Monday, 22 March 2010

First Remove the Plank....

Judgement! It’s become a dirty word today. Try to make a comment on someone’s behaviour, even in Christian circles, and you’re likely to hear the words, “Stop judging me!” We often associate it with our legal process where sentences are handed out to those found guilty of some crime. They are judged and sentenced. In reality those who are found to be innocent are also judged, then set free. Judgement is part of any judicial process, whether you’re innocent or guilty.

During the process of a trial evidence is presented and weighed. In the past this relied heavily on eye witness testimony. Today we have the added weight of forensic evidence that has been the inspiration of popular TV programs like CSI. Jury trials require ordinary people to hear the case for the prosecution and the defence and then decide which is more credible. They judge, even though they are not the judge! And in a similar way Paul says that one day we will judge angels, 1Cor 6.3. And if that is true, he goes on to argue that we are well qualified to judge issues pertaining to this life.

Like it or not we make judgements every day about many things. What to wear, what to eat, establishing priorities of what to do and who to see. The process is so much a part of our lives that we often don’t even acknowledge that we are doing it. I have five daughters. Imagine what it’s like when they go shopping! “That looks great on you”. That colour doesn’t suit you!” “I love that design”. Each one of these statements is in fact a form of judgement. In these examples they are based on personal preference – our likes and dislikes; our tastes if you will.

Most of us can cope with that kind of judgement. This is because we are clear about our own preferences and so we chose when to ignore the advice of a friend and go with what we like – our preference. Scripture teaches us that there is another level of judgement that has to do with the way we relate to each other. Jesus tells us to “Judge righteous judgement”, John 7.24. This clearly implies there is a good way of judging and a bad way.

One way is quite discerning; righteous judgement. It looks beyond the surface. 1Cor 12.10 speaks of the gift of discerning of spirits. Through this gift it is possible to know when something is from the Holy Spirit, an angelic spirit, a demonic spirit and even the human spirit. Jesus came to heal broken hearts, which meant He was able to discern which needed mending. People could put on a brave face but Jesus discerned their hearts. This ability should be encouraged and nurtured in people.

The other form of judgement is destructive to relationships and should be avoided. It is unrighteous and goes no further than looking at the appearance of someone and judging that behaviour against our own value system. A better word to describe this kind of judgement is condemnation. This is the heart of what Jesus is getting at in Matt 7.1. If we don’t deal with ourselves first, then we can easily slip into a condemning attitude that breads pride and self righteousness. We’ll get back to that later.

Paul said it is the spiritual man who judges all things, 1Cor 2.15. (This is the equivalent of Jesus exhortation for us to judge righteous judgement). So spirituality has a lot to do with the way we can evaluate and judge in a situation. For a spiritual man has his mind renewed to discern clearly. I like the word discern because it takes us to the heart of what good Biblical judgement is all about. To discern is the ability to see through the mist of what a person does, their behaviour, into the heart, where we can begin to understand what has motivated them.

Jesus did this all the time. He could see the faith of the persistent mother, a gentile, who begged for her daughter to be made well and the hypocritical play acting of the scribes and Pharisees, whose hearts were full of covetousness and lawlessness. He could see that Judas had no real care for the poor when he rebuked Mary for pouring a costly ointment on Jesus and the wrong spirit displayed by James and John when they wanted to call down fire on the Samaritan village that rejected Jesus. In all these examples Jesus judged righteous judgement. So let’s take a look at a text that helps us to begin the journey towards becoming those who can judge righteously.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the peck for your eye’, and look a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." Matt 7.1-6

From this text we learn something really important about judging. Now most people miss this. Judgment requires clear vision in order for us to help someone else. The issue here is not to avoid judging but to avoid doing so without some self-examination first. Most of us have experienced what it’s like to get a speck in our eye. It’s irritating. It hurts. Our eyes water and we usually need someone else to help us out. But the person we want should be able to see clearly themselves.

If we have a plank in our own eye we become ineffective in helping others. Jesus is using hyperbole, a form of exaggerated speech. It is an example of Him being funny! It reads like a Monty Python sketch; a man with a beam in his eye trying to operate on a man with a speck in his eye. It’s laughable. And this is Jesus’ point. The person we should be judging first is ourselves. Paul makes the same point to the Corinthians when he says; “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged”, 1Cor 11.31.

