Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13

A recent article in the Washington Post caught my attention.  It was entitled, “Jury convicted maid for stealing.  Then they paid her fine.” The story went something like this: a young, 19 year old maid stole a lady’s rings while cleaning her house.  The value of the rings was about $5,000.  She later, after initially denying it to the police, felt bad and admitted to the crime and returned the rings. She was charged with felony grand larceny.  At the trial the jury felt that justice had to be done but also felt compassion for the young women who was also pregnant with her second child.  Their solution was to put forth a guilty decision on her case, but to also take up a collection among themselves to pay for her fine.  This was quite amazing and unprecedented.

The amazement here centers on the fact that they were able to maintain justice in the case and to still be merciful.  In other words, although the jury sympathized with her situation, they couldn’t rightfully say that she was not guilty; they couldn’t because they knew that she was in fact guilty by her own admittance.  Since she was guilty, then she had to be convicted and a price had to be paid for the crime.  The mercy was shown by the jurors by paying the price for her penalty, to redeem her.  The price was paid and justice was upheld.

To Christians this should sound familiar.  In fact, this is the first time in my life that I have seen a real world example of the mercy and justice that has been conveyed to us through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  His death paid the penalty for our sins, much like these jurors paid the penalty for this woman’s crime.  Similarly, our conviction could not have been removed, because we are in fact guilty.

Our guilt is twofold.  In part we have inherited guilt from the sin of Adam and Eve which brought death to the entire human race, as well as a curse to our world.  We entered into an evil, corrupt and selfish world system at birth.  The second part of our guilt is our own choices of disobeying and dishonoring the God who created us and who is the source of our very life and breath and all that sustains us.  Yes, our sins are a serious crime against God, in fact, they are deserving of death.  We all, at some point in our lives, have disobeyed His commandments and regulations, and we have not honored Him as our creator and God, thus we all have been guilty.  Yet because we have been born into this sinful situation, inheriting our condition from the fall of our original parents, and because much of our crimes of our past have been done in ignorance of God’s laws and requirements, God has been compassionate towards us, sending His Messiah to pay the penalty for us.  Thus God is able to retain justice and yet be merciful to us.

We can see also that God, like the jurors, couldn’t just remove the penalty.  No, the conviction had to stand firm and be applied or justice would have been perverted.  In our case though, the penalty was much, much higher than in the case of the young woman thief.

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins  in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:1-7

Another lesson here to be absorbed is the fact that justice can coexist with mercy, and mercy doesn’t need to cause justice to be overturned.  We can mistakenly use the need for justice to override the feelings of compassion and to halt the application of mercy, but this need not be, and rather should not be.

The mercy that we show towards others will affect the mercy that will be shown to us as well as the judgment that will be applied to us in the future.  God is very clear about this:

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 12: 13

And this from the teachings of Jesus:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7: 1-5

Somehow we get the idea that it is our job to fix people, to correct them and straighten them out.  Many times the motive is really selfish, not wanting to have to encounter their issues because it bothers us, or may cause us some discomfort or pain.  Unfortunately, most times our execution of judgment towards others either verbally or physically, does little to actually change them.  Love and mercy, on the other hand, can do much to bring about a change in the inner heart of a person, where the change is really needed.  It also opens the door to allow God’s Spirit to work in their hearts, softening them and their guilt.  It’s much like when we love our enemies, and it is like “heaping burning coals upon their head.”

In the story about the maid, noted above, it was also mentioned that the owner of the rings was very upset and “appalled” when she learned of the actions of the jurors.  It seems that although she had her rings returned and the maid was legally found guilty, she wanted more of a penalty enforced upon the woman (showing no compassion for the maid’s poverty and situation).  I wonder what was motivating this wealthy woman to feel this way.  Was it out of love for the maid, and a desire to really help her (maybe a tough love)?  Did she think that justice was not really upheld?  Or was it that she wanted revenge for being compromised?  I would think it most likely that the need for revenge motivated her to feel this way, but God knows her heart and will deal with her appropriately.  For us, we should be certain that revenge doesn’t motivate our actions.

Love is our ultimate goal, but the ability to love can only come when we are transformed in our inner man by the power of God.  It can only come when we become spiritual with our mind and heart set on spiritual things above, rather than on the things of this world.  When we love this world it equates to loving ourselves and we are then unable to love God and love others as we must.

“Make love your aim….” 1 Corinthians 14: 1

The final question that arises about the story of the maid and the compassionate jury is how the maid will react when she is offended in the future, perhaps by a crime committed against her.  Will she also show compassion as was shown to her?  It is obvious to us that the compassion shown to her should then cause her to also show compassion to others.

Remember that this applies to us also.  As God has shown mercy to us, we also need to show mercy towards other, besides being immensely grateful to God for what He has done for us.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’ “ 1 Peter 2: 9-10

Amen

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We must patiently endure to obtain the promise!

“…that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  …And so after he (Abraham) had patiently endured he obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6: 12 & 15

Throughout the Bible we are encouraged and exhorted to love God and to love one another.  We are told also to even love our enemies and those who are difficult to love.  We are told to be merciful, in the same way that God is merciful to us.  We are encouraged to be strong, and to not grow weary in this love, but to be steadfast and continue walking in love, accompanied by good deeds.

