A few years ago God gave me an insight. Now this was a real revelation for me. So I guess if I can benefit from hearing tough words, maybe you can too? Today, a few years later, I sit here, still needing to hear the same thing. Not much progress! But the old problems have a way of sneaking up on you…you’ll see what I mean.
Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God (Ex 23:19).
Not to get too bogged down in detail, but God commanded different kinds of offerings, offered for different reasons: the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering are detailed in Leviticus 1-7 (click here for more information on each of the offerings if you are interested). In all cases, whatever offering was required, and for whatever reason it was required, the offering was to be the very best.
Even the priests were instructed about their offering: You must present as the LORD’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you (Num. 18:29). Okay, a spotless and blameless offering, the first fruits, the best of the best – what more could God want?
- You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:16-17).
- With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8).
So obviously, the state of the heart matters most to God. His Word tells us: above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov. 4:23). In the New Testament, Jesus indicted the Pharisees for the same problem that had occurred with the Israelites so many years before – people don’t change! They were relying on sacrifices and rituals to honor God rather than truly honoring Him with their lives, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matt 23:27).
Jesus did approve of one person’s sacrifice though. Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus saw that in her heart this woman honored God and gave to Him, what would have been very precious to her, even though it did not look like much to most people.
Of course, these days we still bring our financial offerings, even as the poor widow did. But since Jesus brought the New Covenant and He was the ultimate sacrifice, believers are not required to make burnt offerings, to offer sin sacrifices…or are we? God asks us to lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us (Heb. 12:1) and that we lay aside the old self (Eph 4:22). True, these are not burnt offerings. And in the literal sense, they are not sacrifices. Some would say we are definitely not sacrificing when we lay aside sin, which is bad for us, but I disagree.
Turning away from sin can be very difficult, even sacrificial.
I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! (Rom 7:14-24).
We continue to struggle with sin, but we cannot defeat it ourselves – Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:25). We continue to struggle with sin, but this is not God’s will for us, that we stay…stuck…helpless. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10). God does not require us to fix ourselves, just to submit to Him and allow Him to do it.
These “difficulties” are actually easier than we know…we do not need to defeat the devil (Jesus did that already), just resist him and turn away from the sin and, instead, toward the Lord. So my revelation, my realization, my conviction is this:
While it is wonderful to give the Lord our very best, sometimes it is better to give Him our very worst, because these are the things we hold most dear.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph. 4:23-32).
Some of us struggle with a stubborn sin that we give to God, and then take back again, periodically. Is it a grudge, some lingering bitterness over an old hurt? Is it a bad habit – gossip, “little white lies”? Gluttony? Have trouble with your temper? You may identify with the list above or it could be something else entirely.
The contradiction is that these sins, that are so troublesome to us, can also become very dear to us.
So if I lay my bitterness down on the altar and relinquish a old grudge, I am actually giving the Lord something very precious indeed. It may not look like my “first fruits” or a spotless and blameless offering. It is not the same as offering my service to the Lord or my thanksgiving or offering my praise – these are all beautiful to Him, no doubt. But I think He wants us to give Him the ugliest part of ourselves, the part that we hold so tightly to…I think He counts the cost of relinquishing that sin as very high, because Jesus paid the ultimate price for those sins. And to relinquish sin and to truly repent, does humble us, really does make us more Christ-like, and therefore this is a holy and acceptable sacrifice unto Him.