The issue isn’t just stop judging, the issue is don’t do it until you are prepared to reflect on your own life and get your issues dealt with, first. The process of dealing with our issues first creates in us a humility that helps us show compassion towards others who have issues too. Matt 7.5-6 clearly tells us to judge. We have to make a decision; who are the dogs and who are the pigs. Remember Paul saying a similar thing to the Philippians; Phil 3.2, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” Later in Matt 7.15 Jesus warns of those who will come as wolves in sheep’s clothing. You can’t just rely on what you see!

To really know a person we must apply the fruit test. So a discerning person is not taken in with a charismatic personality. They wait to see the fruit of a life. The next verses in Matt 7.21-23 help us understand that Jesus is not talking about success in ministry when He speaks of fruit. “Many” will remind the Lord of all the prophecy they have given; demons they have cast out and wonders they have performed in His name. But Jesus discerns their heart and sees the lawlessness within and tells them to depart. This is scary. They have fruit in ministry, but not the fruit of the Spirit that demonstrates a renewed heart and life, Gal 5.22-23. This is what we must aim to cultivate.

Jesus warns us that, ‘with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you’, Matt 7.2. James helps us understand what Jesus means. He says; “For judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy”, James 2.12. If the measure we use to judge others is mercy, that is what is used as the measure for our judgement. Judgement without mercy ensures we forsake our own mercy, Jonah 2.8. Think of that for a minute. The way we relate to people now will have a major influence on the way God judges us. Just like in giving, Luke 6.38, we choose the measure!

Conscious of this principle Paul lived by a simple rule, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each ones praise will come from God”, 1Cor 4.5. He understood that some things lay hidden. In the previous chapter he warns that everyone’s work (their ministry) will be tested, 1Cor 3.12-15. And now he is saying the secret counsels of the heart will also be revealed. Things can look impressive for a while. We can be wowed by displays of power. But God wants us to look deeper. No wonder Matt 7 finishes with the story of the wise and foolish builders.

In Corinth there were many problems in the church. One of them was the constant litigation that took place between believers – a very relevant passage for today’s culture. Paul asks a simple question; “Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” 1Cor 6.5. Paul is shocked that believers would rather go before a secular judge and pay money than to appoint a believer in the church to make a decision and to abide by his judgement. Clearly he sees believers as being the best people to make judgements about issues in life.

And Paul’s question stands; “Is there a wise man able to judge between his brothers?” Such a man has established the priority of removing the plank form his own eye first. He has journeyed with God and walks in the fear of the Lord. When he’s called on to judge, he prays. He examines his own heart and looks to see if the very problem he is called on to speak into is an issue in his own life. He when he judges he doesn’t condemn but does so through the filter of mercy. That is his measure, for that is what he has received in Christ.

Here is a prayer from the Psalms that you may find helpful. I have used it many times in my life. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”, Psalm 139.23-24. It is the prayer of a person who wants to take the plank out first; who doesn’t live in self justification or pride but dares to ask God to show them their own heart. For none of us truly knows what drives us without God’s help.

Jeremiah 17.9 says; “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” At times we don’t even know our own hearts, but God does. And He is faithful to speak to the man who wants to listen. So let’s summarise so we can practice what we have learned:

1. Judgement that leads to condemnation is forbidden in scripture. God is the ultimate judge and only He has that right. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it, John 3.17.

2. Judgement that is good and helpful is discerning – it see through to the heart and we should cultivate and nurture it. Not everything should be accepted on face value, including powerful ministries.

3. Obedience is the ultimate act that pleases God and so we should apply the fruit test when wanting to test a person’s ministry. Do they display Christ-like character that demonstrates the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’?

4. Judgement like this can only happen when a person establishes the priority of dealing with their own life issues first before daring to speak into the lives of others. To seek to correct another person when your own life has glaring issues is hypocrisy. Don’t do it!

5. The measure we use when giving any kind of correction or judgement is mercy. In other words forgiveness must be the cornerstone of any judgement – the guilty can go free!

By all means help your brother with the speck in his eye, but take the plank out of your own eye first!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

First Things First

We are going to be looking at seven firsts in the Gospel of Matthew. They are scriptures that help us understand what should be our priorities in life; ‘First be reconciled to your brother....’ Matt 5.24 ‘First remove the plank from your own eye....’ Matt 7.5 are two examples of what I mean. I will return to them at a later time. The first ‘first’ I want to explore sets the tone for the whole gospel. It is recorded as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 6.33. It is the priority that is the benchmark against which all the others make sense.

