Suspicious Sacrifice


Zach Motts, Missionary, Japan

Sacrifice points to a higher good through the act of giving something that is also good.We modern people are suspicious of sacrifice. More than that, we live in a secular world where, in the words of Charles Taylor, “renunciation is not just viewed with suspicion – to a certain degree that is always healthy and necessary – but is off the radar altogether, just a form of madness or self-mutilation” (A Secular Age, 772). The language of sacrifice—of giving up, offering up, or renouncing my right to something that is good—is incomprehensible to many who are both inside and outside the church.

So, for many people, the very idea of a missionary is absolutely baffling. Isn’t it madness and self-mutilation to drag your family around the world? Why struggle daily to be understood in a foreign language and an alien culture? Why invest your life in places where the returns are minimal and the successes are so hard-won? There are always other options, maybe better options, probably easier options. What kind of angry God would want you to sacrifice anything?

I think we all can feel the persistent truth in those questions. Yet, in a culture drowning in “doing what feels good,” a sacrifice is a strange window on a different possibility. Sacrifice points to a higher good through the act of giving something that is also good. When a missionary is sent out from the womb of the Church, the Church shows that the Hope it has found is great enough to be worth sharing.

No amount of Sunday morning lip service will do that. The missionary may sacrifice certain proximate goods, but that is because there is a greater good in view. There is a vision of every tribe and tongue and nation in all their diversity coming into the presence of God with joy; people from the East and West feasting at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Among evangelicals, we do not usually emphasize the link between joy and sacrifice. We are usually focused on sacrifices for sin and the theology that flows from them. Yet, the Pentateuch pays much attention to sacrifices that were about thanksgiving, well-being, eating together in the presence of God. You brought something to the priest, gave it to God, and then it was given back so you and your family could eat it with joy. If we are talking about sacrifice in connection with missions, I think it is like that—sharing together in the joy of God. Few things that are offered up are completely lost.

Sacrifice can open us to joy and relationship in a way that preoccupation with ourselves and personal profit never can. Missions becomes a window on possibilities for joy.