Spiritual Sacrifices, 1 Peter 24-7
John B. D. Page, Harrow
As "an holy priesthood", our privilege and responsibility is to "offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ", v. 5, Such sacrifices are objective, because they should be offered "to God", and the means is "by Jesus Christ", which implies that He is our High Priest through whom we offer our spiritual sacrifices.
By using the phrase "spiritual sacrifices", Peter generalizes, so that we would not know what they comprise, had not other writers particularized them. They number five, as the Levitical offerings do. Those were material but these are "spiritual", meaning that, although unseen, these are of greater consequence. We will now look at each of them.
A Living Sacrifice. Paul beseeches us to "present (our) bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is (our) reasonable service", Rom. 12.1. Referring to our "service", Dr. Handley Moule says, "The Greek term, latreia, is tinged with associations of ritual and temple; but it is taken here, and qualified by its adjective, on purpose to be lifted, as in paradox, into the region of the soul. The robes and incense of the visible sanctuary are here out of sight; the individual believer is at once priest, sacrifice, and altar ...". With the Temple and its ordinances in mind, Paul makes a challenging call to consecration, which is not a ritual but a rational service unto the Lord.
This spiritual sacrifice is the presentation of "your bodies", says Paul. Is it to the exclusion of our spirit, our mind, our emotions, our will? we ask. Through our bodies, we express ourselves by word and deed to our fellow-men. With our bodies we are able to serve God. Therefore, the presentation must involve the whole man. By using the aorist tense, Paul indicates that the presenting of our bodies should be an act, decisive and complete, not withholding a part, for nothing less satisfies the Lord. Another writer says that "the presentation is a sacrificial act, not propitiatory, but dedicatory; not a sin-offering, but a burnt offering". Unlike other offerings, all the burnt offering was offered with fire upon the altar, and only the skin was reserved for the priests, Lev. 7.8. Like the whole burnt offering upon the altar, the Lord requires of us the whole man dedicated to Him. Nothing less will bring glory to Christ. A partial consecration, if attempted, mars our worship, witness and work.
The presentation of "your bodies" should be "a living sacrifice". The animal sacrifices of old were slain and died, but in contrast our sacrifice must be "living", which suggests that sacrifice should be constant. Furthermore, our sacrifice is to be "holy, acceptable unto God". The word "holy" denotes that which is set apart to God. As the burnt offering, under the law, was a sweet smelling savour that ascended to God, so the presentation of our bodies as a living sacrifice, which is a consecrated life, will be acceptable and well-pleasing to the Lord.
The Sacrifice of Faith. Closely associated with the burnt offering was the meal offering, both of which like the peace offering were a sweet savour to the Lord. With the meal offering, there was offered the drink-offering, to which Paul refers metaphorically in Philippians 2.17, "Yea, and if I be offered (or, poured out as a drink-offering, R.v. marg.) upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all".
No doubt, the Levitical offerings are instructive primarily of the person and work of Christ, but they can be applied to Christians, and this Paul does.
A meal offering, the only bloodless one, was invariably offered with a burnt offering, and upon the meal offering, a drink-offering of wine was poured. It signifies, when applied to believers, our life devoted utterly to the Lord, and the divine satisfaction in such sacrificial devotion. The faith of the Philippian believers, and all it involves in terms of life and activity for the Lord, was the sacrifice, a living sacrifice to God, upon which Paul had poured out, as a drink offering, his life and was willing for his own life-blood to be poured out for the Gospel and the glory of Christ. In his consecration to the Lord, Paul had devoted his whole life since his conversion as a sacrifice to the service of God. Conscious of the Lord's acceptance of his sacrifice, as he approached the end of his life on earth, he views his death as a drink-offering when he wrote his second letter to Timothy, where appears the only other occurrence of the word, 2 Tim. 4.6.
The Sacrifice of Praise. Another spiritual sacrifice is mentioned in Hebrews 13.15, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name". The phrase, "the sacrifice of praise" is quoted from the law of peace offerings, Lev. 7.12-15 lxx, and so apparently the writer has in mind the peace offering as the background.
