The Christian's Sacrifice
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 21, 2007
Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew
Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.- Hebrews 13:9-16
Hebrews 13:9-16 speaks about the Christian's sacrifice. From this passage we will examine two points: the Christian doctrine and the Christian sacrifice. Our sacrifice is directly related to our doctrine.
In Hebrews 13:7 we were asked to remember our leaders who spoke the word of God to us, consider their lives, and imitate their faith. Verse 9 gives us the reason for this exhortation. Certain of these Hebrew believers were tempted to forsake the true gospel and go back to the security of Judaism. They were tired of being persecuted and suffering shame for their faith in Christ.
Because the Hebrew believers had no temple, no priest, no altar, no sacrifices, no feasts, no candles, no incense, no sacrificial meals, no lights, and no bells, they were charged with being impious atheists. After all, how can anyone be godly without these? So their Christian faith was now threatened by various "strange teachings," new teachings that had nothing to do with Jesus Christ. The clear gospel message was threatened by these variegated ideas.
The world is full of diversity, pluralism, and multiculturalism. The assumption is that each teaching is equally valid. But only the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and only Jesus Christ can save. He is "the way and the truth and the life"; no one comes to the Father without him (John 14:6). "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Eternal life is in the Son, and he who does not have the Son does not have life (1 John 5:11-12).
True worship of God must be based on the true doctrine of God. False doctrines produce false worship. All worship other than the worship of God the Father through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit is demonic. Therefore, if we abandon the gospel, we lose Jesus, and with him, all things. But with Jesus, we possess all things. That is why we must remember the true ministers and their true gospel, consider their lives, and imitate their true faith. That is why we preach the Bible, not the multicolored strange doctrines of man. Such novel teachings of the devil are called cults, and they proliferate this country. Mindless Christians are attracted to these teachings that damn the souls of men. We confess Jesus Christ as Lord by the Holy Spirit, but they are energized by Satan to abandon the true gospel. Yet how can they escape the severe judgment of God if they neglect such a great salvation revealed to us in Jesus Christ?
The Christian Doctrine
Let us then consider Christian doctrine first. The writer exhorts, "Be not carried away by varied and strange teachings" (Heb. 13:9, author's translation). Notice the plural "teachings." This is in contrast to the teaching, or doctrine, of Jesus Christ. We do not have multiple teachings; we have one teaching, one doctrine.
The author already described in this epistle the true doctrine of Jesus the high priest. He is the sinless one who, by his death on the cross, qualified his people to approach God to worship and sacrifice. Christ's death secured atonement for our sins once for all and sanctified those who believe in him. Christ made obsolete the old covenant which was only a shadow pointing to the reality of Jesus and his perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus has introduced the new covenant based on his own perfect sacrifice. The new covenant is the basis of the forgiveness of all our sins. The old sacrifices and covenant are gone forever. The shadow is gone; reality has come in Jesus Christ. No more are we living in the days of promise; the fulfillment has come in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we have life, justification, and forgiveness of our sins. In Christ there is hope for the hopeless. No longer are bloody sacrifices of beasts offered by sinful high priests.
The blood of bulls could not cleanse our guilty consciences: "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). But Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people. Through the death of Christ, a new and living way is opened up for us through the curtain into the very presence of God our heavenly Father.
This Jesus died and rose again to die no more. He ever lives to make intercession for us. By his one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore, he can be trusted. What he promises, he will fulfill. Because he is truth, he cannot lie, unlike the devil, who is the father of all lies.
True Doctrine versus False Teachings
Wherever the true gospel is preached, the devil attacks through strange doctrines to turn people away to destruction. This was true in the first century and is true today. How many churches, as well as cults, preach false doctrine! Such churches are ashamed of preaching the true gospel as it is revealed in Christ. Paul warned the Corinthian church about those who were preaching a different gospel, a different Jesus, and a different spirit. The preachers of this false gospel were called servants of Satan, masquerading as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:1-4, 13-15). He saw such teachers in the Galatian churches as well: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if I or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Gal. 1:6-8).
To the elders of the church of Ephesus Paul said, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise to distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30). I have seen such false people coming from outside and rising up from inside the church. They are not shepherds. These false teachers have only one purpose: to destroy the flock. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy (cf. John 10:10). Elsewhere, Paul warns, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times, some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron" (1 Tim. 4:1-2). We see such liars on television-liars of all denominational stripes deceiving those who are not people of God. No true child of God will be deceived by such people.
