“Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together.”
Genesis 22:8 NIV
Richard Bach is noted for saying “If you love someone set them free. If they come back they’re yours. If they don’t they never were.” Although internet investigators cannot substantiate this, they did find a similar quote by Jess Lair (1969): “If you want something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.” (from the book, I Ain’t Much Baby—But I’m All I’ve Got) This concept of loving something or someone and setting it free forms a belief system based on fate. It’s about as effective as making a wish before blowing out your birthday candles or throwing a coin into a “wishing well.” It’s indecisive and inconclusive. It’s wishy-washy and neither practical nor stable. Love is not something to chalk up to fate, it is a gift and a promise from God. It’s a gift He freely gives but sometimes asks us to temporarily give up. Especially if our love for something or someone exceeds our love for Him or if He is testing our loyalty to Him.
The Greeks describe love seven different ways; eros which is romantic love, philia which defines friendship love, storge is unconditional familial love, agape which is an unconditional selfless love, ludus which describes playful or flirtatious love, pragma which is a long lasting, committed love, and philautia which is self love (from: https://www.elizabethrider.com/7-types-of-love-and-what-they-mean/). The Bible also tells us what love is and what it is not. 1 Corinthians 13 is a famous reading at most weddings describing love as patient and kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. As the reading progresses we are reminded that love bears all things, hopes all things and endures all things. But right in the middle, just after love is kind and just before love bears all things, is this sentence: love is not self-seeking. Both the Bible and the Greeks can agree on the concept of love-it is unconditional and it is sacrificial. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a glimpse at what sacrificial love looks like but let’s take a deeper look at what it is and is not.
Sacrificial love, is not sacrificing love. It is not falling in love with a person or a dream and then throwing them away to test if the dream or person were actually meant for you. It is not pushing people away because of fear or uncertainty either. In fact, 1 John 4:18 tell us: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Do not run away from or close your heart off to love out of fear or confusion. Seek God’s help in overcoming your fears and allow His love to teach you how to truly love and freely accept others’ love. When we are walking in God’s calling of love, we should experience no fear or spirit of timidity. We should only know His peace that surpasses all understanding. But we know the devil uses fear to jerk us off the path of God’s calling. It’s why we read how “do not fear” or “do not be afraid” is written in the Bible approximately 365 times. That’s a reminder a day for an entire year. (from: https://www.quora.com/How-many-times-is-fear-mentioned-in-the-Bible) When fear rears its ugly head, we need to squash it like a serpent under our feet reminding ourselves that there is no fear in love.
Sacrificial love is not sacrificing all of yourself for your family or dream either. In fact, sacrificial love is the opposite of completely losing yourself. It’s about stepping outside of yourself and sacrificing your own will because your love for God is greater than your love for yourself. Abraham is a prime example of this type of sacrificial love.
Abraham had a dream. All he ever hoped for was to be a father. God promised Abraham he would be a dad but he made Abraham wait 25 years before keeping that promise. Abraham trusted God but had a few moments of doubt during his time of waiting. Can you blame him? How many of us could believe we heard God correctly if we were still waiting on Him to keep His word for that long? At one point, Abraham tried to manufacture his own miracle having a son with Hagar, his wife’s maidservant. But God told Abraham, Ishmael, his son with Hagar was not the son God had promised him. Instead, Abraham’s wife Sarah, at the age of 90, would bare a son whom Abraham was to name Isaac. Did you know the name Isaac means “laughter”? Interestingly, both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God reminded them that Sarah would have a baby because they thought they were too old to be parents. How many of us, who have been waiting on God to fulfill His promise are at a point of that kind of laughter? More interesting than that is the fact that God’s covenant with Abraham, was the very definition of laughter. This tells me that God’s dream for you and me involves laughter too.
Isaac, not Ishmael would be God’s covenant with Abraham. God kept his word, and Isaac was born. Special note, God didn’t forget or throw Ishmael away. In spite of Abraham playing God by having a son with Hagar first, God still blessed Ishmael, making him fruitful and increasing his numbers. (Genesis 17:20) I believe God’s care for Ishmael shows that He will redeem any circumstance or at least uses every circumstance for His purpose, even when we get in His way and try to play God in our own lives.
