The woman referred to as Mother Teresa is credited with observing, "If you give what you do not need, it is not giving." When was the last time you made a sacrifice to God? We ought to be making them every week. I'm not proposing laying our prized oxen on an altar. I'm referring to the financial offering we make to God each week. We tend to think about sacrifices as something that used to be done under the Old Law, and they were certainly a big part of the people's relationship with God under the Law of Moses. In that context we see the importance of offering the first fruits with which we are blessed (cf. Exo. 23:19). We can also see the importance of giving God the best we have. No one would dare bring God a lamb that was lame and about to die anyway (cf. Mal. 1:8,9). Sacrifices served two purposes for the nation of Israel. First, they helped the people deal with their sins before God. Second, they were a way for the people to give God the honor for all their material blessings. We have no need for a sacrifice in regards to our sin anymore because Jesus has made that for all mankind (cf. Heb. 10:10), but we do still have a need and privilege to acknowledge and honor God for all the blessings He brings into our lives (cf. James 1:17). When a man's prosperity was measured by how many oxen he had (cf. Job 1:3), bringing that prized oxen to the Lord was a sacrifice. Today not many people measure their prosperity in that way; rather we measure it by cold, hard cash. We sacrifice by taking that sign of prosperity and giving it to God rather than lavishing it on ourselves. Making these sacrifices will give meaning to our offerings.
Jesus taught His disciples that the meaning in our offering is not determined by the amount given but rather by the amount sacrificed. For example, when He was watching people put their gifts into the treasury and saw the wealthy people giving large amounts to God, He singled out a poor widow who only gave two coins as the model of exemplary giving. He explained to His disciples, "For they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on" (Luke 21:4). The offering that was sacrificial had more meaning than the offering that cost nothing. In our land of prosperity, we desperately need to learn this lesson of meaning through sacrifice.
In II Samuel when David was returning from battle, he wanted to acknowledge the great victory that God had brought to him. A man named Araunah thought this was a wonderful idea and offered to give David everything he needed to worship God, but David refused to take his supplies. He told Araunah, "No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing" (II Sam. 24:24, NASB). David understood that it was sacrifice, giving up something of value, which gave his offering meaning. The same principle is true today. When we make a sacrifice, we are saying to God, "You are more valuable and important to me than ________." I want to be able to say that about anything, but grand statements about commitment are virtually worthless. I want to be able to demonstrate that value in regards to something real.
I drive an old beat-up car. It is serviceable, but certainly not what I would prefer. If I took my monthly offering to God, I could easily pay for the truck of my dreams. Each week as I make my offering, I mentally acknowledge to God, "You are worth more to me than a new truck. I would rather see Your name praised and Your work be done more than bring earthly pleasure into my life. As small as it may be, this is my sacrifice." I encourage you to think about what you are doing without in order to praise God. Make your sacrifice real. Make it tangible. It will increase the meaning of the offering not only to God, but also in your soul. No longer will the collection simply be putting a check in the plate as it passes, but rather you will be making a sacrificial offering to God. That is worship! Would you be willing to drive a not-so-nice car, live in a smaller house, eat out less, wear cheaper clothing, etc., in order to worship and honor God? Would you be willing to sacrifice?
C.S. Lewis once said well, "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them. May we honor our God and build our faith by not simply making a token offering on the Lord's Day but by giving like those Macedonians that Paul put forth as an example for the Corinthians. "For I testify that according to their ability they gave of their own accord" (II Cor. 8:3, NASB). When was the last time you made a sacrifice to God?
*Hazel’s article was originally printed in Think magazine (Focus Press, Inc. Brentwood, TN) in September, 2010.