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“But there were some that had indignation among themselves, saying, To what purpose hath this waste of the ointment been made? For this ointment might have been sold for above three hundred pence and given to the poor. And they murmured against her” (Mark 14:4, 5). These words bring us to what I believe the Lord would have us consider finally together, namely, that which is signified by the little word “waste”.
What is waste? Waste means, among other things, giving more than is necessary. If a shilling will do and you give a point, it is a waste. If two ounces will do and you give a kilogram, it is a waste. If three days will suffice to finish a task well enough and you lavish five days or a week on it, it is a waste. Waste means that you give something too much for something too little. If someone is receiving more than he is considered to be worth, then that is waste.
But remember, we are dealing here with something which the Lord said had to go out with the Gospel, wherever that Gospel should be carried. Why? Because He intends that the preaching of the Gospel should issue in something along the very lines of the action of Mary here, namely, that people should come to Him and waste themselves on Him. This is the result that He is seeking.
We must look at this question of wasting on the Lord from two angles: that of Judas (John 12:4-6) and that of the other disciples (Matt. 26:8, 9); and for our present purpose we will run together the parallel accounts.
All the twelve thought is a waste. To Judas of course, who had never called Jesus ‘Lord’, everything that was poured out upon Him was waste. Not only was ointment waste; even water would have been waste. Here Judas stands for the world. In the world’s estimation the service of the Lord, and our giving ourselves to Him for such service, is sheer waste. He has never been loved, never had a place in the hearts of the world, so any giving to Him is a waste. Many say: ‘Such-and-such a man could make good in the world if only he were not a Christian!’ Because a man has some natural talent or other asset in the world’s eyes, they count such people are really too good for the Lord. ‘What waste of a useful life!’ they say.
Let me give a personal instance. In 1929 I returned from Shanghai to my home town of Foochow. One day I was walking along the street with a stick, very weak and in broken health, and I met one of my old college professors. He took me into a teashop where we sat down. He looked at me from head to foot and from foot to head, and then he said: ‘Now look here; during your college days we thought a good deal of you and we had hopes that you would achieve something great. Do you mean to tell me that this is what you are?’ Looking at me with penetrating eyes, he asked that very pointed question. I must confess that, on hearing it, my first desire was to break down and weep. My career, my health, everything had gone, and here was my old professor who taught me law in the school, asking me: ‘Are you still in this condition, with no success, no progress, nothing to show?’
But the very next moment—and I have to admit that in all my life it was the first time—I really knew what it meant to have the “spirit of glory” resting upon me. The thought of being able to pour our my life for my Lord flooded my soul with glory. Nothing short of the Spirit of glory was on me then. I could look up and without a reservation say: ‘Lord, I praise Thee! This is the best thing possible; it is the right course that I have chosen!’ To my professor it seemed a total waste to serve the Lord; but that is what the Gospel is for—to bring us to a true estimate of His worth.
Judas felt it a waste. ‘We could manage better with the money by using it in some other way. There are plenty of poor people. Why not rather give it for charity, do some social service for their uplift, help the poor in some practical way? Why pour it out at the feet of Jesus?’ (See John 12:4-6.) That is always the way the world reasons. ‘Can you not do something better with yourself than this? It is going a bit too far to give yourself altogether to the Lord!’
But if the Lord is worthy, then how can it be a waste? He is worthy to be so served. He is worthy for me to be His prisoner. He is worthy for me just to live for Him. He is worthy! What the world says about this does not matter. The Lord says: ‘Do not trouble her’. So let us not be troubled. Men may say what they like, but we can stand on this ground, that the Lord said: ‘It is a good work. Every true work is not done on the poor; every true work is done to Me’. When once our eyes have been opened to the real worth of our Lord Jesus, nothing is too good for Him.
But I do not want to dwell too much on Judas. Let us go on to see what was the attitude of the other disciples, because their reaction affects us even more than does his. We do not greatly mind what the world is saying; we can stand that, but we do very much mind what other Christians are saying who ought to understand. And yet we find that they said the same thing as Judas; and they not only said it but they were very upset, very indignant about it. “When the disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor” (Matt. 26:8, 9).
Of course we know that the attitude of mind is all too common among Christians which says, ‘Get all you can for as little as possible’. That however is not what is in view here, but something deeper. Let me illustrate. Has someone been telling you that you are wasting your life be sitting still and not doing much? They say, ‘Here are people who ought to get out into this or that kind of work. They could be used to help this or that group of people. Why are they not more active?’— and in saying so, their whole idea is use. Everything ought to be used to the full in ways they understand.
There are those who have been very concerned with some dear servants of the Lord on this very ground, that they are apparently not doing enough. They could do so much more, they think, if they could secure an entry somewhere and enjoy a greater acceptance and prominence in certain circles. They could then be used in a far greater way. I have spoken already of a sister whom I knew for a long time and who, I think, is the one by whom I have been helped most. She was used of the Lord in a very real way during those years when I was associated with her, though to some of us at the time this was not so apparent. The one concern in my heart was this: ‘She is not used!’ Constantly I said to myself, ‘Why does she not get out and take some meetings, go somewhere, do something? It is a waste for her to be living in that small village with nothing happening!’ Sometimes, when I went to see her, I almost shouted at her. I said, ‘No one knows the Lord as you do. You know the Book in a most living way. Do you not see the need around? Why don’t you do something? It is a waste of time, a waste of energy, a waste of money, a waste of everything, just sitting here and doing nothing!’
But no, brethren, that is not the first thing with the Lord. He wants you and me to be used, certainly. God forbid that I should preach inactivity or seek to justify a complacent attitude to the world’s need. As Jesus Himself says here, “the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world”. But the question is one of emphasis. Looking back today, I realize how greatly the Lord was in fact using that dear sister to speak to a number of us who, as young men, were at that time in His training school for this very work of the Gospel. I cannot thank God enough for her.
What, then, is the secret? Clearly it is this, that in approving Mary’s action at Bethany, the Lord Jesus was laying down one thing as a basis of all service: that you pour out all you have, your very self, unto Him; and if that should be all He allows you to do, that is enough. It is not first of all a question of whether ‘the poor’ have been helped or not. The first question is: Has the Lord been satisfied?
There is many a meeting we might address, many a convention at which we might minister, many a Gospel campaign in which we might have a share. It is not that we are unable to do it. We could labor and be used to the full; but the Lord is not so concerned about our ceaseless occupation in work for Him. That is not His first object. The service of the Lord is not to be measured by tangible results. No, my friends, the Lord’s first concern is with our position at His feet and our anointing of His head. Whatever we have as an ‘alabaster box’: the most precious thing, the thing dearest in the world to us—yes, let me say it, the outflow from us of a life that is produced by the very Cross itself—we give that all up to the Lord. To some, even of those who should understand, it seems a waste; but that is what He seeks above all. Often enough the giving to Him will be in tireless service, but He reserves to Himself the right to suspend the service for a time in order to discover to us whether it is that or Himself that holds us.
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