest of the crop will be successfully harvested, and the first picking is generally the sweetest and the richest of them all. These are the premium grapes, the fattest heads of grain, and the most robust of the lambs and calves. The same elements of trust and reliance apply to the broader concept of wealth that has been set out here. The Lord desires for us to dedicate our best thinking, our strength and wisdom, the first of our time, and our pre-tax earnings to His purposes and use. This service of worship may be carried out in a formal ministry setting, but it may also be done in our homes or at our place of employment. The point is that the Lord wants His people to worship Him with each and every breath that we breathe and with all of the thoughts, words, and actions that we produce during the course of our lives. This sort of deep worship is carried out with prayer, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, and with the counsel of God’s Word. This expression of total commitment is the form and the type of honor that the Lord desires to receive from each of us as we dedicate all of our wealth to bringing glory to His name.  

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But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3: 14, 15

Paul begins this section of his letter with this statement, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1)  The author is making it quite clear to Timothy and to anyone else who would read this letter that the various struggles that they would encounter both in the community at large and especially in and around that of faith were the result of the tension that exists between a dying worldly set of values and its way of living life and the redeemed order that comes as a result of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross and His work in setting right all that has been corrupted by sin. The reality of this conflict is a primary reason for followers of Christ to be well grounded in the truths of Scripture and to hold onto them with a tenacity that comes from the deepest parts of our beings.

We can speculate regarding who it is that Paul is referencing when he talks about the teacher that has so well equipped Timothy for living out his faith in Christ, but the real and the best answer to that query is to say that God, through the work of the Spirit, is that teacher. This is true for each of us who know Christ, too. The Spirit instructs and empowers people to grasp and to communicate the gospel, and He also illuminates the deeper meanings and the living application found within God’s Word. Timothy’s mother was a person whose faith was well known; so, he was raised in a home where Christ was taught and was also lived out by way of example. His childhood was the literal beginning of his relationship with God, but even if that is not the situation in my life or in yours, the same raising up from childhood can occur for us. As we come to know Christ, we are new born into life from death, and so, we are launched forth into living as newly birthed infants in the sense of our spiritual lives and in all of living that is connected to this redeemed reality.

Yet, we cannot and should not remain in this infant state for long. Life is complex and there will be many challenges to our faith that will come along during the journey that we are on. These are times that demand maturity in thinking and soundness in judgement. These times of difficulty will place many situations before Christ’s followers wherein we will be called upon to weigh in on what is right, just, and loving. There will be people watching us to see what we say and how we act when we are confronted by the current issues that are being hotly contested in our world. These are times when the positions that we hold may often be unpopular; so, they need to be ones that are founded in the eternal truths of God’s Word. Still, of even greater importance than the truth that we cling to will be the manner in which we hold our beliefs and express them to those who do not agree with us. Jesus loves people, and He especially loves those who disagree with the reality of His gospel of grace. As His people, we too are called upon by Christ to love the people that we encounter, and so, the Spirit will guide us into encountering them with the love of Christ and the truth of His redeeming word as our calling card and the seal of our relationship with God.  

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrews 13: 9

For people in the early days of the church, the topic of food, the way that it was handled and prepared, and even the manner in which it was eaten was important. If they came from a Jewish background, as many in the church did, then they had always lived under the guidance and the compulsion of the Law of Moses. If they came to Christ after living as a part of the gentile world, they had not been handling foods and selecting them based upon those standards and principles, and this was a mark of differentiation and thus one of division between the Jews and the gentiles. Yet, at the center of following Christ is unity in the Spirit, and thus, unity in the way that life is lived and the conduct of our days. Things that divide or that separate Christ’s people from each other are to be considered carefully and with great suspicion.

The use of foods as an example of this sort of thing was truly pertinent to the days at hand when Hebrews was written. Today there might be other issues and concerns that strike more closely to the heart of unity or rather that enter into heart of the division or separation of people who follow Christ. I am not speaking about core and foundational teachings such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the existence of heaven and hell, or Jesus’ death and resurrection. Still, there are many issues that we can and do allow to disrupt the fellowship of people of faith in Christ. These teachings or ways of thinking are diverse in that they can force people to seek out divergent paths in our journeys as Christians, and they are strange in that when they are made important or even central to a specific group of people they divide us in ways that are unnatural to God and that are outside of God’s desire and intent to bring all of His people together in the unity of the Spirit and in the expression and proclamation of Christ in our world.

In all of life, we need grace. This is the Godly quality that is poured over each of us as we seek to enter into a relationship with God through Christ. We are granted a form of grace that brings about acceptance when we deserve rejection, that embraces us in love as we have earned animosity and separation, that proclaims us righteous despite the sinful nature of much that we think, say, and do. This is the grace that was made perfect and complete by Jesus on His cross of torture and pain and that was given full birth with Christ’s resurrection and victorious rule over all of creation. Now, it is this same grace that provides us with the wisdom, understanding, and love that is required for us to enter into relationships with other followers of Christ without regard for the issues and the concerns that might otherwise keep us distant and separated from each other. Christ’s grace gives His people the strength that we need in order to live outside of the worldly constraints that build barriers between people as grace becomes a gift that we can grant to one another in the name of the one who gave it to us, Jesus Christ.  

