Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:15–16; 1 Peter 2:5
All believers now are priests. During the Jewish dispensation, in the Old Testament, the priesthood was confined to one family, and no one outside of that divinely-described circle dared to penetrate into it. But Aaron and his sons were a figure of the whole Church as a priestly family, of the Church as a priestly family in association with Christ; for blessed as is the place into which believers are now brought, and precious as are the privileges with which they are invested, all these things are only enjoyed in connection with Christ. All alike, therefore, are priests, and all alike have access into the holiest of all into the immediate presence of God. (See Hebrews 10:19–22; 1 Peter 2:5–9.) This dignity and this access pertain to them solely on the ground of the priesthood of Christ and the everlasting virtue of His one sacrifice for sins.
As priests we have an altar (Hebrews 13:10), and on that altar we have continually to offer our sacrifices to God.
What are the sacrifices of Christian priests?
They are twofold in character. First, there is “the sacrifice of praise”; that is, as the Spirit of God Himself explains, “the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15.) With this will correspond the “spiritual sacrifices” in Peter’s epistle. From this we gather that all true worship, thanksgiving, and praise are sacrifices; and this again will help us to determine what true worship, thanksgiving, or praise is. We read of our blessed Lord that, through the eternal Spirit, He offered Himself without spot to God. (Hebrews 9:14). All true worship, therefore, must be characterized by three things. It must be presented in the power of the Holy Spirit (compare John 4:24; Philippians 3:3), Christ is the medium through which it must be presented (for He indeed is the Christian’s altar), and it must be offered to God. The psalmist, when meditating upon the beauty of the tabernacles of the Lord of hosts, cries, “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee” (Psalm 84:4.) This blessedness belongs now to every saint of God; nay, we are ourselves built up a spiritual house, and as a holy priesthood it is our privilege to offer perpetual praise. God was said to inhabit—that is, to be surrounded with, to dwell in the midst of—the praises of Israel. Much more should it be so now when in His infinite grace, and through the efficacy of the work of Christ, He has brought us to Himself, and delights Himself in the adoration of our hearts.
Secondly, there are sacrifices of another sort that we are called upon, or rather that it is our privilege, to offer. These are connected with ministration to the needs of the saints of God. We read thus in the Hebrews, “To do good, and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Again, in the Philippians, the apostle speaks of the gift that had been sent to him through Epaphroditus as “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” It constituted, to borrow language from the Old Testament, a sweet savor offering. How grateful to God then is ministry, sacrifices of this kind! But it must be remembered that mere giving—giving, for example, reluctantly, or only because of importunity—would not make the gift a sacrifice. As in the sacrifice of praise, the gift must be presented through Christ, to God, in the power of the Spirit. It is only of such gifts that it could be said that they are “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.”
The application of these principles can easily be made by those who desire to test the character of their worship and of their benefactions; and while the application cannot fail to humble the most of us, by showing how much of our service is really worthless before God, it will surely be productive of blessing if it leads us in every exercise of our priesthood to judge ourselves as in the light of the presence of God.
In Romans 12 we read of another sacrifice, which, though not connected in this scripture with our priesthood, may yet be briefly explained. The apostle says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable” (or intelligent) “service” (v. 1). This exhortation connects itself, as its ground of appeal, with the close of Romans 8, and, as to its subject-matter, with Romans 6; that is, the mercies of God are all the mercies which have been expressed, in the grace of God, in our redemption—as traced out in Romans 1–8—and the appeal as to our bodies flows from the truth stated in Romans 6. Delivered from the power of sin through death with Christ, sin is no longer to reign in our mortal body, that we should obey it in the lusts thereof (Romans 6:12). No; our bodies are to be yielded up henceforward to God, that as they had been before the instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, so now our members are to be instruments of righteousness unto God.
Coming then to Romans 12, we learn the character of the presentation of our bodies to God. They are to be presented “a living sacrifice”; not as a slain animal, a dead sacrifice, laid on the altar, but because our bodies are not dead, and sin is in us, they are always to be kept under the power of death (“always bearing about in the body the ‘putting to death’ of Jesus”), and thus, presented to God as a living sacrifice. They are presented to Him for His service, that, instead of their being governed as they had always been, by our own wills for our own ends, He in His wondrous grace might henceforward use them as organs for the expression of Christ. Such a yielding up of our bodies to God, let it be again stated, involves the constant application of the power of death, and consequently it becomes a living sacrifice. Christ being in us, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And such a sacrifice, as it is, on the one hand, holy and acceptable to God, so it is, on the other, our intelligent service—a service suitable to the claims which God has upon us on account of redemption, and one, it may be added, which should be joyfully as well as intelligently rendered. One more remark may be made. It will be observed that in this case also the sacrifice is presented to God (to whom else could it be offered?) on the ground of redemption; that is, through Christ; and it is also true that it can only be accomplished in the power of the Holy Ghost. It follows then that we are to live priestly lives; that whether we are occupied in praise and adoration, or engaged in ministering to the needs of others, or in the busy activities of our callings (see 1 Peter 2:9), we are to behave ourselves as priests at the altar in the presence of God.