The other day, I received a mailed appeal from a Christian organization that asked me for a “sacrificial gift.” Later in the appeal, there appeared a lament for the demise of “sacrificial giving” among God’s people. “We don’t know how to give till it hurts anymore” was the claim. For a moment I was tempted to concur with this apparently sad state of affairs, but then I demurred.
When you hear the word sacrifice, what comes to your mind? Does the word have a pleasant or unpleasant connotation for you? For me, it always suggests something hard; noble perhaps, but very difficult.
We’ve just gone through the period of Lent leading to Good Friday and then Christ’s triumphant resurrection. Of course, Good Friday may have been good for us, but not so good for Jesus. On the cross Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice. The venerable Oxford English Dictionary (O.E.D.) defines sacrifice (sacrificing) as “surrendering or giving up something for the attainment of some higher advantage or dearer object.” Also, “to give up or abandon for the sake of others.” What a fitting description of Jesus’ death for us sinners.
The word sacrifice is closely related to the word sacred. The O.E.D. relates the word sacred to “things, places, persons that are set apart for or dedicated to some religious purpose, and hence entitled to veneration or religious respect; made holy by association with God (or a god) or other object of worship, consecrated, hallowed.”
So it seems to me that when we use the word sacrifice in relation to our worship or our giving, we are really trying to ascribe something of the sacred to ourselves, to gain recognition by our good deeds. There is in the word sacrifice an implied sense of (false) nobility that goes with some difficult gesture. “Look at the hardship or pain I am willing to suffer by my sacrificial action.”
I would like to suggest that we Christians erase the word sacrifice from our vocabulary unless we are referring specifically to what our Lord has done for us. His was the ultimate sacrifice that ended the need for all other forms of sacrifice (including the shedding of all that animal blood on the Old Testament), but also any sense of our own sacrificial giving.
The word I propose we use instead of sacrifice is the familiar one of offering. To make an offering, says the O.E.D., is the “presenting of something to God as an act of worship or devotion. It is something given to a person or deity for acceptance, especially as a tribute of honour or esteem; a gift; a present.” Isn’t that what we are invited to do? Out of deep gratefulness to Jesus for his sacrifice, we have the privilege, the honour, to present God with our gifts of time, talents and treasure. Not in order to gain glory for ourselves for being such noble and venerable folk, but simply out of sheer gratitude for the hope provided by Jesus’ resurrection gift to us.
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