Lesson 12 The Disciple's Sacrificial Lifestyle

“Do you remember the generosity towards us of Jesus Christ, Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet He became poor for your sakes so that His poverty might make you rich” (2 Cor. 8:9 Phillips). When the eternal Son of God stepped into time to be implanted into Mary’s womb, He was in fact saying goodbye to all the wealth, splendor and glory which had been His with the Father for all eternity (John 17:5). He forsook all His possessions, “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).

Choosing to be born into a poor working-class home, the Architect of galaxies became a worker of wood in Joseph’s carpenter shop. The townspeople heard Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah’s mission from the lips of Joseph’s son, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18,22). Jesus came as a poor man and remained poor in order to reach the poor. Untold millions have found their way to the Man born in a feeding trough who would never have gained admittance to a King’s palace.

One would-be disciple must have been disappointed by Jesus’ reply to His offer to follow Him: “Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:19-20). As He hung there on the cross, He watched the soldiers as they gambled for His only material possession, His cloak. Having nothing left to give in an earthly way, He gave up His life (John 19:23-24,30).

Sacrificial Living is Reasonable Service

The apostle Paul pleads with us “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual or reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). The grounds of his plea are the mercies of God. This centered in God’s great salvation work in justifying poor, inexcusably guilty, helpless sinners by sending His beloved Son to bear our sins on the cross. In so doing He provided liberation from the power of sin and the penalty of the law. Having reconciled us to God through His death, Christ is now saving us by His life, interceding for us from the place of power at God’s right hand. Here below, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and accompanies us as heirs of God on our way to glory. God spared not His own Son. For us to become a living sacrifice unto God is the most reasonable thing we could do in the light of such mercies. Overwhelmed by Calvary logic, the missionary C.T. Studd exclaimed, “If Jesus Christ be God, and He died for me, then no sacrifice I can make for him could be too great”.3

We Christians love to sing of such reasonable sacrifice in this way:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small.

Love so amazing so Divine

Demands my soul, my fife, my all!

—Isaac Watts

Are we prepared to live as sacrificially as we sing?

Sacrificial Living Means Spending and Being Expended

Paul aptly expressed the idea of sacrifice as he wrote to the Corinthians, “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15).

1. Spending. Paul used an illustration of the financial sacrifice some parents make for their children (2 Cor. 12:14-15). It is not uncommon for them to live sacrificially for the sake of a child’s education or medical treatment. Others have foregone normal pleasures in order to purchase the children’s home or car. Jesus assures us that sacrifice for His name’s sake will be rewarded many times over (Matt. 19:29). Paul spoke of our Lord’s self-imposed poverty as he thought of the sacrificial giving of the Macedonian churches. They, “according to their ability, and beyond their ability, gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:1-3,9). This was “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18).

2. Being Expendable. We speak of something being expendable when the intrinsic value of a cause or person justifies the offering. This is a basic consideration in sacrificial living. Does this cause or person merit my effort and sacrifice? Paul evidently thought that even the ungrateful Corinthians did. Paul, Silas and Timothy evidenced their sacrificial love for the Thessalonians by their willingness “to impart to you, not only the gospel of God but also our own lives” (1 Thess. 2:8). Epaphroditus literally laid his life on the line for the work of Christ by ministering sacrificially to Paul’s needs (Phil. 2:29-30). Priscilla and Aquila did not shrink back from doing the same (Rom. 16:3-4). Paul faced death with calmness not knowing whether to prefer life or death, merely wanting to glorify Christ one way or the other. For him, life meant service for others for Christ’s sake. He put it this way, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Some have asked themselves the searching question, “Would I be willing to die for Christ?” The more fundamental question is rather, “Am I willing to die to self and live for Christ serving others?” If to me living is Christ, I will be willing to lay down my life for Him when the time comes. One of the Church fathers said, “The martyr dies but once for his Lord. The shepherd dies hundreds of times for his sheep.” Are you a living sacrifice? Does your life demonstrate that you are available to be “poured out” for others?