The writer of Hebrews uses the analogy of running a race and suggests that we should run with perseverance:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12: 1

I see a clear, overarching message in the Bible that the people of God need to push through, continue on, and endure to the end.  That we are not to give up, or to waver in our persistence, but rather, we are to increase our efforts and become stronger and stronger, rather than  to slow down or to allow our efforts to wane.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9

“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” 2 Thessalonians 3: 13

Sadly, we humans have a strong tendency to be impatient, and we allow ourselves to be easily distracted and misguided to other interests that take away from what should be the main focus of walking in love.

We live in a world where success is measured by what is accomplished, and where quick results are expected in whatever we do.  Rarely are we encouraged to be a patient and persistent worker who quietly performs what is needed over the long haul without the need for recognition or fanfare.  Rather, when results aren’t seen after a short while, we quickly abandon our efforts and move on to the next thing.

To patiently endure is boring!  There is no excitement in concentrating on doing what is right and good, day in and day out.  We would rather see tangible results and accomplishments.  We would rather see miracles or revivals.  We would rather see big buildings built or large sums of money gathered.  We would rather experience the excitement of charismatic speakers or emotional services where prophecies occur and the Spirit is moving powerfully. All of these things could be good when in their proper place, but they should not be our main focus, and they should not distract us from our persistence in walking in love with the goal of receiving what God has promised.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to look to Jesus as an example of endurance.  So not only are we being told to focus on our efforts to patiently endure, but we are told to use Jesus as an example of this endurance.  Have you ever seriously looked at Jesus as an example of endurance?  Maybe you have looked to Jesus as an example of compassion or of a miracle worker, but most likely not as someone who has endured patiently to reach a goal.  Here’s what the Scripture says:

“…looking unto Jesus, the author (originator) and finisher (perfecter) of your faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” Hebrews 12: 2-3

We can see from these verses that Jesus has defined our faith by His endurance, showing us how we should act.  Following His example, we should focus on what God has promised, in the same way that Jesus focused on the joy set before Him. For Him it was the future glory of being seated at the right hand of God.  We have been promised to share in His glory, to have a resurrected body, to meet Him in the sky and to be with Him in Heaven; this hope should be set before us as we endure what we must in this life.

There is also an indication in these verses that we should be prepared to suffer, as Jesus did, specifically in our struggles against sin and our flesh.  We know that it is a constant battle to put down the flesh and to resist temptation or to be purged of sin in our life.  We need to be strong and continue in our battle, even to the point of shedding blood, if it should come to that.

“You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” Hebrews 12: 4

Also, it is the discipline of our loving Father that will cause us to suffer as we are being chastened, and this we must also endure with patience until we have been trained by it.

“Now no chastening (or discipline) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12: 11

Life can be difficult at times, and painful, but this is all part of running the race.  We need to keep in the race and press on towards the prize, understanding that it will be well worth it in the end.  The pain and suffering in our lives has a purpose, and it is for our good.

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.” 1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 25

I have heard it said that if you are not moving forward then you are going backwards, there is no such thing as standing still when running this race.  I agree with this, and this is why we need to press on and not take a break. We need to be strengthened so that we can be completely healed, or if not, the weak areas will be damaged and made worse.

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12: 12-13

We are temporary residents here, just passing through to reach our true and eternal home in heaven.  This journey is not an easy one, as we must endure many hardships along the way.  We can find strength by looking at the reward that awaits us, and by looking to Jesus as an example of how the endurance and persistence will pay off in the end.

Let us continue in strength, encouraging one another to press on in this race towards the promised reward that awaits us.  We will be in His presence sooner than we think.

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind.” Philippians 3: 13-15

 

God’s Chosen Fast

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen….” Isaiah 58: 6

Why is it that religious people often think that they are righteous, and doing things that are pleasing to God but in reality they are not?  We see this often in the Bible.  What is the root cause of this?  What are the underlying issues that create these conditions?

We must be careful today that we don’t fall into the same trap.  We are just as vulnerable to this self deception, and we have a very clever and deceptive enemy of our soul, the devil, who works toward accomplishing this same delusion in our lives.

In the book of Isaiah, chapter 58, there is a prime example of this issue.  We see in this situation that the people of God were seeking Him daily and were delighting in knowing His ways, and they were fasting and afflicting themselves as a means of pleasing God.  After doing all of this, they then wondered why God didn’t answer their prayers or why He seemed to have forsaken them.

God called upon His prophet Isaiah to speak to His people concerning this:

“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.  Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.  They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they delight in approaching God.  ‘Why have we fasted.’ They say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take not notice?’” Isaiah 58: 1-3

We see that although the people were in sin and were in need of correction from God, they had deceived themselves and were acting like a people who were righteous and following God’s ordinances.

A similar condition occurs with Christian’s today who enjoy going to church and enjoy hearing about God, as if they are righteous people.  They may even fast regularly and give their time and money to the church as a sacrificial offering, but in reality they are not focused on what is really pleasing to God and they are not truly being obedient to His requirements.

