December 11, 2017

Sacrifice or Privilege?

Mark Batory

When missionaries are mentioned, the image often evoked is that of men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice of family and friends and end up having to endure the toils of a difficult, lonely, deprived life in some remote corner of the world. Regrettably, many of today’s Christians view missionary service in this way. They are guilty of linking two opposing ideas — “sacrifice” and “missionary service” — and erroneously making them one and the same. Is it any wonder, then, that our young men and women view missionary service as a “sacrifice” and recoil from heeding its call? The problem lies in overemphasizing personal denial and not focusing properly on the overwhelming privilege and fulfillment of representing Christ in a gospel-forsaken land.

In Hebrews the author mentions that Christ’s ultimate sacrifice was the “sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). Even though Christ left the comforts and glory of Heaven to descend to earth on man’s behalf, the leaving of His home in Heaven was not the sacrifice. Leaving Heaven was merely the natural result of having put Himself on the altar of sacrifice. Paul in Romans 12:1 urges us to present our bodies as holy, acceptable sacrifices. Scripture uses the term “sacrifice” in reference to a heart attitude of surrender to God’s will for our lives. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that “for the joy that was set before him,” Christ “endured the cross, despising the shame.” The word used to describe Christ’s service is “joy.”

The only true sacrifice that a believer is called upon to make is fully offered when he gives himself to God; when he lies down on the altar; when he allows himself, as Isaac did, to be willingly tied around the hands and legs by the ropes of submission and take his place on the woodpile of service. After that has taken place, joyful service amidst all of the demands of God’s will is the natural outflow. Yet for those Christians whose hearts are deeply anchored in the material side of this world, anything that would call them to cut loose from it becomes a sacrifice they must regrettably make in order to serve. However, for the Christian whose affections are placed correctly on what God loves, any demand that God’s call requires on his life and family is minimized and willingly exchanged for the wonderful pleasure and privilege that accompanies being a “living sacrifice.” It is this spirit that strengthens his resolve and brings any true believer to make the most wonderful discovery — that truly nothing on this side of Heaven is better or more rewarding than knowing and serving the Savior.

The Lord’s service often requires hard work and difficulties along the way. It may require leaving home, moving the family halfway around the world, and denying certain of this world’s creature comforts and pleasures, but sacrifice it is not. When our Lord sent out the seventy in Luke chapter ten, He outlined the self-denial they would have to make. But only a few verses later, we read the testimony of the great joy they received during their mission.

The example of the apostle Paul also bears out this truth. He sought for few earthly delights. His life was spent in hard labor amid dangers and turmoil. The natural beauty and historic associations of the cities he visited in his travels seem to have given him no enjoyment. He had no great investments in the stock market, no retirement plan or savings account, no insurance, house, car, or boat. Many people wonder how anyone could be happy without these things, and yet Paul counted them as meaningless. His ultimate joy was preaching Christ crucified and seeing those who were once alienated from God now glorifying Him. Giving up this world and all of its comforts was not a sacrifice for Paul. His sacrifice had been made on the road to Damascus; all that followed was a joy. He declared, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19, 20).

When C. T. Studd and his colleagues enthusiastically left England for China in the late 1800s, all of England watched as these men and women “sacrificed” so much to minister in a hostile, heathen nation. Many claimed it to be a great loss and sorry waste of some of Britain’s most talented young men. The critics were convinced that, once challenged by China’s forbidding landscape, these young “idealists” would quickly discover that forsaking the life and comforts of their homeland was foolhardy. China’s culture, food, language, and worldview would be so totally different that it was inconceivable to the critics how anyone could overcome all of the enormous obstacles. The critics were, in part, correct. Upon arrival in China, Studd and his companions agonized under the struggle that accompanied the sudden change in surroundings. They suffered the frustration of learning a difficult new language and culture. Constantly present was the danger of discouragement, which could have compelled them to seek the shores of home. But to them, their service in a harsh land was no sacrifice. The sacrifice had been made years prior when they had willingly, one by one, laid their lives on the altar before their God and said, “Here am I, Lord, take and use me however You will.” Once this was done, wherever or in whatever way God willed to use them became their sought after privilege. They eventually engaged in a lifelong ministry that resulted in the salvation of thousands of wonderful Chinese people.

Years later, another Englishman enthusiastically wrote about these same missionaries: “Ah! Those lives were not lost to Britain who served on distant shores. The biography of one is the call to another. Their example is contagious and quickening.” Instead of being overwhelmed by thoughts of home, the reverse was true for these missionaries: they were the ones who generated an infectious excitement in churches throughout all of England for the privilege of representing their Savior on the foreign mission field.

Some individuals will always believe that those who travel to distant shores to represent Christ must suffer a life of continual difficult personal sacrifices. Yet the Scriptures and history of God’s servants firmly testify that when one’s life is truly laid on the altar as his personal sacrifice to Christ, the going and serving become a source of lasting fulfillment and contentment — not sacrifice! Alexander MacKay (1849–90) was a pioneer missionary to Uganda who possessed the right focus when he said, “It is no sacrifice, as some think, to come here as pioneers of Christianity. I would not give up my position here for all the world. … Duty comes before pleasure they say, but my duty is a pleasure.”

Dr. Mark Batory is executive director of Gospel Fellowship Association Missions and a former missionary to Mexico.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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