Mercy Ministry in Biblical Perspective

At Briarwood, we have recently been making our way through our Every Member Commitment (EMC) season. The faithfulness, as well as the generosity of God’s people to the ministry of Briarwood, including missions and mercy, never ceases to amaze me, and causes me to be so grateful to serve Christ in this congregation. On Every Member Commitment Sunday, November 7, I preached from Mark 15:3-9, a text that has always intrigued me. This text covers an event that is also recorded in Matthew and John. However, Mark gives the most detailed account of the woman whom we know from other Scripture references to be Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Mary anointed Christ by breaking open and pouring upon him an expensive perfume. In the other texts it is revealed that this perfume flowed from his head to his feet as the baptisms of oil upon the High Priest. Mary then wiped the oil and dried his feet with her hair and kisses. The composition of the story also reveals that the disciples scolded her with indignation, led by Judas who was motivated by nefarious designs. Basically, they accused the woman of a bad business decision, a bad ministry decision and a bad personal decision.

  • She could have sold the oil for a year’s wages thus it was a bad business decision.
  • She could have used the resource to give to the poor which was a bad ministry decision
  • And finally, in their scolding of her, they clearly denigrated her personally.

Jesus, of course, intervenes and tells them “leave her alone. Why do you trouble her?” He then informs the disciples that Mary had done a beautiful thing, a timely thing and a lasting thing. In the context of this, Jesus makes an interesting statement and with an economy of words gives us extraordinary insight and direction concerning the ever-growing appreciation and desire for mercy ministry throughout the evangelical church. His word initially could be considered unfeeling, but when reflected upon, they actually give significant insights and parameters for those of us who desire mercy ministry. Now, what did he say? To their charge that she made a bad business decision and a bad ministry decision – when she could have sold the perfume and given the proceeds to the poor instead of spilling them upon Jesus, He says, “for you always have the poor with you and whenever you want you can do good for them but you will not always have Me. She has done what she could, for she has anointed my body beforehand for burial and truly I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world what is done will be told in memory of her.” In other words, she had done a beautiful thing, a timely thing and lasting thing. But what is Jesus saying about mercy ministry to the poor? Here are some takeaways:

1. The opportunity to do mercy ministry is universal and ever present. It only awaits our heart to do something. It’s interesting to me that Jesus, in an effort to promote mercy ministry, never directly, unless there is a known reason, assaults those who are not poor. By studying the Scripture as well as through ministry, I have come to the conclusion that people who criticize those who have more resources than they, are actually revealing more about themselves than they are about those whom they criticize. In the past, when I would meet a believer who had abundant resources, I tended to assume the worst. I assumed they probably got the resources sinfully or obtained wealth that was motivated by idolatry. And, of course, that can be true. I have come to the conclusion that the issue, when dealing with those with significant resources, is not to criticize how much they have, but to challenge them as to whether what they have has them or is it Christ that has them.

When Jesus deals with disproportionate talents in the hands of three men, he doesn’t critique them on the basis of how much they have, but on whether what they have has them, and what do they do with what they have? Interestingly in this case, the one with the least had the greater issue with idolatry.

In the name of mercy ministry, the Lord has not called Pastors to promote the redistribution of wealth based upon guilt, manipulation or program coercion. I believe He has called us to challenge people. Everything you have, God has given you. Have you made ALL of it available to him?

Yes, we are in a war. We must ask ourselves… do I need all of these cars?  Do I need all of this square footage in my house or all of the latest technological gadgets? Could I be using my resources more effectively? This question is not built upon how many resources one has; it is based on do the resources I have, have me? Am I a good steward in making my resources available for the cause of the Kingdom and the work of the Gospel in the lives of others? In ministry I have met many people who have a lot, but the resources they had didn’t have them!

There is much warning in Scripture of being rich in this world because of its dulling effects and its insidious influence upon us to put our hope in the things of the world instead of Christ. But I have become convinced that God’s people will respond if they are shown what their resources can do for the Kingdom if they are available to the King, instead of the resources taking the place of the King in their hearts.

So, personally and pastorally, I have asked the Lord to liberate me from the silliness of the Disciples who criticized the woman personally because of what she had and what she did with it. In place of that, allow me to exhort God’s people to be more like that woman─giving whatever it is that they have, which in Mary’s case was probably her dowry, her future; and then, like her, “she did all that she could for Jesus.”

2. The ministry to the poor is a matter of the heart in the name of the Gospel but it does not replace the Gospel. Jesus’ amazing insight turned the laser beam of the disciples away from the woman and back to them with the simple words, “you always have the poor with you and whenever you want you can do good for them.” With all due respect to St. Francis Assisi, who is credited with the statement that highlights mercy and justice ministry, “Preach the Gospel and when necessary use words,” this statement is obviously well-intended and motivated, but theologically and methodically it is inadequate at best and misguided at worst. People are not saved by admiring our Gospel lives. They are saved by faith in Christ and “faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.” So, speaking the Gospel is not considered an additive, but an absolute necessity if people are to be saved by faith alone, in Christ alone. Live the Gospel with mercy and justice – it will open doors. Preach with passion and persuasion so that men and women might know Christ and not simply admire your life for Christ.

3. Jesus, while affirming the call to mercy ministry, removes any notion of a utopia where we will not need mercy ministry prior to His second coming. “You will always have the poor with you,” but “You will not always have me.” We live in a broken world, and the impact of sin will continually call for our ministry to the poor coupled with our Gospel proclamation to ALL from now until Jesus comes again.

These are just some thoughts that impacted my life in consideration of this text on stewardship where a woman gave her best and her ALL, becoming a glorious example. As desirable as mercy ministry is, it is downstream from Christ-centered worship and devotion. It should always be present, flowing from Gospel-driven believers, but Gospel-driven believers who do mercy ministry well always begin with Christ- centered devotion that has no boundaries.

Simply put─Lord, liberate me from the silliness of critiquing what others have and what they are doing with it, and take what I have and use it ALL for Christ. I know that as a Pastor I have a call to challenge others, but I need to begin with myself. I am fully aware that my critique of those who have more than me probably reveals more about me than it reveals about them concerning my own idolatry. O Lord, keep me, for the sake of effective ministry (including mercy ministry) Christ-centered, Gospel-centered and Spirit-filled.

I know why that woman “did all that she could” for Jesus. It was because Jesus had done for her what she could not do for herself. O Lord, make me a memorial like her.

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