But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.

The scripture comes at the end of Jesus teaching about money and provision that begins in Matt 6.19 till the end of the chapter. We have already explored Matt 6.19-21. In vs22-23 we have some idiomatic speech. Jesus is referring to being generous. This is what it means to have a ‘good’ eye. Generosity of spirit has a way of affecting our entire outlook on life.

The real challenge begins in vs24. We can only serve one master. Serving two is not an option. A choice must be made; God or riches. From vs25 onwards Jesus helps us to see the difference between a person who allows God to be their master and one who finds their security in riches. Three times in the next ten verses the command comes from the lips of Jesus; “Do not worry”, vs25, 31 and 34. It is explicit. It is emphatic. It is not negotiable.

What becomes our preoccupation says a lot about who we are serving. The anxious person worries about life, what to eat, drink and wear; “For all these things the gentiles seek”, Matt 6.32. These people are in effect serving riches. Jesus is direct in His challenge of adopting such a posture. He asks six questions designed to make us to see the total futility of worrying over something that we have very little control over. The first question is telling; “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

The problem with worry and anxiety is that it robs us of life, real living. Jesus came to bring life – life to the full, John 10.10. Food, drink and clothing are vital to staying alive. But we were created for something more than survival. We were created to be ambassadors for the Kingdom. Jesus is pushing His hearers to move into a realm of trust and confidence in God that allows them to truly live and fulfil their destiny.

His next four questions are all framed by an appeal to consider creation, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field; both common everyday realities of life. Notice Jesus’ words; “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns”; something all farmers do every year, throughout their lifetime. “Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them”. This statement challenges the view that God has created the universe with natural laws and now sits back and watches it all operate without any intervention. God feeds the birds! That is amazing. He personally intervenes to care for the birds.

Now comes Jesus second question; “Are you of not more value than they?” I find this a very heart-searching question. My own experience and years of pastoral ministry have convinced me that many people suffer from low self esteem. To use the language of Jesus, they do not place a high value on who they are. But Jesus has introduced us to the concept of a Heavenly Father who cares; cares about all of creation and therefore cares about us – the pinnacle of that creation. For we alone bear His image.

To reinforce the point another question is fired off by Jesus; “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” A cubit is about 18 inches or 46 cms. Scientists say that a person can begin a day as much as one inch taller than when they went to bed the night before! That is because the spine compresses during the day through the effects of gravity. Lying horizontally allows the spine to decompress and so you can appear to grow slightly. But that’s it. Worry doesn’t do that, physics does and only by an inch. His point? Worrying changes nothing!

The previous verses in Matthew are a reminder that our Father in Heaven sees and rewards us when we do a charitable deed, or pray or fast. God is watching. God is involved. He is not an absent landlord. Matt 6.8 and 6.32 are very similar. Our Father knows what we need before we ask. And in Matt 7.11 a contrast is made between earthly fathers who, despite their brokenness, still know how to give good things to their children and our Heavenly Father who gives good things to those who ask Him.

Two issues emerge. Do we really believe God cares – about us, you and me? Does He place any value on us? And if He does, do we agree with His estimation? Can I value me? For how I see myself in relationship to God will have a direct bearing on whether I can trust him with my life, what I will eat or drink or wear - my future. By the time Jesus has finished talking about the lilies of the field, that can grow and perish in a day, we are left with our forth question, “... will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Matt 6.30

And so we face the real challenge. It is actually a faith challenge. Faith has two essential prerequisites according to Heb 11.6. That God is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. And to seek Him is to seek His kingdom. God is a rewarder. That lines up with Matt 6. He rewards the one who gives a charitable deed in secret. All of this points to a God who acts like a Father. He cares. He takes responsibility to act. He is involved. But we must position our hearts to trust Him and this requires faith.

This is why the prayer he taught his disciples to pray is a kingdom prayer. It doesn’t begin with us and our needs. It begins with our Father in Heaven and how worthy He is of our worship. Not only that, it is corporate – ‘Our Father’. We are in this together. We believe together. And if you have nothing I will share what I have with you, for this is Kingdom living. And this is how it worked out in the early church in Acts 2. People sold houses and lands to provide for others in the community who lacked. They were living out the Sermon on the Mount.