The birth of Isaac isn’t Abraham’s story of sacrificial love. If you are familiar with any Sunday School Bible story, then you know what happens next. As if Abraham waiting on God for 25 years didn’t already show his trust in God’s word, God tests Abraham’s faithfulness too. He calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. (Disclaimer-this took place a bazillion years ago BC. Sacrificing children now is not only illegal but NOT at all what I believe God would ever call any of us to do. In other words, do not try this home.) Now I don’t know about you, but if I waited 25 years for God to fulfill His promise to me, to fulfill the one thing my heart truly desires, then turn around and say, “sacrifice if for me” I’d respond like cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Hughes Entertainment, 1989). Only instead of saying, “Are you serious, Clark?” I would ask, “Are you serious God?!” To add to this, keep in mind Abraham had no warning, just a sudden calling from God to go and sacrifice the very promise He had waited on God to fulfill. Raise your hand if you don’t respond well to anything that happens suddenly, especially if you’re left feeling turned upside down and blind sided. Picture me typing with one hand right now because I’m flailing the other one up in the air.
Abraham however, doesn’t question God. The next day, he takes his son, a donkey, a few of his servants and all he needs to build an altar and heads up the mountain with an obedient heart. Can I stop here for just one moment? The Bible I read leaves no mention of what Abraham was feeling or thinking during this time but I can imagine Abraham was full of anguish, perhaps even a hint of confusion or despair. If nothing else, this had to be breaking Abraham’s heart. I point this out because I believe questioning God’s calling, especially when it feels contradictory to what we know He promised us is a natural human response, just as anguish, confusion, heartbreak and/or despair would be natural human feelings to process. I don’t think it’s a sin to feel any of these emotions. Sin occurs when we lose faith and allow these emotions to redirect us instead of walking in obedience with God. This could look like telling ourselves we heard God wrong or choosing a substitution to sacrifice instead. Abraham could have woke up the next morning and told himself he dreamt the whole thing or he could have convinced himself getting rid of Ishmael and Hagar, something he had already done, was what God really meant. He could have even tried to have another baby with Sarah and use that child as the sacrifice. Instead, he chose to obey and God honored his obedience by sending a substitution and sparing Isaac’s life.
Abraham’s story has an example of another sacrifice, which is Sarah’s sacrifice for Abraham. Women of the Bible were known to see their identity and worth through their ability to bear children. If they were barren they viewed themselves (and society also viewed them) to have little to no value. A moment of transparency, God has gifted me two children. Both of which I call my miracle babies because my chances of having them were lower than the average healthy woman. After having them, continued complications led to surgery that removed any chance of me ever bearing more children again. Like Sarah, I too, struggled with my identity as a woman, questioning my worth and my value after I could no longer bare children. I had to allow God to redefine me and show me who I am in through His eyes to be free from those thoughts and feelings. In the Bible, the barren ones would share their husbands with their maidservants and fulfill their identity through their maidservants’ children. Another disclaimer: this is not a socially accepted practice today nor am I recommending it. Why? Because, as in Sarah’s situation, this brought about jealousy and only increased the barren woman’s insecurity. Anything that brings about jealousy or insecurity is not a form of sacrificial love. God will never call us to make a sacrifice that creates either. God’s calling may hurt, and we may not want to let go of what He’s calling us to sacrifice, but just as He provided a ram for Abraham, if His calling is only a test, I believe He will provide a substitute sacrifice for you and me too. It will never leave you feeling jealous or insecure.
God put sacrificial love on my heart this morning as I was praying over circumstances beyond my control. As I poured out my heart out to Him today, I found myself asking Him to help me let go of my own pain and heart’s desire in order to focus on what really needed to be pray for. God called Abraham to sacrifice what he loved to prove to that he loved God more. He may call us to do the same. Sometimes, God isn’t calling us to let go, but His test may be to loosen the grip on what we love in order to trust Him more. Loosening our grip can be just as painful as letting go but as God showed me today, obeying Him and praying for His greatest good, in spite of our own pain, is a true act of sacrificial love. As you prepare to celebrate Christmas this weekend, reflect on the greatest sacrificial love of all-Mary gave birth to a son. A son who, 33 years later, demonstrated His great love for all of mankind by dying on a cross. While reflecting on this, don’t forget, even Jesus questioned God’s calling for this great sacrifice. Just before He was arrested, alone with His thoughts and two of His disciples, He prayed-““Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42 NIV) If God is calling you to walk in sacrificial love, I think it’s ok pray this very same prayer-Lord, take this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours be done. Remember this-a sacrifice is not a closed door. Abraham did not loose his son. The world did not loose Jesus. No sacrifice that God asks you to make will leave you empty. When the time is right, God will provide the ram to replace what He called you to sacrifice and let you keep all that He has promised you. Perhaps sacrificial love isn’t about sacrificing at all. Perhaps it’s merely walking in love, trusting and obeying God, no matter what He calls us to do.
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