Sacrifice will be part of a Christian’s life if they are making that life available for God’s service. However, what would it look like with “too much” sacrifice? What if sacrifice becomes a goal, unto itself? In an attempt to live for God, a person might find themselves doing sacrifice.
Sacrifice must have a object. Nobody does sacrifice by sitting alone and doing nothing, separate from the world. For example, you sacrifice something for your spouse. Or you sacrifice something for your new recreation. Or you sacrifice something for your child’s education. Or you sacrifice a career to take care of aging parents. You always sacrifice for something.
I propose the appropriate Christian sacrifice is for/toward godliness in yourself or another. The object of your sacrifice must be God, not another person. Instead, among some communities, conservatism tends to occlude godliness. For example, if your sacrifice is to preserve your marriage, or sacrifice is to provide for your children, I believe conservative values can occlude godliness. I understand this claim challenges many nominal American Christians. However, the Bible says a marriage (and children) are a blessing. They are not targets of sacrifice, rather they are one of the blessings received when you sacrifice to God with obedience to His ways.
The most stark example I can think of is particularly strong because it does not leave a person with two good options, which is a quandary for many Christians. In other words, most Christians I know would say sacrifice for God is good and sacrifice for their children is good. However, leaving the conversation here leaves one in an ambiguous state because God has given each person only 24 hours per day. Reality is that you can’t line up all the good things and do them all. Instead, you have to prioritize, and some things are become a higher priority, preempting less important goods.
It would be really nice if God would compare the two objects (sacrifice toward God or sacrifice toward family) and identify for us which is more important. Well, he does…
Abraham’s story is the most vivid example because it lays the two targets of sacrifice in direct conflict. Also, it’s a non-trite example for us because it is the core and foundational and vivid root for the entire Jewish story.
Abraham, sacrificing for God, is asked to make a sacrifice of his child. The situation is not presented as two good things to pursue or two good ways to sacrifice. One relationship is promoted at the expense of the other. One sacrifice is good and the other becomes the sacrifice.
How is this balance in your life? One of the turning points in my life was when my wife and I realized we were doing well because we were not sacrificing for each other. We were not engaged in a transactional relationship. Other church members will glance furtively around and feel uncomfortable if you ever publicly say, “I don’t do things for my wife. I don’t sacrifice for her…” Saying such a thing will really get the attention of others. And we usually are able to drift the conversation toward obedience to, and sacrifice for God.
What follows that initial statement is a discussion of priority. I sacrifice and do things for my God. I enjoy the blessing of my wife. Same thing for my children. They do not run the show and bury my life. They are a gift to me. And this works for them, too.
Horizontal (person to person) based metrics are not good to use as a justification for anything. Instead, I believe a person should do something because the vertical (person to God) metric is right. However — watch the effect — when you choose to do right, you automatically get the good horizontal stuff.
There are multiple horizontal, relationship type effects that are good:
- The other person hears my assertion that they are a blessing, someone valuable my your life.
- They know they are valuable because of who God made them, not because I chose them.
- Since I am not choosing their value, there is no transactional relationship to bargain through. “I love you if you will…” is never on the table.
Sacrifice to God first. Lay aside your family, your wife, your children. Challenging words, eh?