IT’S ABOUT KNOWING GOD
While attending the June, 2011, stewardship advisory in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division in Pretoria, South Africa, I was reminded of the sacrifice and commitment made by church workers in Zimbabwe in 2008. For a twelve-month period, the Zimbabwe Union Conference was unable to remunerate them for their services because of the impact of inflation on the Zimbabwean economy and the value of the Zimbabwean dollar at the time.
With this one example of faithfulness to God in mind, I’ve asked myself this question: “What makes people, like these workers, commit themselves to the cause of God in the face of financial hardship and personal loss?” A selected study on the life of Abraham from the Old Testament may help us gain insight into the dynamics of such deep commitment and personal sacrifice by many Seventh-day Adventists around the world today.
What makes people, like these workers, commit themselves to the cause of God in the face of financial hardship and personal loss?"
Giving Up Isaac
Genesis chapter twenty-two starts with the interesting notation that, “God tested Abraham” (verse 1). This introduction shows that the giving of Isaac as a “sacrifice” was a response to something initiated by God. God wanted to test Abraham’s “faith”—his character and behavior—within the context of their relationship. Of this test the author of Hebrews testified, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son.” Hebrews 11:17 (NIV).
The Genesis and Hebrew accounts of this story seem to imply that the testing of one’s faith is a necessary challenge and process in one’s relationship with God. Writing to the first century Christians on the subject of trials and the testing of one’s faith, James made this assertion. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 (NIV).
Abraham's Spirit of Sacrifice
One other observation that is worth noting with regards to Abraham’s spirit of sacrifice as illustrated in this moving story of faith, was the fact that he was obedient to God even to the point of losing his “only son,” the most precious and invaluable possession he had received from God. This unbelievable demand from God, and Abraham’s incredible response can only be understood and appreciated fully when placed within the larger context of his life—a man who had waited for many years to see the fulfillment of God’s promise of a descendant that was to come from his own body and to become a blessing for the whole world; but now he had to give it back fully as a sacrifice!
This incident in Abraham’s life is a powerful illustration of stewardship coming full circle. That Abraham, in placing his son Isaac on the altar as a sacrifice, was simply returning to God His gift. God is the rightful Owner and Original Giver of Isaac, Abraham’s son. This act of sacrificial giving would suggest to me that when God calls for a sacrifice from us, His people, He will not settle for anything less but our very best. He wants that thing which is very close to our hearts. Stewardship is about giving our all.
Trusting in the Ultimate Giver and Provider
Another overriding and fundamental principle in this Bible example of sacrifice and commitment is the truth that God is our Provider; and that He will always deliver even if we can’t see the end from the beginning. This kind of trust—in a believable end in the absence of any physical evidence—is still difficult, and so when Isaac posed an innocent but rational question from his position as a “son” and partner in this whole faith testing experience with God, it must have crushed Abraham’s heart. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Genesis 22:7 (NIV) From his vantage point as a father and a human being, Abraham could only see Isaac; he was the offering “lamb.” And yet from his heart of hearts, he believed God. And so in spite of his agonizing and aching heart, Abraham never wavered in his response, “God Himself will provide” Genesis 22:7, 8 (NIV). Stewardship is about absolute trust in God.
How shall we answer the following question: “What made Abraham do what he did when he placed Isaac on the altar as a sacrifice to God?” I believe the answer has to do with Abraham’s intimate relationship with God. He knew Him as a personal friend, and the giving of Isaac as a sacrifice was a physical expression of a deep and close relationship with God. Paul, the apostle, puts it this way; “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Galatians 3:6 (NIV). Abraham may not have seen the end from the beginning, but he knew God and he trusted Him.
For Seventh-day Adventist Christians in Zimbabwe; for the early pioneers of our faith—people like James and Ellen White and John Andrews; for Abraham of the Bible, and most believers around the world; their motive for giving their all and sacrificing much for the mission of God in this world, is rooted in their personal relationship with Him. They know God as the Owner, the Ultimate Giver, and Provider of life. For them, commitment and sacrifice is a normal way of living.