Friday, February 23, 2018

Placing Yourself on the Altar For Another

by Nicky Smith

Recently I read the story of Abraham needing to go to Egypt to escape a famine. 

21 And I, Abraham, journeyed, going on still towards the south; and there was a continuation of a famine in the land; and I, Abraham, concluded to go down into Egypt, to sojourn there, for the famine became very grievous.
22 And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;
23 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:
24 Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.
25 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me—Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee
(Abraham 2; emphasis added)
I also read this same story in an apocryphal account of Genesis found on the Dead Sea scrolls and this statement, similar to verse 25 in Abraham 2, stuck out to me:
"...Say to them of me, 'He is my brother, and because of you I shall live, and because of you my life shall be saved.'"
It is very likely that Sarah would have been scared because she must have known the Pharaoh would take her as a wife and she knew all that that entailed with the new role. In doing this, she was willing to "give up her life" (not through death but the life she could live and the life she wanted) in order that Abraham could live. 

When I read these accounts this verse came into my mind:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
When we think of this verse in Jesus' sermon on love and obedience, it is not unusual to consider that Jesus is speaking about dying for others and that this is the greatest form of love we can give to another. However, the Spirit impressed upon my mind an expanded understanding of this verse. 

Sacrificing the Life You Want

Each of us have desires and things we want in our lives. These things may be a particular lifestyle, a specific type of marriage, a certain number of children, a particular career, and so on. We may also have goals we want to accomplish in our lives. All these things may be righteous, godly desires. Yet, God may ask us to sacrifice something in order for another to live. "Live" in this sense can refer to enabling someone to remain physically alive, but most often actually means enabling someone to spiritually live, or overcome a weakness or sin and draw closer to God than they otherwise could without your sacrifice. In other words, God may ask you to give up something huge in order for another to return to God. 

In Revelation 12, it describes those who overcame Satan: "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (Revelation 12:11) 
Those who are able to overcome Satan are those same people who are willing to lay down their lives. They aren't anxious about preserving their lives. As stated, this does not only refer to being willing to physically die, but being willing to give up everything you wished your life could be like. In the end, not loving your life unto death means that your life doesn't matter as much as surrendering completely to God. This requires we die to self. (See this post on the death of self.) God will then use our lives to benefit others and draw them closer to him, so they too can live. 

Like Sarah, Paul was willing to completely surrender to God and experience whatever might happen to him in order to minister to others and testify of Jesus:

22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:
23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.
24 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, emphasis added)
Jesus said that only those who do not love their lives (or who are willing to completely surrender everything) are his disciples. 
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14)
I recently thought about Isaac and why he was willing to give up his life. Paul, in referring to Abraham's faith, suggested that God raised Isaac from the dead as a result of that experience. 
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11)
It is amazing to me that he was willing to lay down his life so that his father, Abraham, could pass a test. (See this post for more details on Abraham passing his test.) His willingness to offer his life in this way showed that he did not "love his life unto death," but instead loved God and his father more than himself. Isaac, being a type or figure for Christ, exemplified Christ's love for his father.
When we offer our lives as a sacrifice for others, we need to make sure we are doing it at the Lord's request. Sometimes we can have in our minds the idea that the sacrifice we are offering is what God wants, but instead we are doing our own will. Our own will may seem very godlike and charitable, but when we are not doing God's will, we are doing our own. One of Satan's greatest tactics is to lead us to be distracted with things that really aren't God's will and we may think we are "laying down our lives" for God and others, when in reality we are laying down our lives for ourselves. 

The offering of this sacrifice is much like a mother who offers her body (and sometimes her life) to birth a child. Pregnancy is uncomfortable. Childbirth is painful. But, in losing her body, she gives life to another. Similarly, the sacrifice God may ask of us is never an easy thing to do. It's the kind of experience where you ask, "Is there any other way? Please take this bitter cup from me!" Then as God says, "There is no other way," we surrender everything because we love God and others. Then, just as a mother develops a deep abiding love for her child, the sacrificer develops greater love for the one they sacrificed. 

Outcomes For the Sacrificer
The offering of one's life, as Sarah and Isaac gave, is never solely given for the other to receive life. In fact, the experience has a dual purpose for the one offering the sacrifice. These outcomes can never be minimized because they are vital in the progression of the one offering the sacrifice. 

