On my way to church, I pass five other churches.
All of them display a cross. But each of them is different.
Some have a whiteboard with a cheesy joke, some don’t. Some have traditional buildings, others have unique ones. Some are big, some are small.
They are as different on the inside as they are on the outside.
Old. New. Traditional. Contemporary. Seeker-Friendly. Etc.
However, in a unique time in history with COVID-19 spanning the globe, there is new commonality, they are all empty.
What is Church anyway?
In his letter to Jewish believers that were spread abroad, Peter says this about the church:
“… You, yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”1 Peter 2:5; 9-10
Peter says that we are a royal nation of priests. In this nation, Jesus is King on the throne forever. In this priesthood, Jesus is the High Priest who has sacrificed himself once for all time as an acceptable sacrifice to the Father, so that we can serve the living God alongside him (Hebrews 9:11-14).
Here is how this works: the identity and purpose of Jesus give the Church its identity and its purpose. Not just globally, not just locally, but in groups of twos and threes, as families, and as individuals.
God created His church to minister to Him by offering “spiritual sacrifices” that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
To be clear, this passage is not speaking of the office of a priest but is using “priesthood” to mean that we are all part of God’s ministry and called to do the work of ministry. We are (all of us) a nation of ministers, ministering to and with God, with each other, and to the world around us.
Peter says that we minister by offering “spiritual sacrifices” (v. 5). While this does not include sacrificing animals, these are sacrifices none-the-less. Sacrifice involves surrender and offering.
What do these “spiritual sacrifices” look like?
Some definitions are:
- Sacrifices of Praise
- Sacrifices of Self
- Sacrifices of Works
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”Hebrews 13:15
Praise is the fruit of lips when we acknowledge the name of God. Another way to put this is that praise pours forth when we acknowledge God’s being and His doing and it is a beautiful sacrifice. When we acknowledge the One who created the heavens and the earth, we are giving honor and praise where it is due. When we pause to thank Jesus for being a good and just King, and for orchestrating the redemption and reconciliation of His people, this is precious to Him. Whether we are in tears or laughter, in song or prayer, His being and His doing are worthy of our sacrifices of praise.
Sacrifices of Self
“I appeal to you… by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice… which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that… you may discern what is the will of God.”Romans 12:1-2
A sacrifice of self submits to the authority of God. It allows Him to change our minds. Through this change, we can come to the reality of who God is, and we can submit to who He says He is and what He says to do. This is much easier said than done in the real world.
It is really hard to sacrifice myself when exhaustion hits. Like a few weeks ago when I got home from work, I was exhausted. Bedtime rolled around and I wanted nothing more than to curl up with a good book and relax.
But then I heard, “Mom, can you snuggle with me?”
It felt like a pickaxe going into my brain because it was so intrusive to what I wanted to do! I wanted what I wanted.
And what I wanted was to be comfortable and to have some “me” time.
I wanted to be left alone.
But God called me to love my family more than I love myself, and so with much inward wrestling, I prayed for Jesus to help me in my weakness, and I laid my “wants” down as a spiritual sacrifice. With the old me dead (or in the process of dying), I snuggled my child, and I cherished it.
This might seem mundane, but small battles like this are in front of us every day––even at church. It is a sacrifice to choose to love others and not ourselves. Initially, the struggle is real (can I get an amen?) and it can be inconvenient, but when we submit to God’s authority, we proclaim His excellencies to him, to each other, and to the world!
Sacrifices of Works
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”Hebrews 13:16
Doing good and sharing…this is difficult.
I want somebody to do good for me, to share with me.
Rarely am I on the hunt for doing good and sharing. And yet this is what God has called us to do! We were created in Christ Jesus for good works, and God has prepared them beforehand for us (Eph. 2:10). He has prepared us for being merciful like Jesus, for going out of our way to help and love those around us like Jesus and to be on mission like Jesus.
Knowing what church is and what our purpose is changes everything!
We are a nation of ministers under the Kingship and High Priestly authority of Jesus. And when we offer our spiritual sacrifices of praise, self, and works, together in the power of Jesus, we annihilate that which fractures our unity!
We dispel pride, gossip, cynicism, greed, and selfishness, and instead, we realize that: spiritual sacrifices lead to real unity.