Self-Denial vs Self-Sacrifice

1 “Cry aloud; do not hold back;
    lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:1-14 ESV

Something is wrong with this picture. In this chapter God is going to paint a somewhat confusing image of His people. On the one hand, He describes them as transgressors of His ways. They are disobedient and rebellious, failing to live up to the standards He had provided through His law. And he pulls no punches in pointing out their guilt.

“Tell my people Israel of their sins!
   Yet they act so pious!” – Isaiah 58:1-2 BNLT

There is a palpable dissonance in the outward behavior of the people of God. At times, they appear to be enthusiastic seekers of God. From all outward appearances they seem to be genuinly excited about growing in their knowledge of God. They even display a certain allegiance to God, in the hopes of winning His favor.

They fast. They pray. The offer sacrifices. In other words, the display all the right evidence of being faithful followers of God. But then, God reveals the disconnect between their actions and His judgment against them. Even they can’t understand why God seems so upset with them. From their perspective, the were doing all the right things to win God’s favor and earn His assistance in time of need. They even ask God:

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” – Isaiah 58:3 ESV

They are at a loss as to why God would ignore such obviously righteous behavior. So, God explains His evident inattention and inaction.

“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers. – Isaiah 58:3 NLT

It was all about themselves. Their fasting was nothing more than an outward display of righteous-looking behavior that was intended to win brownie points with God and impress other men. And Jesus addressed this kind of hypocritical fasting.

“When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward” – Matthew 6:16 NLT

They were fasting to get noticed. And all the while they fasted, they were taking unjust advantage of the people who worked for them. Their outward display of morality had a certain inconsistency about it that God found unacceptable. Everything they did was intended to impress. But God was having none of it. He could see into their hearts and knew full well that they were simply going through the motions. They were expecting God to reward their actions, but Jesus made it clear that the only reward these kinds of people were going to get for their efforts was the praise of men.

Fasting was intended to reflect a repentant and remorseful heart. It should have been an outward display of their inner desire to turn from all other things in life and seek God only. But their brand of fasting was meant to satisfy their own selfish desires. Their fasting wasn’t a reflection of a changed heart. It was simply meant to change how others thought about them.

And just so they don’t miss His point, God points out the difference between their kind of fasting and His.

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” – Isaiah 58:6-7 NLT

God expected a change in behavior. He demanded that their outward displays of self-denial be true reflections of a heart that was selfless rather than selfish. They were fasting to get God’s attention and to garner His help. But God had no intention of responding to their hypocritical charade. Going through the motions and feigning a false commitment to God was not going to cut it. Seeking His assistance while remaining unwilling to follow His commands was not going to cut it.

But if their fasting became sincere, and their display of humility were to reflect a truly repentant heart, they could count on God’s assistance.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.” – Isaiah 58:8-9 NLT

He would show up in a big way. And their fasting would bring about significant change in their own lives. Fasting that is accompanied by true self-denial that puts the will of God and the needs of others first, brings about true godliness. It also brings the favor and glory of God. He steps in and answers us when we call. He delivers the salvation we desperately need.

At the end of the day, God is far more interested in self-sacrifice than self-denial. Giving up food for a season is nothing when compared to sharing your food with the needy. Fasting from buying new clothes means little if you are unwilling to clothe those who have nothing to wear. Giving up something you enjoy for a predetermined period of time bears little merit when compared to giving what you have to care for those who have nothing.

Near the end of His earthly life, Jesus taught a timeliness lesson to His disciples. It had to do with the end times, during a period known as the Great Tribulation. There will be those on earth who find themselves persecuted for their relationship with God Almighty. And yet, there will be those who step in and provide these individuals with food and shelter. And Jesus announces that these gracious individuals will be blessed by God for their generosity. He claims that their actions to help the helpless were just like they had been extending the same courtesies to Him. But they will ask Him:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’” – Matthew 37-39 NLT

And He will answer them:

“‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’” – Matthew 25:40 NLT

And God tells the people of Judah that, if they will practice true fasting, sacrificing themselves for the well-being of others, He will reward them.

your light will shine out from the darkness – vs 10

The Lord will guide you continually… – vs 11

You will be like a well-watered garden – vs 11

you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities – vs 12

“the Lord will be your delight…” – vs 14

I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob – vs 14

Physical fasting accomplishes little, if the heart is not sincere. But selfless sacrifice is always in keeping with the will of God and always brings with it the rewards of God. Going through the motions may impress others, but it will never impress God. Jesus provided His disciples with the key to receiving the reward of God.

“When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Dead or Alive – Please God.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:9 NLT

What’s your goal in life? To be successful? Make a million dollars? Reach retirement? Graduate from college? Get married? Own a big home? Drive a fancy car? Have kids? See the world? Change the world?

As believers, we’re to have a different perspective about life on this planet and what we expect to get out of it. We are eternal creatures living in a temporary environment that is nowhere near what God intended it to be when He created it. This place can be beautiful, even breathtaking at times, but it is fallen and marred by the effects of sin. Human beings have the capacity for good, but are more prone to sin and selfishness, perpetrating all kinds of evil on one another. And yet, we find ourselves, like everyone else, living as if life on this planet is all there is. We fear death and so we try to cram as much living as we can in the days we have. We try to prolong life and extend our time here on earth, hoping to buy ourselves a bit more time to enjoy what we’ve got or get our hands on what we’ve missed out on.