The Hebrews writer is warning us to distinguish between the doctrine of Jesus Christ and the doctrines of demons. Why are some people blown away by variegated, diverse, and strange teachings that contradict the gospel of our Lord? Because they are not rooted in the gospel. They refuse to exercise their minds; they are centered in their feelings. Their ministers seek to entertain and refuse to preach the gospel and the truth as it is in Jesus. These hearers do not want to think; they just want to feel good. They come to church to be entertained. They do not understand they are being dragged away from truth to error and death everlasting. They are sensualists who are into novelties. They are like the Athenians, always wanting to hear something new. They do not devote themselves to the apostles' doctrine, which is the very foundation of the church.
If the word is preached to such people, Satan comes and steals the seed of it from their minds. They grow like tumbleweeds. A little breeze breaks them off and they tumble along from teaching to teaching, from church to church, from cult to cult. About them Jude says, "These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm-shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along with the wind" (Jude 12). They are chaff, lightweight, nothings. It is Christ who gives us gravity, glory, and weight. Paul likens such people to infants that are "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Eph. 4:14). Their only purpose is to move money from our pockets to theirs, so they can buy bigger rings, bigger mansions, and better cars. Such teachers are found throughout the church world today. They are having great fun, but refuse to preach the gospel. They are false apostles.
How many people today want variety! They do not want the same old gospel. We have variety in everything else: why not in the gospel? But such thinking is not new; it happened in the wilderness. God's people longed for the leeks, onions, melons, and fish of Egypt. They told Moses, "We are sick and tired of this manna from heaven." We may think variety is good, but variety in doctrine can kill us. The word of God alone is the word of life. The word alone is spirit that raises the dead.
What about you? Do you want to hear something that will entertain you-some leeks, some melons, some fish, some onions? May God give us a great taste for the word of God and for the apostolic doctrine-a great love for Jesus.
Those who hunger for variety are lured away into novel teachings that destroy their souls. Eventually they want to go back to externalism, ceremonialism, sacerdotalism, and various dietary laws. Even today many people are going from the evangelical world back into Roman Catholicism and Orthodox churches. They think the icons, vestments, lights, smells, frescoes, and cathedrals of these denominations will give them more dignity. But we have dignity in Christ. God sent Jesus so that he may bring many sons to glory. He called us, justified us, and will glorify us. Jesus Christ alone gives us glory.
Those who are mindless will go back to that which cannot edify them. This is what the author was warning his readers about throughout this epistle: "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:29). The Hebrews were tempted to go back to the worship of the temple, the altar, the sacrifices, and special sacrificial meals. They wanted to go back to the security of Judaism, away from the stigma and persecution of Christianity. But by going back, they were abandoning the true salvation that is in Jesus alone.
Strengthening Our Hearts by Grace
The writer warns, "It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods" (Heb. 13:9). Foods cannot save anyone, nor can smells, bells, ceremonies, and vestments. Think of Luther and Calvin and the Puritans, who all came out of ceremonialism into the marvelous light of the gospel.
Paul warns the Colossians about being led astray by those who insisted on special foods and regulations: "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. . . . Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (Col. 2:16-17, 20-23). He also says, "The kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit . . . . Food cannot bring us to God" (Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 8:8). Only Jesus Christ can bring us to God by the forgiveness of our sins.
The author had already spoken about this: "The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various external washings-external regulations applying unto the time of the new order" (Heb. 9:8-10). The new order came in Jesus Christ. Life and forgiveness have come. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all our sins.
Food can strengthen the body, but it is useless to strengthen our hearts. We need abounding grace, grace that is sufficient for our every need, grace that is greater than all our sins, grace by which we are saved. Where do we obtain this grace? We cannot find it in Judaism or in cults or in mindless modern churches. For this grace we have to go out to Jesus Christ, who was crucified on Calvary's cross. Judaism considered Jesus an unholy blasphemer, so they put him to death outside the gate of the city. "He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him" (John 1:11). But the truth was, he is the Holy One, and his own people were all unholy. They were like the Israelites in the wilderness. Because they worshiped the golden calf, Israel and their camp became unholy, and God refused to meet with Moses inside the camp. Moses had to go outside the camp to meet with God (Ex. 33).
The blood of the sin offerings sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies did not sanctify anyone. The blood of bulls and goats pointed to the sanctifying blood of the coming One, Jesus Christ, who was crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem, not because he was unholy, but because the people were. He alone is the Holy One who makes us holy: "And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore" (Heb. 13:12-13). As true Christians, we go outside-out from Judaism and everything else-to Jesus, the Holy One.
We Have a Priest, an Altar, and Food
The writer says, "We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat" (Heb. 13:10). Earlier he declared that we have a high priest (Heb. 8:1). Never think that Christians are irreligious. We have an altar and a high priest, and we have sacrifices to offer to God, by which he is well pleased.
