Stewardship Series ~ in three parts: “Prepare Our Hearts, O God”
July 25, 2021 part 3: “What Do You Mean, ‘Sacrifice’?! 2 Corinthians 8:3-5
(#1. Prepare Our Hearts to Offer Thanks to You, O God! Ez.36:25-27
#2. Ten Bags of Gold Relate to the Plate. Malachi 3:10)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Today is the 3rd & final part in our sermon series on ‘Stewardship’. We have talked about how God’s cleansing Baptism has given to us a new heart & new spirit, so that we will respond to Him as faithful stewards. Our life =the things we are & the things we have= are all gifts from Him. A certain popular talk-radio host used to say he had: ‘talent on loan from God’. He acknowledged that -some day- that loan would end; & a few months ago, it did.
You & I have also been loaned Time/Talents/&Treasures by our Master, to be used in wise & godly ways; and we are being held accountable for them. Last Sunday, we thought about how God -from the beginning- has guided His people with some math that is simple & fair; it’s the ‘tithe’. God has provided you with 100%. When, by faith, you understand that, and you trust in His daily care, you will be able to thank Him & serve His kingdom with offerings of 10%.
This morning, we consider the Biblical word ‘sacrifice’. Recall how big a word that is in the OT. In their worship, God required many ‘sacrifices’ from the Israelites; yearly/weekly /& daily. Their stewardship of sacrifices at the temple showed that they were obeying Him. And time-after-time, the prophets preached about the sacrifice-for-sin yet to come in the work of the Messiah = who would be the Savior for the whole world. Jesus’ blood thru the cross brought an end to all the other blood sacrifices; His body brought an end to the need for a temple in Jerusalem. One of the most common words in the OT is the word ‘sacrifice.’
We’ve heard the words ‘sacrificial giving’ in relation to our offerings; some think that it means: ‘give ‘til it hurts’. But it really means ‘genuine’ giving; giving that makes a difference; giving to God willingly = whether it hurts or not; and the giving of a heart that recognizes the sacrifice done for us at the cross.
Our verse for the day is from 2 Cor.8. Paul is commending the Christians in Macedonia for their sacrificial offerings to God. He says, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
The old story is that Farmer Brown wanted to give supplies to the church’s fund-raising breakfast by donating the milk, eggs, & bacon. The animals in the barnyard were discussing what this would mean. The chicken & the cow said ‘no problem’. But the pig said, ‘oh sure, for you it’s a contribution; but for me it’s a total commitment!’ Our stewardship support of God’s Church is not only done with preparation, and in proportion to our income, but it will also be sacrificial. And you’re thinking: ‘ok preacher. But what do you mean ~ ‘sacrifice’?
Recall the vital Bible event of Gen.22, when Abraham was commanded by God to take his precious son Isaac to a certain mountain and offer him to God as a sacrifice. Recall Isaac’s question. Prepared for a 3 day journey, Isaac says to his father, “Father?” “Yes, son.”
“I’m carrying the wood, and you’re carrying the fire. But where’s the sacrifice?” Imagine Abraham’s pause and swallowing hard for some words. Abraham replies, “God will provide the sacrifice.”
At some point it became crystal clear that, after the altar had been built & the wood placed, that there was only one possible sacrifice God had provided. Bible scholars speculate that Isaac could’ve been up to about 20 yrs old. Which means that he could’ve resisted; but instead, he was willing to be bound & put on that altar. The underlying thought today is this: ‘sacrificial’ means that your offering begins with YOU. You get on the altar & in the plate. Money is a ‘thing’ = God doesn’t need things. You are the real offering. So, it’s your value reflected in your offerings.
In 2Cor.8, Paul gives a 3-part outline: a sacrifice makes a difference, is done freely, and it expresses our faith. First, a sacrifice makes a difference. He said, ‘I testify that (the Macedonians) gave as much as they were able; and then they gave even more.’ They gave beyond what was reasonable & expected. Sometimes that’s what’s needed to make a real difference. And it’s not to impress others, but rather, to offer to God what makes a difference to us. Abraham’s offering was not for an audience and not for a tax break. His offering was a sacrifice & important to him; it made a real difference to him in his relationship with God.
Surveys have studied the lifestyle differences between people who go to church and those who don’t. At least one study found that there’s not much difference. So, we can quiz ourselves: ‘Does this faith make any difference in my life?’ ‘And in my stewardship, does the amount I give for God’s kingdom make any difference in my lifestyle?’ *If I still have plenty of time/money/ /effort left over, so that what I give to God makes no difference, then what value is God’s kingdom to me? *When you give to God, are you giving some ‘things’ or are you giving ‘yourself’? A sacrifice makes a difference.