The peace offering was not an offering to make peace with God, but because peace was made. Here, in this offering, Christ is not the means of peace but the grounds for the enjoyment of the peace of God. The beast for this offering was divided so that the offerer, the priests and God Himself each had a portion. What a picture of feeding upon Christ! The way in which this offering was shared sets forth in type that "our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ", and that "we have fellowship one with another", 1 John 1.3,7.
When we assemble ourselves together on the first day of the week for worship and the remembrance of the Lord, it is in an atmosphere of peace and fellowship, and "let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God", and we should "not appear before the Lord empty", cf. Deut. 16.16. Worship is not the occasion to gain something from God but to give-"to offer up a sacrifice of praise" - to God. It may well be expressed in the words of Ephesians 5.19, "speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord". Christ, in His matchless Person and incomparable work, should be the theme of our praise, and then it is not manward but Godward - "to the Lord".
The writer of Hebrews defines "the sacrifice of praise" as "the fruit of our lips," which means the utterances from our lips. Therefore, our praise and worship should be audible, which other worshippers may hear and enjoy.
The Sacrifice of Doing Good. From the spiritual atmosphere of consecration to the Lord and worship of Him, we now turn to the practical aspect of life. A consecrated life expresses itself not only in a spiritual manner by way of praise to God, but also practically towards fellow-believers.
This spiritual sacrifice is two-fold: "but to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased", Heb. 13.16. Forgetfulness is not a divine attribute but a human failing. Being aware of this, the writer uses the word negatively: "forget not"! There is a need of doing good. This undoubtedly includes such scriptural exhortations as "given to hospitality", Rom. 12.13, and "to visit the fatherless and widows", James 1.27. "Visit" with the view of giving help and caring for the needy is the real import of the word used.
Furthermore, we are "to communicate", and it is the same word translated "fellowship" elsewhere, which is used in two senses, (a) "to have a share in", as found in Romans 15.27, "partakers of their spiritual things"; and (b) "to give a share to", as in Romans 12.13 RV* "communicating to the necessity of saints". We rejoice, and rightly so, in our fellowship with God which is spiritual, but we should not neglect the practical effects of such fellowship as expressed in ministration to the needy. A scriptural illustration is found in Romans 15.26, where Paul says it pleased the assemblies of Macedonia and Achaia "to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at: Jerusalem". The word "contribution" is "fellowship", and so the assemblies in Greece "had practical fellowship" with the poverty-stricken saints at Jerusalem,
To do good and to show practical fellowship to saints in need is a spiritual sacrifice, with which "God is well pleased".
The Sacrifice of Material Assistance. The last of these five spiritual sacrifices is found in Philippians 4.18, "I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God".
Imprisoned at Rome where he wrote this Epistle to the believers at Philippi, Paul expresses his heart-felt thanks for their generous gift conveyed to him by Epaphroditus. He appreciated their liberality in the past, for no other assembly in Macedonia had "had fellowship" in a practical way with him. This latest gift was "an odour of a sweet smell", a phrase used in the Septuagint for the "sweet savour" of the first three Levitical offerings. It was "a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God".
The significance of this spiritual sacrifice is that our possessions, both monetary and material, should be surrendered to the Lord, so that they can be used for the Lord's work as He may guide us. Such a sacrifice is not made by unconsecrated Christians. The Lord requires first our whole man as a living sacrifice, 2 Cor. 8.5, and, with such consecration, we shall be exercised to offer the sacrifice of praise to God and the sacrifices of practical help to fellow-believers in need.
The Jewish believers, to whom Peter wrote his first Epistle, would undoubtedly have understood the force of his statement, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ", owing to their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures about the Temple, its priesthood and sacrifices. Surely, it behoves us to be acquainted with the Old Testament background, so that we grasp the full import of the writer's thoughts and words. As "living stones", we are being built up "a spiritual house" where Christ has the pre-eminence as "the headstone of the corner". As "an holy priesthood", let us draw near to the Lord for worship, offering our "spiritual sacrifices" unto Him.