But does that mean the Christian does not make sacrifices of any kind? Today, Hebrews shows us, rather than having a physical altar with physical sacrifices, the “altar” of sacrifice we have is a spiritual one (Hebrews 13:10) – and Christians are called to offer sacrifices on it:
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:15–16)
Here, the author of Hebrews gives us four specific sacrifices that we can and should make as Christians. We will consider each one individually.
1. “A sacrifice of praise.” The Greek word for “praise” in this verse is the same as that used in the Greek Old Testament in Leviticus 7:13 for a “thank offering” and we see the concepts of praise and thanksgiving combined in David’s words in the psalms: “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 69:30, emphases added). A sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is a gift we can offer God. In fact, as David goes on to say in the next verse: “This will please the LORD more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves” (Psalm 69:31). The Jewish Rabbis are said to have believed that the sacrifice of praise would outlast animal sacrifices and would never cease.
2. “Lips that confess his name.” Translations differ somewhat on this next sacrifice we can offer. While a few older versions translate it as “the fruit of lips that give thanks,” most modern versions translate along the lines of “the fruit of lips that confess his name” (BSB, CSB, ISV); “… lips that openly profess his name” (NIV); “… lips that acknowledge his name” (ESV); etc. The prophet Hosea instructed the people of Israel to “Take words with you” and say to the Lord: “receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips” (Hosea 14:2). Openly acknowledging God is a gift of our “lips” that we give to him.
3. “Do what is good” applies primarily to good deeds done to others rather than generally righteous deeds. To not “neglect” or not “forget” to do good echoes what is said earlier in Hebrews 13 – that we “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2). The good that is a true sacrifice is not just good done to friends and family, but to others (Matthew 5:46).
4. “Share.” This is simply a specific aspect of the last point regarding doing good, but sharing what we have is singled out perhaps because for many it is the hardest good to do and for all of us it is something that we may need to be reminded of. Sharing what we have – whether it is time, skills, or possessions – is a tangible expression of doing good that is proof our sacrifice is more than just verbal praise or thanksgiving without resultant action (Ezekiel 33:31).
After listing these spiritual offerings, the author of Hebrews tells us “God is pleased with such sacrifices” (Hebrews 13:16), and we should realize that they are not simply appended as a pleasant thought or analogy after the letter’s exposition of Israel’s physical sacrifices. They are all sacrifices given from the heart and mind rather than just from the hand. While the first two sacrifices apply to our direct relationship with God, the second two apply to our relationship with others – much as the Ten Commandments do. In that sense, the sacrifices are concrete expressions of the great principles of love of God and of neighbor by which Christ summarized all the law (Matthew 22:40).
There are, of course, other ways in which we can be said to offer spiritual sacrifices and gifts to God today. In Romans 12:1 Paul tells us metaphorically that we should offer our bodies as sacrifices to God, but the sacrifices mentioned in Hebrews are unique and important in their concrete nature. They are sacrifices we can all give, and while the physical animal sacrifices were offered only at certain times, these are sacrifices that we can offer without ceasing: “Therefore, through him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice …” (Hebrews 13:15 emphasis added).
The sacrifices of Hebrews are really a more central part of Christianity than we may realize if we have not thought about them. As the apostle Peter wrote, we “are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).