Now we are approaching our key text. But before we get there Jesus gives us some direction. In effect He is telling us to change our language, to change our confession. Stop saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” That is the language of people who don’t know they have a Father in Heaven. It is the language of unbelief. It is the language of anxiety. It is the language of serving riches. It is the language of fear. God’s people are to be different. It comes by establishing a different priority based on a different view of God.

“But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you”. This contains both a challenge and a promise. The promise is that everything you are concerned about and are anxious over is known to God. He knows what you need before you ask. He will provide. “All these things shall be added to you”. They will be the bonus in the pay check. Our focus will be different to that of unbelievers. It will reflect our trust and confidence in a Father who wants to reveal Himself to people.

So our preoccupation is; “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness....” That is the challenge. Let’s unpack that in the light of all we’ve learned so far. God’s Kingdom is about God’s rule and reign. Let’s go back to that Kingdom prayer Jesus taught His disciples; “Your Kingdom come, your will be done here on earth as it is in Heaven”, Matt 6.10. When God reigns His will is done. He reigns in Heaven and so His will is perfectly expressed there. But He wants it expressed in the earth. He wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, 1Tim 2.4. This is His will.

To seek first the Kingdom is about seeing God’s reign expressed on earth and the test for this is to see if His will is being done. The church is meant to be a body of people who model to the community around them what it means to live under God’s rule. It should look attractive because we are not anxious about the things that preoccupy them. We have a different agenda. We serve a different master. We have a different set of priorities – Kingdom priorities.

But there is a danger here. We may confuse our righteousness with God’s in this process. Earlier in Matt 5.20 Jesus spoke of our righteousness needing to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Their righteousness focused on externals to be noticed by men, Matt 6.2, 5, 16. God’s righteousness changes the heart, the root of all our problems. Six times in Matt 5 Jesus uses the phrase, “You have heard that it was said.........But I say to you.....” He is referring, not to the Torah - the law, which He upholds in the same chapter, Matt 5.17-20; but to the oral tradition of the rabbi’s. Years later this would be collected together and form the Talmud.

Oral tradition had a long history in Jewish culture. It was a way of interpreting and understanding the scriptures that sometimes robbed them of their real potency. At times it focused on externals that allowed people to become proud and self-righteous. Jesus deals with six issues in Matt 5, anger, lust, marriage, promises, justice and mercy. He shows that they are all issues of the heart. Murder and adultery don’t begin with an action they begin with an attitude of heart. If we do not follow through with the action we may have less consequences socially, but we are still in danger of judgement before God. He sees the heart.

Righteousness is a heart issue. Jesus came to change people from the inside, Matt 23.25-26; to change their hearts. This is the uniqueness of God’s righteousness. It comes by faith, Rom 10.3-4. It is found in Christ and not the law. It is given by grace and not earned. It changes us on the inside first so that faithfulness in marriage is not just the absence of having an affair, but a loyalty of heart. This is the kind of righteousness we should seek when we look for God’s rule. It repudiates our own self effort to gain right standing with God and trusts in a righteousness that is given freely, through faith in Christ.

One final word. Jesus said we should seek for God’s rule and righteousness. In Matt 7 this concept forms part of His encouragement to believers. He gives us the assurance that we will receive what we ask for; we will find what we seek and doors will indeed be opened. To seek for something is to commit to a process. It is to be willing to go on a journey. To seek implies we develop patience until we find what we are looking for. And when we have found it expressed in one area we seek to see it expressed in another. The journey continues.

We are talking about a habit of life that, over time, demonstrates who we serve, where our heart is and what we treasure. It says something of our belief in a God who is good; who is involved in all the details of our lives and the value He places on us – His people. Perhaps it’s time for you to put first things first and take on a new agenda for your life; God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Laying Up Treasures in Heaven

Lay up treasures in heaven, Matt 6.20. Sounds good, but what does it really mean? This statement comes from the mouth of Jesus during the famous Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5-7. It is part of a teaching that cuts to the heart at every turn, giving us a picture of Kingdom living that, outside of Spirit empowered grace, is impossible to achieve. And that is perhaps the point. Only Jesus can truly fulfil this kind of life. It drives us to know and embrace Him as our true treasure.

I love the word treasure. My favourite story growing up was ‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louise Stevenson. I was enthralled with the old film starring John Newton and even more captivated by the book itself. It’s all about pirate treasure that is hidden and the adventure of recovering the treasure. We see what lengths men will go to, to get their hands on such a hoard. Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, that is where our heart is also. Our hearts become connected to what we treasure. That’s how we are hard wired. Our treasure, what we value, will capture our hearts and we will become servant to that thing.