Then Paul goes on with the 2nd thought: a sacrifice is done freely; willingly. Again, talking about the Macedonian Christians, he says, “Of their own accord . . . they gave themselves first to the Lord.” Paul wrote something similar to the believers in Rome. He said, “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) . In the worship life of God’s people, presenting the offerings was a specific action because it is an act of worship to present something to the Lord.
We say ‘actions speak louder than words’. Both are necessary, and at some point ‘talk’ is just talk; but ‘action’ is a willing involvement. It’s a noble thing to be willing to give of your daily time & effort & possessions. One of the Bible’s chief sacrificial actions in life is that of a marriage of one man & one woman, ‘‘til death do you part.’ Some may sacrifice millions of dollars to be able to experience a few minutes in space; but in God’s math, all that money can’t buy the things a husband & a wife freely give to each other; or what parents freely give to their children. Our self is priceless; but we give ourselves freely, out of love, to our spouse and to our children.
In salvation language, we are the bride of Christ; Bridegroom & Bride love each other. Our faith -or trust in Him- makes us willing to offer Him our life-actions. Jesus taught that our lives are more than money or earthly things. This is why Jesus, in Mark 12, pointed out that poor widow in the temple who gave her offering of just 2 ‘mites’, which valued one penny. He told the disciples, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” That woman was commended because of her willing actions toward God.
A sacrifice is an action done freely. So, no one has to pick us up & put us in the offering plate; we climb in willingly. In vs.3-4, Paul says the Macedonians gave ‘of their own will, begging us earnestly for the honor of taking part.’ *What did they want to give toward? Famine relief; they wanted to help fellow Christians who were suffering.
Then it’s later in this letter, Paul writes, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (9:7). So, a sacrifice is not made under pressure or with the hope of getting something in return.
A sacrifice is a one-way street. We give in love toward God, and in care for others. And here is the point when the world, and our selfish old natures, enter in & say: ‘why would you do that’? Our faith answers: for the good of God’s kingdom, and for the good of others.
In the Corinthian letters, Paul teaches us that we are all parts of a body = the body of Christ. We each have various functions, and the different parts will make sacrifices for the good of the body. In the wintertime, we have cold toes & fingers because those body parts are sacrificing blood & heat for the more vital organs; it’s for the good of the whole body. That’s how the Body of Christ works together. In this faith we are not alone; that makes our faith to be ‘willing.’
And finally, the 3rd part is that our sacrifice, which makes a difference and is done willingly, is an expression of our faith in God. No matter what our needs, the Lord said that the right place to be is -first- with Him. Jesus says in Matt.6, ‘Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
*Why did that widow put in the temple offering her two mites, when she should’ve been worried about how little she had to live on? Because she first valued her living relationship with her life-Creator and her life-Savior. I -myself- would really struggle to do what she did; so I will acknowledge that she was showing a much greater trust in God than what I normally show in my own life.
But thankfully, today again, I’m reminded that my faith is not supposed to be looking at my offering as much as it is looking at my Savior; looking at His sacrificial offering made for me. Jesus has paid our sin-price, and purchased for us an eternal kingdom. The value of that kingdom has first-place in our lives; that’s our faith, our hope, & our peace. That’s what makes us the people of God in the world; and that’s what makes us think & look & act differently than those who are not God’s people.
So, as the Lord confronts our faith today in a lesson about sacrificial giving, we should take His words to heart: ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and those other things will be added to us as well.’ The One who has already given to us the things we need, will always be able to look after us and supply us in the days ahead. We never know what the days ahead will bring; but our faith & trust in God make us willing to return a sacrificial offering to Him now for the things He has given; our offerings will benefit His kingdom’s work, and will show care for our neighbor in their need.
When Isaac asked about the sacrifice, Abraham answered, “God himself will provide.” He didn’t know how; he only knew what he was to do, and he knew God would take care of the rest. He knew God had promised him a big family thru Isaac, and that God had already done miracles to keep this promise. Sure enough, God provided a ram that had gotten tangled up in a bush. That lamb was substituted for Isaac & saved his life. That is a picture of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was hung on a tree as a substitute for us to save our lives.
The only way to understand what our sacrifices are, is to see the sacrifice that Jesus did. Hebrews 9 says, ‘Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and then comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.’ (Heb 9:26–28)
So, one, our sacrifice is a giving that makes a difference to us. It is Jesus’ sacrifice that makes the real difference, & changes how we look at life. Two, our sacrifice is a willing action; because Jesus went willingly to the cross for our forgiveness. And three our sacrifice is not for our benefit. It’s an expression of simple faith in the One who takes care of us. As the Macedonians gave themselves into the offering plate as a sacrifice to God for others, so the Lord calls on us to keep that word ‘sacrifice’ to be an important word in His Church today.