“No person was ever honored for what he received.
Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”—Calvin Coolidge
“Nor was he honored for what he took or forced others to give”—Roger Wilson
We’ve heard a great deal, recently, about the virtue of sacrifice, but it’s not the first time. I recall working with a ministry that did the same thing. This is not the virtue of voluntary, Christ-like sacrifice, something that each believer is challenged to do. No, this sacrifice is engineered by someone else, thus crossing the line from virtue to evil.
One person led the ministry I mentioned, a person who excelled in accomplishing big things with minimal resources. That was a gift, and it enabled them to accomplish much through their sacrifice. I have sacrificed much in order to continue to tutor refugees, but it is my choice, one I make because I care about my students. I won’t say I never regret the outcome when it “pinches”, but I never regret the choice or the reason I’ve made it. Like I said, it was my choice; no one imposed it on me, as was theirs. However, their attempt to force those who work for them to accept sacrifice unnecessarily moves from thrift to cheapness.
If a ministry pays substandard, non-competitive wages out of necessity, then those who choose to work for that ministry accept sacrifice with the job. However, if the ministry is simply cheap, paying low wages without reason, then they demonstrate something less than spiritual. It’s even worse when a government demands sacrifice with its power to force compliance. Recently, we have seen officials force sacrifice onto citizens in the name of some greater good; however, it is clear that the ultimate goal is simply power. In fact, the sledgehammer being used is a trillion dollar fund, created by means of the largest debt in human history.
This is not about parties or personalities but a perspective that has been evident for some time. In fact, the first glimmers in this country were mere echoes of the same attitude in what became the Soviet Union. An author named Ayn Rand wrote about its result, over there, in a book called “We the Living,” a sad but compelling story of the deprivations and abuses in her homeland. In another, “Atlas Shrugged,” she created an imaginary story on the imposition of sacrifice, in which the “consumers” expected the “producers” to sacrifice their ingenuity, creativity, hard work and resulting profit for the benefit of everyone else, many who did nothing to provide for themselves.
Rand was an atheist. I suspect part of the reason were the misguided Christians who favored Marxism (They’re still around!) and imposed sacrifice; perhaps she also misunderstood the genuine virtue of sacrifice that God not only taught but modeled in the sacrificial death of Christ. Voluntary sacrifice is good, an expression of love and compassion, motivated by the One who loves us and gave His life for us. Compelled sacrifice isn’t true sacrifice; often it is merely theft, where the thief tries to manipulate the victim into accepting their deeds. Can governments steal? Of course, they can, but their robbery is typically massive. It is also insulting to have the robbers justify their acts as compassion. As anyone, who has worked with agents of the government, can tell you, government bureaucracy is rarely characterized by compassion.
When I invest my time and resources to help my refugee students, they see the sacrifice over the course of time and recognize the caring in my doing so. They sometimes react very clearly to the kindness they see in person. When the government takes from one person and gives it to another, however needy, with layers of government bureaucracy between, administered by someone who is often well-paid for their clerical duties but who often cares little for the client, neither the “giver” nor the recipient benefit from the any kindness or compassion in the act, for there is none!
What I do may inspire my students to their own acts of generosity; what they see and experience, they may copy. They also receive generously from the government since they have no family to support them. Foster families provide a home and, sometimes, a visible irony. The refugee teenager may get more in medical and dental benefits than the foster parents themselves do.
When government or anyone else, regardless of the motive, interferes with the simple principle of working to provide for oneself and family, it deprives us of independence and self-sufficiency. In a sense, it enslaves us, forcing us to work for someone other than self. When Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord,” he seeks to raise the virtue of hard work to a higher level; slavery makes working nothing more than the avoidance of punishment, whether by the whip or by fines and imprisonment.
The big lie is the government’s promise to “take care of everything.” Imagine those who captured men to enslave them saying, “Don’t worry; your new master will take care of everything.” Did some slaves have a good life? A few often did, but they were still slaves. Did some slaves miss the security of their former place after emancipation? I wouldn’t be surprised that some did. Most people prefer freedom, even at the cost of working hard to provide their own security with the possibility of achieving far more.
Forced sacrifice is slavery. Voluntary sacrifice in service to Christ honors him. Christians who demand employees work for substandard wages do not honor Christ; they create resentment, deprive their employees of an honest wage, and often receive less than maximum effectiveness from them. Churches that underpay their pastor or staff, such as the church janitor, likewise dishonor Christ.
By comparison, parents who sacrifice for to put their children in Christian school serve the best interests of their children and honor the Savior. Spouses who put their wife or husband first, giving up other interests do the same. An employer who sacrifices in order to assure their workers receive adequate pay and benefits represents the spirit of Christ; the political leaders who does so is rare but all the more worthy of respect, since government agencies including schools are absurdly bloated and top-heavy.
As Coolidge said, there’s no honor in receiving, nor in taking or forcing others to give; there is no honor in manipulating what belongs to other people for any reason. The honor comes in giving, sharing, and using your own property, whether great or small, for the good of another. Our country’s leaders could stand to learn this. Many of the Church’s ministry leaders could, too. As Paul tells us Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”