Jesus shows us this later in the same chapter of Matthew when He says, “You cannot serve God and Mammon (the Aramaic word for riches). What we treasure, we serve. But we have a choice. We can ‘lay up treasures on earth’ or we can ‘lay up treasures in heaven’. Whichever is our focus tells us something about our hearts. What does our heart truly value? Has Jesus become our chief joy and treasure? If He is, what lengths are we prepared to go to, to demonstrate that?

Before answering that question let me make two observations about the contrast between treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. The first is this. When you lay up treasures in heaven they are more secure. Thieves have no chance to take them. They are kept safe. The recession of 2009 has taught people that even banks are no longer secure. They too can go bankrupt. How ironic! Banks bankrupt. Some thieves today wear suits and get outrageous annual bonuses for their incompetence in crippling an organisation, while innocent people are fleeced. That’s the world.

The second thing Jesus points out is that treasure in heaven doesn’t corrupt over time. Moth and rust do not touch it. It is undefiled and does not fade away. Treasure on earth however is subject to decay. That is part of the reality of our fallen world. So Jesus is advising us to invest in our future. Selfless, grace empowered, spirit led, extravagant giving is always noticed by heaven. An account is kept there. Unlike laying up treasures on earth, it’s not the amount that is the issue. The value does not lie in the amount we give but in way we give. It is more about the heart and what that thing means to you.

In Luke 21.1-4 we have the account of the giving of the poor widow. She placed two copper coins in to the treasury. Jesus was standing and watching as people gave. In His estimation the poor widow gave more than any of them. Notice why. “They gave out of their abundance, but she out of her lack”. There is nothing wrong with giving out of abundance. We are to have extra to give to him who is in need. Paul teaches this in Eph 4.28. But sometimes we give out of what we lack. Then it’s a sacrifice. This woman put in ‘all her living’. And Jesus saw it and commended her. She was laying up treasures in heaven.

What is also interesting is that she was giving into a religious system that was corrupt. Jesus denounced the moneychangers for turning the house of God into a den of thieves, John 2.13-17; Matt 21.12-13. In Matt 24.1-2 He prophesied the destruction of the temple admired by the disciples. It happened within forty years under Titus of Rome. Yet Jesus didn’t run up to her and say, “Don’t give into this treasury. It has too many problems, there is too much corruption in the leadership; your money will be wasted”. He says nothing of the sort. His silence helps me understand something. Even when men misuse money I have given in an offering, God counts it as a legitimate sacrifice, if, in my heart, I am giving to Him and trusting Him.

I know people who withdraw their giving when things in church life don’t go as they want. Giving now has become a way of controlling outcomes. This is a dangerous road to go down. It leads to manipulation and control. Our giving must be free of such attachment. Think of an Old Testament saint bringing one of his best animals to the Lord only to see it killed and burnt. No possibility of attachment there! Eli’s son’s misused the offerings of the Lord, yet God did not instruct His people not to give. He would honour their giving. They had a reward in heaven.

God instructed Eli to discipline his sons and when Eli didn’t, God stepped in, 1Sam 2.12-36. It was severe. Future generations of this man’s line died in their youth. The Ark of God was captured. But in the midst of all this, God raised up a young boy to be His spokesman – Samuel. And through Samuel judgement was proclaimed on the house of Eli. God is not mocked. “Vengeance is mine says the Lord”, Rom 12.17-19. But don’t try and do God’s job. Our posture is to be one of doing good to all, Rom 12.20-21. If you are a leader, then like Eli you have a responsibility. But if you are a worshipper, then you too have a responsibility. Give freely from your heart with no ongoing attachment to what you give.

In three of the gospels we have accounts of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, Matt 26.6-13; Mark 14.3-9 and John 12.2-9. Mary takes a very costly oil of Spikenard and anoints Jesus. She pours it over His head and feet. “Nard,” which defines the kind of ointment, was a plant found in the Himalayan Mountains. It was hard to get and very expensive. According to the text, it was worth 300 denarii. The daily wage of the average working man was only one denarii. What she poured on the Lord Jesus was worth an entire year’s wages! This speaks volumes of the value she placed on Jesus. He was worth it.