In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be ashamed; in Thy righteousness deliver me.

Psalm 31: 1

If only I could say with honesty that there is nothing that I have done in my life that I am or that I should be ashamed of; however, truth makes a lie of any such notion. There are too many times when my courage has failed to overcome and when my integrity has collapsed, and there are also a long list of situations where my arrogance and pride have concealed from my view the wisdom that God makes so freely available to all who will listen and obey. Yet, Christ has gone before me to the Father and pleads my case before the throne of God; thus, my sins are washed away, and I am told to hold my head high and to walk through life knowing that I am loved, protected, and cared for by God. 

The Lord has also given me His Spirit to guide me into the truths of His Word and by His direct interaction with me into a way of living that can become more and more infused with God’s righteousness. As I realize that I have nothing to offer other than my willingness to seek, listen, and follow, Christ takes away the prideful aspects of my being, and He replaces them with a humble heart for serving His will. His righteousness overcomes my failings, and His holiness becomes ever more my desire.

The refuge that the Lord provides is a safe place where I can stop and still the pace of my days. It is a shelter from all of the chaos and the turmoil that swirl about in our world. Refuge means prayer, and it means quiet meditation; it can also be found in screaming at the top of my lungs to God in order to get the true feelings of the moment out and fully expressed. The Lord wants us to turn toward Him and away from our own strength; also, He wants us to draw upon His sources of truth, wisdom, and direction when we are trying to comprehend life’s daily challenges. When I turn toward the Lord, He covers me with His righteousness, and Christ gives my heart the sort of peace that allows me to see the Godly path to follow as I travel through my day. 

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51: 17

There ae many things that we can give to God. Among them are our money, time, skills and talents, and our lives in service to God’s kingdom. These are all useful, and they are appreciated by the people who are supported through the receipt of them. Yet, despite the value and even the essential nature of all of these gifts to the work of the ministry of Christ, there is one gift, a singular sacrifice, that God values above and beyond all others, and this is the surrender of our hearts to Him. In fact, if we have not truly given our heart to God, all of the rest of our sacrifices and gifts are of a far lesser value to the kingdom than when these signs of commitment are placed before God because of the focus and orientation of the heart.

When David wrote about a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, he was not necessarily talking about a person who has been crushed and all but destroyed by the various forces of life that can come against us. David is referencing to the way that we all must face the reality of our innately deceitful hearts and our naturally stubborn spirits. These are the aspects of the way that most people are born into this world that Christ works to transform so that we can fully embrace our calling as His follower. These areas of pride and of self-orientation are aspects of our original selves that require the refining touch and the reshaping work that Christ gives to each of us so that we are prepared to offer our lives as this wholly acceptable form of sacrifice.

It is this gift of ourselves in total that delights the Lord. He finds each of us, with the resources that we possess and the skills and talents that we have available to use, to be a delightful offering to Him. He is not concerned about the size of the gift or about the quality and the nature of the work that is done for His kingdom. God cares about the depth of our commitment to Him, and He desires for us to be fully engaged in our relationship with Him. Christ takes the brokenness of spirit that we bring to Him, and He lifts us up and sets us on our feet with a clarity of purpose that shows to us the Lord’s path for today. Even when our past has been one that has many wrong turns and missteps in it, Christ pours out grace upon our heads, and He sends us into the world to serve God’s will in ways that are valuable and useful for the sake of the kingdom of God.  

We have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to God.

2 Corinthians 5: 9

Some people are known for their drive to please others. This can be positional, for, as an example, it is generally thought to be the role of middle children to fly beneath the radar of life and make no waves in the world. It can also be an adopted strategy that allows someone to remain relatively unobserved. There is nothing essentially wrong with being this sort of person; however, when being pleasing is a way of acting that is forced, it tends to cause the person who is trying to pull off being the pleasera lot of stress and strain. The truth is that, as fallen humans, we just aren’t all that pleasing that much of the time.

Yet, Paul is a very practical person. He says the sorts of things that are possible, and he tells us to do things that he has seen accomplished. When Paul says that it is his ambition to be pleasing to God, he means anything but flying beneath the radar of life, for Paul did quite the opposite of that. We are to be engaged in the messiest aspects of the worlds where people live, we are to live in the harshest climates that earth can provide, and we are to get squarely in the face of evil as it tries to control the lives of the people that God dearly loves. The Lord has a concept of what is pleasing to Him that would not make a conflict adverse person very comfortable. However, God does not promise us comfort in this world, and He doesn’t even suggest that by following His will our lives will be made easier.

The Lord, my God, who cares greatly about every second of my life, is pleased with me because I have chosen Him as my Lord and Savior. Additionally, He has a plan for my days that involves doing the sorts of things, embracing the types of thoughts, and allowing His love to infuse my heart so that I will appear to this world as a person who is truly set apart from its sin and decay in order to reach out with Christ’s grace and love to people who need to know that they can have eternal hope and complete joy. When we seek to live as humble vessels who pour out Christ into our world, God smiles upon us as He says, “You are pleasing to me, my beloved child.”

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