Altar stands for sacrifice. Jesus as the high priest offered himself in sacrifice to atone for our sins once for all. His sacrifice is unrepeatable and yet effectual for all time for all who come to him outside. He tells us, "Come unto me, all you sinners, and I will give you rest-the rest of forgiveness of your sins, the rest of justification, the rest of communion with God. No structures of this world, whether secular or religious, can cleanse your conscience and forgive your sins. Come unto me; I alone can give you a clean conscience." Heed the call of Jesus Christ: "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Is. 55:1).
Not only do we have a high priest and an altar, but we also have food, which will satisfy our souls and strengthen our hearts. Jesus declares, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world. . . . I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink'" (John 6:51, 53).
But how can we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus? He tells us: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35). Jesus is asking us to eat and drink his flesh and his blood by believing in his person and sacrifice for our sins.
Come to Jesus and live! Come to Jesus and be strengthened by grace in your inner being! We read that when he came to his own, his own did not receive him. But that is not the whole story: "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). We also read, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). Jesus admonished: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39-40). Let us come to Jesus and have life!
We need grace to be strengthened in our inner being. That grace comes through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. So we read, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Second Corinthians 9:8 tells us God gives us abundance of grace so that we can do everything God wants us to do. Jesus told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Cor. 12:9). In other words, he was telling him that he would not heal his problem, but give him sufficient grace to live with it. God's grace is always sufficient to help us meet all the challenges of life, including death itself. Neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God.
What we need is grace flowing from the cross of Christ-more grace, sufficient grace, abundant grace. Paul committed the elders of the church of Ephesus "to God and to the word of his grace" (Acts 20:32). He also tells us of "the grace that brings salvation" (Tit. 2:11). Peter exhorts, "Grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18). James says, "He gives us more grace" (Jas. 4:6).
We Must Go Out to Him
Let us, then, go outside to Jesus-to Jesus the Holy One, to Jesus our atonement and high priest, to Jesus the source of all grace, to Jesus our holy altar and food. Let us get out of the old, obsolete shadow that is passing away and impotent to save, and let us go to Jesus, bearing proudly the shame of Christ as Moses did (cf. Heb. 11:26). The reproach of the cross of Christ is of greater worth than all the treasures of this world.
Let us get out of the world, out of all cults, and out of all churches that refuse to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. Let us go out to churches that preach the gospel of God's grace, for what fellowship is there between light and darkness, between life and death? Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him. He did not come to make us rich and famous, but to make us sons of glory, fit to live in the world to come.
Let us, then, get out of the City of Destruction and follow Jesus to the City of God. Let us join Abraham, Moses, Peter, Paul, Stephen, James, and all the holy martyrs in bearing the stigma of Christ proudly. We are marching to the heavenly Zion. Earthly Jerusalem cannot save us. There is no abiding city here. The security of this world is just a mirage. This world is Sodom, about to be burned. Go out to Jesus, and he will take you to the abiding city, the unshakable kingdom of God. Seek earnestly the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you (cf. Matt. 6:33).
Paul speaks about how he went outside to Jesus: "If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Phil. 3:4-9). We can have everything inside the city, but no Christ. We are fools if we stay inside the structures of this world where there is no Christ. So Paul says elsewhere, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).
May we, therefore, love Jesus and his word, that we will not be blown away by diverse and strange teachings, but trust solely in Christ. (PGM) Then we will go to the city of the living God and dwell eternally with God in the new heaven and the new earth, where there is no weeping, sighing, crying, pain, and death.
Christian Doctrine Leads to Christian Sacrifice
"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name" (Heb. 13:15). True Christian doctrine results in true Christian worship. Our worship and sacrifices are a response to God's free salvation to us. The psalmist asked, "How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord" (Ps. 116:12-13). Because God saved us, we now offer the sacrifice of praise to him.
Jesus Christ is the Prophet, Priest, and King, and so we are prophets, priests, and kings in him. He sacrificed himself once for all, and his sacrifice is effectual always for all who trust in him for salvation. Having made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Now, in him, we have sacrifices to offer to God-all of our life continually.
The Greek text says, "Through him [who is the high priest], we offer our sacrifice of praise." Our sacrifice will not be accepted unless it is offered in the name of his beloved Son. He is our high priest; we function as priests under his authority. Without him we are nothing and can do nothing. So when we come to the church to worship, and the Holy Spirit enables us to sing praises in the name of our great high priest, that praise goes to the very presence of God. It is not just wasted energy. Praise is sacrifice. Christ died for me and I offer sacrifices of praise to God through Jesus Christ.
