Over the past few months as a church, we have taken a closer look at what it means for us to be a community of Jesus followers who are called and gifted by God. As we have studied the scriptures together some truths have become increasingly evident: we are all called, we are all ministers, and we are all gifted. God has given each one of us unique callings, talents, abilities and gifts to equip and empower us to serve and love him and one another.
The question is not whether we are called or gifted, but rather now that we know that God has called us and gifted us, how will we steward these things well for the glory of God, to advance his kingdom and to build one another up in love?
In our flesh, we can often be tempted to take that which God has gifted us with to serve ourselves, our own needs, our own fame, for our own purposes. Our hearts, even when using our gifts in service to God and others, can be motivated by the wrong things. We might be motivated by the approval of man, pride, insecurities, duty or obligation, ambition or a multitude of other things.
In John 12 we read about a situation where it is evident that there are different motivations at play. John 12v1-8: “Six days before the passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief, as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
In this passage we see a stark comparison between the motivations of Mary and Judas.
Mary out of her adoration for and devotion to Jesus, pours out an extremely valuable jar of perfume onto his feet and then proceeds to wipe his feet with her hair. She gave willingly to Jesus that which was probably her most valuable possession, in an incredible act of worship to him. There is no doubt that this offering would have cost her dearly, not only financially but ‘reputation-ally’ too. Some at the gathering looked down on her for what they perceived to be squandering resources, wasteful and unnecessarily extravagant. No doubt others would have most certainly have judged her for being so intimate with Jesus in a public gathering. This was an extremely uncustomary moment. For Mary this act was not about pleasing the crowds, or making her name great, or fulfilling any obligations or duties, in fact it had nothing to do with her. Mary was motivated by a deep love for Jesus which led her to serve him in this way. Out of adoration and devotion to Jesus she pours out her greatest offering to honour him. She pours it out without hesitation or thought of the cost. She pours out everything she has in service to him.
In stark contrast we see the motivations of Judas. Judas is not at all happy with what he believes to be an utter waste of resources. He thinks that the perfume should have rather been sold and the money given to the poor. John, however, reveals to us the true motivation behind Judas’ disdain: he wanted to take the money for himself. Judas wanted to plunder any resource available for his own benefit and gain. To use resources to serve and love Jesus was wasteful and looked down upon by him. He was more interested in what the perfume could do for him. We can be quick to judge Judas for this, but it can be so easy for any of us to view the resources (gifts, talents, abilities) God has blessed us with in this same way. Often we can be motivated by a desire to serve ourselves, looking to our own benefit and gain, rather than to serve and love God and others, for the common good (1 Corinthians 12).
In 2 Timothy 3 Paul writes: “But understand this: In the last days terrible times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, without love of good, traitorous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
When we are motivated by things other than love for God and one another we merely have the appearance of godliness, but we deny its power. When we are motivated by anything other than love for God and others when using our gifts, it is just clanging noise, meaningless, all for nothing. In 1 Corinthians 13 we see that scripture shows us that the motivation for all that we do should be love. It goes so far as to say that we could be the most talented, able, gifted individuals but if we do not have love it isn’t worth anything. 1 Corinthians 13v1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all my possessions to the poor and give my body over to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I have nothing.”
Jesus teaches us that the thing of utmost importance is that we love God with all of our heart, mind and strength and that we love our neighbours as we would ourselves (Mark 12v28-31). We love God because he first loved us. His greatest gift to us was sending his son Jesus to die on the cross for us so that we could be forgiven and redeemed, so that our relationship with him could be restored, and so that we could be called and gifted by him becoming ministry partners with him in his kingdom. All we have is because of him. Our only reasonable response to this great gift is to love and serve him, not out of duty, but because our love for him compels us to (Romans 12). Likewise, it is out of a place of being loved by God and loving God, that we are able to love and serve one another just as Jesus has loved and served us.
Mary motivated by love, poured out the best she had in worship and gratitude to Jesus. This moment of pouring out her perfume on Jesus’ feet out of love for him has had a profound impact on the church and the world as it is retold and remembered by many, just as Jesus said it would be. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Likewise when we use our gifts and abilities, motivated by love for God and people, God will be at work in and through our lives in powerful ways. As we minister using the gifts that God has given us, we ourselves become like the perfume jar, pouring ourselves out sacrificially to love and serve God and others.
What gift, talent or ability has God gifted you with, and how can you pour yourself out, motivated by love, to minister to God and others?