The Losses and Gains of Knowing Christ

On our journey with Christ to the cross, we gain two companions this week, Mary of Bethany and the apostle Paul. With their actions and words, both Mary and Paul help us to understand the necessary losses and inestimable gains of knowing Christ.

1. Jesus is now in the closing days of his earthly ministry. In a brief calm before the tumultuous events to come, he and the disciples are having dinner with dear friends. But even among his closest companions, there is trouble. Read the story in John 12:1-8 (NLT).

For insights into the setting and characters in this story, see “Jesus Is Anointed at Bethany (11:55–12:11)” in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

  • The NIV First-Century Study Bible note (“Jn 12:1–11”) characterizes Mary’s act of anointing Jesus as “a great reversal of royal expectations.” To better understand this reference, read the entry for “Anoint” in Easton’s Bible Dictionary. How does Mary’s anointing both fulfill the purpose of a royal anointing and also constitute a “great reversal” of it? In what other ways is her act a unique fulfillment of the various purposes of anointing?
  • The story contains other “reversals” as well, particularly in the contrasts between Mary and Judas. For insights into the actions and character of both Mary and Judas, see this note in the New Bible Commentary. What contrasts are evident between Judas and Mary? In what ways do they constitute opposites?
  • It is the scandalous extravagance of Mary’s offering that Judas criticizes—and that Jesus affirms. To learn more about the nard Mary used to anoint Jesus, see the corresponding note from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): New Testament. The great value of the perfume suggests that Mary’s offering was sacrificial. Purchasing the nard likely required a lifetime of savings. It may also have been her financial security for the present as well as the future. What does the costly nature of her act demonstrate about the true scope of what she sacrificed for her devotion to Christ?

2. In his letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle Paul describes how “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” led to a great reversal in his own life. Read the passage in Philippians 3:4b–14 (CEV).

  • For background and insights into this significant passage, see the corresponding note “The Example of Paul” in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. How does Paul use his own life to illustrate what it means to “know Christ”?
  • Paul stresses his desire to know Christ in both his power and his suffering (v. 10). Why is it significant that he includes both? In other words, what would be lost if Paul sought to know only Christ’s power, or only Christ’s suffering?
  • Paul imagines himself as an athlete running and struggling for a prize. For a fresh perspective on these verses, read Philippians 3:12–14 in both the CEV and The Voice (VOICE). What insights does reading the two translations side by side provide about what it means to “run toward the goal”? What does “struggling to take hold of the prize” require?

Questions for Reflection

  • Both Mary and the apostle Paul are examples of what it means to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ” (St. Benedict of Nursia). Few would have faulted them for “preferring” other things—their reputation, social norms, or their own security—but they considered such things “worthless.” In the past, what have you tended to prefer to Christ or been unwilling to sacrifice for love of Christ?
  • What, if anything, do you tend to prefer to Christ in this season of life? How do you imagine your life might be different if, for love of Christ, you could release whatever you are withholding?
  • In the days ahead, how might you be “scandalous” as Mary was, extravagant in expressing your love for Christ?

A Prayer for the Week Ahead

Pray Psalm 126:4–6.

For Additional Study

  • To learn more about Mary of Bethany, go to John 12:1–8 and see the corresponding note “Mary 1” in the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters.
  • To learn more about Judas Iscariot, go to John 12:1-8 and see the corresponding note “Personality Profiles: Judas Iscariot” in the King James Study Bible Notes.
  • The church at Philippi is one that was founded by Paul. For a comprehensive overview of his letter to the Philippian church, go to Philippians 3:4–14 and see the corresponding note “Letter to the Philippians” in the Encyclopedia of the Bible.