Over the past year or two I have thought a lot more about sacrifice than I used to. I can’t honestly explain why this is the case. It might be that I have children who are getting older and need more resources (time, energy, money, etc.) than ever before. It could be that I have been working closely with more missionaries around the globe. It could be I have been working with the Capital Campaign committee. It could be I am reaching an age when you start to think about the choices you make and the impact you are having. Regardless of the reasons, sacrifice has been on my mind a lot lately.
As we walk through 1 John in this post-Easter season, we arrive at chapter 3 where the author digs deep into the word “love” and quickly arrives at the word “sacrifice.” “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 3:16. As I have wrestled with the word “sacrifice” I so often end up thinking and feeling obligation. What I mean by this is as a person of faith I feel obligated or required to sacrifice in an effort to fulfill my responsibilities. This mindset greatly restricts and can frequently harm what God is trying to do in me and through me.
2 Corinthians 9 says “God loves a cheerful giver.” If I am giving out of obligation or responsibility, I am seldom cheerful. If I am giving out of guilt, I usually give the least amount I can give to get rid of the guilty feeling; if I don’t feel obligation, I might not give at all. If my motivation is obligation, even thinking about helping can feel like a sacrifice. If I live in love, everything changes.
When I live in love, the amount of time, money or effort seems inconsequential. When I live in love, I will go far beyond whatever is required and not even think about it. When I am living in love, I work to figure out how to give more than I think I can, and I do it with great joy and energy. When I live in love, the sacrificial gifts are seen by others well before they are ever felt by me.
As a community of believers at Cross, I am so proud (if I am allowed to be proud) at our gifting and mission mindedness. I believe we look outward and serve others more than many other churches and faith communities. But we are far from where we could be. When we live in love – love for the people lost around us, we start to give more. This giving, even sacrificing, comes from a desire to help others who don’t know Christ or don’t have salvation to know Christ and have eternal life. When we have love and compassion for others, we recognize we have way more to offer than we ever imagined possible.
How do we grow love instead of growing guilt or obligation? Well, it isn’t easy. I think this is why we are so often bombarded with calls to obligation or responsibility. Making someone feel guilty is the easiest way to get them to give you what you want. But when we love others and that love grows in return, we care, give and help often without needing to ask or be asked. When we give in love, many of our needs go away because we have fulfillment.
The devil and our flesh try to convince us that obligation leads to giving which leads to emptiness. God reminds us that love leads to sacrifice which leads to fulfillment. Are you going to fear emptiness or lead a life of love? Perfect love drives out fear; God’s perfect love for us reminds us we have nothing to fear. God’s love for the world grows love inside us. This is how we know love – that we sacrifice so others can know love, too.