When we compare all three accounts, we find that all the disciples were indignant over this act of Mary and saw it as wasteful, but Judas, the betrayer, treasurer for the group, and thief, was their spokesman. Mark 14.5 says “They criticised her sharply”. Once Judas had voiced his disapproval they all chimed in. The story shows us the value she placed on Jesus and the value Jesus placed on her actions – for wherever the gospel is preached she is to be mentioned for what she did, Mark 14.9. Her action created a perpetual memorial that has forever tied her to the gospel. She was literally laying up treasures in Heaven and a memorial on earth.

But the disciples had a different view. What a waste! They were incredulous; an entire year’s wages blown in a moment, on Jesus. What a waste! But so as not to appear too bad they talk of it being sold and the money given to the poor. It sounds good doesn’t it? It sounds right? All things in moderation – right? Not when it comes to Jesus. He’s worth giving everything for. He is worth our recklessness. He is worth our extravagance in giving.

Mary was the only one who understood the moment. None of the other disciples got it. Jesus had talked of His death in Jerusalem but they really didn’t get it – but she did. Her act was a prophetic statement. Within a few days Jesus would be beaten and crucified, but now, by one disciple, He would be valued and anointed for burial. Devotion to a hobby or a sport is seen as merely enthusiasm, but devotion to the Jesus is viewed as fanaticism. Why? This kind of devotion shows up the lack of commitment of others toward God and spiritual priorities.

Jesus defence of Mary and rebuke of His disciples is telling. The opportunities for ministering to the poor would be ever present. But loving Jesus in this way was a once in a lifetime opportunity – and Mary saw it and took it. Laying up treasures in heaven isn’t that easy to most of us. It requires a different value system. For each deposit says something about where our heart is. It says something about what we deem valuable. And the more extravagant we are, the more we will draw attention to what we do. We risk the criticism and censure of others.

Notice also that it wasn’t the self righteous Pharisees on this occasion; it was the twelve - those who should have known better. Imagine how intimidated Mary would have felt; Jesus’ top team having a go at her. But Jesus stepped in and her act of devotion was vindicated, appreciated and memorialised with the preaching of the gospel.

This account is not dissimilar to the record of Mary and Martha in Luke 10.38-42. There too Mary made a choice to sit at the feet of Jesus and was rebuked by her sister for not helping to serve –which, like giving to the poor, is a good activity. But Martha missed the point. She missed the moment. And then, as now with the disciples, Jesus came to her rescue. In both accounts she didn’t need to say a word. Jesus defended her. Jesus placed value on what she did. In doing so He is telling us that Mary knows how to lay up treasures in Heaven. We should follow her example.

Mary’s act of devotion and giving left an impact on all present. Some reacted with criticism while Jesus responded with appreciation. All of them placed value on the spikenard. The disagreement was not in its value but in how to use it. Pouring it on Jesus? What a waste! At least that’s how the disciples saw it. Imagine if you were Jesus hearing those words. How would you feel? A little devalued? Guilty? Embarrassed? Jesus is secure. In effect he’s saying, “I’m worth it, leave her alone”. It is a telling rebuke.

Laying up treasures in heaven is easy for those whose hearts are captured by Jesus, our ultimate treasure. What we do with our time, our finances and other resources says something about our hearts affection. Paul puts it this way, “Set your affections of things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”, Col 3.1. When He becomes our chief treasure it’s easier to let go of this world’s treasure. By comparison, it’s as nothing.

Take the parable of the man who found treasure hidden in a field, Matt 13.44. He sold everything to buy the field because he had an eye on the treasure. Everything he had was sold so he could pursue that goal. Notice Jesus’ words, “For joy he went and sold all he had....” This man did it joyfully. Mary too did it joyfully. They didn’t think in terms of loss or cost or sacrifice. They were preoccupied with the real treasure, Jesus.

So here is my final challenge in our series of building traction into your life. Take some time to reflect on your giving. Does it demonstrate genuine trust in God? Is it only ever out of your abundance? When was the last time you made a real sacrifice where giving meant you needed to take a step of faith? Have you ever placed ‘all your living’ in an offering? If not, try giving away an entire week’s wages. Ask God for permission to do this; to take you to another level of faith.

If you’ve never given a tenth regularly, start now for three months and see what happens. God can only go beyond the step we are prepared to take. But we must take a step. And when He comes through, tell your story. It will encourage others.

Finally, ask God to help you do something like Mary, an extravagant act of giving that truly values Jesus and His Kingdom.