Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. — Hebrews 13: 15–16.
The praise of God and works of love for our neighbour are sacrifices that please God.
This year’s Thanksgiving Day is once again an occasion on which we can look back and bring praise and thanks to God for all the spiritual and natural favours He has granted us. This happens in both word and deed.
While we tend to focus more of our thanks on that which we have personally experienced, our praise is focused on God, the source of all that exists. The praise of God is not dependent on our personal situation of life.
Our Bible text calls upon us to bring sacrifices of praise to God (verse 15) and to perform works of love upon our neighbour (verse 16). This call to action is based upon the statement that both of these are sacrifices that please God.
Sacrifices in the new covenant
Hebrews presents the image of Jesus Christ as the High Priest of the new covenant. With the sacrifice of Christ, the Old Testament’s sacrificial service as a whole lost its significance once and for all (Hebrews 10: 8–18). In the new covenant, sacrifice is the Christian’s response to Christ’s deed of deliverance. This is a matter of devotion to God in both word and deed. Thus Apostle Paul admonishes us to dedicate our lives to the service of God (Romans 12: 1). The driving force for this is our love for God and our neighbour.
Sacrifices of praise
The author of Hebrews calls upon us to continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God through Him (Christ) and, by way of explanation, goes on to add: “That is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13: 15). This “sacrifice of praise” is a reference to
- prayers of praise and thanksgiving;
- professing—that is to say, spreading—the name and deeds of Christ to others (1 Peter 2: 9); and
- structuring our lives in accordance with the gospel.
Putting our gifts and talents at the disposal of the Lord or giving monetary offerings can also be regarded as a sacrifice of praise, for Hebrews calls upon us to share our material possessions with others (Hebrews 13: 16).
The sacrifice and merit of Christ open up the way for us to bring our own sacrifice of praise. It is only through belief in the Son of God that the foundation for bringing such exhaustive sacrifices of praise can be created.
The term “continually” refers to the fact that praise and thanks are to be brought to God constantly—not only on Thanksgiving Day, but in especially exemplary fashion on that day.
No one can be forced to bring praise and thanks to God. This is a matter of the heart and means that our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving come from deep within ourselves. Apostle Paul writes: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5: 5). Through the Spirit of God, who dwells within us, we receive the power to praise God in all situations—even in times of great difficulty (Acts 16: 23–25). So any prayer, no matter how laden with care it may be, can also always contain praise and thanksgiving.
Works of love
If we praise God and give thanks to Him out of love, we will naturally also practice love for our neighbour. This will show itself when we turn to those who are in need of spiritual or material help. Apostle Paul instructs us to “do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6: 10).
We help because God has helped us, and we help out of love for our neighbour. Such works and such sacrifices are pleasing to God. They are the seed for a harvest which we will experience already here, to some degree, but especially in the future. In the parable of the final judgement, the Son of God already makes reference to the future harvest (Matthew 25: 31–40).
When we devote ourselves to God out of love in both word and deed, our lives as a whole will become a sacrifice of the praise of God.
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the Thanksgiving divine service held on Sunday, 04 October 2015 at Midrand Congregation.