Putting Sacrifice in Perspective
I cannot tell you how many, many times people in Ethiopia (and even in America) expressed amazement at our willingness to come to help Aberash. By the world’s thinking, a great gulf exists between Aberash and me – an economic gulf, an educational gulf, a linguistic gulf, a cultural gulf, a geographical gulf. Why on earth would someone such as me give so much to someone such as her? Why spend so much money just to help one person? Why devote so much energy to a simple, insignificant lady from the countryside? What is to be gained by such an exercise? And how can I do this all on my own, without some great institution arranging and overseeing everything?
This was the thinking of most people. Complete, utter amazement and puzzlement. All they could do was try to give verbal expression of thanks; yet they repeatedly said, “My words fail me.”
On the last day Aberash said to me, tears in her eyes, as she held her only child, “You have given so much for me. I cannot begin to repay you. I have nothing. All I can do is love you and pray for God to bless you.”
I appreciate their affection, their commendation, their expression of thankfulness. I really do. And I’m not trying to be flippant; but there is a place where whatever we sacrifice for the Kingdom is nothing – nothing compared to what He has already done for us, and nothing compared to what it truly costs us, and nothing compared to what is our reasonable response to the Savior.
Let me explain.
Reason Number One: How can I possibly do more than what has already been done for me? Whatever gulfs existed between me and Aberash were minuscule compared to the gulfs that existed between me and God. Yet the Lord Jesus bridged those gulfs for my benefit, to bring me to God.
Whatever I gave up for Aberash, they are nothing compared to what my Lord Jesus gave up for me! He sacrificed to the point of death for me! Not only inconvenience…not only misunderstanding and ridicule…not only physical danger…not only material loss. He gave ALL of Himself for my benefit. I didn’t give nearly that much for Aberash. So am I worthy of this praise?
Reason Number Two: What did I give for Aberash that was not beforehand given to me? Did I give money, or time, or physical strength, or knowledge? What do I have that has not been given to me? Nothing.
In other words, whatever I gave to Aberash were things that were previously given to me by the Lord; they were not things that originated with me. So I was giving up things to which I had no legitimate claim in the first place! So am I worthy of this praise?
Reason Number Three: What could I possibly do in this life that is over and above my reasonable response to His sacrifice for me? In light of the gulfs He has spanned, and in light of the gifts He’s given to me, what work on my part would be considered more than the reasonable return of His investment? Nothing! All work on my part, all giving, all sacrifice on my part is simply a very small return to Him for the the huge investment that He has made in me and my life! He saved me in order to put me to work as His representative; when I do “good things,” they are simply obedience to His appointment (Eph. 2:8-10). Nothing more, nothing less. No good thing originates, nor is completed, by me; it is wholly His work in and through me.
So what is the conclusion of the matter? The term “sacrifice” with reference to our work in the Kingdom is extremely limited. In fact, if we consider the role of the Lord in things, there is no place for this word. It is only if we remove the Lord from things and take a purely horizontal, earthly view of things, that we can utilize that word. When Paul referenced the Philippians as giving “sacrificially” (Phil. 4:18), it was with this viewpoint. But in the very next verse he brings in the vertical perspective: “but my God shall supply all your need” (Phil. 4:19). So I ask you, where now is the “sacrifice” of the Philippians?
To sacrifice is to voluntarily give up something to which we are entitled, even to the point of suffering because of it. But we’re not entitled to anything; we don’t own anything; it all belongs to the Master who bought us at Calvary. And we have such a gracious, generous Master. We don’t give up anything that He does not richly return to us in one way or another, so that we can use it again in His Kingdom.
Paul says that we are to give honor to others, “for their work’s sake (in the Kingdom)” (1 Thess. 5:14). And he praised/thanked the Philippians for their participation with him in the Gospel ministry. None of us are mavericks in Kingdom work; we are inter-related, co-laborers, joint-heirs. We must have an attitude of humility and appreciation towards our co-laborers. So there certainly is a place for giving recognition and encouragement of our fellow servants in the Work.
But we must be very careful, both in the giving and in the receiving of that recognition, to look to the One who has set the supreme example for us, to the One who supplies all things in our lives, and to the One for Whom all work is done as a reasonable, logical consequence of understanding Calvary.
Words of thanks to individuals is not wrong, but the greatest reward for Kingdom work is when we see lives change, following the example we have set by our own lives, following the Lord Jesus in His own model of sacrifice. I do hope that the Lord will give me the privilege of watching Ethiopians change into more “sacrificial” believers, who themselves “give up” for their brethren, who take whatever steps they must take to span the gulfs separating them from others who need the ministry of the Lord Jesus. And may they have eyes to see beyond their families and beyond those who can give back to them. If our Lord gives me this reward, it is the best “thank you” I could receive!
Let us look to Him, and let us honor Him for the work He is doing in and through us. May He protect us from the Evil One who wants to blur our vision and change our focus from the Savior to our own selves. The Scriptures say that there is no good thing in us, even after we are saved. All good comes from the Father.
May He have His rightful place in our lives!
May 11, 2008