Have you ever really thought about the sacrifice God asked Abraham to make when He commanded him to give his son Isaac on the altar? Isaac was probably the most treasured thing in Abraham’s life. He had waited 100 years for this promised child to arrive, and he loved him with all his heart. Then, not too many years later, God asked Abraham to give him up. And not only to give him up, but to be the one who would take his life from him. Can you even imagine that? Really. Think about it for a minute.
Sacrificial giving is the kind of giving that is done at great personal cost to the giver. Abraham was willing to make that kind of sacrifice. And I believe God is still asking us today to make those kinds of sacrifices. No, I’m not advocating that God is asking any of us to go up on a mountain and sacrifice our children. Please, let’s get that straight. But I do believe God has called us all to give sacrificially.
What does that mean?
Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac was foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice God would one day make with his only Son, the son whom he loved - Jesus. This great biblical example of ultimate sacrifice is God’s gift of himself (in human form as Jesus) to make atonement for sins and to graft those of us who believe in Him into the kingdom of God. This was done at unimaginable cost to the giver (1 John 3:16), just like Abraham’s sacrifice would have been had he actually had to go through with it.
Obviously, our greatest sacrifices are not even in the same league with God’s ultimate sacrifice in Jesus. But those of us who are believers are called to be imitators of our Lord (indeed we were all created to bear his image), and for that reason we must contemplate what it means to give our very best, to give that which pains us to lose.
Unfortunately, it is absolutely possible to give without suffering any loss. It’s easy, and in fact I would argue that we, as Americans, typically engage in this kind of giving - giving out of our excess, more often than actually giving sacrificially. When a family donates a bag of old clothes to the Salvation Army, or when a multi-billionaire gives an impressive-sounding six-figure contribution, they feel no loss because it is in their best interest to get rid of those things anyway (we’re all familiar with tax write-off’s aren’t we?). Strictly speaking, in the words of author Randy Alcorn, this is not giving at all but “selective disposal”. This kind of giving is fine, in fact it’s much better than throwing old clothes or money away, but there is nothing distinctively Christian about it. It doesn’t fit in the “sacrificial giving” category.
Let’s talk about wealth for a second.
The median household income for the United States is around $45,000. If you take a second to plug that number into the Global Rich List you’ll quickly see that the average American is in the top 0.41% of the richest people in the world by income.
But wealth isn’t just about income. A wealthy person, by definition, is someone who has so much money (or assets) that he/she can weather losses with ease. The very function of wealth is to shield its owner so that it is hard for him/her to do anything at great personal cost. Indeed, for this very reason Jesus says “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24). It is not that the poor are more righteous in God’s sight than the rich. We are all equally hopeless (Romans 3:10). It’s just that the rich are more likely to try to get along without God’s help.
Would your life look any different if Christ weren’t in it?
I just keep going back to the idea that Christ should be priceless to us. He should be more precious than any possession or any person in our lives. But unless it costs us something to follow him, unless we truly make sacrifices that at least try to imitate his ultimate sacrifice (like Abraham’s willingness to give up his own son), he will not seem priceless to us. We are sacrificing much to move to the other side of the globe. The biggest sacrifice by far is giving up the ability to be physically near those we love. We won’t be able to grab coffee with close friends, to hug people when they’re hurting, or share dinner with our parents (our kids grandparents) on a regular basis. We will have to start over with relationships. And that takes time. It’s hard. But God has called us to make this sacrifice, and, just like Abraham, we must be willing to give it all up for His name’s sake. If we don’t do that, what makes us different as Christians? What makes us different from good people who don’t believe in Christ?