Authentic Sacrificial Praise
Hebrews 13:15 tells us: 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. But do we know what it is to offer a “Sacrifice of Praise”? Is sacrificial praise getting up early on a Sunday morning, dragging ourselves to “church”, singing (or listening to) a few songs and then a sermon, then going to lunch with our friends? Is this sacrificial praise, the kind of praise that is pleasing to God?
Well let us look to the biblical witness to find an answer to this question. Personally I like what the Old Testament has to say about praise and worship. Let us see what God said through Isaiah. In 1:11-13 we read, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me…” Then in verses 16-17, “[R]emove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…”
What I think God is saying in these verses is that we cannot praise and worship Him if we are oppressing or not looking to the needs of others. When our political agendas override what God wants us to do, we sin and He does not listen to our prayers or accept our praise and worship. Especially when those agendas are oppressive and neglect the needs of the least of these.
Again, the prophet tells us: (Isaiah 29): 13The Lord said: … these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;
Isaiah 58 makes this pretty clear:
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.
3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
…not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
I think verses 6 & 7 are worth another look: 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Hear what God is saying here. The fast (a form of worship in demonstrating obedience) is not so much about what you don’t eat but about how you treat your neighbor, others. Fasting seems from this passage to be about treating others as better than self, putting aside our desires for the sake of others. From the same chapter: If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. If we are to be pleasing to God, a living sacrifice, then we need to act intentionally in response to God and others to promote overall well-being.
A friend of mine, Thomas Jay Oord, who is a professor of theology at NNU and one of our denomination’s more prolific authors, searched the Bible for the most consistent definition of love. Hebrew and Greek words we translate as love are used numerous times with slightly different meanings. But all can be linked by an underlying unity and give rise to Tom’s definition: Love is to act intentionally in response to God and others to promote overall well being.
If we use this definition of love then we find that Love is the key to acceptable and authentic praise and worship.
Love, loving God and others are the greatest commandments, Jesus tells us. The Apostle Jesus Loved tells us God IS love. We can love one another and God because He first loved us. He gives His love freely to us, thereby enabling us to love one another. I think that He gives us love and commands us to love each other, and not just those within the Body, but everyone, so that by loving our fellow human beings/image bearers, that we honor and praise Him.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
In this statement Jesus reinforces what God told us through Isaiah, that while we have something against another, or if they have something against us we need to do what we can to make it right BEFORE our offering of praise and worship is acceptable to God.
The last two Sundays my wife and I have been fighting. I know that for me I was unable to stand in the presence of God to offer an acceptable praise and worship. My mind became so focused on me and my problem that I could not offer a sacrifice that God would find pleasing. There was strife in this very important relationship. Relationship, which is a product of Love, is so important to God that He wants us to go as far as we can to reconcile our relationships before entering His presence and offering praise and worship.
If there are any of you who are experiencing strife in any of the relationships in your life I pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon you and give you the power to heal those broken relationships as far as it is up to you.
Love, coming from these passages and Dr. Oord’s definition, then requires a sacrifice. We need to sacrifice self for the well being of others. Sacrifice self like Jesus sacrificed Himself for our well being. Through Jesus sacrifice God forgives us our sins, we are required to forgive the sins of others in the same way. This applies to everyone, ax murderers, child molesters, prostitutes, drug addicts, even those who offend us ever so slightly, everyone. Further we need to go and make amends to others whom we have offended, whether that offense was intentional or accidental. Jesus tells us in Matthew that when we become aware we are required to go and try to make it right.
I know that I very often, as I go through life, cause people offence. Most of the time it is not intentional or deliberate, but still I do it. As I become aware of the offence I caused I need to offer my apology. I need to put down self and make amends. Treat others as more important than myself.
So, we started with Hebrews 13:15 & 16, let us look to this chapter to get the context in which these verses reside to see whether or not we followed the right path in finding the source of Authentic Sacrificial Worship.
13 1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
For me verses 1-6 bring to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, “40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” This seems to link loving others with showing love to God. It is oft said that imitation is the highest form of flattery (praise). How many of us in here today are parents? How many of us parents have heard our children say, “When I grow up I want to be just like you Daddy/Mommy,”? And even if we haven’t heard it, how many have fantasized about it? We would like our children to grow up to be like the positive we see in ourselves. When we hear those words, whether from our Children or in our imaginations we feel flattered/praised (and we are imperfect beings.) How much more does God feel praised when we strive to imitate Him, to be like Him? This IS the highest form of praise we can offer God. To try to give the love, the sacrificial love that Christ gave us when He freed us from bondage to our sins and darkness. When we give comfort to the least of these we are being like Christ, like our Father in Heaven and He feels honored, praised and worshiped. Not when we do it expecting Him to give us something, for Jesus did not give Himself for us expecting something in return, but from a heart full of perfect love. Matthew 5 we hear Jesus tell us what perfection, Christian perfection is, 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
To be perfect like your Father is perfect is to love with a love like He shows to us. To love Him and others with this same perfect love. When we do we are perfect, entirely sanctified in that moment. And we also give unto God the perfect sacrifice of praise.
Lest we think that these passages only speak of loving others in the church let us look at what Hebrews says,
10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
Roger Hahn, Professor at NTS, wrote about this passage, “In Judaism the undesirable parts of the sacrificial animal were burned outside the community boundaries. Jesus accomplished his sacrifice outside the city wall of Jerusalem. Therefore, in some way he resembles the undesirable parts of the Jewish sacrifices. The author then exhorts his readers to share with Christ the low esteem that comes from being outside the walls.”
So we have Love of others in the first verses of the chapter on sacrificial praise. Then we come down to demonstrating the Love from God not just to those inside the walls of the church, but to do like Jesus and extend Love to those outside our walls as well. This then becomes the Sacrificial Praise that God is looking for, to love each other, those within and without the faith. We need to act intentionally in response to God and our fellow beings to promote overall well being, while not considering our desires, our standing, our riches, our selfishness.
Let me summarize with the words of Dr. Hahn, “Authentic worship will offer to God our best confessions of who he is and what he has done. Authentic worship will also demand that we come to the sanctuary with integrity in our relationships with others and that we leave the sanctuary to serve our fellow human beings. The continual aspect of the sacrifice of praise is not continually saying or singing praise songs, but daily living lives that honor God.”
Let’s look once again at our questions that started this message:
Is sacrificial praise getting up early on a Sunday morning, dragging ourselves to “church”, singing (or listening to) a few songs and then a sermon, then going to lunch with our friends? Is this sacrificial praise, the kind of praise that is pleasing to God?
If this is solely what we think of as praise and worship then the answer in a resounding, “NO!” But when we come to church on Sunday and offer our voices and our ears in praise and worship as the culmination of a week of worship and praise through Love of God and others, then, Yes, it absolutely IS sacrificial praise and IS pleasing to God.
Let us take this message with us when we leave here today and put it into practice. We Christians have a bad reputation in the world for being self-righteous, judgmental, and condemning hypocrites. This perception goes back a very long time, Augustine called these people, “Evil and false Christians.” Let us show the world Christ by our Authentic Sacrificial Praise. Let us not Honor Him with our lips, but our hearts be far from Him. When our hearts flow with love for God and everyone else then He will hear our petitions and answer in the positive. It isn’t too hard for He gives us His love so that we too can love, we just need to distribute it to everyone we come into contact with.