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The Alabaster Jar

April 6th, 2016

Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Mark 14:9)

Money can capture our hearts and demand worship from our souls that should only go to God. There is an example here of someone’s dedication and a warning to us all of the danger of worshiping money.

The woman with the alabaster jar: Christ was just days away from his crucifixion and knew well the pending destiny he had with the cross. Yet he did not allow it to distract him from displays of affection. He enjoyed being with his friends and was eating at the house of Simon the Leper. This tell us much about the character of God, that he delights in the worshipful praise of believers, who come to him in utmost sincerity of heart and in thanksgiving for their salvation, and for his love and friendship.

Mark leaves the woman unnamed who brought an expensive perfume from far off India, and broke the alabaster jar, and poured it on Jesus’ head.  John’s version of this story (John 12:1-11) tells us that the woman was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and no doubt Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from the dead was a significant motive for her gesture.

There has been a significant amount of conjecture about Mary and her lavish display of affection. Perhaps there were other hidden things in her past. There are always details we do not know about in the lives of others, matters in their private lives – sins, hurts, shameful events in their past, intimate places of the soul where the grace  of God has touched them. We each carry these things in our hearts, and if we can, by the help of God and the power and witness of the Scripture and the Spirit, see them covered in the grace of Christ, and understand his love as conquering them, then we are blessed.

Whatever went on in the heart of Mary, this was a “good” or “beautiful” thing that she did for Christ, that expressed her love, gratitude, devotion, and joy. Mark says she poured it on his head, and John said that she poured it on his feet and dried them with her hair. Doubtless both are true, that both head and feet were anointed, and there is no necessary conflict in the accounts.

The complaint: It was worth a year’s wage and some complained of the waste. They said that it could have been sold and given to the poor, but their hearts were not for the poor. Judas complained (John 12:6) but his concern was selfish, for as “keeper of the money bag” or as treasurer for the disciples, he was pilfering the money, stealing for himself.

Jealousy is common in society, even among Christians. Many believe that anyone in ministry should never make a decent salary. But the scriptures speak otherwise:

Don’t we have the right to food and drink? … For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:4,9-14)

Those of us who serve the Lord should give our service gladly, sacrificially, without complaint for what we receive or the challenges and hardships he entrusts to us. Our service is our act of obedience and an expression of love and devotion. But the giving to the Lord’s work is also an expression of love and devotion.

The expression of love: No one was more compassionate to the poor than Jesus. The faith we call Christian is commanded to be considerate to the poor, to help them. Christ said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:7), and his words were not uttered in hardness of apathy against the poor. Rather they were a gentle rebuke to those who only saw room to criticize her lavish gift.

We should not stifle the love people have in their heart for Christ, nor the expressions of their love. Such things are holy, sacred, meaningful. They are evidences of the grace and mercy of God moving in people’s lives. Let people praise, give thanks, and demonstrate their love for Christ the way they wish to, for these are mere signs of the work of God in them.

Even a poor man wishes to express his love in as gracious and as lavish a way as anyone else.

But Lord have pity on the person who can never see this aspect of the human heart, who sees everything through the lens of the worship of money.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

Christian Giving, Mark's Gospel , , , , , , ,

Excelling in the Grace of Giving

October 2nd, 2015

Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also.

2 Corinthians 8:1-7

A time of famine had gripped the first century Mediterranean world. It was foretold by the prophet Agabus, and even as he prophesied, “the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea” (Acts 11:28-29). This was also in the heart of this grace Paul described in 2 Corinthians 8.

In the midst of a famine, the Lord gave special grace to the believers for them to not think only about themselves, but for them, despite their own poverty to think about others. The Christians in Macedonia are commended twice in the New Testament for their generosity (see Romans 15:26).

We first tend to pray for ourselves when we face financial difficulty. We feel deprived of our “daily bread” and ask the Lord to supply our needs. The same is true with all of the felt needs we experience in this life – sickness, conflict with others, injustices, etc. Whenever trouble darkens our door, the natural tendency is to pity ourselves and ask the Lord for relief. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this type of prayer. The Lord Himself taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” and we may bring all of our concerns to the Lord. He invites us, even commands us to do so: “In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

But yet we can see that this is also just the outworking of human will, the natural way that people think and react in life. Help me, Lord! Save me, Lord! Deliver me, Lord! The remarkable thing about this type of prayer is that it is directed to the Lord, that it is an expression of faith. Whenever a human prays – even if it is only for himself – this is a sign of the work of God that has born witness in that human heart and consciousness that God exists, that He cares for us, that He may be approached in prayer, that He hears and answers, that He has power to do what we ask of Him.

Yet the grace spoken of in the first seven verses of 2 Corinthians 8 is something even grander – the grace that in the midst of our needs we think about others, and our hearts reach out to them to see how we may help them. This is what was evidenced in Macedonia. In a time of famine, they gave generously to help others. What a remarkable evidence of the work of God in their lives. In their poverty they thought of others.

When we wrap ourselves in self-pity we become the very soul of bitterness and unhappiness. We become a sad and pathetic picture of self-absorption and of absolute misery. The worst thing we can do in our difficulties is to sit down and weep for ourselves. Oh, “weeping may endure for a night” – we need a time of assess what we have lost, a time of healthy recognition and admission of the pain that we have experienced, grief has its place in our lives and it is appropriately expressed in the time of loss – “But joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). We do not need to wallow in our own loss.

This grace is the divinely awakened means within our hearts to think of others in times of our own need, and not just to think of ourselves, to pity others and not only ourselves, and to give and serve for others and not just for ourselves. That is this grace that we are to excel in.

Another word we find here in 2 Corinthians 8 passage, in verse four, is “koinonia” or “fellowship” meaning “something commonly shared.”  It is used in a similar way in Romans 15:26, to describe a fellowship of giving. This word “koinonia” in these passages describes how the Lord through His Spirit brought unity of spirit within the church to be generous and to bless others. He still does this today. All believers may share in the grace gift, and in the giving. Those who are wealthier than the others do not have any more obligation than the ones who are poorer. The spirit of generosity is the same, even as the size of the gifts may vary. “Not equal gifts but equal sacrifices” is the idea, given without complaint, with great joy and unity.

In the economy of God the one who gives receives the greater blessing. The generous church is a happy church, and the same is true for the individual believer. Selfishness and self-absorption are curses that lead to misery. The divine grace of generosity to think of others, to help others, to give for the sake of others, this is a gift of joy! It is much better, healthier, and joyful in the midst of need and want to have the grace to think of the needs of others than to be obsessed with getting your own little crumb.

Pursue this gift of the grace of generosity and join this fellowship of sharing with others. God will bless you more than you can imagine.

Christian Giving, Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties , ,