What Self-Sacrifice Means
By Benjamin H. Liles
To start this off, I want to apologize for the almost three week break I took without notice. I was feeling led one way until tonight when I remembered what Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; instead, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4, Berean Study). I would love to explain why this verse jumped out at me, but at the same time I would rather honor God by being honorable to my parents. To really get a good look, Paul uses a phrase here before he says anything about training a child, as well as instructing them: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger."
Some versions read "Don't stir up anger," other versions say, "provoke to anger," or even, "Don't make life so hard that your children become bitter." Interesting choices of words. I wonder if Paul used the Greek words to describe in detail what Solomon said about disciplining your child, if it means "train up," "raise your children." Let's look at that. So, in the Holman Christian Standard we read, "Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).
Solomon was still fairly young in his reign, even with the wealth he had, and the wisdom God gave him, to remember the tenderness with which his father David taught him. He's saying, "Raise your children, in tenderness, how he should go about in life; even as he ages, he will not turn from this teaching." This is interesting stuff, right? So, in other words, the people within the Church Paul is speaking to aren't Jewish in nature. He's talking to them as those who are outside of the community, but Paul's also welcoming them to join in the work God started through Jesus.
Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me" (Matthew 16:3-5, New King James). In other words, we need to allow children the right to become children of God, not to frustrate or even hinder them from spiritual growth. Sounds like Jesus, Paul, and Solomon are talking about this same thing: training a child to become proper and tender people given to treat God and others with respect.
This calls to mind the response Daniel's friends made to Nebuchadnezzar: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:16-18, New American Standard). At first glance we think they are being disrespectful to the Chaldean king. But if we look far carefully, these are bright young men, who not only found favor in the eyes of God, but are serving a foreign king while in exile in Babylon, the center of the Chaldean empire.
They remember the training their parents brought them up, to respect authority as surely as God is the true authority over all, and to respect those in positions of power, including those within the family (ie, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc). So, these young men have a proper response to the foreign king. They are saying, in essence, "If God allows us to die within the flames he will do so; but if he allows us to live, we will not go against the authority of our God who is capable of bringing us out from harm." What we think is disrespect, in our Western thought, is really a good response to not bowing to idol worship of any kind. Recall the first commandment? "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2-3).
So, considering that we don't have to touch the second commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image..." No, these young men have it on their hearts and minds to worship the One who made and called them to serve in respect and in His tender mercies, which they were told since they could understand. They were willing to, sacrifice their lives to honor God above all. This sounds like the text I originally wanted to write about, "There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). So, in actuality, we need to raise our children not just to respect others, including authority, but to do so in such a way that honors God's ideals; that preserve and sanctify all the things He has done before and in us.
Doing this in it's fullness means we ought to be willing to sacrifice our ideals, to be challenged if we're fully in the right in God's eyes, as His possession, to be agents of change. The world watches and waits to see who the true children of God are. While Israel is God's possession, the Church also belongs to Him through Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for all to become children of God. It is why in Isaiah we read those words, "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief...Because He poured out His soul unto death, [being numbered] with the transgressors, [bearing] the sin of many, [making] intercession for the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:10-12). And in this Jesus could rightly claim, "No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father" (John 10:18, Berean Study).
We have God's words to us, not just as "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth," but to live our life as emissaries, messengers of His merciful grace, having beholden His majesty from the cross. I know we don't honestly consider Christ's claims, but He did raise from the dead on the third day, Sunday. He was crucified and beaten and scourged, hung between two thieves (as Isaiah said, "They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death," 53:9), Nicodemus laying him in his tomb that he provided as a resting place for the Lord. Yet, God appointed to Him His life because He fulfilled the word of God, not once sinning, no deceit being found on His lips, nor having committed any violence.
The reproof Christ took at the cross in our place for our wickedness was assuredly on His shoulders. Never once leading or raising any rebellion, fully teaching the word of God not only to the Jews, but Samaritan, Gentile (a Roman soldier for one), and all alike He dies in the place for the sins of many so that we all could be witnesses of His risen majesty. We have this in spades because having both been a man as well as God, He fully gave Himself up in order to give to us life, His righteousness (even though we can never earn it), bearing our witness before those who perpetually desire their own end apart from God. He will vindicate Himself at His return. But until then we are called to be His children, to be trained as soldiers of the cross, bearing also in ourselves this majestic truth, which we know to be sure and true; Jesus conquered death and the grave in order we may never will fully taste thereof. I write and claim this in His holy and precious name. Amen.