Isaiah’s prophecy continues with criticism of the people’s fast:

“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed, you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness.” Isaiah 58: 3-4

The real problem here was not the fasting, but it was their sin, and what compounded the problem was that they had deceived themselves into thinking that they were pleasing God with their fasting, and yet they were blocking out of their mind the presence of their sins in their lives.  The Lord was pointing out to them through His prophet Isaiah that their wickedness and sin, in this case the exploitation of their laborers and their strife between one another, was negating any merit from their fasting from food and other debasement of themselves (like wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes). In other words, their fasting was meaningless as long as they continued in their sinful activities.

The warning for us from this account is that we are susceptible to the same self-deception.  We have a tendency to excuse ourselves from the sinful things that are difficult to change or deal with in our lives, but that are sinful and displeasing to God, and we convince ourselves that our other acts of “righteousness” like giving money to charities or participating in religious activity, giving our time, is pleasing to God and therefore God should be blessing our lives.  We think that somehow the “good” acts that we do will overshadow the sinful acts still present in our lives, but God does not follow along with our self deception.

Looking deeper at this issue, I also see a problem with misplaced priorities, or a loss of focus on the real goals of our life as Christians.  We must often remind ourselves that our main goal is to walk in love.  This love is aligned with God’s commandments, so if we are walking in love we will be following all of His commandments.  In fact, Jesus said this:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” John 15:12

Remember also that to walk in love means that we must be spiritual, and the desires of our flesh are contrary to the spirit, and therefore for us to make the necessary changes in our life is a great challenge because our flesh does not die easy!

I remind you also of the correction that the prophet Samuel gave to King Saul when he disobeyed the Lord:

“And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15: 22

And there is Paul’s warning in Colossians regarding self abasement:

“Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” Colossians 2: 21-23

We see from Paul’s comments that self abasement has “no value in checking self-indulgence”, meaning that our self restrictions, like fasting, most likely will have no affect on our other indulgences that are sinful and against love.  In fact, our self abasement can even be a means of feeding the flesh, when we do it to impress others or to gain a name as a “holy and righteous” person from doing it.

Looking back to the prophecy in Isaiah 58, we see that the Lord resets the focus of the people to what is truly important.  Notice that His directives are aligned with walking in love:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed to go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”  Isaiah 58: 6-7

We see a similar reset of focus in the book of James in the New Testament:

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1: 27

One final warning is to be aware that there are varying degrees of this condition.  We should allow the Holy Spirit, working with our conscience, to expose to us any area of our life that needs to be dealt with, where we have deceived ourselves into thinking that our religious activities have made it okay for us to hold on to other areas of our life that are sinful and displeasing to God.  Now is the time to deal with this before our life comes to an end and we have to stand before the Lord and answer to Him.

I remind you also that God has made a way for us to gain victory over our flesh so that we can overcome the sin in our life.  We are well aware that exposing and admitting to our sin is just the start, but the power to gain victory comes from us changing internally and becoming truly spiritual.  We become spiritual by exercising true faith in the promises of God that He has offered to us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  If we die to the hope offered by this world and shift our hope to the promises of God, that is, of eternal life in heaven with a resurrected body, then we will learn to walk in the spirit and not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

As we walk in the spirit, we will be able to also walk in love, and will be able to fulfill the law, for the law is spiritual.  As we are transformed in our inner man, we will do by nature the things required by the law, as the law of God will become written on our hearts with our conscience bearing witness.

Let us stay focused on the truth and stay focused on the things of the spirit.  Let us learn to walk in the spirit and to walk in love.  God will then bless us and we will have our blessed hope of heaven as the final reward.

Here is what God promised to His people if they would adhere to His chosen fast, as He defined it in Isaiah 58:

“Then your light shall break forth like the morning. Your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” Isaiah 58: 8-9

This is what I desire, and it is my prayer for you also.  Amen.

As Christians, How Should We Now Live?

“Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you should do so more and more.” 1 Thess. 4: 1

This message is for Christians, and more specifically, for the subset of Bible believing Christians who adhere to the directives of the Holy Scriptures and see them as the source of truth and as an authoritative revelation from God to all Christians throughout the ages.  I personally believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God and that all true Christians must hold to it as the sole authority and standard to measure all other proposed truths against. If you don’t agree with this or if you have some other source of truth that takes precedence over the authority of the Bible, then this message will most likely not be a benefit to you.

The Bible is more than a historical record, and its relevance is as applicable today as it was centuries ago.  Its verses were written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, the divine Holy Spirit of God was able to cause what was written to have relevance from the time it was written until the end of this age, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns at His second coming.

I am stressing these points about the authority and relevance of the Scriptures because I want to look closely at the instructions that were written in the 4th chapter of 1 Thessalonians and were established by the author, the apostle Paul, as instructions for how the Thessalonians should live as converted Christian.  Again I say it – these instructions are applicable to us today also.

Paul lays out 3 areas or categories of instruction as follows: 1) holiness, 2) love of the brethren, 3) hope.  I would like to drill down into each of these areas, looking more closely at the verses and discussing their relevance for us today.  I see in these exhortations a practical direction for us to follow that will help us to live out the remainder of our Christian lives in a way that is pleasing to God, as Paul suggests.

