Participles are extremely flexible words. Using two words, one of them a participle, four sentences making up three verses can be summarized. Titles are places to condense, and paragraphs are places to expound.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:15-17 NASB
There are familiar elements to these verses, but I have rarely heard them all used together. We (Americans) don’t like ideas like “sacrifice” and “obey” much. These concepts get in the way of our self-focused lives. I’m generalizing, but it certainly applies to me. And, from commercials and what passes for entertainment around me, I think it applies to far more people than just me.
This isn’t a great spot to unpack all that Scripture says about sacrifice, so a slice will have to suffice. Sacrifice isn’t exactly what we typically think it is. Sacrifice, in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, satisfies a few practical theological requirements. Look at God’s response to Noah’s sacrifice after the flood:
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.Genesis 8:20-22 NASB
“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”
Our Creator, the Destroyer of the world through flood, smelled the aroma of the sacrifice. And then, having smelled the aroma of the sacrifice, He promises never again to interrupt the cycles of this world. He promises this even though He can see that the people He created are twisted from birth. That is the effect of sacrifice, that is how our Creator responds to sacrifice. Well, some sacrifice, He doesn’t respond that way to all sacrifice.
So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:3-7 NASB
Cain did not “do well” with his sacrifice. There has been a lot of speculation about why Cain didn’t do well enough that his sacrifice wasn’t accepted by God. All we can truly assert is that the description of Abel’s offering was qualitatively better than Cain’s. So, the difference is qualitative, rather than the actual substance of what was sacrificed. There is a qualitative requirement for our Savior’s acceptance of a sacrifice.
The prophets, starting with Samuel, write as follows:
Samuel said,1 Samuel 15:22-23 NASB
“Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He has also rejected you from being king.”
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”Isaiah 1:11 NASB
Says the LORD.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward. Jeremiah 7:21-24 NASB
For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,Hosea 6:6 NASB
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
And in case you are thinking that “praise and worship” is different…
“Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,Amos 5:22-24 NASB
I will not accept them;
And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
“Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
“But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
There are more, but you get the gist. There is more that our Savior requires than the practice of singing and praising. Look again at the second of the two components included in “sacrifice” in Hebrews 13:16, “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Sure, we like the singing part. That’s fun. But doing good and sharing is what pleases our Savior. Even the content of the praise should be thankfulness, as in agreeing that God has given us all we have.
The second element, obeying our leaders, is included because I believe it’s part of the actualizing of our ‘sacrifice’. When we submit to those our Savior has placed over us, when we make the burden He has placed on them lighter, then our sacrifice to our Savior, is real, coming from a sincerely dedicated heart. To do good stuff, to sing loud songs, and to give stuff to others isn’t enough if we refuse to submit to our leaders. And keep in mind that the refusal to submit is evidence of a prideful heart. It’s not one more thing on a checklist.
In fact, none of these things are checklist items. Loving justice and doing good, sharing and praising are all things that are supposed to originate from a devotion to our Savior. Religious practice without a relationship with our Creator is pointless. In fact, a case can be made that the object of our worship at that point isn’t our Creator at all.
So, let’s be the “sheep” of our Good Shepherd, sacrificing to our Savior, those things acceptable to Him. Let us practice our praise, our doing good, our submission, all because our Creator is also our Savior. Love, give, submit, for we are disciples of Jesus.
What’s your view through the knothole this morning?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation