The message of this small book is for those who desire an intimate relationship with God above everything else. It is not for those seeking to get the most out of God for the least price. Neither is it for the self-satisfied or self-indulgent.
God is looking for people who will gladly give all for the privilege of pleasing Him. He seeks those who want heart-to-heart relationship rather than benefits. They are the ones whose eyes He opens, leading them into the beautiful discovery of the ultimate attainment.
From servant to lover
It took God almost twelve years, from the day I first came to know Him, to make a lover of me. For all that time I was trying hard to please Him – but as a servant. My conversion, at seventeen years of age, was a very real, life-changing experience. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit a few months later I soon found myself being moved into leadership and ministry. At eighteen I preached my first sermon from an Anglican pulpit.
With sayings such as “You’re saved to serve!” and “Jesus died for you – what have you done for Him?” ringing in my ears, I became increasingly involved in Christian work. This led me to Bible College and eventually into full-time ministry at the age of twenty-six.
I wanted to lead people to Jesus. I wanted to do God’s work, and I was very sincere. More than that, I knew that God had called me. He blessed and honoured much of what I did. Under His direction I trod a path of faith, obedience and fruitfulness. My satisfaction and sense of fulfilment grew. I thought I had found the way to please God, but there was more to it than that.
Had God not intervened when He did, dramatically redirecting me, I would have simply continued serving Him in the only way I knew. But He did intervene and His redirection came in the form of a clear, but entirely unexpected, word that I was to go to Moscow for Him. I had never before had a call like that. It was exciting, overwhelming – and frightening.
Setting out from Australia in September 1970, I began a journey which moved me into a dependence on God greater than I had ever known. I needed His guidance and provision, not in a general way, but literally on a day-to-day basis. I had no idea of the route I would follow nor of the time the journey would take. Neither did I know that, before ever reaching Russia, I would discover what it is to have a love relationship with Jesus – a discovery which was to revolutionise my life and ministry.
The message contained in this book was first given to me by God in December 1970, while I was in Canada on my way to Russia. It was the culmination of a process which had been taking place over a period of several weeks, during which I had been aware of God changing me from a servant to a lover. During that time, as I travelled from church to church, that transformation began to be reflected in my ministry.
One Saturday night, as I was praying about what I should preach in a church I was to visit the next morning, God led me to the first eight verses of John chapter 12. From them He not only gave me my message for that particular Sunday but also that which was to become, from then on, my overriding theme.
Of all my teaching and preaching over the years, this is the message I have presented far more than any other. I have seen its transforming effect, not only on my own life and ministry, but in the lives of individuals and churches wherever it has been received and responded to.
Sadly, not all of God’s servants want to make the transition to being His lovers – nevertheless both the call and the opportunity are there for everyone.
What really is the significance of being a Christian? There are, of course, the nominal church attenders who call themselves Christians, but who have no real personal experience with Jesus. Their position is clear. They need to come to Him, to personally put their trust in Him and to be born again. But what about the true believers – those who are born again?
Call it conversion, or call it what you like, the experience of receiving Jesus, of being born again, is a very real one. It holds the potential of a great life here and an even better one in the hereafter.
After my own conversion, I joined a church and got to know other Christians. It was a bit like being ushered into the membership of an exclusive club. I soon gained the impression that so long as someone was a Christian they were “alright”. The unsaved were “them” – the outsiders – while we, the ones on the inside, were “us”.
The “Christian” label was the thing that made all the difference. A doctor was alright so long as he was a Christian doctor. The same applied to school teachers, lawyers and anyone else with the right label. After a while, though, that simple, rather starry-eyed idealism did not stand up to the cold light of reality. Christians they may have been but that certainly was no guarantee that they were living up to the label.
To this day I still hear people applying that same naive logic. They become excited at the news that some prominent person is a Christian, the assumption being that such people are “safe”. To some extent that may well be true. However the new life we receive in Jesus is a free gift and being a Christian is no guarantee that a person will live like one!
The significance of being a Christian is not in being born again or wearing the right label. Looking at John 12:1-8 we see that the group who gathered around Jesus that day in Bethany were all followers of His. We could say they wore the “Jesus” label.
There was Lazarus His friend – whom He had not long before raised from the dead – and his two sisters Martha and Mary. Their home was obviously a place where Jesus felt welcome and cared for. It was the place where He chose to stopover before facing all that awaited Him in Jerusalem – culminating in His crucifixion.
Had you walked in on that dinner party at Bethany you would have seen Jesus surrounded by those who claimed to be His followers. Yet some of them were not all they claimed to be. In fact, when it comes to relating to Jesus in the way which satisfies Him, only one of them made the grade.
“So they made Him a supper there; and Martha was serving”. She was good at that. During an earlier incident when Jesus was visiting the same house (Luke 10:38-42) Martha made Him welcome, yet did not really take the time to appreciate and enjoy her guest. Why?
Martha’s way was to fuss about, making elaborate preparations, doing everything impeccably. Her sister Mary, on the other hand, was completely taken up with all that Jesus had to share. She sat engrossed, drinking in His every word. The significance of this quite escaped Martha who was much too busy doing all the right things.
Worse than that, Martha became increasingly irritated as time went on because her sister was not bothering to lift a finger to help. Mary just sat rapt at Jesus’ feet. Finally Martha’s frustration rose to the point where she snapped at Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me!”
From Martha’s viewpoint it was not only Mary but also Jesus who was at fault. In her eyes both Jesus and Mary were both uncaring and insensitive. In appearing oblivious to her need they clearly had their priorities wrong. Surely it should have been obvious to them that the important thing was to get all the necessary preparations done. This was no time to sit around and talk. Martha had figured out her priorities – she was going to wait on Jesus in a big way – whether He liked it or not! There was work to be done!
Jesus was unmoved. He succumbed not a bit to Martha’s attack, though He must have been saddened by what it revealed about her. “Martha, Martha,” He said, “you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Martha’s frantic preparations, her fastidious fussing, were utterly lost on Jesus. He did not want to be doted on like a V.I.P. His heart was overflowing with God’s love and God’s life and He wanted to share it. Mary sensed this and gladly responded to Him.
Martha, on the other hand, was acutely aware of all that had to be done, to the extent of being blatantly unaware of the God-given privilege which was hers – the privilege of closeness with Jesus.
Some Christians speak of a “Martha ministry” when referring to those aspects of church life which require someone who can be down-to-earth and practical. Martha, though, did not have a ministry – she had a problem! She was caught up in the service syndrome. You can find examples of it in many churches – and it’s wrong.
Not that a great deal of the service being rendered by willing, hard-working individuals is wrong or unnecessary of itself, but if those who do it share Martha’s approach they are wrong in their motivation. It was her service, rather than the One she served which was important to her. And the reason it assumed such a degree of importance was because it made her somebody. It gave her an identity, a purpose and a sense of achievement. There was a competitive aspect too. In striving to excel, she sought to do better than those around her. Martha’s achievements gave her something by which she could conveniently measure herself against others.
No doubt she would have pointed to the way she put herself out to serve Jesus as proof of how much she valued Him. Many today would make the same claim. The fact remains, however, that Martha was not motivated by a true appreciation of Jesus.
To Martha, Jesus was merely an opportunity for her to “do her thing”. Which is precisely the case with many who claim to serve God, whether in the most menial or mundane of tasks (dutifully performed “in the name of the Lord”) or in the forefront of Christian ministry. Those who are motivated by the service syndrome present us not with shining examples, but with an ugly parody of the real thing. Such wrong motivation feeds egos and provides a false sense of achievement and importance. Worst of all it deprives God of what He longs for.
On that day in Bethany, Jesus had stopped by on His way to Jerusalem – and the cross of execution. He simply wanted to be with His friends. He needed their expressions of love. Yet the only way Martha chose to meet His need was by serving!
A friend of Jesus
While Martha busied herself with serving, Lazarus her brother reclined at the table with Jesus.