“For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” 1 Thess. 4: 2

Notice first that Paul had previously instructed them on these topics, possibly even multiple times. Notice also that Paul states that these instructions were given “through the Lord Jesus” meaning that they have been revealed to him by God, and have divine authority, therefore they should not be taken lightly.  Also, note that under each of these 3 categories, Paul mentions specific topics of instruction that encompass the guidelines for Christians to live their lives.   We must recognize that there are more topics that could be included than these that are mentioned, but these were the ones that Paul thought were important and relevant to the Thessalonians, and also that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write and include, so we must also see them as relevant for guidance to us today.

Holiness

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification (or being made holy)….” 1 Thess. 4: 3

The dictionary.com definition of the word sanctify is “to make holy; to set apart as sacred; to consecrate” and “to purify or free from sin”.  The original Greek word used here is hagiasmos meaning “purification, i.e. the state of purity” and also refers to the effect of this purification, that is, “the sanctification of heart and life.”  The word is translated as holiness, sanctification or consecration in today’s English versions of the Bible.

There are two ways of looking at sanctification, the first being that it requires a setting apart or separation.  For Christians, we need to be separated from the world.   Looking deeper, we must realize that the world is focused on the things of the flesh, or more specifically, focused on satisfying the strong desires and longings of our physical bodies.  As Christians we need to shift our focus from physical things offered by this world to spiritual things that have been promised to us from God through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to approach life with an attitude that our physical life here on earth is temporary, but our future life in the kingdom of God is permanent.  We need to store up our treasures for the future life in heaven.  We are to be like pilgrims, aliens, and strangers here on earth, just passing through on our journey to our true future home.

This shift of focus is internal and changes the way that we think, resulting in a definitive, distinct difference between us and the world.  This is the separation that Paul is speaking of.  Christians are not instructed to remove themselves physically from this world but rather to recognize that they are not “of this world” and that they must not love the things of this world.

Prayer of Jesus to the Father: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17: 13-17

“Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

People who are in the world have their minds and hearts set on the things that this world has to offer them and this is what consumes them, demanding all of their attention and energy.   Sadly, many Christians allow their physical desires to take over their attention and focus, maybe not in their words, but in their deeds and thoughts.  A good test for this is the amount of anxiety that is in our lives – high anxiety and stress would indicate that our hearts are set on the things of this world rather than on heaven.  Examine yourself to see if you are walking in the faith with your heart set on heaven.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8: 5-6

The second way of looking at sanctification is from the idea of purity and holiness.  We need to recognize that the Lord has instructed us to be pure in our thoughts and actions.  This requires that we put to death the deeds of the flesh that we once practiced before our conversion, when we were in the world with our hearts set on pleasing ourselves and advancing our position in this world, looking for the praises of men and the pleasures and riches that this world has to offer.

Paul mentions a specific topic in his reminder to the Thessalonians:

“…that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God;”  1 Thess. 4:3-5

Paul specifically addresses here the issue of having sex outside of marriage (i.e. unchastity).  The strong physical desires that are associated with sexual activity have made sexual immorality an issue throughout the ages, and it is especially relevant today.

Consider our western culture here in America and the sexual attitude that prevails.  Almost every TV program and movie has a message that promotes sexual promiscuity or a segment that exposes sexual immorality either explicitly shown or implied.  Even some commercials are sexually explicit and promote immoral sexual activity.  Pornography is easily accessible for even the young pre-teens of our society.  Our children are being raised to think that fulfilling our sexual passions (and even in some cases sexual perversions) is normal and acceptable, and certainly not restricted to marriage.

The sexual standard set forth by our western culture is that as long as you are having sexual relations (i.e. intercourse) with one person that you “love”, your actions are acceptable; only when people have casual sex with multiple partners are they looked down.  In fact, I would say that for men the standard is even lower than for women, where multiple partners is okay as long as they are not in a “committed” relationship or married, and as long as the partners they choose are not prostitutes.

Currently there is much in the news about politicians and Hollywood celebrities who are being accused of sexual abuse.  We wonder why there are so many situations that result in rape and/or unwanted/non-consenting sexual encounters, especially where drugs and alcohol are involved – these are symptoms of the deeper problem of promoting sexual activity outside of God’s instructions. Rather than treating the symptoms, we should deal with the root of the problem by going back to God’s instructions regarding chastity, training our children in this truth.  Unfortunately, it may be too late for our society to change in this area, but we as individuals can make the necessary changes in our life and set an example for others and pass on these truths to our children (or train them in this if they are young).

As Christians we need to have a different attitude towards sexual activity.  We need to follow God’s direction and view sexual relations as something that should be limited to a married couple.  Also, as was instructed by the Lord Jesus, we must not only change our external, physical actions, but also our internal thoughts; Jesus said that lusting after a man’s wife is the same as committing adultery with her.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5: 27-28

Paul continues in Thessalonians 4 with more instructions:

“…that no man transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, for the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we have solemnly forewarned you.”   1 Thess. 4: 6

Some versions include the following translation:

“…that no man defraud his brother in business,”  1 Thess. 4:6 (alternative translation)

In the first, original translation, the key is to consider what is meant by “this matter”.  It could either mean the matter of holiness and sanctification in general, or more specifically, the matter of sexual unchastity.  In the alternate translation, we can assume that Paul intended to specifically warn against defrauding other Christians in business transactions, adding a new topic to his discussion.

Included in both translations is the idea that defrauding people is ungodly and should never be found among Christians.  We must be aware that it is very easy to clean up our external, visible actions but to leave the internal or hidden things of the heart and through-life unchecked.

The type of defraud that Paul was warning against would apply to people nowadays who attend gatherings with other Christians, but continue in sexually immoral activity (like viewing pornography, lusting in their thought life, or even worse, having secretive sexual activity like adultery or fornication).

Being dishonest in our business dealings would apply today to the many types of businesses that knowingly defraud their customers by promising things that are not delivered, or similar deceptions.  Christians should never be involved in questionable business ventures, even if they are “legal” according to the government laws, but underhanded in reality.

Notice also, that in these verses Paul exhorts his Christian brothers in the area of finding a Christian mate for marriage:

“… each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the heathen who do not know God;” 1 Thess. 4: 4-5

On this topic I must admit that I have much to learn and have been seeking the Lord to show me how this selection of a wife should occur.  I believe that our society and culture in America has moved so far from the proper view of dating, courtship, and marriage that we must get God’s redirection on this completely, removing all of our previous understanding.

Taking a wife in “holiness and honor” I believe means that we should look for a Godly character, humility, and a heart that loves the Lord as the guiding factor in our selection of our mate, and not be completely focused on sexual attraction.  Please, if you are single looking for a mate, seek God for direction and instruction in this most important decision that will impact greatly the remainder of your days.

Paul’s final warning on this topic of holiness:

“For God has not called us for uncleanness but in holiness.  Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” 1 Thess. 4: 7-8

Love

Our purpose for reading and studying the Scriptures is not so that we can claim to be Biblical scholars or to be able to quote verses from any part of the Bible, but rather, we read and study so that the Word of God will transform us; we read so that we can become lovers – lovers of God and lovers of our neighbors.

Love is the ultimate goal of the Christian and all things that we endeavor to accomplish should be related to love.  God is not interested in quantity but He wants quality.  Christian quality is measures by our ability to walk in true love as God defines it in His Word.

Paul encouragement in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 includes growing and continuing in love for the brethren (fellow Christian believers).  Again I would remind you that loving our fellow Christians is not the only area of love that is important.  The Bible instructs us that we need to love God, our neighbors, and even to love our enemies.  Paul is encouraging and supporting their existing good attributes of loving their brothers and sisters in the Lord and he exhorts them to do so even more.

“But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by Got to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia.  But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more,….” 1 Thess. 4: 9-10

It is interesting that Paul follows this encouragement to continue loving one another with practical instructions about their conduct.  This may at first seem unrelated to loving one another but in fact it is directly related since our actions and conduct can greatly impact other people.  Paul makes it clear in other verses of Scriptures (e.g. Romans 12) that adhering to the commandments of God’s law is equivalent to walking in love.  Therefore, our actions are an important part of walking in love.  Here’s is what follows verse 10:

“….to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.”  1 Thess. 4: 11-12

Clearly, Paul is showing that loving others is more than just feeling emotional warmth towards them.  It’s even more than helping them when in need, or more than forgiving them or feeling compassion for them.  Love also involves being fair towards others and not taking advantage of their kindness towards us.  It involves carrying our own weight and doing our part to provide for our own needs, never presuming upon the generosity of others.  True love means that we are maturing and growing as Christians, becoming strong and independent. It means that we are able to not only take care of ourselves but also to be used by the Lord to help others in need.  This too should be our goal; it should be our understanding about how to truly walk in love.

Hope

The last part to be included in Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians is his encouragement regarding our future hope in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and how we don’t need to view death like people in the world do (those without hope).

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.   For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.  For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4: 13-18

Christians need to live their lives with the understanding that death is not the end for us, and that those who die are not lost and gone forever.  Rather, there is a day that will surely come when Jesus will return and we will be transformed with new resurrected bodies, and meet with Him up in the air.  Halleluiah!

May the Lord continue to make clear to us how we should walk and to live our lives until He returns.  May He show us how to be sanctified, how to walk in love. May He make the reality of His future return even more real to us.  This is my prayer for all who read this.  Amen.

True Wisdom is found in Christ

“….that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2: 2

There is a difference between someone who is intelligent and someone who is wise, and wisdom and intelligence don’t necessarily go hand in hand.  A person is considered intelligent when they have accumulated knowledge about various subjects or topics and are able to present and communicate this knowledge and information well.  Wisdom requires having knowledge, but it also requires being able to understand and discern circumstances and situations, making proper decisions, and taking appropriate actions.

People can accumulate knowledge by reading, watching and listening.  An increase in knowledge comes from information that is aggregated and associated appropriately.  Knowledge can be linked and networked, and then built upon.  For example, we learn the decimal number system, and then we learn simple arithmetic and mathematics, then building on that we learn algebra.  Once we master these fields of knowledge we can then move on to learn a more in-depth field such as calculus.  We see then that knowledge is accumulative and has dependencies.

Most of us are somewhat limited by our ability to remember large amounts of information. Some people, though, are blessed with the ability to retain a large amount of knowledge in their memory (e.g. a photographic memory) and therefore are more adept at academic studies.

