Bring a Sacrifice of Praise (Hebrews 13:15-16)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (11:29)

'Worshiping Hands,' an original watercolor by Ralph F. Wilson, 20 x 14 in.
'Worshiping Hands,' an original watercolor by Ralph F. Wilson, 20 x 14 in.

"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice1 of praise -- the fruit of lips that confess his name." (Hebrews 13:15, NIV)

The writer of Hebrews has been talking about the high priest offering animal sacrifices as a sin offering, then the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. Now he speaks of a new kind of sacrifice.

What is this "sacrifice of praise"? Why is it so important that we continually offer it up to God?

A Thank Offering in the Temple

We sometimes see this kind of phrase in the Old Testament, variously translated as "sacrifice of thanksgiving" (KJV), "thank offering" (NIV, NRSV), or "thanksgiving offering" (ESV).

Originally, it was used as a technical term for a particular category of "peace offerings" or "fellowship offerings" described in Leviticus 7:11-21. You would offer this "thanksgiving2 offering" to express gratitude, thanksgiving for something God had done for you. You would offer it in the tabernacle or temple along with both unleavened bread and bread made with yeast, spread with olive oil. A portion of the meat of the animal sacrifice would be burned on the altar, some given to the priests, and the rest eaten by you and your extended family before the Lord -- a joyous celebration meal in praise to Yahweh.3 Hallelujah!

Several verses refer to this "thank offering" or "sacrifice of thanksgiving" in the temple.

"Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High." (Psalm 50:14, ESV, cf. Psalm 56:12)

"I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people." (Psalm 116:17-18, ESV)

"Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!" (Psalm 107:21-22, ESV)

Thanksgiving from the Heart

At some point, however, the phrase "sacrifice of praise" doesn't seem so much tied to a temple sacrifice, but a free expression of praise and thanksgiving to God apart from temple worship.

"I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs." (Psalm 69:30-31, ESV)

David and other psalmists begin to see that the core of worship arises not from an outward act of animal sacrifice, but from the inner person who expresses thanksgiving from his heart. Getting back to what Matt Redman calls "the heart of worship."4

"For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17)

"The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly,
I will show the salvation of God!" (Psalm 50:23, ESV)

"Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord." (Psalm 118:19, NIV)

New Testament Sacrifices

By the time we get to the New Testament, we still see the term "sacrifice." But since Jesus is our once-for-all, complete sacrifice for sin, our "sacrifices" are exclusively confined what we offer to God from the heart. Peter says we are "a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ"(1 Peter 2:5, NIV). Which brings us back to our Hebrews passage:

"15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise -- the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." (Hebrews 13:15-16, NIV)

Three spiritual sacrifices are mentioned here:

  1. Verbal praise.
  2. Doing good deeds.
  3. Sharing with others (koinōnia).

Paul says,

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God --
this is your spiritual act of worship." (Romans 12:1)

This brings us to #4.

  1. Living before God surrendered to him.

Our whole lives lived before God here on earth are a kind of spiritual sacrifice. Again, it is the heart followed by the outward that pleases God.

To his partners in the Philippian church, Paul writes.

"I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God." (Philippians 4:18)

This is our fifth sacrifice.

  1. Gifts to support the ministry.

All five of these are examples of the "sacrifices" we offer up to the Lord today. And these five don't exhaust all the possibilities. From the angel's words to Cornelius the Centurion we might add one or two more:

"Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God." (Acts 10:4)

Here are numbers 6 and 7.

  1. Gifts to aid the poor.
  2. Prayers.

You get the idea. All our lives are to be lived as a sacrifice offered to God in love.

The Sacrifice of Praise

I want to come back, however, to verbal praise.

"Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise --
the fruit of lips6 that confess his name." (Hebrews 13:15)

Note that we are to offer it "continually," Greek dia pantos, literally, "through, throughout (during) all, everything."7 I think that refers to many times during the day that we recognize God's hand at work and thank him.

The "sacrifice of praise" also manifests itself in joyous corporate worship.

"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:19-20)

"... As you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)

Praise is not a sacrifice in the sense of a hardship we endure, but a joyous offering to him that arises from thanksgiving.

Sometimes we can get out of the habit of praise. If that describes you, try this. Place a small sign in a place where you'll see it to remind you to praise. That will get you started again. Continually be offering up the sacrifice of praise to the Lord and you'll find that it not only pleases him, but lifts your spirit up to his realm, his joy, his faith, his victory.

Back in 1984, in the midst of the Jesus Movement, Kirk Dearman penned a simple song that has gone around the world and filled my heart with joy many, many times. Time to dust it off, look it up on YouTube, if you've forgotten how it goes, and let it be your theme song.

"We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.
We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.
And we offer up to You the sacrifices of thanksgiving.
And we offer up to You the sacrifices of joy!"8


Father, thank you for the privilege we have of coming before you again and again, hour by hour, moment by moment to offer sacrifices of praise to you. Recognition that you are at work in our lives. Instill afresh in us this habit of praise and prayer, that we might live in your presence consciously -- in joy, in trust, in love -- all the days of our lives. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Here's my current list of Scripture songs that I often sing from in my morning devotional time to lift my spirit to God.


References and Abbreviations

[1] "Offer" (NIV) or "offer up" (ESV) is a technical term for offering a sacrifice, with the idea of lifting up a portion of the animal sacrifice before the Lord, anapherō, "to offer" as a sacrifice, "offer up," specifically as a cultic technical term. (BDAG 75, 3). "Sacrifice" is thusia, "that which is offered, sacrifice, offering," used figuratively in our literature of spiritual sacrifice (Hebrews 13:15, 16; Philippians 2:17; 4:18; 1 Peter 2:5; BDAG 462, 2b).

[2] The root idea of "thanksgiving" here is acknowledging or declaring -- confessing aloud -- God's character and works. In short, praise (R. H. Alexander, tôdâ, TWOT #847b).

[3] See also Deuteronomy 27:7; Alfred Edersheim, The Temple Its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Christ (London, 1874), chapter 6; E. E. Carpenter, "Sacrifices and Offerings in the OT," ISBE 4:268.

[4] The Heart of Worship," words and music by Matt Redman, © 1999 Thankyou Music .

[6] The phrase "fruit of our lips" recalls Hosea 14:2 where it is literally the "bulls of our lips," a young bull that would be offered in sacrifice in the temple (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #1831; Holladay, p. 296).

[7] Dia, Thayer, 132, II1a; BDAG 224, 2a.

[8] "We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise," by Kirk Dearman, © 1984 Stamps Baxter.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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