In those times and in that kind of setting, with the food laid out at floor-level, those who ate would literally recline on one elbow as they did so. Hence the picture we have in John 13:23 of John reclining next to Jesus at the Last Supper and, in an act of friendship and affection, resting his head on His breast. Reclining, here, at the table afforded Lazarus a similar opportunity to express the friendship he felt for Jesus.
There was a bond of affection between Jesus and Lazarus, typified by the message Martha and Mary had earlier sent Jesus at the time of Lazarus’ fatal illness: “He whom you love is sick”. Lazarus died after that – only to be raised from the dead by Jesus. Now, with Jesus visiting him once more, he simply wanted to be there at the table enjoying the presence of his friend and expressing his affection for Him.
As we shall shortly see, even such a demonstration of friendship fell short of the kind of expression for which Jesus longed. But, at least, it was far closer to the mark than Martha’s. She could only value Jesus on the basis of self-gratifying service, whereas Lazarus valued Him for who He was.
Certainly Lazarus had greatly benefited from his relationship with Jesus (being raised from the dead, after all, is no mean thing!) but that had only served to strengthen the bond which already existed between them, and to increase the regard in which Lazarus held Jesus.
So Lazarus was content to do nothing more than just be with his friend – enjoying and appreciating Him.
Friendship is not so much what we do for one another as the deep satisfaction and enjoyment of simply being together. This is often lacking in the Church, where people get so caught up in performing for God and for each other that they fail to forge the kinds of relationships in which they can simply relax and enjoy their belonging and togetherness.
True friendship means mutual enjoyment of one another. If there is no such enjoyment in a relationship there is no life in it and no lasting, God-glorifying fruit can come out of it.
So we can see that, while Martha did no more than serve Jesus, Lazarus at least esteemed Him – valuing Him as his friend.
Mary, though, related to Jesus in a way which put even Lazarus’ warm response in the shade. Taking a pound of very expensive spikenard ointment, she knelt down and poured it all over Jesus’ feet. Then, stooping low she proceeded to wipe His feet with her hair.
It is not difficult to imagine how this act of pouring costly spikenard over her guest’s feet – no matter how distinguished he was – would have been seen as an act of gross extravagance. Certainly anyone wishing to bestow honour on a guest entering his home would, in those days, anoint him. But the ointment would be poured not on his feet but on his head and rarely, if ever, would it be something as extravagantly expensive as spikenard. If the host wished to pay attention to his guest’s feet it would be along the lines of washing them with water (as Jesus did to His disciples at the Last Supper) – an act of hospitality with the practical function of washing the dust off sandal-clad feet.
To have poured costly spikenard over Jesus’ head would have been extravagant enough, but to pour it over his dusty feet, when water drawn from the well at no cost would have done a better cleansing job anyway, made absolutely no sense at all! Then, as if that was not bad enough, she indulged in the humiliating act of using her hair (which, the Bible teaches us, is a woman’s “crowning glory”) for a foot towel.
What was the point of it all? Mary certainly wasn’t extending normal hospitality – cheap ointment on the head would have done nicely for that. Neither was she being a responsible “steward” of her resources – splashing spikenard around is no way to watch the pennies! She was not even being practical – a basin of water would have been a better foot-washing medium. Neither, though, was she indulging in drawing attention to herself – a Martha-like approach would have been better suited to that.
In seeking to understand what Mary did, we inevitably try to rationalise it. But hers was not a rational response, it was a love response. She followed her heart, not her head. There was nothing calculated about the way she responded to Jesus. She simply made Him the object of her love and then sought a way to express that love. In her case that expression took the form of spikenard poured over His feet to such a lavish extent that “the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment”.
Martha’s serving was eminently respectable. Lazarus’ warm friendship was commendable. But Mary’s demonstration was wasteful and even offensive (as we shall see). She did everything she could to be lavish and self-giving toward Jesus because she loved Him. The very totality of her response is an example of the fact that true love cannot draw the line. On the other hand such lesser motivations as duty, gratitude, thankfulness and even obligation, all have definite limitations. They go so far but no further.
