Do you remember the classic O. Henry short story, “The Gift of the Magi”? It’s typically read around the Christmas season, because it’s centered around Christmas Eve. But the lesson it teaches fits any day of the year.
To refresh, it’s about a young couple with little money wanting to buy a very special gift for each other. Della secretly resolves to cut and sell much of her lovely, long hair to buy a chain for husband Jim’s prized pocket watch; Jim, unaware of her plan, sells his watch to buy beautiful combs for Della’s hair.
Readers of the story, as well as those who have seen any of its many dramatic adaptations, are struck by the irony of their selfless gestures. Honestly, the first time I saw it, I think my reaction was something like, “Well, that was dumb! Now what are they going to do with the watch chain and combs?” But as you ponder the message, it presents a tangible example of what personal sacrifice looks like.
I like how preacher James MacDonald recently expressed it: “Sacrifice is giving up something you love for something you love even more.” The question is, how many of us would be willing to do something like that?
Sacrifice is a word – and an act – that seems increasingly out of fashion these days. We might be willing to give, or lend a helping hand, but only as long as it doesn’t require too much from us. For years, society has been convincing us, “it’s all about me” and “you gotta look out for No. 1.” If it’s all about me, then why should I be all that concerned about you?
At the same time, we’re often fascinated by accounts of great sacrifice. We talk about “the ultimate sacrifice” – a soldier giving up his or her life thousands of miles away on a field of battle, or a firefighter dying in the attempt to save someone else. Even though many people can’t give the biblical reference, they appreciate the kindness of a “good Samaritan” (the story is found in Luke 10:25-37), someone going to extreme lengths to help another person, often a total stranger.
It was Jesus Christ who said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). He then proceeded to demonstrate that truth, giving His life on the cross to become the atoning sacrifice to pay for mankind’s rebellion against its Creator. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The Trinity remains an unfathomable mystery to the human mind, but the Scriptures make it clear Christ’s sacrifice was hardly happenstance. We told, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).
Later the apostle Paul writes that long before you or I were even a gleam in our parents’ eyes, the penalty for our sins had been paid. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As I sometimes ask men I have the privilege of mentoring, “How many sins had we personally committed when Jesus went to the cross for us?” Since that was about 2,000 years ago, the obvious answer is, “None.”
What kind of sacrifice would you be willing to make for another person, whether a loved one – or a complete stranger? If you’re thinking that’s a tough question, I don’t blame you. It’s a difficult one for me, too. But ultimately, the so-called “Christian life” is one of sacrifice, being willing to give up something we love if necessary to serve and worship the One we love even more.
As Jesus told His followers, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer phrased it, “the cost of discipleship.” Which is why Paul wrote, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). Every day I find it necessary to ask – and remind – myself, “am I willing to make that sacrifice?”
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at email@example.com.