Service That Makes SenseRomans 12:1-2Theme: Reasonable sacrifices.This week’s lessons explore the reasons we should be eager to offer ourselves to God. LessonTo understand this verse well, we must understand the kind of service that is required. We have already spent a good bit of time exploring what this kind of service is about. It concerns what Paul calls “sacrifice.” When we were looking at it in detail earlier, we saw that it involves three things.
It must be a living sacrifice. That is, our lives are to be given to God in active, continuing service. It involves the offering of our bodies. In other words, we must give God the use of our minds, eyes, ears, tongues, hands, feet, and other body parts. We must be holy. Moreover, if we do this, then the sacrifices we make to God will be pleasing to him.
Our problem, of course, is that we do not want to give ourselves to God. We will give him things. It is relatively easy to give God money, though even here we are frequently far less than generous. We will even give God a certain amount of our time. We will volunteer for charitable work. But we will not give ourselves. Yet without ourselves these other “gifts” mean virtually nothing to the Almighty.
Let me say that you will begin to understand the Christian life only when you understand that God does not want your money or your time without yourself. You are the one for whom Jesus died. You are the one he loves. So when the Bible speaks of reasonable service, as it does here, it means that you are the one God wants. It is sad if you try to substitute things for that, the greatest gift.
In the Old Testament there is a wonderful illustration of how we do sometimes substitute things for ourselves. It is the story of Jacob’s return to his own country as related in Genesis 32. He had cheated his brother Esau out of their father’s blessing about twenty years before, and he had been forced to run away because his brother was threatening to kill him. Twenty years is a long time. Over those two decades Jacob had gradually forgotten his brother’s threats. But when it came time to go home, Jacob began to remember the past and grew increasingly fearful of what might happen.
Moving along toward Canaan, with Laban behind him and his own country in front of him, Jacob had time to think. He remembered his own disreputable conduct. He recollected Esau’s murderous threats. Every step became more difficult. Finally he came to the ford of the River Jabbok, which marked the border of his brother’s territory, looked across to where Esau lived and was terrified. If he could have gone back, he would have. But there was no way to go except forward.
What was he to do?
The first thing he did was send some servants ahead to see if they could find Esau and perhaps get a feeling for what he was planning to do. They had not gone very far when they ran into Esau, who was actually coming to meet Jacob. Unfortunately, he had four hundred men with him. This was a huge army from Jacob’s point of view, and he could only assume the worst, namely, that Esau was coming to kill him. He thought quickly, and then decided to appease his brother with gifts. First he sent him a present of two hundred female goats. He sent a servant along to drive the herd, and he gave the servant these instructions: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us’ ” (Gen. 32:17-18). After this he sent another group of twenty male goats, and he gave the servant in charge of this flock the same message.
It must have been an amusing picture – all of Jacob’s possessions stretched out across the desert, going toward Esau.
But there was more. After he had sent the animals, Jacob sent his least favored wife, Leah, with her children ahead of him across the Jabbok, followed by his favored wife, Rachel, with her children. And then, there, at last, all alone and trembling, was Jacob.
I suppose that if he had known the chorus, he might have been singing, “I surrender all.” All the goats, that is. All the sheep. All the camels. All the cows. All the bulls. All the donkeys. He had given up everything, but he had still not given himself. And that is what some of us do. We tell God that we will give him some time. We volunteer to help with something around the church. We give him our money. But we do not give ourselves.
That night the angel came and wrestled with Jacob to bring him to the point of personal submission, after which this scheming stiff-necked man was never the same again. When is the angel going to come and wrestle with you? Does he need to?
What three things are involved in sacrifice?
What sacrifice does God want?