There is no greater written revelation of God than that contained in the simple words: “God is love”. The best-known Bible verse, John 3:16, speaks of that very revelation and its inevitable outworking: “…God so loved…that He gave…”. He could not have done otherwise, for love is giving.
If there is no giving there is no love. It follows then that because God is love, He must be the very epitome of giving. And such giving – such love – is without limit and without restraint, as can be clearly seen in the way God freely gave His Son Jesus. He was not obliged or compelled to do so. He gave Him because His love for us could not draw the line. It could not help but be expressed in the free and complete giving of the One most precious to Him.
In lavishly displaying her love for Jesus, Mary gave true love a fitting expression. What less could she do? When you truly love someone is it possible for you to demonstrate the reality of your love without giving? Not only will you give, but neither practicality nor common sense will have any bearing on how and what you give. Godly love entails all that you are and all that you have. If you really want to please Him there is no alternative.
Jesus was once asked which of God’s commandments was the foremost. Without hesitation He answered: “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’.” (Mark 12:29&30). It couldn’t be clearer. Yet the evidence around us indicates that, of all the things so many Christians seek to concentrate on and excel in, obedience to the greatest of all God’s commandments is rarely at the top of their list. It is imperative that this deficiency be corrected. There is no greater priority for God’s Church.
There is, of course, a certain threat in making a love commitment to God. It is the threat of no longer having the freedom to regulate the extent of your response to Him. The thought of continually being totally responsive to God can be quite frightening.
For many, it is far more appealing to think in terms of a Christian’s duty or obligation. Like spending one hour a day with God (leaving you twenty-three for yourself), giving Him a tenth of your income (leaving nine-tenths for you) and setting aside Sunday (leaving you the other six days). Attractive alternatives? After all, once you have established that such are God’s requirements, you can always give yourself a pat on the back whenever you “go the extra mile” by exceeding them a little – or even a lot. Then you can say to yourself, “What a good boy I am!” as you look down on those who did not exceed them by as much as you did. At the same time there is the comforting thought that you are still in control. It’s like having your cake and eating it too. But it certainly isn’t love.
Love is a deliberate act of will, in which you choose to give your all to the object of your love. Because it is a matter of choice it does not depend on mere feelings or emotions. Which is why God has commanded us to love Him rather than saying, “love me if and when you feel in love with me”.
At some point Mary deliberately chose to make Jesus the special object of her love. Once she made that choice she began to seek out opportunities to express her love. When she seized the occasion to lavish that spikenard on Jesus’ feet she was simply expressing the choice she had already made.
To not love Jesus as Mary did, is to not love Him in the way He has commanded. To fail in this is to neglect the one thing which really counts above all else. Whatever you may do to substitute for that neglect, however great, however noble, can in no way make up for your lack of love for Jesus.
The point is clear. To truly please God you must make love your aim – settling for nothing less.
You must apply yourself unstintingly to this one thing – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Nothing is greater than this. To attain such love is to attain all. Only by this do we come into the same oneness with God which Jesus possessed – and which He prayed for us to have. When that has taken place, all else that is right, true and necessary will follow.
It is precisely by such a love relationship between God and His people that He will be glorified. This is the fulfilment of the purpose for which Jesus came.
Sadly, our story isn’t finished yet, for there was one other who played a significant part in it – the disciple Judas.
Though his name is usually associated with avarice and betrayal we must not forget that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Not by any means was he an outsider among those gathered at Bethany that day. He was known by all as one of those chosen by Jesus to follow Him. In a present-day setting he would be a key man in a church or a ministry team.
Not everyone condemns Judas. Some feel sorry for him. They see him as a “fall guy” set up by God as the sucker who took the rap – the joker in the pack – the one who was fated to do the dirty work so that Jesus would go to the cross. But God doesn’t work like that.