Financial Sacrifice is Commanded for Disciples

“No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Jesus had just challenged the multitudes to count the cost of becoming His followers, and to decide if they were willing to commit themselves without reservation to following Him (vv. 28-32). The disciple must be prepared for the fact that following Christ can cost everything! This can occur in several ways. For many Christians following Christ has meant the joyful acceptance of “the seizure of their property” (Heb. 10:34). Disinheritance, loss of employment, demotion, have often followed on the heels of a clear stand for the One who was despised of men. Others have been led into service requiring them to leave businesses, homes and even family behind to follow Christ (Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:11,27-28; Matt. 19:29). Still others have honored our Lord’s command without such extenuating circumstances. Our Lord’s injunction is clear, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but lay up treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-20; see also Luke 18:22-34). “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make for yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys” (Luke 12:33).

Stockpiling possessions and saving for some rainy day is disobedience to God’s Word. God, the only dependable object of our trust, knows the inclination of the human heart to seek security in material things and by trusting in riches. The disciple’s heart belongs in heaven, not in a bank vault.

Some have objected to a literal interpretation of the above passages. The following considerations prove that Jesus intended His statements to be taken literally:

1. The Example Of The Master Himself. The Lord Jesus forsook all His heavenly possessions and never accumulated any during the days of His flesh. Jesus preached what He Himself practiced, and He expects His disciples to follow Him. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matt. 10:24). This prompted George Muller to say, “It ill becomes the servant to seek to be rich, and great, and honored in this world where his Lord was poor, meek and despised.”4

2. The Endorsement Of The Master. Jesus endorsed the actions of the poor widow who dropped two copper coins in the treasury saying, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than all of them, for they have all put in what they can easily spare, but she in her poverty has given away her whole living” (Luke 21:3,4 Phillips). Why did He not voice His concern over such improvidence, if we are not to take His commands literally?

3. The Response Of His Disciples. His disciples took Him literally. Peter said, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You” to which the Lord replied, “Everyone who has left houses … or farms for My name’s sake shall receive many times as much” (Matt. 19:27,29).

4. The Response Of The Early Churches. The vibrant young assembly in Jerusalem evidenced its belief in a literal interpretation (Acts 4:32-37). Paul’s description of the sacrificial giving of the churches in Macedonia is couched in much the same terms as the Lord’s commendation of the widow, who gave out of her own poverty (2 Cor. 8:1-5; Luke 21:3-4).

5. The Teaching Of The Apostles. After reminding Timothy of the perils of riches, Paul exhorts the rich “to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up treasure … for the future.” He taught that the believer should be content with the necessities of life: food, clothing and a roof over your head (1 Tim. 6:7-10,17-19). James’ warning on the subject could be summed up in these words: “Woe to you rich!” (Jas. 5:1-6; 1:9-11; Luke 6:24).

6. The Response Of Love. When the rich young ruler indicated that he had loved his neighbor as himself, Jesus replied, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come and follow Me” (Matt. 19:21). If seeing the need and poverty of many fellow-Christians, knowing that one half of the world has not yet heard the gospel and that hundreds of millions are malnourished doesn’t cause us to live sacrificially, “how does the love of God abide in us?” (1 John 3:17).

The teachings of our Lord have sometimes been called His “hard sayings” as they have always cut across prevalent materialism and covetousness. The burden of proving that these passages are not to be taken literally lies on the skeptic. He should ask himself these questions: “What then did Jesus mean?/* “Does my unwillingness to take His commands literally stem from love and devotion for Christ?” No alternative to the literal interpretation, based on serious Bible study has been offered. Instead the worldly wise appeals to wisdom and prudence, and reproves the seeming folly of those seeking to seriously follow the Lord in this matter. Jesus’ reply to one group of first-century money lovers was, “That which is highly esteemed by men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:14-15). Christians who lay up treasure for themselves and their children in this life have joined company with a man to whom God said, “You fool!” (Luke 12:13-21).

Sacrificial Living in Practice

Missionary A.N. Groves embodied the sacrificial lifestyle of a disciple and summed it up in these words, “Labor hard, consume little, give much and all to Christ.”5

1. Work Hard. Paul showed the Ephesian elders the calloused hands that supported both himself and his apostolic team. He said, “I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak” (Acts 20:34-35). He exhorted the undisciplined Thessalonians “to work in a quiet fashion and eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:12). Industry, hard work and providing for our own should characterize the lives of disciples.

