In a sudden burst of pride that was most unlike him, David disobeyed the Lord and ordered Joab to take a military census of Israel (2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chron. 21). God disciplined the nation by sending a plague that killed 70,000 people, and David confessed his sin and humbled himself before the Lord. God instructed him to purchase the threshing floor of Arauna, build an altar there and sacrifice to the Lord. He obeyed and the plague stopped. It was on this property that Solomon later built the temple. Arauna offered to give the property to the king, but David said, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing” (1 Chron. 21:24).
Turn to the last book in the Old Testament and listen to the prophet Malachi as he rebuked the priests who were serving at the temple because they were showing contempt for God’s name. “You place defiled food on my altar,” said the Lord. “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” (Mal. 1:7-8). They were accepting from the people sacrifices that had cost them nothing.
Move ahead centuries later to Perea where Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. Unwilling to follow Jesus, the rich young ruler had just walked away a sad man, and Peter said, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matt. 19:27). In blunt language, “What are we going to get?” However, Peter learned his lesson and later said to a poor cripple, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6). To move from “What will I get?” to “I’ll give what I have” is a giant step in the Christian life.
Let’s move ahead to 1911 and New Haven, Connecticut, where the well-known British preacher John Henry Jowett is delivering his Yale Lectures on preaching. In his fourth lecture he says, “Preaching that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.” He could have just as well have said, “Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing,” because that’s what the lectures were all about.
In John 10:11-13, Jesus pointed out that there was a Grand Canyon of difference between a true shepherd and a hireling. The true shepherd knows and loves the sheep and is willing to lay down his life to protect them. The hireling works only for his wages, and whenever there is danger, he runs away and leaves the flock for the wolves to ravage. “Pastoring” means “shepherding.” Spiritual leadership is not a job; it’s a divine calling. Hirelings collect salaries; shepherds make sacrifices. The hireling asks, “What am I going to get?” while the shepherd and the true servant of the Lord says, “I’m willing to give my best and my all.”
Why is sacrifice such an essential factor in a successful Christian life and ministry? Because willing sacrifice tells us that we’re on the right track and obeying the Lord.
If we are following Jesus, we will sacrifice.
“If anyone would come after me,” said Jesus, “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Discipleship is not reading about Jesus; it’s following Jesus and obeying what He tells us to do, and this involves bearing our cross. It was the condemned criminal who carried the cross and openly admitted he was guilty. “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Discipleship is a matter of life and death: our death to the world (Gal. 6:14) adn to our old self (Rom. 6:6) and our new resurrectino life in Christ (rom. 8:1-4). It’s relatively easy to sacrifice things, but Jesus wants us–“he must deny himself…”
Crucifixion is one form of death people cannot perform on themselves. People can stab themselves, shoot themselves, drown themselves, poison themselves, and end their lives in many other ways, but they cannot crucify themselves. All we can do is yield to the Lord and by faith identify ourselves with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, “just as Chris was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4). The Holy Spirit identifies us with “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10).
Jesus compared His death to drinking from a cup (Matt. 26:39, 42), a familiar image in Scripture that can mean accepting the Father’s will or experiencing punishment (Jer. 8:14, 9:15; Rev. 14:10). For Jesus it meant both: He obeyed His Father’s will by going to the cross and being made sin for us, suffering the punishment that we deserve (2 Cor. 5:21). To take up the cross means accepting the Father’s will, ignoring the pain and shame, and paying the price to accomplish whatever He has assigned us to do. The religious world has made the cross a piece of jewelry or decoration on a grave, but in Jesus’ day, the cross was a means of execution. Crucifixion was never discussed in polite Roman society any more than we discuss the gas chamber, the gallows or the electric chair.
“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15). This means not just giving up ourselves, what we are and what we have, but also giving up our rights to ourselves and whatever else may come our way. Dedicated believers not only choose between the good and the bad–unsaved people can do that–but also between the better and the best.
If we are truly worshiping the Lord, we will sacrifice.
The book of Hebrews explains that there are no longer any buildings on earth where God lives, nor are there holy furnishings or priests or sacrifices. That has all been fulfilled in Christ. The church is God’s temple adn Jesus is our high priest in heaven and has made His people “a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). But Hebrews 13:10 says, “We have an altar!” Pastors may invite people to “come to the altar” but there is no true altar in our places of worship. According to 1 Peter 2:5, our altar is Jesus Christ in heaven, and it is through Him that we offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.”
The phrase “spiritual sacrifices” doesn’t mean that what we bring isn’t material or tangible. It means that, if our hearts are right, our offerings are sanctified by the Spirit and made acceptable to God. But what are these “spiritual sacrifices”?
Ourselves (Rom. 12:1-2; Ps. 51:17). The Lord wants each of His children to give Him four sacrifices daily: their body, mind, will and heart. Unless God has our body, He can’t use us in His service. If we are worldly minded or double-minded, He can’t communicate His truth to us, and if we don’t yield our will, we won’t obey Him. The motivation behind all of this is the love in our hearts, for “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). The Old Testament priests offered to the Lord whole burnt offerings that were dead, but we offer ourselves as living sacrifices so that we can serve Him day after day.
Our wealth (Phil. 4:14-19). When Epaphroditus visited Paul in Rome and gave him the generous gifts from the Philippian believers, Paul saw their gifts as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). What a contrast to what God said in Malachi 1! If we are sincerely worshiping God, we will unselfishly share with others what God has given to us.
Praise (Heb. 13:15). The “fruit of lips that confess His name” comes from the seeds of the Word planted in our hearts (Matt. 12:33-37). “Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips” (Hosea 14:2). It is a serious matter to speak and sing to the Lord, adn we want to give Him praise that is pure.
Good works (Heb. 13:16). But we must not stop with words; we must serve God with good deeds motivated and energized by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:10). “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). This is one way to let our light shine and glorify the Father (Matt. 5:14-16).
Prayer (Ps. 141:1-2). David compared his prayers to the fragrance of the incense that was burned on the golden altar of the sanctuary, and also to the burnt offering that was burned on the brazen altar. The incense was compounded from a special recipe given by the Lord and it was not to be used for any other purpose. When we pray, we must not speak as though we’re having a casual conversation with the Lord. Our words must come from a burdened heart and a believing heart, and we must ask the Spirit to help us do our best.
Converts (Rom. 15:16). When we have the privilege of leading people to Jesus, we must see this as presenting sacrifices to the Lord. As we witness, we are priests who must depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us and then present the new believer to the Lord “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” We aren’t sales people, peddling a product. We are priests offering a sacrifice to the glory of the Lord. Let’s pray that we will offer to the Lord the very best spiritual sacrifices.
Copyright, Warren W. Wiersbe
May not be transcribed, reprinted, or published in any form without permission of the author.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).