All Christians are priests-men and women, boys and girls, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor. We do not believe in the clergy worshiping apart from the laity. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We are the temple of God, but we are also priests. As priests, we have something to offer in view of the great salvation achieved by the Father at the cost of his Son, offering spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. So Peter tells us, "As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9).
What is the purpose of salvation? That we may declare God's praises. Salvation gives springs to our feet, and the Holy Spirit performs glossal surgery so that we open our mouths and sing praises to God. If a person is not born again, he will not worship God. We must examine ourselves to see whether we are born of God.
The Sacrifices of Praise
What sacrifices do we offer? First, let us say what we do not do offer. Sacerdotalist churches re-crucify Christ at every mass. We do not do that. Christ the high priest offered himself once for all, and the benefit of that sacrifice accrues to us daily.
The writer says, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise" (Heb. 13:15). Christ has given us the privilege of worshiping God; therefore, we look forward to every opportunity we have to come together and praise God.
Our praise is the thankoffering we give to God. We thank God for saving us from our sins, from his wrath, and from eternal damnation. Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. Jesus is bringing many sons to glory, and we look forward to singing God's praises for all eternity.
God planned this salvation, Christ accomplished it, and the Holy Spirit applied this redemption to each one of us. Thus, we praise God, as Israel of old did after they were delivered from Egypt. The Egyptians were drowned, but the Israelites came out of the Red Sea alive and sang, "I will sing unto the Lord for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name" (Ex. 15:1-3).
The Fruit of Our Lips
The sacrifice of praise means the sacrifice consisting in praise to God. It is further defined as "the fruit of lips that confess his name" (Heb. 13:15), fruit created by the Spirit of God, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (cf. Matt. 12:34). As we meditate on the doctrine of our eternal salvation, we will joyfully sing God's praises. We will sing about God-his nature and his works, particularly the wonderful work of redemption. We will eagerly tell others about the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, which brought about our eternal salvation.
In some churches, people sit as an audience, saying nothing. But in true worship, the people of God are engaged. They are listening, singing, and speaking as the Spirit of God comes upon them. This is fruit created by the Spirit, the fruit of our lips.
Hosea speaks of this offering of praise: "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips'" (Hosea 14:1-2). Isaiah prophesied about it also: "I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. 'Peace, peace, to those far and near,' says the Lord. 'And I will heal them'" (Is. 57:18-19).
God has healed us and forgiven our sins. Now he creates praise on our lips. God has declared peace to those who are far and peace to those who are near. The cross brings us peace and the cross brings us near. Nearer to God we cannot be. We express our gratitude by praising him with the praises he himself has created upon our lips.
Such worship results from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We are not sufficient in ourselves; we need the Spirit and his gifts. Paul writes, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be being filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:18-20, author's translation). When the Spirit of God falls upon us, he creates praise within us, and all of a sudden we want to sing and make music to the Lord. That is why it is so refreshing to come into the house of God. Paul says, "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church" (1 Cor. 14:26). This is worship. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, one has a psalm, one has a hymn, one has an instruction, one has a tongue, and so on.
In Acts 2:4 we are told the Holy Spirit created praises upon the lips of the first believers. For the first time, the Holy Spirit came upon these people and they spoke in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Then we are told what they were saying: "We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues" (v. 11). I believe the one hundred and twenty were talking about what had happened in their recent history, that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead. They had seen him ascending into the presence of God; now they were singing his praise.
Christ Jesus is living forevermore as the Sovereign Lord of the universe. That is the reason for our singing, praise, and worship. Our Christ is God's Son. No religion other than Christianity has a Savior who died and rose again and is seated on the right hand of God the Father as the Sovereign Lord of the universe and the head of the church.
We are told to worship dia pantos, "continually." The psalmist says, "I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips" (Ps. 34:1). What are we thinking and speaking about-Jesus Christ or something else? "I will extol the Lord at all times"-in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, when I am young and when I am old, when I am sick and when I am well. True Christians are continually singing God's praises, telling how he saved us and gave us eternal life, healed us from all our diseases and forgave all our sins. "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Ps. 103:2).
Paul exhorts us, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:17-18). Elsewhere he says he is "dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2 Cor. 6:9-10). This is true charismatic, Pentecostal, Holy-Spirit life.
My mother worked hard all the time; hers was not an easy life. But sick or well, in bad times as well as good, she always said, "Praise the Lord." That is what a Christian is-a person born of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, always rejoicing and praising God.
Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten up, and put in stocks in the innermost cell of the prison. What did they do? "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25). Here they were chained up in prison, their backs furrowed and in intense pain from the beatings they had suffered. But no matter. The Holy Spirit came upon them and created praise on their lips.
What is our complaint? Why are we murmuring? God's people must sing his praises, especially when we have trouble. In fact, that is the very time when we cannot afford not to praise. Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise.
Confessing His Name
The author says our praise is the fruit of lips "that confess his name" (Heb. 13:15). Evangelism is worship; it is a sacrifice of praise. We must confess Christ's name especially before those who have not heard of him.
Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Rom. 1:16). We are not ashamed of the gospel; no, we are confident and happy to say that Jesus is the Savior of the world and that Jesus saves sinners like us. Yes, we were blind but now we see; we were lost, but now we are found; we were dead, but now we are alive.
No one confesses the name of Christ except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Jesus himself said, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Matt. 10:32-33).
I am sure when a person wins the lottery, he will speak about it to everyone he meets. But I have received something greater than millions and millions of dollars. By his supreme sacrifice in my place on the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ has given me eternal life. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). That is why we are not ashamed of Jesus and confess his name. He is the only Savior. Confessing Christ, therefore, is worship. It is a sacrifice we Christians make.
Doing Good and Sharing
Then the writer tells us, "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased" (Heb. 13:16). When my family came into the evangelical church that believed in the gospel and the Holy Spirit, we saw people regularly helping one another. If a brother was sick, others would fast, pray, and take care of that person. If someone needed a new roof, they would come and put on a new one. If someone had fields, members of the church would come and help with the harvest. When I saw this as a little child, I recognized that this is how God's church should act, loving and sharing with one another as a family.
We sacrifice, then, not only in words to God, but also in deeds, particularly done to God's people. How can we not act when our brother has no food, clothing, or other necessities! We are the body of Christ, and the Bible says, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" (1 Cor. 12:26). The church is not a place where autonomous people come together, disconnected with everyone else, and walk away when the service is done without talking to others. We are the family of God, the people of God. We are connected to one another, and Jesus Christ is our head. There is no discrimination between black and white, rich or poor. We are all bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Let us, therefore, make sure that we do good and share.
Jesus spoke about such sacrificial sharing: "'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 'The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'" (Matt. 25:35-40).
God wants us to share. Jesus said if you have two tunics, and another person has none, give him one. I remember watching my father take his supper and walk a mile to the home of a brother in the church because he knew this man did not have food. He was happier to give it to this other man and see him eat than to eat it himself.
We share all the time in this church, as did the early church when the Holy Spirit came upon them: "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. . . . All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had" (Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-33). In Acts 9:36 we read, "In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, which when translated is Dorcas, who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died. Her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room." Look at verse 39: "All the widows stood around [Peter] crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made when she was still with them." When you die, will anyone come to see you because you sowed into their lives, saying, "He did this for me," or "He did that for me," or "He helped me"?
James tells us, "True religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress" (Jas. 1:27). God is interested in widows and orphans, and he wants us to look after them, especially if we confess the name of Jesus Christ. And Paul encourages us: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal. 6:9). If we are tired of doing good, God will fill us with the Holy Spirit, giving us new vitality, energy, grace, and competence.
When we share, God blesses us. When Paul was in prison, the Macedonian churches shared with him out of their deep poverty, and, in turn, God met their needs. Paul told them: "I have received full payment and even more. I am amply supplied now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:18-19). Jesus tells us, "Give, and it shall be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38). I have been receiving such blessings throughout my life. As I give to others, God gives back to me.
Worship Is All of Life
Finally, the writer says, "For with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:16). Worship is not what we do just on Sundays: it is all of life, lived for the glory of God as a response to what God has done for us. Enoch lived a life and pleased God (Heb. 11:5). Jesus himself said, "I always do what pleases him" (John 8:29). What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. God by his grace works in us that we may work out what is pleasing to him (cf. Heb. 13:20-21).
All of life is a sacrifice to God. Paul writes, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1). Elsewhere, he exhorts, "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. . . . So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (Col. 3:17, 1 Cor. 10:31).
Therefore, may God help us all to go out to Jesus in repentance and faith, that he may save us and lead us into that unshakable kingdom to which by faith we have already come, the enduring city of God, where God dwells with his people, where is everlasting light and life, and no pain or sorrow or tears or moaning or sighing or crying, for the old order of things has passed away. And in thanksgiving to God for our eternal salvation, may we as God's priests offer to him the sacrifices of praise and good deeds of service to God's people, that God may be well pleased with our sacrifices, so that on that day he may tell us, "Thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord."
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Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew
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