What does it mean to live sacrificially? More specifically, what does it mean to live sacrificially as a follower of Christ?
In recent years, there have been many best-selling Christian books focused on this theme of living sacrificially or living radically for Christ. In many ways, this is a great thing! In the face of so much lukewarm, cultural Christianity, it is refreshing to be reminded of Christ’s call to follow Him with sold-out, passionate faith. In fact, if you are part of a church that takes this kind of sacrificial, radical discipleship seriously, you are blessed.
At the same time, as great as it is to talk about living sacrificially for Christ, we must be on guard that this talk only remains, well, talk. This is particularly true for those called to serve as deacons in the church. Each individual called to serve as a deacon must honestly seek to answer the question, What does it actually mean to live out my calling as a deacon sacrificially? The importance of this question cannot be overstated. How can deacons hope to faithfully love God and people with humility without understanding the sacrifice which makes it all possible?
Let’s consider four characteristics that help paint a picture of what a sacrificial deacon looks like in the local church.
1. Deacons understand the sacrifice of Christ is the foundation of their own sacrifice
Understanding sacrifice and living it out in our lives and ministries has to begin with understanding the greatest sacrifice ever made: Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross to redeem His people. Christ sacrificed Himself for the sake of a depraved and sinful people who were far from God—those who were unable to do anything on their own to earn their salvation. This is us.
And yet out of sacrificial love, Christ died in our place to make us right with our Maker. As Paul states in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Such a simple and beautiful verse to remind us who we are, where we have come from and why we have hope for the future.
We must keep the truth of Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf at the forefront of our minds, daily meditating on the glorious truths of this sacrifice. Christ paid our debt in full. We bring nothing to the table of our salvation except our sin. All is grace. And this is what makes the gospel of Christ so amazing! As Paul exclaims in Ephesians 2:4-6,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Praise God for the gracious sacrifice of Christ on our behalf! It is only by understanding this glorious, all-encompassing and complete sacrifice that deacons are able to live out joyful, sacrificial service to those they have been called to love and minister to.
2. Deacons understand the cost of living out sacrificial service
Few roles in the church require more sacrifice than that of the deacon. The word ‘deacon’ quite literally means “servant” and, as such, one of the main things a deacon is called to is to lead the body of Christ in their servanthood. Often because of that, the deacon is called to sacrifice personal wants, desires and comfort for the sake of serving others. There is a real cost to deacon ministry.
Of course, being a servant of others typically doesn’t fit neatly into pre-set schedules or pre-determined thought processes. Coming alongside those in need, helping carry their burdens as they wrestle with various issues that plague them, often comes at great cost to the deacon, as well as their family. For this reason, it is critical for the deacon to count the cost and verify the calling laid before them before jumping in headfirst. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that one called to deacon ministry can live out this calling with joy on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
3. Deacons strive to first lead sacrificially at home
The sacrifice of deacon service always starts in the home. It begins with a deacon’s spouse and kids. This priority must be kept at the forefront of all that the deacon is to do. If deacons are to set an example for what it means and looks like to live and serve sacrificially in a congregation, this needs to be understood, seen and pursued first in the deacon’s own home. In fact, one of the qualifications of being a deacon, according to Scripture, rests on the ability to do this well. The simple truth of the matter is that if a deacon is unable to care properly for their family by demonstrating sacrificial leadership in the home, it is unlikely that the deacon can be trusted to live out the rest of the qualifications the Bible lists in 1 Timothy and Titus.
There will be times when the sacrifice it takes to serve the church as a deacon will mean sacrificing time with family to handle important issues that come up. But this should never be the norm, nor should it become a habit. Family is priority No. 1 for a faithful, biblical deacon—and their family must know this. More than that, they must experience this. If a deacon strives, by God’s grace and wisdom, to properly prioritize time with their family, joyfully sacrificing for them, their family will be more willing to sacrifice time with them for the sake of the church’s needs.
Of course, this also means that the deacon body must work together to make sure the deacon’s family comes first. In particular, there must be a willingness to sacrifice and carry one another’s burdens, especially in seasons of life when more time and attention is needed in a particular deacon’s home. It should be a joy to serve one another in this way, not a burden.
4. Deacons understand their sacrifice to be a source of joy
Sacrifice as joy. What a countercultural idea in our day! But to the deacon who has been set apart for this high calling, sacrifice as joy should be a constant way of life—both in what they do and in how they do it. Sacrifice is an opportunity to put aside one’s own comforts and step into areas where deacons can grow and be stretched by God as servant leaders.
When deacons joyfully sacrifice, they have the opportunity to share in the burdens of those who in many cases feel they have nowhere else to turn. In many cases, deacons have the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus as He cares for His sheep through them. You see, the deacon who sees sacrifice as fuel for deeper joy in the Lord shows the watching world just how amazing and satisfying Christ truly is. They show the great delight that comes in serving the Lord and giving Him all the glory for all He has done and is continuing to do. This is the kind of deacon God desires to serve His people: deacons marked by joyful, sacrificial love that points others to the greatness of our God.
What a gift this is!
The material in this blog is adapted from the book “On Being a Deacon,” available from Acoma press. This post originally appeared on Mark’s blog.
Published January 23, 2024