In some cases, for one’s knowledge to increase on a certain topic it requires one to think in the abstract, beyond the physical, concrete things that we are used to encountering.  We must use our imagination, picturing things that are not physical.  This is a special talent that comes easy for some and difficult for others.

We put this knowledge to use to solve problems and to create new things to help us in various ways, like making life easier for us, or saving us time, or even helping to protect us or heal our bodies.  Engineers, for example, use their combined knowledge of physics, math, materials, etc., to solve problems and help create things.

Wisdom is different than knowledge in that it is not attained by simply taking in information, but one must also have understanding, discernment, and the ability to act appropriately.  To have these qualities requires effort.  Wisdom must be sought after, and often can only be gained through experience. Additionally, we must be humble and open to learning and gaining understanding from those who have gone before us.

Here is the definition of wisdom from dictionary.com: “Wisdom – the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.”  Sagacity is defined as “foresight, discernment, or keen perception; ability to make good judgments.”  (Interestingly, the root of the word sagacity is “sag” which means to seek or track down.)

Wisdom usually involves making decisions in a way that the outcome produces the best possible result and is aligned with what is proper and fair for all involved.  Notice from the definition above that in order to be wise we must first understand what is true and what is right, and then we must determine what is just and fair in our situations, making the correct decisions.

Wisdom requires action.  A person can either act wisely or act foolishly.  Wise actions are beneficial to us whereas foolish actions are detrimental.  All of our actions have consequences, but if we can act wisely than we can cause these consequences to work for our good.

And now we get to the core of the matter: How does one acquire wisdom?  How do we gain this ability to act wisely rather than foolishly?  How do we even know the difference?

Acquiring knowledge is rather simple and straight forward since we can choose a topic and then gather information about it by buying books, or going to the library, or maybe taking a course at a local school or college.  There is now tons of information available online, even in video form, about almost any topic you can imagine.

Here is some advice and direction on how to obtain wisdom for your life:

Establish the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your Life

We must make God our God and recognize that we are His servants who aim to please Him.  All of our decisions should be influenced by this truth.  We need to live daily in the light of this reality.  We need to know our place, not as an autonomous person doing as we please, but rather as a bond servant of the Lord Jesus, doing only what pleases Him.  Knowing our place in this life and walking in this knowledge is the beginning of wisdom.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 (see also Psalm 111:10)

Seek God for Wisdom

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1: 3

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding;  He stores up sound wisdom for the upright.” Proverbs 2: 6-7

God controls the circumstances and events in our lives and He can order them in such a way that we can observe and experience what is needed to gain wisdom for our lives.  We must be open to His leading and continue to humbly seek after wisdom.  As the Lord leads us into various situations, we must then recognize the wisdom that He is showing us.

Very often the difficulties that we encounter in our lives are God’s way of trying to open our eyes to things we need to learn and understand.  If we fail to learn these things than our difficulties will continue.  God, as a loving father, desires what is best for us and wants us to grow and mature.  He knows that the difficulties, trials, and troubles of our lives are great times for growth and learning in many areas, including increasing our wisdom.

Our experiences should be coupled with our study of His word, giving us examples of other people’s experiences to learn from.  The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon in the Bible contains the wisdom from King Solomon and there are many examples throughout the Bible where wisdom can be found if we seek after it and apply it to our lives and circumstances.

Wisdom is found in the least likely places

Remember that God’s ways are different than the ways of the world, and His wisdom is different than the wisdom of the world.  As such, the places where God’s wisdom is found, and therefore the circumstances and experiences that we find ourselves in when seeking wisdom, will be different than what we would expect based on our secular influences.  Consider this portion of Scripture from Ecclesiastes:

“Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.  For that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sad countenance the heart is made better.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth (gaiety with laughter).” Ecclesiastes 7: 2-4

In other words we would be most likely to obtain wisdom at a funeral, and not likely to find it at a birthday or holiday celebration.  Times of laughter can be good and actually healthy for us, but many of us tend to fill our life with laughter and joking, possibly using it as an escape from the painful reality that we face, or maybe as a way of passing time quickly.  We must realize that it is in the times of pain and sorrow that we are most likely open to seeing the truth and opening our hearts to the deeper spiritual truths that surround us.  If all is going well and life is pleasant we simply continue on in our bubble of false reality, blocking out the important truths that we need to face up to, and the important lessons that we need to learn to bring about internal changes.

“For like the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool.” Ecclesiastes 7:6

One important truth that we must face is the fact that we will all die, which is why the funeral gathering can be beneficial to our pursuit of wisdom, as it will help to make this truth of death a reality rather than just a disconnected thought.   Our decisions and judgments will be greatly impacted if we allow the reality of our future death to sink deep into our minds and hearts.  Wisdom would call for us to recognize that none of the world’s goods can be taken with us when we depart from this life.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Mark 8: 36

Recognize Christ as the Key to our Future

The most important truths that we need to understand and live in alignment with are the truths regarding the darkened condition of mankind and this world, the solution to this condition that has been offered by God by sending His Son Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  This world has been cursed due to the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve.  Darkness and evil have a controlling position on this planet, but the light has come to us in the form of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We can be delivered from the darkness if we embrace and live in the light.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ “ John 14: 6

Paul said in the letter to the Colossians that there are treasures of wisdom hidden in Christ.  Paul stated this immediately after declaring some amazing facts about what Jesus did and who He was.  It is very important that we establish these truths about Jesus in our lives, and that we seek these hidden treasures of wisdom.

