If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. — 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed… –2 Corinthians 4:7-8a
If Hallelujah means “God be praised,” then what does my broken Hallelujah mean?
FRAGRANCE FILLED THE HOUSE
What’s she doing here? Someone like her?!
They wanted to throw her out, if not for Jesus, who watched her intently, reclined upon a cushion. What will he do about her? Does he even know who she is?!
She held something in the crook of her arm, wrapped up in her sleeve. Reaching Jesus, she fell at his feet with the alabaster jar she had with her and with one unexpected motion, she broke it.
It only took seconds. The fragrance of pure spikenard wafted and permeated the room, so strong was the scent. She took the perfume that flowed out of the now broken vessel and anointed his head with it.
From one corner of the room, someone spat out “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” She winced and her cheeks burned as the others began to rebuke her, also. A weight of shame threatened to make her run.
Then, Jesus spoke in her defense. His words sounded unreal, even while they reverberated in and around her. No man had ever honored her before, let alone defended her. Tears mixed with the swirl of His words, washing away the deep stain and regret of her sinful life.
This pure perfume was her only gift and the one thing she had of value. She broke it and poured it out over him.
She didn’t understand what drove her to do it. She couldn’t name it as of yet, but it rose up in her and caused her to walk through fire to fall down broken and give everything she had. Like a sunrise gradually coming more into view, she understood that what had moved her and made her do the impossible was love.
THE POWER OF BROKEN GIFTS
Love can’t escape an enclosed vessel. The vessel must be broken before the contents can spill out, which is why God often breaks us before He uses us. This brokenness can come in many ways: in our circumstances, finances, reputation, popularity, relationships, family, barrenness in our ministries, etc.
Why was this woman’s gift so special? After all, she inspired Jesus to say, “I’m going to remember what you did and speak about it forever?” She was wrecked by the love of God and gave her everything in return, broken and spilling over.
One lesson in the story stood out to me:
There’s a distinction between using our gifts in strength and using them in brokenness. There’s a difference between ministry and ministry as worship unto Jesus.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. — Psalm 51:17
STRONG AND GIFTED, YET MISSING LOVE
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me… — Jeremiah 9:23-24
Ever have days where you feel super gifted and anointed. God’s Spirit’s flowing and people are being blessed everywhere. It can be exhilarating! You truly feel like you can do anything. I’ve been there.
Without the right heart, however, operating in my gifts can end up being about me: what I discerned, how I got it right, how I won the argument, the way God showed up when I led the meeting and so on. Believe it or not, we can miss “the love part” altogether when we’re so full of our own strength. This “strength” goes by other names, such as experience, expertise, know-how, anointing, great track record, knowledge and understanding, etc.
When I’m in the zone, I feel so strong and, if I were to be honest with myself, proud.
I’m not saying we can’t be bold, strong and powerful when operating in our gifts. There’s a difference, however, between being “strong in the Lord and the power of His might” and being strong in ourselves. (Ephesians 6:10)
ARMOR COMES IN MANY SHAPES AND SIZES
Unfortunately, when I refuse to be broken, the alabaster jar remains intact. Instead of filling the house with the fragrance of Christ, God’s perfume stays trapped within my strong outer shell. Like most people, I don’t like it when my cracks and weaknesses show, let alone being broken in the midst of others. Not fun!
I have to admit, though, the times God has used me most to love others was, guess what, when I was wrecked and broken. When I’m broken, God’s deep current of love carries me beyond my ministry and into the very heart of God.
So, as I see it, I have a choice to make whenever my flesh rises up as a fortress to protect me. I can break my alabaster jar and let the contents of my heart pour out or I can protect my strength, my image, my status, my leadership, my success and my very self. It’s scary how I can operate in my gifts and have an anointed ministry, yet still have something missing. If we’re not careful, what’s missing could be the most important thing of all. Oh, how we desperately need God’s mindset!
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. — 2 Corinthians 12:9
GIFTS WITHOUT LOVE LEAD TO TROUBLE
We operate in value systems we don’t realize we have. Moreover, many of our values may have come from the world and not from God. When we value strength, influence and success over weakness, brokenness and death, we’re operating by the world’s standards.
The Apostle Paul told the gifted Corinthian church not to boast in themselves, but in God. He called them to follow the most excellent way of love. Throughout the letter, Paul tried to bring perspective to the gifts in relation to the Christian community. The Corinthian believers celebrated Christian rock stars and quarreled about who was best. They rated their church family members and the gifts they held according to a worldly scale. In other words, they excelled at using their “measuring sticks.”
Are we doing the same thing in today’s churches and Christian ministries?
Of course, it’s not wrong to give honor where honor is due, but, sometimes, we go beyond God’s boundaries to lift up the person more than we should. (Romans 13:7)
When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world? –1 Corinthians 3:4
As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” –1 Corinthians 12:20-21
RICH MAN, POOR MAN
Since the Bible’s timeless, what Paul wrote to the Corinthians applies also to us. Many of us, without realizing it, perpetuate the myth of the Christian celebrity. When we esteem strength over weakness, we’ll make our boast in those who appear strong, wise, influential and anointed. Inevitably, alabaster jars get put on display, instead of the content that fills them.
