What We Can Learn from the Sinful Woman’s Generosity
As a pastor, I love taking God’s Word and breaking it down for my church family. To take a biblical text, expound on it, and then provide modern application is one of the greatest blessings of ministry. While all Scripture is God-breathed and useful (2 Tim. 3:16), the four Gospels provide a treasure trove of Jesus’s teachings that are perfectly practical and relevant to daily living.
The teachings of Jesus provide numerous real-life examples of living with generosity. But in an encounter (Luke 7:36-50) between Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, and a sinful woman, we learn that generosity involves more than finances.
Here are three lessons we can learn as we review the conversation between Jesus and Simon and the example of the sinful woman’s generosity.
The pharisee’s generosity was limited by his heart condition
When a visiting rabbi entered a village to teach, the common practice was for one of the influential synagogue members to invite the rabbi over for a post-service meal. Jesus reclined at the table, perhaps physically exhausted after teaching God’s Word in the synagogue. I’ve enjoyed the modern equivalent of this tradition many times, as the traditional meal for feeding a Baptist pastor always includes good fried chicken!
Simon extended hospitality to Jesus by inviting Him over for lunch. But, as verses 44-46 demonstrate, Simon failed to show true generosity to Jesus according to the customs of the day. His generosity had limits. He was willing to go through the formal motions of doing the right thing, but his heart clearly wasn’t in it.
How often do we grudgingly do the right thing? Whether we’re following processes at work that we don’t agree, or whether its our kids following the rules only because they have no other choice. Or what about when the offering plate is passed at church, and we know we have to give something, but our hearts are as tight as our wallets when we put the money in the plate?
The Pharisee’s generosity was limited by his heart condition. Though his culture required him to show a level of generosity to Jesus, his heart would not allow him to go the extra mile and give cheerfully. His hardheartedness was tragic, because the cheerful giver is one whom God loves to bless (2 Cor. 9:6-7).
The woman’s generosity was evident in her worship
Luke spared no hesitation in describing the woman as a sinner. She was an undesirable who would never have been welcome in the home of a well-respected Pharisee. Simon must have been mortified to find that kind of woman in his home. Worse than her presence were her actions. She took down her hair (a major social taboo), opened an expensive box of ointment, and openly anointed Jesus’s feet in front of the whole group. The ointment alone would have cost nearly a year’s wages for a day laborer. She never spoke, but her tears flowed as she poured out her heart in extravagant worship.
The Lord does not need the money in your wallet or purse. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10-12). As He told His people through Haggai the prophet, both the silver and the gold are His (Haggai 2:8). He does not call His people to give of their financial resources because He needs their money. Rather, He calls His people to obedience and to worship. How deserving is God of our worship? How much of our lives should He possess?
The woman’s worship overflowed with generosity. She never asked, “How much should I give to stay off God’s bad side?” Instead, there were no limits to her love for God and there were no limits to the extravagance of her worship.
Jesus is generous with forgiveness to all who ask in faith
When Simon the Pharisee questioned Jesus inwardly (Luke 7:39), Jesus read Simon’s thoughts and told him a parable. Two men faced a debt they could not pay. The lender forgave them both. Jesus’s question in v. 42 should have caused Simon instant conviction over his own sinfulness. While he was busy condemning the sinful woman (and silently questioning Jesus’s wisdom), he had failed the basic test of hospitality expected in 1st century Jewish culture. Who was the greater sinner, the woman who worshiped Jesus extravagantly, or the man who refused to show generosity in worship?
Jesus continued the exchange by openly forgiving the woman’s sins in front of the household. This bold assertion of deity got everyone’s attention, but for us, the ultimate lesson of generosity that Luke 7 provides centers on the generosity of God. For all who come to Him in humility and worship, seeking His mercy and forgiveness, He extends generous love and grace.
The most haunting sentence in the whole passage is found in verse 47. He who is forgiven little, loves little.
What about the reverse of that statement? If we love little, is that an indication that our hearts do not truly belong to God? In his later years, the apostle John emphasized the impact God’s love should have on a follower of Jesus.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-17, ESV)
May we learn from the sinful woman and worship Jesus generously, in word, deed, and truth. May we embrace the forgiveness He offers, worship Him extravagantly, and demonstrate godly generosity in every aspect of our lives.
About the author: Matthew Collier has spent two decades as a bi-vocational pastor and high school social studies teacher in northeast Arkansas. He and his wife Jennifer have three kids: Walter, Abigail, and Benjamin. He is a second-year Doctor of Ministry student at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, TN. His passions are spending time with family, preaching and teaching, coin collecting, and following the Atlanta Braves and Arkansas Razorbacks.