Here’s is Paul’s declaration about the Lord Jesus Colossians:

“He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption , the forgiveness of sins.  He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning , the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Colossians 2: 13 – 20

Summary

Wisdom and Knowledge are different.  Whereas knowledge is a collection of information and facts about a subject, wisdom requires decision making and actions based on truth, righteousness, justice and fairness, resulting in consequential results that should be beneficial to the wise person who exercises this wisdom.  Wisdom will protect us from evil and from being deceived.  Wisdom must be sought after and is often only truly gained by experience, which is why wisdom is usually associated with old age.

True wisdom comes from God.  We must seek Him for it and also look to His word as a source and guide.  The focus of God’s wisdom is in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah and savior of the world.  Our understanding of Him and our ability to walk in the light of this understanding will lead to true wisdom.  The most important wisdom for us to exercise is the wisdom that is not only beneficial in this life but also gains us eternal life.  This important, true wisdom is only found in God’s Messiah, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

”My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God.  For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life— so you may walk in the way of goodness, and keep to the paths of righteousness. For the upright will dwell in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the earth, and the unfaithful will be uprooted from it.” Proverbs 2

Amen.

Be Aware of God’s Use of Contrast

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base (insignificant or lowly) things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” 1 Corinthians 1: 27-29

Artists will often make use of contrast in their work to arouse interest or as a means of emphasis.  Painters use contrasting color and light values for effect or to highlight the focus of their painting.  Similarly, contrast is used for effect and emphasis in poetry, novels, and music, where dissimilar emotions or character traits are set off against each other.

Any student of the Scriptures should be aware of God’s use of contrast as a means of emphasizing His power and glory, and to highlight what is spiritual as opposed to what is fleshly and physical. It is important for us to recognize and absorb God’s intended use of contrast in His revelation to us.  By so doing we will gain insight and wisdom into God’s purposes, as well as appreciation for God’s attributes and beauty.

Contrast, in this context, is defined as the comparison of similar objects to set off their dissimilar qualities, or to compare or appraise in respect to differences.  The use of contrast gives us a frame of reference or a relative measure to help us to more fully understand or comprehend.  In the Scriptures, we are better able to grasp the spiritual meaning and purpose when presented in a setting where characters or elements are set in contrast.

The Scriptures are full of example of the use of contrast, but I would like to look at just a few:

David and Goliath

One of the best known stories in the Bible, the account of David’s fight with Goliath is also an excellent example of God’s use of contrast. Here are some of the contrasting elements: Goliath is a giant, but David is a small boy.  Goliath is an older, seasoned warrior, or man of war, who has fought since his youth, but David is only in his youth, with no previous battle experience or formal training.  Goliath is militarily proficient and equipped with the latest and best weaponry, carrying a large spear and sword, he is covered with bronze armor, and has a shield bearer, but David can’t even make use of the armor that is offered to him by King Saul, and instead remains in his shepherd’s garb, taking only his staff, his slingshot and a few stones in his pouch.  Goliath’s taunting strikes fear in the entire Israeli army, whereas David’s comments about the situation bring anger and ridicule from his older brother.  Goliath is arrogant and uses insults, cursing, and intimidation, but David is calm and focused, stating only the truth about the situation.  Goliath was relying on his physical size, strength and skills, but David was completely relying on the power of the living God of Israel.

Here is the conclusion of the battle:

“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with the sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.’ So it was when the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David that David hurried and ran towards the army to meet the Philistine. Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in the forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth.  So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. But there was no sword in the hand of David.” 1 Samuel 17: 44-50

Here we see very, very clearly that the physical powers of this world are no match for the power of God and that we too can experience the same victory over our enemies or circumstances, no matter what the physical appearances of our situation, if we rely on God’s power.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

The Sinful Women and the Pharisee

Another example of the use of contrast in the Scriptures is found in the 7th chapter of the Gospel of Luke.  Here Jesus shows us the difference between a truly converted believer, a woman who was a sinner, who sees the reality of the mercy that was granted to her through the forgiveness of her sins, and the shallowness of a claimed believer, a religious Pharisee named Simon, who is merely religious in outward appearance, but not internally changed since he does not recognize his own sins or his need for forgiveness.

I am referring to the account of the woman who anoints Jesus feet with an ointment and then, while weeping, washes them with her tears and dries them with her hair.  The Lord Jesus actually points out the contrast as a lesson to Simon the religious Pharisee who has questioned His interaction with this woman:

“Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.  You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.  You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.  Therefore I say to you her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.’ “ Luke 7: 44-47

Here, again, we clearly see, from the contrast of these two behavior patterns, that a person’s actions reflect the true condition of their heart, and will also show us the truth of their relationship with God.  We can use the guidance of this example to both examine other’s inner heart condition by viewing their actions, as well as to look into the mirror at ourselves.