1. INCREASED FAITH. While Sarah's sacrifice enabled Abraham to physically live, she would have gained a lot through the experience too. Interestingly enough she went through this experience twice. The first time was with the Egyptian pharaoh (Genesis 12) and the second time was with King Abimelech (Genesis 20). Although we don't know the details of Sarah's subjective experience, it is likely in my mind that her faith in God increased after the first time, as she was preserved in miraculous ways. It is entirely possible that she obtained greater faith when she went through the experience a second time. 

Furthermore, as we rely on God through such an experience, he will give us promises which we can cling to as we offer that painful sacrifice. We can know that in the end we can obtain the blessings he promises us. During the sacrifice as we wait for the promised blessings, our faith is tried, but as we see those promises come to pass, our faith in God will grow. 

Elijah was told to go to Zarephath because God has commanded a widow to give him food (1 Kings 17:9). He found the woman and asked for water and bread. She said she had enough flour and oil to make a little cake herself and her son, but that she and her son were going to die due to not having any more food. She was then given a promise through Elijah that if she were willing to give up her last bread for Elijah she would not run out of food. She had faith and offered her food to Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-16). It is evident that this experience wasn't so much for Elijah, but was rather for the woman to increase her faith and rely on the promise God had given her, as she offered the last food she had to Elijah. 

2. SANCTIFICATION. Just as Christ was resurrected and Isaac obtained his life in a literal way, the sacrificer is able to draw closer to God through this experience, becoming a new creature. In some cases, the sacrificer may be given eternal life. Each of us have weaknesses, sins, and false beliefs we need to overcome, but through the offering of one's life for another, we are able to crucify an aspect of our flesh. We do not know in what way this sacrifice of Sarah's provided an opportunity for her to sanctify herself, but it is not unreasonable to consider that a lot of beliefs she had about marriage and womanhood may have been examined. This experience could very well have provided her an opportunity then to overcome some of her weaknesses.

3. EXPRESSION OF LOVE FOR GOD AND OTHERS. In the end, the experience is the ultimate expression of our love for God and the person for whom we are being sacrificed. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) We may not have that love when we first begin to offer that sacrifice, but as we go through that experience, our love for God and the other person develops and grows. Moses is another who gave up his life multiple times for others. He gave up living a comfortable lifestyle in the Egyptian palace, as well as his wife and children in order to lead the Israelites back to Canaan. Moses did this because he loved God and he loved the Israelites. 

If we are going to receive any of these intended blessings when asked to offer such a sacrifice, we need to offer that sacrifice willingly. (see 2 Corinthians 9:7)

For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. (Moroni 7:8)
If it is not done willingly, the sacrificer will not receive the intended blessings offered to them for giving that sacrifice. 

Outcomes For Those Receiving the Sacrifice 

As Jesus Christ sacrificed his life, he offered a prayer saying,
1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17)
Jesus' sacrifice was so that we might lay hold on eternal life. Just as his sacrifice does not guarantee that everyone on earth automatically receives eternal life, the same is true of those who have another person sacrifice for them. In the case of the sacrifice being offered for spiritual life, the person being sacrificed for has the opportunity to repent or to reject the offering. Obtaining life is always based on repentance and surrendering to God. For instance, Isaac could have been willing to give up his life, but Abraham also had to be willing to give up his son too and completely surrender to God.  

There is an interesting story in the Book of Mormon of a group of people who offered their lives as a sacrifice for the Lamanites. They had made a covenant with God that they would never kill another being and as a result had buried their weapons of war. They would rather suffer death than break that covenant (Alma 24:19). The Lamanites prepared for battle against them with the hopes of destroying the Anti-Nephi-Lehis (Alma 24:20). We know that the Ant-Nephi-Lehis lay prostrate on the ground and praised God, not knowing the outcome, but trusting completely in God. After a large number of them were slaughtered, this led a great number of Lamanites to repent and give up their weapons for a life devoted to God (Alma 24:24-25). This is a great example of literally laying down one's life in order for others to have the opportunity to repent and turn to God.   

When we reject Jesus' sacrifice, we are condemned until we repent; similarly, those who do not repent and draw closer to God when another has been asked by God to sacrifice their lives are condemned until they do repent. It is a serious matter, especially given that another has sacrificed so much. 

God may ask you to sacrifice your life for another. Or, God may ask another to sacrifice their life for you so you can repent and overcome weaknesses. No matter the pain that comes from the situation, surrender to God. It is part of developing increased faith. It is part of sanctification. It is part of your walk back to God. 

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written. I have been taught those same things. Thank you for articulating it so well.


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