Is there sacrifice in worship?

“Lord of all, to Thee we raise this, our sacrifice of praise.”

So proclaims the “refrain” to an otherwise hymnic[1] song familiar to many in various evangelical traditions:  “For the Beauty of the Earth.”  I probably sang it a hundred times in my growing-up years and with the dawning of adulthood began to wonder what “sacrifice” implied.  I still sing the song sometimes and am planning to sing it again on Saturday, so I thought it was high time I probed its meaning a little more than I have previously.

“We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.”

That’s half of the text of a more contemporary song—probably 30 years old now—composed by Kirk Dearman in the not-so-grand tradition of “24/7” songs that have about 24 words repeated 7 times.  The music didn’t strike me as particularly sacrificial or meditative when I first heard it, and it still doesn’t.  It’s one of those opening songs that takes little effort and can be used to “sing ‘em in” (until you can get ‘em all quieted down for those ever-important announcements . . . you know).

I’ve never really explored thoroughly the notion of the sacrifice involved in praise, but I think it deserves a little thought—not because songs sometimes use the phrase or deal with the idea, but because sacrifice in worship or praise seems to be a concept found in scripture.

First, there’s the entire Old-Covenant sacrificial system.  I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “sacrifice,” I don’t think immediately of the loss caused to a household, or of the messy blood of a goat or a lamb.  Through the centuries, the notion of “sacrifice” has been sanitized, but back when the practice was begun, it was no church ceremony.

The inspired writer of the letter to the Hebrews exhorts,

Through Him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God—that is, the fruit of our lips—acknowledging his name. And do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.

In these two short “verses” (13:15-16), we have received two reasons—and in the NEW Covenant, no less!—to relate praise (Gk. αινεσεως / aineseos, sometimes translated “thank-offering) and sacrifice (here, Gk. θυσια / thysia). Sacrifice, I have just learned, may also be translated “victim.”  The lamb or other animal-offering of the Old Covenant, then, was the victim/sacrifice; these instructions to a group of Jewish Christians of the first century seem to carry forward, in some respect, the idea of sacrifice . . . transmuting the old notion into something more appropriate under the New Covenant.

And so I would ask myself and all of us Christian believers this question:  what is it that we are sacrificing when we praise?  What is our “victim”?

Soon:  Romans 12 sacrifice, and more


[1] By definition, the presence of a refrain or chorus musically categorizes a song as other than “hymn.”

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