“So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.  A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7: 17-20

God’s Wisdom vs. Man’s Wisdom

As a final example, I would like to point out that God has purposely designed His plan to save mankind to be seen as weak and foolish by those who are in the world system and not looking with the eyes of faith.  In this way He has created a contrast between His ways and the ways of the unbelieving world, and a contrast between His wisdom (seen as foolish and weak by the world) and the wisdom of men.  Even today the intellectuals of our time are critical of the “foolishness” of God’s plan of salvation through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and His imminent return to establish a new heaven and earth for His kingdom.  It is also seen as foolishness and stupidity to look to God’s revelation, the Bible, as a source of truth.  God has done this with a definite purpose in mind: to show that this plan is totally from Him and by Him, and also, to remove any allowance for man to boast or glory in His presence.

I will leave you with this portion of Scripture below that clearly explains this truth and the contrast that God has established:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer (debater) of this age? Has God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block (or offense) and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (well-born), are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen and the things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

Amen!

She did what she could…..and so should we.

“She has done a beautiful thing to me…   She has done what she could….” Mark 14: 6, 8

I was reading through the Gospel of Mark recently and came across an interesting account in chapter 14 that I had read many times in the past, but this time it had caught my attention.  I want to look more closely at the details and discuss what they could mean for us today.

Here’s the account:

“And while He (Jesus) was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the jar and poured it over His head.   But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment thus wasted? For the ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii (about a year’s salary for an average laborer), and given to the poor.’  And they reproached her.  But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have Me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’” Mark 14: 3-9

First some background.  People at this time period did not have the same financial institutions that we have today.  There were not stock markets, large banks with safe deposit boxes and sophisticated financial instruments to place and preserve one’s wealth.  There were not life insurance policies; no IRA’s or 401K’s.  People therefore had to attempt to preserve their wealth by buying expensive items that would last for a long time.  I presume that the jar of costly perfume was one of these means of preserving one’s wealth.  We can also presume that the jar was worth somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 in today’s money, at least.

It should also be noted that Jesus had been warning His followers that He was soon to be captured and put to death by His enemies, though it was clear that they didn’t grasp this fully or seemed to block it out of their minds.  We are not certain from this account if the people there, or the woman herself, were aware that Jesus was on His way to His death and burial.

The first thing that jumped out at me about this account was the fact that the other people that witnessed this act were quick to reproach this woman, or discredit her and find fault with what she had done.  They immediately looked at her act from a physical, worldly viewpoint, counting up the value of the perfume, and thinking that it could be put to a better use.  Isn’t this what we do?  We seem to have difficulty suspending our physical, carnal view of situations, to look rather with spiritual eyes, and attempt to consider what God’s perspective might be in the situation.  We don’t seem to want to consider a person’s motivations either.  We don’t want to consider their heart and underlying motive, but rather allow the physical dynamics to take precedence.

Looking at the woman’s perspective, we must realize that we are likely to be misunderstood when we are being obedient to our heart, or when we are following the prompting of the Spirit in our circumstances.  We can’t allow other people’s potential reaction or their opinion to influence our actions towards God, or we will miss out on doing something that God sees as beautiful!

I was curious about the phrase that Jesus used about this woman’s actions when He said, “She has done what she could” and wondered what that really meant.  Of course, we must remember that this was originally written in Greek about 2000 years ago, so the meaning in our present day English may be somewhat different.  As I looked at the original Greek words (and I’m no Greek scholar) I felt that the phrase could be translated more accurately today as “she put to good use her valuable possession.”

Let’s consider what may have been going through this women’s mind at the time.  She had an expensive flask of perfume that most likely represented her life’s savings or possibly an inheritance that was given to her.  She most likely had been prompted by the Holy Spirit to use it on Jesus, so she was being obedient to the Spirit.  She could have possibly remembered that Jesus had said that He was on His way to His death and burial so she wanted to prepare Him for it (I think this is unlikely, although it could be so).  One thing for sure is that she wanted to use this valuable possession of hers to express her love for the Lord Jesus.  She must have believed that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, sent to save mankind.  She must have wanted to honor Him and express physically her recognition of His Lordship.  This was the beautiful thing that Jesus affirmed:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me.”  Mark 14: 6

And amazingly, whether she was aware of it or not, her actions had a higher purpose in that they prepared Jesus for His burial, as He also affirmed:

“She has anointed my body beforehand for burying.” Mark 14: 8

For me personally, I must consider now what I have that I can offer to Him so that He would say, “that was a beautiful thing that you have done to me.”   I don’t believe that it has to be an expensive possession.  It can be anything of value.  It can be anything that we can use to honor Him.  I believe what is key is that we allow the Holy Spirit and our hearts to prompt and motivate us to “do what we can” when the time comes.

At this point I could come up with many examples of what we could possibly offer the Lord, but I don’t believe that it is my place to take this any further.  I think that we must open our minds and hearts to Him and be moved to respond in love towards Him at the proper time.  I think we will know when the time is right and what the offering should be.   This woman’s account is a reminder for us to be open and ready, not impacted by the potential reproach of others, but driven by our love for the Lord to put to good use the valuable possessions (or talents, influence, time, effort, etc.) that we have available to us, in order to honor and glorify Him.

“……….whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10: 31

Amen.