‘Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:4, NRSV).
Christians often use the word ‘sacrifice’ in a very specific way. For instance, Jesus said, ‘Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners’ (Matthew 9:13). He was talking about people of his day who, according to God’s Law, believed that by sacrificing animals or possessions they could make themselves righteous in God’s judgement.
We don’t identify with this type of works-based religion, since it’s nothing we do for ourselves, but what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, that determines our status with God.
There is another way, however, of understanding ‘sacrifice’ with which we can identify – that is, when we give up something we value for the sake of something or someone else. We have seen such sacrifices during the Australian bushfires.
Firefighters and emergency workers have given up their personal interests to protect the lives and property of others. For some of them, it has meant that their own properties burned while they evacuated people or doused flames on the property of others.
For a few, their brave acts resulted in their own death. But all firefighters and emergency workers, and many locals, farmers and business people, sacrificed something of themselves for the benefit of others, despite the risks and substantial losses they themselves were facing.
In the immense bushfire tragedy, such sacrificial acts give us hope. They give us cause to believe in the resilience of our community and the strength of individuals within it. These qualities often get lost in the everyday self-centred consumerism of our world, where everything is judged by consumption.
Yet the people making these sacrifices are no snowflakes. For the sake of their neighbours they will dare to risk everything on the fireground. We owe them our deepest gratitude.
We have seen such extraordinary acts among people of all ages, beliefs and backgrounds, Christians among them. We have seen people display a fundamental human quality that God built into our race at the beginning. And God still draws it out when it is needed, whether we realise it is his doing or not. There is something Christ-like about it.
Our God comes to us in unexpected ways. During the bushfire emergency, he has come into our communities through the sacrifices made by firefighters, emergency workers, volunteers and many others. They have shown us what true love is: to give yourself for the benefit of others (John 15:13).
I hope that such sacrificial love will inspire us all in 2020.
Christian faith always asks us to put aside self-interest and look to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
In December I wrote about our need to be ‘right’, saying that true love triumphs over our ‘rightness’. We could not have been given a better example of what that means than during this time of crisis.
God bless you, and the LCA/NZ, in 2020. Be ready to receive our unexpected God, who will come when and where he chooses, even in times of deepest tragedy.