2. Consume Little. The world around us wants to squeeze us into its own mold (Rom. 12:2 Phillips). Spiritual discernment, not advertising pressures, must dictate the disciple’s mode of living. The Master was concerned about waste (John 6:12). His steward (manager) will resist the urge to waste the Lord’s money on superfluous buying and unnecessary luxuries. Planning, budgeting, careful buying and self-denial are a part of living economically.

Paul helped clarify the Lord’s command to give up all our possessions (Luke 14:33). We are to “engage in good deeds (honorable employment) to meet pressing needs” (Tit. 3:14). Furthermore, we are to be content with food and covering (clothing and housing)(1 Tim. 6:8). Jesus spoke of daily bread and a place to lay your head. David Livingstone said, “I am determined to own nothing which does not relate to the Kingdom of God.”

Sometimes extreme notions have clouded the issues and raised serious objections about sacrificial living in the minds of believers. Some may ask if a believer may buy insurance. Ultimately those who seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness have the best coverage available (Matt. 6:33). The best answer would be, “be it unto you according to your faith” (Matt. 9:29). Others ask if a true disciple can own a house. Certainly he needs to live someplace, and buying may be the best use of the money the Lord has entrusted to him. Can a true disciple own a car? He may need even two. The same question rephrased in the language of discipleship is “Do I need it?” All disciples have had needs known to God. Many need special clothing, expensive education, transportation or capital for their businesses.

Everything essentially boils down to one fundamental question. What is required? Our Father knows our legitimate needs and “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (Matt. 6:32; 1 Tim. 6:17). However, we must not allow ourselves to be deceived. Mammon (riches) is intrinsically unrighteous and can control our lives (Luke 16:9-11; Matt. 6:24). Riches are deceitful (Matt. 13:22). Many a would-be disciple, confusing his wants and his legitimate needs, has been sucked up in an insane, materialistic rat race, his life becoming an endless quest for more. Some have been so intent in getting into a house, buying a certain car, or maintaining a certain lifestyle that they have sacrificed their freedom to serve the Lord through undue financial commitments and increased work. The service of mammon has infringed upon the Lord’s prerogatives over their lives (Matt. 6:24). Some would seek refuge from the clear implications of this teaching by appealing to the example of certain rich Christians who love the Lord and have been used greatly by Him. It is not our place to judge others. God has instructions for rich Christians (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

Let us not forget, however, that the New Testament holds up Paul as the model of Christian living. After chiding the Corinthians for Irving like kings before the kingdom has come, he exhorts them to imitate him, and of course ultimately Christ, who did not remain rich (1 Cor. 4:6-14; 11:1). As Paul says, we write this to warn, not shame believers. Although these principles are clear and unmistakable, each disciple must review his own life before the Lord. Discipleship is voluntary and an issue of the heart (Matt. 6:21,24). Within Scriptural principles there is a wide latitude for individual application in widely varying circumstances.

3. Give Much And All For Christ. The sacrificial Christian will not only resist the urge to live selfishly or lay up treasure on this earth, he will send assets ahead to heaven. He will invest as much as possible above his pressing needs (legitimate, necessary commitments for self and family) in the work of the Son of Man.

Many have “made friends for themselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness” by shrewdly financing gospel work, literature, Christian nurture and by helping meet physical need in Jesus’ name (Luke 16:8-9). Such have learned to seek security not in earthly savings or investments, but in their relationship with a Father who knows their every need. They trust Him for unforeseeable eventualities (Tit. 3:14; Matt. 6:19-34).

The Reward for Living Sacrificially

“Fixing His eyes on His disciples, He spoke, ‘Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’ ” (Luke 6:20 Berkeley). This statement is not to be confused with the beatitudes. It pronounces blessing on those who live sacrificially “for the sake of the Son of Man” (v. 22). The following are some of the rich rewards that the sacrificial follower of Jesus will enjoy here, and in the hereafter.

1. Treasures In Heaven. By living sacrificially the disciple becomes rich toward God. He can’t take anything with him, but he can store up for himself “the treasure of a good foundation for the future … and take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:7,19; Luke 12:21,33; Matt. 6:20).