To the wealthy (those with abundant resources– anointing, talents, gifts, influence), we say in our hearts, Here, sit in this privileged place. But to the poor (those who seem to lack these resources) we say, Sit in the back pew or here at my feet. Simply put, even in the family context of the Christian community we have “the big people” and “the little people.” (James 2:1-4)
For this reason, not understanding our gifts from God’s perspective can cause us to feel proud or discouraged, privileged or marginalized, valued or rejected. No matter what category or contest, there will always be someone better and worse than we are. On the contrary, God equally values, loves and cherishes us. Our function and gifts don’t determine our value, only our Father in Heaven does.
After Paul shares on the blessings of a unified Christian community and the use of our gifts to build up one another, he writes this incredible statement: And yet I will show you the most excellent way. (1 Corinthians 13:1) This verse begins the trailhead that leads higher and deeper into the famous love passage.
Love breaks us out of worldly distortions so we can operate in our gifts with love, humility and honor. The gifts aren’t meant to build up ourselves, but they’re for the building up of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12)
CONFESSIONS OF A RECOVERING KNOW-IT-ALL
As you might have guessed, I didn’t really know it all, I just thought I did. My mind hungered after knowledge and understanding, especially concerning the things of God. Sounds good, right. Much of it was good. I devoured the Bible and cried out for wisdom and knowledge, seeking it as buried treasure.
For the most part, I was fine, except for those times I could be (a little) arrogant and obnoxious. You know the type, contributing most of the answers and counsel, not the leader mind you, but as a participant in the group Bible study. My “strength” also manifested in other ways: the keyboard warrior (you should have seen my fingers fly), the hairsplitter (after all, accuracy is important) and a born lawyer in the midst of controversial topics (fun times). If I don’t set them straight, then who will? I felt strong and, most importantly, right.
Sadly, I found out my God-given gifts taken too far and not always focused on love could alienate and hurt people. I truly wanted “to fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,” which is how I came to know I can have all these things, but without love, I am nothing. The resounding gongs and clanging symbols of my past still reverberate, reminding me to submit to God, trust in Him and stay sober.
To be clear, God didn’t want to stop me from being who I was. He didn’t want me to get rid of my gifts. He wanted to purify and redeem both myself and them. I’m not yet where I want to be, but I’m definitely further than where I was. I always need the help of other people, because their gifts and strengths help to cover and further develop my weaknesses. Those with kindness, compassion and mercy serve as examples for me to aspire to and follow.
In the end, God had to break me repeatedly and convince me there was a better way.
THE SEASON I PUT ASIDE MY MEASURING STICK
I didn’t even realize he had such an effect on me; it all happened so gradually.
I had worked with Special Education students for some time by that point. Then, I got paired with Tommy (not his real name), a Down Syndrome boy who needed some extra help. For the better part of a year, we had to go over the same materials and concepts again and again and again. In between worksheets and projects, he’d laugh and smile and touch my hand while he spoke my name with true affection. He always managed to get on my good side, even when he wasn’t being that productive.
Despite being reserved and even guarded, at times, Tommy had broken through my defenses, with his quirky, winning ways. For some reason, I was able to be open, affectionate and myself with him.
He was a great kid, who brought a lot of joy and affection into my life! He really liked me. And, I really liked him.
Since I was a person who valued intelligence and getting it “right,” I’d take out my “measuring stick” every once in a while. At times, I’d try to use it on Tommy, but the measurements would never stick. He defied my standards. I valued him, all the while knowing he’d never “measure up” to what I prized. Unable to easily categorize Tommy, I began to “prize” other things more in line with God’s value system. Moreover, as I saw Tommy’s growing value through God eyes, taking measurements didn’t seem to matter anymore. The more I valued him, while not meeting my standards, the more I valued myself for things that had nothing to do with my standards. The more I realized that God loved me, regardless.
But God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong; God chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him. — 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
All things considered, love can come from where you least expect it, and when it does come, it can inspire you to toss out your measuring sticks and crack and break your own alabaster jar. And, when that happens, everyone in the house will know it.
— Joyce Lee
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS:
- Think through your gifts. Have you ever received recognition and praise for your gifts? Would you be willing to allow God to break your gifts, if it brought Him more glory? How would you respond if God limited the use of your gifts or took them away altogether?
- Has there ever been a time where you completely surrendered your gifts? If not, why not? Why not do it now?
- Look around your church, ministry and Christian community. Are there “big people” and “little people?” If so, then why? Do people congregate in cliques according to status? Are you contributing in any way to status and celebrity Christianity? If so, what steps can you take to change this pattern in your life and in the life of others?
- Evaluate the measuring sticks you may be using in your life. We tend to measure after the pattern of our strengths: looks, social status, speaking ability, amount of knowledge, level of recognition, etc. Develop a plan to systematically tear down the lies and worldly values that contribute to these false standards. How can you cultivate God’s way of seeing and value system?
- Like me, have you ever taken your gifts too far and possibly hurt and alienated others? We can do this in both obvious and subtle ways. Pray for God to show you what you need to see and respond to what He says.
- Was there anything in this post that God highlighted for you? How did He speak to you through it? Pray into it.
- What verses and passages in the post could you meditate upon and commit to deeper study? Find ways to apply those Scriptures to your life.