Always the Best

What We Give to Jesus

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head… - Mark 14:3

One of the hallmarks of contemporary Christianity is our penchant for keeping the practice of our faith tidily separate from the “secular” aspects of our lives. While a hallmark, it is certainly not a reason to celebrate. Too many believers have obediently complied with the demands of the culture that we refrain from expressing our religious convictions in the public square, on the job, or in polite company. And, for the most part, we go along, not wanting to offend, and, perhaps what is just as true, not wishing to incur the displeasure of those we have to live and work with day by day.

It is doubtless the part of wisdom for us not to be running around our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces, Bibles in hand, confronting everyone we meet, wild-eyed and demanding to know whether or not they are saved. There is a time to bear witness with our words, and the best time for this would seem to be when someone, taken by what they have seen of Christian hope in our everyday lives, inquires as to the reason we seem so confident, joyful, and at peace in such troubled times (1 Peter 3:15).

But when was the last time anyone ever asked you that?

The story of the woman with the flask of costly ointment contains principles for serving Jesus that can help us to bring the life of faith and our Biblical worldview more powerfully into play in every area of our lives.  If we can learn to apply these principles, we may find that the opportunities we have for talking to others about Jesus will begin to increase. The exemplary nature of this woman’s gift is undoubtedly why the Lord determined that Mark should preserve this story for the generations to come.

We may discern at least four important principles to guide us in the things we give to Jesus.

The first principle is that there is no time like the present for offering to Jesus the precious gifts by which we would honor Him. This woman apparently did not regard the “inconvenience” of the moment as an obstacle to presenting her gift. It was dinner time, and already Jesus and the other guests had gathered around the table. This was the time for prayers, polite conversation, and wholesome food. It was hardly the time for dramatic demonstrations pointing to the calling of Christ as God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. Yet this woman performed her deed without regard for convenience. She decided there was no time like the present for an act of sacrifice to the Lord.

Every moment of our lives is to be redeemed for serving the Lord and honoring Him (Ephesians 5:15-17). Whereas fools, in the Biblical sense, may reckon that there are times and places where God should not be allowed to intrude, the true believer is one who trusts in the Lord with all his heart, leans not on his own understanding, and in all his ways and at all times acknowledges Him (Proverbs 3:5,6). Thus, whether we are at work or play, in our homes or at school, engaging in daily chores or the mundane tasks of getting and spending, we are at all times in a position to offer something to the Lord. Indeed, Paul calls us to do all things to His glory, even such mindless activities as eating and drinking, and especially the things we do for our employers (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:22,23). The attitude with which we do our daily work, together with the care, diligence, and excellence by which it is accomplished, should say something about our transcendent commitment. We do not simply “work to rule” but unto the Ruler of the universe, and everything about the way we conduct our lives, in every aspect of our lives and at all times, should signal to those around us that we are making an offering to honor His glory. Surely there can be no “inconvenient” time for us to render such gifts to the Lord.

This woman resolved to hold nothing back from the Lord. She gave her best offering, a gift of precious ointment valued at a year’s salary for a working person. Had she been saving this for some special occasion? Was it part of a dowry for her marriage? An inheritance from her deceased mother? We do not know. All we know is that it was very precious, very costly, and, had it been converted to cash, could have been used to relieve the suffering of many people.

But this woman determined that no one and nothing deserved her precious gift more than the Anointed of the Lord, whose body she – perhaps unwittingly – was preparing for death.

Her gift is a challenge to us to give the very best we have to the Lord at all times. It’s hard enough to encourage believers to give to the Lord in church – whether the requisite tithes and offerings or through some active role in the congregation’s ministry. That alone would be a good start. But more is involved than this. We are called to serve the Lord with excellence in all we do, to do our work, engage in our relationships, carry out all our responsibilities in a way designed to honor and glorify Him. What does this require of us? Do we stand out on the job as the most dedicated and uncomplaining workers? On the team as the most committed to hard work and team spirit? In school as the most eager and diligent of students? In our families as enthusiastic and devoted to spouse, children, and home? Wherever the Lord has placed us we are always in a position to offer gifts to Him; when we do, they should be the finest and most self-sacrificing gifts that we can produce.

This woman’s gift beautified Jesus in the eyes of all present. Imagine the wondrous fragrance that filled that room for the remainder of the evening, emanating from the anointed body of Christ to please the olfaction of every guest. Jesus Himself described her offering as a “beautiful thing” (v.6). Her gift put Jesus in the best possible light, and left a fragrant aura about Him.

Does the way we live our lives make Jesus beautiful to the people around us? At home, work, school, in the neighborhood, at the market, at church – does our conversation attract others to Him? Do our manners point others to the beauty of the Lord? Does the quality of our work suggest the excellence of Him who calls us to offer precious gifts to Him at every moment, in every situation? More often, the way we live tends to lead others to think that Jesus is condemning rather than inviting, prudish rather than filled with joy, powerless to heal rather than the very Physician of the soul, and irrelevant to the everyday issues of life rather than the Lord of all. The Westminster Confession of Faith talks about the good works that all believers are called to do in the power of the Holy Spirit as ways that we “adorn the profession of the Gospel.” All our works and conversations have the potential to manifest the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Lord and to beautify the Savior in the eyes of others. But we must devote ourselves to such a course if it is to be true of our lives.

Finally, this woman made her offering with one singular focus: she wanted to please the Lord in whom she perceived such goodness, truth, and love. She was scorned and ridiculed for her sacrifice by those whose minds were tuned to matters of economics and social propriety, but her offering pleased the Lord. Surely it pleased Him because it heightened the attention of all on Him, demonstrated understanding of His Lordship, and opened an opportunity for Him to discuss His passion, shortly to be realized. So pleased was Jesus with this woman that He rebuked those who seemed to be arguing for some more practical application of her lavish gift and promised that she would be forever remembered for her sacrifice.

We have grown accustomed to asking, “What would Jesus do?” in any number of situations. While this has a certain admirable aspect to it as an outlook on life, more effective would be for us to ask, “What will please Jesus?” in every situation and at every opportunity? What will bring Him to the attention of others? Declare that He is Lord of all of life? Recognize and honor His sacrifice in our own? Lead to opportunities to talk more fully about His saving mercy and love? When we lead our lives from this perspective we will discover many opportunities for pleasing Jesus by our offerings, whether in home and family, on the job, in school or community, or among our fellow believers at church. And we will find many more people beginning to ask us for a reason for the hope that is within us. What pleases Jesus is to see that we are always thinking about Him, always trying to lift Him up for others to consider, always honoring Him by the way we do things and the things we say, always looking for opportunities to tell the old, old story of His wondrous, redeeming love. If we are always worried about what others will think of us, we may refuse to say or do anything that might draw attention to Jesus. But that would be to continue ensnared in the world’s agenda of keeping Jesus at church and out of public life. Our Biblical worldview calls us to live wholly to Christ, to seek His pleasure in all we think, say, and do, and to take every opportunity to point a desperate world to the only hope that can make all things new in their lives.

So simple a story, so long ago: A lowly woman with a flask of perfume, broken open and poured out on the Anointed of the Lord. But what lessons it holds for us, and how it challenges us to make the most of every opportunity to give gifts to Jesus in ways that honor, beautify, exalt, and make Him the center of all we say and do.

For reflection
How would your life be different each day if you looked at every aspect of it – all your roles, relationships, and responsibilities – as this woman looked at her flask of ointment? What opportunities for giving gifts to Jesus are before you today?

T. M. Moore is dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of 20 books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet), and Culture Matters (Brazos). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn.

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