2. Illumination. The disciple with a single eye, the simple desire to put God first in his life, has a healthy perspective on life. Unlike the man with double vision, who is living for two worlds, his whole body is being flooded with light (Matt. 6:22-23).

3. Freedom To Serve God. The rivalry between materialism and God can never end in a draw. One or the other will gain mastery. Mammon was never intended to be our master (Matt. 6:24). Sacrificial living is liberating!

4. Supply Of All Our Needs (Phil. 4:19). God is not committed to fulfill all our wants but He promises to meet all the needs of those who live for Him.

5. Effective Prayer. “Is He not much more likely to clothe you little faiths’?” (Matt. 6:30 Phillips). “Little faiths” rob themselves of the joy of walking by faith. They have their security not so safely stored in their earthly treasures. Self-sufficiency is the antithesis of faith, and we are in danger of hypocrisy when we could answer our own prayers for others by our own action. When life ceases to be a perpetual dependence on the Lord, our prayers become superficial and lifeless.

6. The Good Of Our Children. Parents wondering why their children went wrong in spite of Sunday School, Christian school, Christian camps and everything they gave them, may not need to look very far for the answer. It may be their own lifestyle and priorities. No wonder children grow up to be “worldlings,” whose parents are no different from “men of the world, whose portion is in this life; and whose belly Thou dost fill with Thy treasures; they are satisfied with children, and leave their abundance to their babes” (Psa. 17:14). A child growing up in a materialistic Christian family may not survive this horrible stumbling block. Consider the promises made to those who fear the Lord concerning their children {Psa. 112:1-3; 128:1-4).

7. The Progress Of The Gospel. One of the most gratifying rewards for the disciple of Jesus would lead to great gains in world evangelism—when Christians live and give sacrificially. Sacrificial living for Christ has an impact on those who do not know the Lord, since they see so much in the world of religion that makes them cynical. Moreover, it enhances our power in prayer with God as we intercede and witness.

Conclusion

Consider the greatness of God’s grace in giving us His Son, the inexpressible gift. Then turn your attention to the generosity of the Lord Jesus in His own self-sacrifice. Take into account the undeniable and clear teaching of our Master concerning the sacrificial living embodied and demonstrated in His perfect life. Add to that the demonstrated adherence of His early followers to these unpopular teachings. Consider the eternal rewards of a sacrificial life. What will your life response be? Do you want to join the company who forsook ail to follow Him? Will you sing from an honest heart:

Take my life and let it be

Consecrated Lord to Thee;…

Take my silver and my gold

Not a mite would I withhold

— Frances Havergal

Lesson 12 The Disciple’s Sacrificial Lifestyle

1. How do Matthew 8:20 and 2 Corinthians 8:9 help to summarize the life of our Lord Jesus?

2. Note what each of the following passages teach us about sacrificial living:

Matthew 19:21 Acts 2:44-45

Matthew 19:27 Acts 4:32-37

Luke 12:16-34 1 Timothy 6:8

Luke 21:3-4 Philippians 2:20-21

Now summarize your conclusions:

3. Compare the results of the selfish and the sacrificial lifestyle:

Verse Selfish Sacrificial

Lifestyle Lifestyle

Matthew 6:20

Matthew 6:22-23

Matthew 6:24

Verse Selfish Sacrificial

Lifestyle Lifestyle

Luke 6:20

Luke 18:24-25

James 2:5

Now summarize your conclusions:

4. It has been suggested that Matthew 6:19 uses three figures of speech to show stewardship: the moth (referring to things that are not used often), rust (suggesting things that have high depreciation), and thieves (implying things that others covet to possess). What might you ask yourself to determine violation of these principles where the interests of the Kingdom of God are concerned?

5. What adjustments do you need to make in response to the teaching of this lesson? How will you implement any changes?

3 C.T. Studd Athlete and Pioneer, Norman Grubb (Zondervan Publisher: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1933)

4 George Muller, quoted by William MacDonald in True Discipleship (Walterick Publishers: Kansas City, Kansas, 1962)

5 Christian Devotedness, Anthony Norris Groves (Walterick Publishers: Kansas City, Kansas, 1995)