But Paul had a different perspective. He longed to be with God, because he knew that what God had in store for him in eternity was far better than anything he could ever experience here on earth. Paul didn’t have a death wish. He wasn’t in a hurry to die, but he knew that his life here was temporary and a poor substitute for what was to come. And that eternal perspective led Paul to have a different goal in life. As long as he lived on this earth, he was going to seek to please God. His temporary, earthly life was an opportunity to contribute to the advancement of God’s mission and glory in the world. Rather than live for himself, Paul chose to live for God. Rather than trying to build his own kingdom on earth, Paul chose to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Because Paul knew that all that he accomplished on this earth was going to one day be judged by Christ at the Bema Seat. He understood that his life as a believer was going to be held to a different set of standards. The Bema or Judgment Seat of Christ is a real event that will take place after Christ returns for his bride, the Church. Every believer will stand before Christ and will have his works judged by Christ – all those things he or she has done in their life since becoming a believer. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NASB). The judgment spoken of here has nothing to do with salvation. This will not be a judgment to determine who gets into heaven, because as believers, we will all spend eternity with Christ. But He will judge our works. He will determine the relative value of what we have done since becoming believers. The criteria for judgment will be the worth or worthlessness of our works. This is not about punishment, but rewards. There will be rewards for those things we did in this life that helped extend God’s Kingdom and accomplish His will on earth. Those things that we have done that were selfish, self-centered, and ended up building our own little kingdom will not be rewarded. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had told them about this coming day of judgment. “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NLT).

The realization of rewards should motivate us to live differently in this life. It should cause us to recognize that all those things we invest so much time and energy in that are for our own pleasure or personal satisfaction, will be worth nothing when we stand before the Lord. They will be wood, hay and stubble. That is why Paul lived to please God. He wanted his entire life to be comprised of gold, silver and jewels – those things that would be judged by Christ as worthwhile and worthy or reward. But it all begins with an eternal perspective. We have to understand that this life is temporary and only a fleeting moment when compared to the eternity we will spend with Christ. Even these bodies are temporary, growing older with every passing moment, which is why God is going to provide us with new bodies, heavenly bodies, designed to last an eternity. None of us know how long we have to live. But as believers, we should know that as long as we do live, we should make it our goal to please God in all that we do. We should live in such a way that our lives are “a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable” (Romans 12:1 NLT).

Father, I focus way too much on this life. I worry far too much about getting out of this life all that I can – and mostly just for me. But I am to set my sights on eternity. I am to focus on Your Kingdom, not mine. I am to live here, but with my attention focused THERE. Show me how to live to please You. I want to make it my goal to please You in all that I do in the time that I have left here. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 83 – Luke 14:1-24

The Attitude of Jesus.

Luke 14:1-24

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.– Luke 14:11 NLT

One of the amazing things about Jesus was that His message and His lifestyle were never out of step. He lived what He taught. It is easy to say one thing and do another, which is one of the primary characteristics of hypocrisy. But hypocrisy was never something with which Jesus wrestled. He was not someone who sought out the places of honor. He was not one who craved recognition or sought the affirmation of men. Yes, He longed for men to recognize His status as the Son of God, but not for selfish reasons. He simply wanted them to see Him for who He was in order that they might experience all that He came to offer. No, Jesus was anything but selfish and self-centered. So when He spoke about humility, He knew what He was talking about. He lived it. The apostle Paul reminds us, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God,he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:5-7 NLT). Jesus didn’t pridefully hold onto His well-deserved place as the Son of God, and refuse to lower Himself to human standards. No, He willfully walked away from His position of privilege and power, and took on the lowly character of a man – a baby in fact. All so that He could serve mankind by giving His life in our place.

So when Jesus gives the people at this dinner who are jockeying for positions of prominence a piece of advice, He speaks from experience. He tells them, “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!” (Luke 14:8-9 NLT). Instead, Jesus recommends that they take the lowest seat at the foot of the table. Practice a little self-humility. Rather than risk being humiliated, humble yourself. Of course, Jesus is talking about much more than just an earthly wedding feast. He is talking about the Kingdom of God. Those who enter into God’s Kingdom will be characterized by the nature of Jesus Himself. They will be humble, not prideful. They will have spent their lives seeking first the Kingdom of God and leaving issues of honor, recognition, and reward up to Him.

Over in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made some significant statements regarding rewards and recognition. He said, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:1-2 NLT). In other words, their reward will be the recognition they get on this earth. It won’t last long. But if you give in secret, not worrying about what men think, God will see it and reward you richly in His Kingdom. Jesus also said, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:5 NLT). The praise of man is the only reward they will get. But those who pray to God in private, so that no one can see them or pat them on the back for their spirituality, will be rewarded by God Himself.

It is so easy to seek recognition and to crave reward for our service in this lifetime. But it doesn’t last. It is fleeting, fickle and short-lived. If we seek the praise of men, we are missing the point. Jesus didn’t come to receive praise. He didn’t come to receive honor. He came to humble Himself and serve. He came to give His life as a ransom for the sins of men. He came to die on a cross so that we might live. He healed the lame, the blind, and the sick, knowing that He would receive ridicule and not reward. He spoke the truth of God, knowing that most would reject it angrily, not receive it gladly. He came to hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. He came to wear a crown of thorns, not one made of gold. He came to die a criminal’s death, not live a king’s life. And yet, Paul reminds us that God saw the actions and attitude of His Son and rewarded Him accordingly. “When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:7-11 NLT). The attitude of Jesus should be the standard for every believer. An attitude marked by service and humility, obedient to the will of God and focused on the Kingdom of God to come.

Father, help me to seek the attitude of Jesus. Open my eyes and help me see the pride that permeates my life. It is so easy to become a seeker of rewards in this lifetime. I find it so easy to want my rewards now, rather than later. The praise and recognition of men can be an alluring thing. But it breeds hypocrisy and feeds the dragon of pride in my life. Yet You reward the humble. You exalt the lowly. You oppose the proud and favor the humble. Never let me forget that. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men