Recently I have encountered a few cases in which people felt trapped in hopeless, intolerable situations and found themselves unable to act to resolve their suffering. In each of these cases, it was clear to me that the person could solve their problem if they were willing to give something up. In each case the thing they had to give up was substantial. In each case the goal was clearly more substantial than the thing they would be giving up. And in each case the problem had no hope of resolution without such sacrifice. And, sadly, in all of these cases, after I explained the concept of sacrifice and what seemed to me a clear course of action, the people were unwilling to consider doing it.
Not for Nothing
Jesus sacrificed. But He didn’t sacrifice for nothing. He sacrificed for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:1-3), the joy he would have when He reconciled the world to Himself. In other words, He would be able to enjoy our fellowship. If He didn’t have the hope of such joy, joy that exceeds the suffering, it would not have been a reasonable sacrifice. But He had a hope of a net gain in His own happiness.
We should only sacrifice when it can be reasonably calculated to produce greater happiness, not just in ourselves, but in beings in general; for God first, since He has the greatest value, then to others and ourselves. (Sacrifice for its own sake, or as asceticism, is not a biblical concept and has no value. It may actually be destructive if we believe it is an indicator that we are righteous. The obedience of faith1, or faith working through love2, is true righteousness.)
We don’t always have to be able to make this calculation all by ourselves (that is, wheter the thing we'll gain will produce more happiness than what we give up). One reason that we need God to govern our lives is because we are incapable of calculating the greatest good in our lives and God uniquely meets the condition of having sufficient intellectual capacity to govern us justly. If God has commanded us to do something, then we can conclude that, even if we need to suffer to do it, it will result in the greater good. Therefore, obedience to God is always the loving choice for us to make, and disobedience is always the selfish choice.
Jesus Teaches Us To Sacrifice
Jesus often encouraged us to be wise by sacrificing when we need to. Here are some examples:
- The Unrighteous Steward (Luke 16:1-13)
"And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings."
- "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
- Counting the Cost of Discipleship (Luke 14:26-35)
- Stumbling Blocks (Matthew 18:8-9)
- Jesus' choice to die for us and our choice to follow Him (John 12:23-26).
Sometimes the thing we have to give up is of very great value, like our family members. In the case of the rich young ruler, he had to sell everything he owned and to give to the poor (Matthew 19:16-26).
Evaluating Relative Values
To know what we should sacrifice in order to preserve or gain what, we need to know the relative value of things. The Bible comes to our aid here as well. For example, our eternal soul is of greater value than our temporal physical life (Matthew 10:28); one human life is worth more than the whole world (Matthew 16:26); humans are worth more than animals (Matthew 6:26; Matthew 10:29–31; Matthew 12:11-12), and "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
There are a number of other tools the Bible gives us to help us in making decisions, which goes beyond the scope of this article, but an important tool we must not overlook when we find ourselves suffering in indecision is the great value of sacrifice to secure happiness.