Certainly Jesus needed to die. Certainly it was Judas who betrayed Him. Yet not because he was locked into that role by fate but because of the choices he made. When he decided to follow Jesus it was because he saw something in it for himself. Judas lived for himself and he saw in Jesus’ mission the promise of personal gain.
When, after a while, Judas felt that things were beginning to go sour he became disillusioned. Once that happened he was on the market – available to the highest bidder. And it only took thirty pieces of silver to buy him. Judas was a man who could be bought and a handful of silver looked better to him than anything Jesus was offering.
Some say that Judas’ reaction to Mary’s act typifies that of the non-Christian world. His position as one of Jesus’ disciples makes it clear that this is not so. He is, unfortunately, typical of a certain kind of Christian. Worse than that, he typifies a certain kind of insider Christian.
Consider his reaction to Mary’s extravagance. Feigning horror at such waste when so many poor people could have been helped, he placed not one jot of value on Mary’s demonstration of love. How could he? He lived only for himself. He lived not to give but to get. To love Jesus as Mary did held no attraction for him at all. His only interest was to use Jesus for self-gain. It was inevitable, then, that Judas should feel threatened by the way in which Mary gave herself to Jesus in a display of extravagant love.
Like so many of his kind, Judas’ reaction was presented in the guise of a respectable, even noble, objection: “How could you waste all that money! Don’t you care about the poor?” Protecting himself, as always, there was no way he could betray his real motives – so he cast aspersions on innocent Mary.
In the same way many sincere, eager Christians have begun to enter into a love relationship with Jesus only to be condemned by others for their seemingly foolish, extravagant and irrational demonstrations of love. And such condemnation often comes from so-called older and wiser Christians – some of them in positions of ministry or leadership.
Like Judas, such people usually manage to present sound reasons for their objections. After all, they can hardly afford to admit that someone else’s expression of love for Jesus shows up their own lack! So they object nobly and righteously. They protest that the money should have been used constructively to help save souls, or the time should have been diligently applied to witnessing, or the praying should have concentrated on the lost of this world.
Whatever the resources being “wasted” on expressions of love to Jesus, the Judases in the Church will always be able to come up with a “sound” objection to such thoughtless extravagance!
Protest though he did, Judas cared nothing for the poor, but he certainly cared about Judas! As he watched that costly ointment gushing over the feet of Jesus he was counting money – his money. Being trusted by Jesus to be His treasurer, Judas repaid Him by stealing. He was an outright thief who pilfered from the money bag, embezzling the funds given to Jesus and His disciples. Had he been able to get his hands on the three hundred denarii for which the spikenard could have been sold, he would have made sure some of it found its way into his pocket. Seeing that go down the drain must have broken his heart!
Much modern evangelism has resulted in many Judases being attracted to the Church. The “come and get” rather than “come and give” approach has meant that lust, rather than love, has been encouraged as egos, ambitions and self-indulgent attitudes have been fed – not only to get people into the Church but also to keep them there.
The trouble is, such people have no desire to love Jesus. Like their forerunner, they are in it for what they can get out of it. It only needs a better offer to come along and they, like Judas, will inevitably take it.
Their only loyalty is to themselves. Their only commitment is to their self-gratification. God, Jesus and the Church exist for their benefit – or else. Though they know how to look good and sound right, at heart they are no better than Judas. They are thieves and betrayers.
Judas’ condemnation of Mary brought Jesus immediately to her defence. He knew, better than she did, the significance of her expression of love. “Let her alone,” He demanded, “in order that she may keep it for the day of my burial!”
In six days Jesus would be crucified. Though others of His followers would not really begin to value Him for who He was until then, Mary had already done so. While others would perhaps be moved to say on that day, “I love Him for dying for me,” she loved Him not for what he did, but for who He was. Her expression of love before His burial had a significance beyond anything which would be expressed when that day came.
Having endorsed Mary’s act, Jesus went on to challenge Judas’ professed scale of values. His noble pretext for objecting was that the spikenard should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. His pretext was sound – even if his motives were not. Jesus did not refute that. Certainly the poor were in need, but the whole situation needed to be seen in the light of Divine reality.
