Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
— John 12:3-5
Recently, an Iranian pastor who’d been imprisoned lashed out at Rev. Franklin Graham, who’d been his champion, advocating for his release. Reading the news item, it sounds complicated, but one thing that stands out is that Pastor Saeed criticizes Rev. Graham for having a private airplane.
Now, I’m not here to defend Franklin Graham, but the underlying assumption is that a preacher who lives a luxurious lifestyle is somehow less holy than one who arrays himself in abject poverty. It’s a very popular to criticize churches for spending money on finery and in so doing, dismiss what they teach and preach.
“And some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. …
“Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things entering in choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.“
— Mark 4:7. 18-19
The deceitfulness of riches can affect the way one hears the word, if they prefer to pursue worldly wealth rather than the Kingdom of God: we know that. But if you listen to the word of God but say, “Yeah, but look at that Armani suit! Check out the Mercedes! I’m not following his ‘Jesus’!”, then the deceitfulness of riches has also choked the word.
(Funny, isn’t it, how businesspeople and politicians don’t come in for the same scrutiny?)
Paul knew how to be abased and how to abound. Jesus says the worker is worthy of his hire. What’s important is not what one has, but what one does with it. Jesse Duplantis once said, “Don’t ask how many Cadillacs I have – ask how many Cadillacs I bought for other people!” What is Brother Graham using that airplane for? Is it to zoom off to Cannes for the film festival, or pop down to Mar-a-Lago for home group with Don and Melania? Or is it to get him to crusades in places commercial airlines don’t fly, or give encouragement to Samaritan’s Purse workers?
On the other hand, I see people ministering on the Downtown East Side: some are ordinary “just folks” who live and breathe the Word and bring it; some wear “poverty” like their personal crown of thorns, so that people can see just how humble they are. Righteousness is a matter of the heart, and the outward signs, whatever they might be, don’t mean jack.
If you read the instructions for the building of the tabernacle (starting in Exodus 25), you’ll see how God specifies that there are certain kinds of skins to cover it, that the thread is to be pulled from pure gold and that other fittings, like the altar and the rings for the curtain rods, are to be made with pure gold and silver and other expensive and luxurious ingredients.
“Deceitfulness of riches” would have led someone to say, “Look at all that finery they’re using! They should have sold that stuff and given it to the poor!”
These were instructions from God. Who are we to judge that? And if the Hebrews deviated from those instructions — even to say, “We’ll use 18-karat gold to stretch it farther” — they would have been in disobedience.
What’s more, the “value” of the things God calls for in the tabernacle is only value in the eyes of the world. By using them for the tabernacle and not putting that money towards worldly things, even feeding the poor, they were obeying His instructions and assuring that He would continue to provide for them. They were taking the most highly-prized things of the world and releasing them, saying, in effect, “The love of God is worth more than gold!”
The “deceitfulness of riches” can cause you to look at someone’s outward appearance oso that the import of what they’re saying or doing gets snatched away. They also cause you to judge another person, and we’re not supposed to do that, either.
So look past the outward signs and listen to the word: as Jesus says, you shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16, 20) — not by the leaves.