By Mark A. Taylor
Does anyone still use the phrase, “Not equal giving, but equal sacrifice”? It once was standard verbiage in church fund-raising campaigns, but I’ve always cringed a little when I’ve heard it. If it has become passé, I’m glad.
Not that the idea doesn’t spring from biblical principle. Along with exhortations to giving that is generous (Romans 12:8), cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7), and regular (1 Corinthians 16:2), Scripture commands giving that is proportional (1 Corinthians 16:2; Deuteronomy 16:17). Many believers today still use God’s original template, the tithe (10 percent), for their giving (Malachi 3:10). Such believers earning $40,000 per year give $4,000 while the $100,000 wage earner gives $10,000.
But I’m guessing the higher-paid Christian can live on $90,000 more easily than his lower-paid friend can manage with $36,000. Each is giving according to biblical principle (give proportionately) and obeying the Old Testament command (give 10 percent). But are these two givers demonstrating “equal sacrifice”? I don’t think so.
The fact is that some Christians who have tithed for years could give more. Retired and living on the interest from a lifetime of investments, with their education behind them and their houses paid for, they’re not facing the financial pressure of fellow Christians half their age. Their tithe is not a sacrifice.
But regardless of my income, I’ve never viewed my tithe as sacrificial giving, either (even back in the days when my wife and I were scrimping by on one small salary). In fact, sometimes I wonder, “How much would I need to give for my gift truly to be a sacrifice—20 percent of my income? Half of it?”
A question in a small group study guide got me thinking about this again. The lesson looked at Mary’s visit by Gabriel and her quick obedience to God’s remarkable call (Luke 1:26-38). The discussion question: “What do you think would have been your response for such a sacrifice on your part?”
Frankly, I have no idea. In fact, given my comfortable life, the possibility of sacrifice actually frightens me.
And I’m not the first person to think about the contrast between sacrifice and my own experience. Earlier this month The Wall Street Journal published Robert R. Garnett’s chronicle of sacrifice in his description of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. He mentioned the 2,400 Americans killed there and, toward the end of piece, quoted two lines from Marianne Moore’s poem “Keeping Their World Large”:
“They fought the enemy,
We fight fat living and self-pity.”
Today we still have an Enemy. Mary’s child came to conquer him, with a sacrifice we regularly remember, especially around the Lord’s table. But we cannot fathom the physical torture of Mary’s Son, let alone his spiritual agony. We barely understand what we describe when we speak of sacrifice.
But Mary, who had to watch him writhe and die, could explain sacrifice. Her story would start before his birth: the questions and confusion of her fiancé, the gossip of her neighbors, the pain of walking 80 miles to Bethlehem. Then she could tell us about childbirth in a stable and a hurried escape to Egypt with a perfect Son who became a refugee.
If God should call me to something so severe, I hope I would answer. I hope I’d be equal to a sacrifice unequaled so far in anything I’ve given or attempted for God. Until then, the notion of sacrifice continues to raise questions that, frankly, I’m not sure how to answer.