He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God. –Psalm 50:23
What does it mean to offer a sacrifice of Thanksgiving? Let’s look at the meaning of the words in this verse, and then draw some conclusions. After all, this is the week of focusing on what we are thankful for and taking the time to say thank you. I don’t know about you, but I want to see the salvation of God! I want to understand it, to know it, and to experience it. I don’t want to take it for granted or think too lightly of it. Salvation is the most incredible gift we have ever been given, and I want to know it fully.
The phrase “offers a sacrifice” is the Hebrew word zabach. It literally means to slaughter or kill, so this thanksgiving offering is going to cost us something. We’re not talking about a trivial or flippant “thank you” where we quickly move on to our life. No, this is costly. Something is going to die.
“Thanksgiving” is also translated “praise” and can refer to confession, praise, or songs sung as in a choir. It has the idea of extending the hand, an adoration.
“Honor” is better translated as “glorifies,” which has the idea of weightiness. It means to give weight to, and can either be used negatively, as a burden is weighty, or in the positive sense of appreciating the true value of something. For example, you give more weight to your mother’s opinion than that of a total stranger, because it has more value. You honor her because her opinion is valuable, and you hold her in high esteem. We honor God when we give the right “weight” to who He is and His influence and authority over our lives.
We see this in the next phrase from the Psalmist: to him who orders his way aright. Simply put, that means you organize and direct your life according to God’s principles and God’s ways and God’s commands.
Lastly, let’s take a quick look at the context of this verse in Psalm 50. My Bible has the subtitle of “God the Judge of the Righteous and the Wicked” and that pretty much sums up the message. This psalm is addressed to believers: Gather My godly ones to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice (verse 5). Yes, its literal context is to the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, but because we are in Christ, we are His godly ones, and are in covenant with Him through our salvation in Jesus.
The Psalmist tells us that God is not looking for a sacrifice of “things” as a way of showing our gratitude. He tells us every beast of the forest is His, along with everything that moves in the field. He isn’t looking for us to meet some need of His by giving up our stuff, because the world is His and all it contains. Any “thing” we give to Him is just giving Him back what He already owns and has just allowed us to borrow!
So, what is God looking for? What is the sacrifice of thanksgiving?
We get the first hint in verse 14: Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High. God just wants what we promised in the first place. And what was that? It was our very life. When we come to Christ, confessing our sin and receiving His mercy and grace, we make a 180-degree turn away from our old life. We leave behind the pursuit of this world. We turn away from the temporary, petty pleasures that we tried to fill our souls with but found them empty. We walk away from spending our lives chasing the success and honor and reward of our culture and run towards the purpose and joy we see in Him.
Secondly, we see what thanksgiving is not, in God’s warning to the wicked (verses 16-22), those who take God’s covenant in your mouth, but ignore His words, and let loose your mouth in evil, and speak against your brother, and associate with thieves and adulterers. Ouch. When we live our lives in the old ways, ignoring the conviction of our sin and blending in with the world we left behind; these are the things that offend God and these are what must be sacrificed in order to offer real thanksgiving.
Get this picture. You cannot raise your hands in adoration to God while holding on to the world. The sacrifice of thanksgiving happens when we raise empty hands to the God who is worthy and offer up our very lives as a living sacrifice. All our hopes and dreams and goals must be centered on Him alone, and His glory alone. All that offends Him must be left at the altar to die.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:1-2
What are you holding on to that keeps you from surrendering yourself as a true and living sacrifice of thanksgiving?
A secret sin?
A desire for something to fulfill you?
A plan, or a hope, or a dream?
A hidden resentment or unforgiveness?
A heart of anger toward God for the way your life turned out?
A heart of self-sufficiency and pride in your own strength and ability?
Don’t be fooled. The things of this world will never satisfy you and will only keep you from the joy of the life God intends you to have, the life that Jesus died to give you. We cannot hold on to this life and present ourselves as a living sacrifice at the same time.
The sacrifice of thanksgiving comes when we are willing to let the things of this world die and offer empty hands and hearts to the God who is worthy. And in the sacrifice of what our flesh desires, we will see salvation in all its fullness and glory, and we will find ourselves full and running over with its beauty, transformed in the image of Christ.
Thanksgiving is found in Thankful Giving of ourselves to God. May we all be a living and holy sacrifice to the only One who is worthy and deserving of our thanks, and offer up a true sacrifice of thanksgiving this year.