Jesus is at a dinner party reclining at the table to eat when something unexpected happens. A woman moves through the crowded room towards him:
“Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what put into it.” (John 12.3-6).
Based on this event, here are three reasons you should think twice before giving to the poor.
1. Are You Giving to the Poor Only to Steal from God?
After seeing Mary pour the ointment on Jesus’ feet, Judas pipes up and says, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” A denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer, so 300 was almost a year’s salary.
On the surface, Judas is right that a year’s pay could have helped relieve the suffering of many poor people. At first, his concern for the poor is almost admirable. Or is it? He was the treasurer for the disciples and used to steal from the money bag in his keeping. So it wasn’t actually the poor he is concerned about here, but about having more money for his own pocket. If he had a year’s salary in the money bag, imagine how much he could take for himself, and no one would notice! Judas was literally regretting that he couldn’t steal more from Jesus. This also shows he was already compromising under the radar before betraying Jesus. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
It’s so easy for us to condemn Judas for his actions—yet God says in Malachi that not tithing is the same as robbing him. Are you withholding from God what is rightfully his? Ask yourself, “Am I giving a full 10% to my church—or am I stealing from God by giving the excuse that I give to the poor or to those in need?”
If you’re not bringing your firstfruits to God’s storehouse, you are closer to being like Judas than you realize.
Before you give to the poor and needy, prioritize the tithe. It should be the first thing that comes out of your paycheck, your first and best. It belongs to God. I’m not saying you should neglect giving to the poor or neglect to give sacrificially above your tithes. But start with the tithe. Tithing is only the floor of your giving, the minimum standard for the Christian.
2. Is Your Pride Keeping You from Truly Knowing Jesus?
Mary took a vial of alabaster perfume—the most expensive thing she owned—to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Her act of worship broke cultural and conventional boundaries. At that time, it was shameful for any woman to unbind her hair in public. Yet she cleaned Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears.
After watching Mary’s sacrifice, the Pharisees and disciples were indignant. The Gospel of Mark says they scolded her. They thought, “What a waste.” It’s obvious that their giving was in neat, micromanaged boxes. Their prideful hearts were full of judgment, not authentic worship, so they missed the Savior right in front of their eyes. They couldn’t conceptualize such a sacrifice, such an outpouring. Why? Because they didn’t get what Christ was really about. They didn’t know him.
In contrast, Mary humbly sat at his feet at every opportunity. She drank in his words. In a matter of days, Jesus was going to be betrayed, wrongly convicted, and crucified. She and she alone, out of everyone in the room, knew he was going to die and why. She knew what was at stake. So she gave everything. Is your pride keeping you from truly knowing Jesus?
Be like Mary: Know Jesus, spend time at his feet, pray and seek him in the Scriptures. Worship him. Then the natural result is living with reckless abandon for his glory—giving your time, money, talent, and resources to his kingdom.
3. Are You Giving to Please the Lord or for Attention?
The Pharisees sitting at the table with Jesus gave alms to be seen, for the praise of others. If they had social media in that day, every act of generosity would have been on there, post after post. Jesus had some harsh words in the Sermon on the Mount for those who made a show of their giving and donation. He went so far as to say in that if you give for the praise of men, you lose your heavenly reward (Matthew 6.1).
When you volunteer your time or contribute to charity, are you snapping a quick photo or video for social media? Are you trying to glorify Christ, or are your generous acts just ways for you to get attention?
I’m convinced that some people give to charity instead of tithing because there’s more glory in it for them. When you give to your church, no one really knows except the deacon counting the offering or the accountant. It’s secret. Your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing.
Mary did the opposite of the Pharisees. She was so desperate to worship that she risked her reputation, she went against societal norms, she abased herself to give to Jesus. Disapproval everywhere. The Pharisees and disciples scolded her, in contempt over the waste of a year’s salary. But their perspective was completely off because in less than a week, their Savior will go to the cross for their sins. Mary saw this coming and couldn’t help but express her love for Christ.
She was seeking his approval alone, and Jesus honors her by saying, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26.13).
Here are three reasons you should think twice before giving to the poor:
- Are you giving to the poor only to steal from God by withholding your tithe?
- Is your pride keeping you from truly knowing Jesus?
- Are you giving to the poor to please the Lord or for the attention?
None of this is meant to be an excuse not to give, but a warning. Don’t say, “Well I’m just not going to give because my heart isn’t right.” That’s like the man in the epistle of James who looked in a mirror only to forget what he looked like. Use the knowledge to change what you need to change. The worst thing you can do is to walk away indifferent.
What Jesus wants from us is not a checklist of things you accomplished for your own glory, but a natural outpouring that comes from walking with him day to day. Like Mary, live with reckless abandon towards this end.
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