Whether or not the poor could have been helped was, simply, not the point. In assessing the value of the spikenard Mary’s criterion was not, “Where will this do the most good?” but rather, “Who is most worthy of all I have to give?” She felt no guilt in lavishing her costly gift on the one she loved, yet Judas tried to impose guilt on her. He did not care for the poor at all and for him, of all people, to champion their cause was a farce.
Neither Jesus nor Mary felt guilt over the “wasted” spikenard and the empty mouths which could otherwise have been filled. So far as Mary was concerned, Jesus’ worthiness to have her love lavished upon Him was far greater than the greatest human need. A sentiment which Jesus strongly endorsed and defended. If only today’s Christians would see things that way!
As a young evangelically-orientated Christian in years gone by, I believed that saving souls was the most important thing one could do for God. Surely the most godly of acts was to rescue a sinner from a “Christless Eternity”.
No one taught me to love Jesus – but they certainly taught me to lead people to Him. Their need to be saved I well understood. His worthiness to be loved I did not. I appreciated what He had done to make salvation possible, but I had not learned to appreciate Him for His own sake.
Yet, even as I strove to please God by serving Him in evangelism, I knew only too well that I lacked that quality they called “compassion for souls”. Not that I didn’t care about them. I cared a lot. But I knew I didn’t love them as Jesus did. He cared enough to die for them. I could preach that – but I could not really relate to it.
In laying down which of God’s commandments was the foremost, Jesus did not stop after the first. Instead He went on to say, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” He tied those two commandments together, and in so doing made it clear that we are indeed to care about other people. Specifically, we are to love them.
It’s not a matter of loving Jesus to the exclusion of others. Rather, it is a matter of getting the order of things right. It is just not possible for you to love the people Jesus loves until you first love the One who loves them. If you do not obey the first commandment you will in no way succeed in obeying the second.
Despite Judas’ accusations, Mary was not devaluing the poor by giving Jesus the priority of her love. She was merely putting first things first by exalting the One who alone is the hope of all the world – including the world’s poor.
We, God’s people, have much to offer mankind. But we cannot give them what they really need unless we first love them as God does. To do this we must first be lovers of Jesus. Whether in humanitarian works or in spiritual ministry, we misrepresent Jesus unless we love the people as a result of first loving Him.
There is, of course, a great deal of attraction in helping people. It’s nice to be known as a caring, good-hearted person. It certainly helps your reputation and generally wins you esteem and support from both the Church and the community at large. On the other hand, what gain is there in being known as a lover of Jesus? It might even get you labelled as a fanatic! Yet there is no other way for those who want to please God.
If you are unwilling to pour out all that you are and all that you have on Jesus – if you will not give yourself to Him in the abandonment of love – you will neither please Him nor reveal Him to this needy world.
Like it or not that’s the way it is. Fail to be a lover of Jesus and you fail completely. A strong statement? Not nearly as strong as the way the apostle Paul put it. He uncompromisingly stated: “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed.” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Jesus said that the entire Law and the Prophets depend on those two Great Commandments. Everything God has said, done, revealed and laid down in His relationship with mankind ultimately stands or falls by this one thing: whether or not we obey His commands to love.
Jesus is the Great Bridegroom preparing for the day when He is united with His Bride, His Beloved, the Church – us. He “loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” to make it all possible.
To respond to Jesus, to the desire of His heart, to love Him as He has loved us with all that we have and are – surely this is the ultimate attainment.
About the author
Tony Kostas was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1941, where at the age of seventeen, he committed his life to Jesus at a Billy Graham Crusade. In 1967 he founded the Melbourne Outreach Crusade, a non-denominational evangelistic outreach. This later grew into Outreach International, which is now a worldwide body of believers, who share a God-given calling and are committed to live in love with Him and with one another.
Tony’s life is a true expression of all that God has revealed to him throughout the years, in its purity and focus on loving God. His passion is for God to have the desire of His hears: a people who truly represent Him because they are His and His alone.