Discipleship and spiritual formation curriculum for new believers, new Christians

10. Generosity and Service - Love in Action

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

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Thinking about how love motivates our generosity and service, our care for the poor and our desire for justice.Since the core of Christianity is found in love, the natural expression of the Christian faith is found in acts of generosity and service to others.

Love Gives and Serves

Perhaps the best example of loving service is seen in Jesus himself, who said:

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Giving is the larger category of which serving is a vital subset. We serve because we are giving of ourselves.

Generosity Flows from Love

We looked briefly at Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) in Lesson 5 in order to illustrate that our responsibility to love our neighbor does not end with our own family or even our own ethnic group. The Samaritan in the story took pity on the injured man:

"He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'" (Luke 10:34-35)

It is Jesus' example of generosity above and beyond what might be expected. Generosity flows from love.

Helping the Poor

Hospitality is another example of generosity. When someone needs love and care, we can be stingy and selfish about providing for them, or be open and generous in our response. The Bible says:

"Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." (Romans 12:13)

The Bible is very clear that God has a very special concern for justice and fairness for the poor. He sympathizes with their plight.

"I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy." (Psalms 140:12)

People often show generosity for selfish reasons -- tax benefits, having a building named after them, public recognition, etc. But caring for the poor is another example of the kind of generosity God expects from us. Jesus taught his disciples:

"When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:3-4)

St. James said:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

The reason caring for the poor is at the heart of true religion, is that the poor can't do anything to repay us. Therefore, we help out of actual love, rather than because of what we can get out of it.

Justice for All

Because of the strong teaching of Scripture, Christians have often been at the forefront of the struggles for social justice, such as the abolition of slavery, the right of all citizens to vote, justice for the poor, to name just a few. This pleases God, who is known as the Defender and Helper of the fatherless (Proverbs 23:10-11; Psalm 10:14).

Jesus saw his ministry, in the words of Isaiah the prophet, as follows:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
(Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)

When the Kingdom of God comes in completeness, it will be a kingdom of justice and peace for all. In the meantime, we are to serve in our communities to bring a foretaste of that Kingdom to our world.

Generosity towards God's Work

From ancient times, believers have contributed toward the work and mission of the church. In the Old Testament, even before Christ, people set aside 10% of their income to the Lord. Ten percent is called a "tithe." Before Jesus, the tithe went to keep the temple in repair, to provide for the priests, to help the poor, and to celebrate before the Lord in worship.

While we are not under Old Testament law, most practicing Christians believe that a tithe of our income should still be given to the Lord for his work in the New Testament era.18Ten per cent is still a good guideline, even if it is not a law. This shows generosity toward God and his work.

Tithing - The Principle of Percentage Giving

I grew up in a Christian home where my parents taught me to tithe my allowance. For every one dollar I received, I set aside ten cents to give to the Lord. Now that I am an adult, the amounts are considerably larger, but the principle of percentage giving remains.

Here is a challenge from God in the Old Testament through the Prophet Malachi:

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse -- the whole nation of you -- because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.19

Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (Malachi 3:8-10)

The Blessings of Tithing

Notice the amazing promise. God says, "Test me in this," and promises to pour out abundant blessing on those who tithe. We see the same kind of promises in the New Testament. Jesus said:

"Give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down,
shaken together and running over,
will be poured into your lap.
For with the measure you use,
it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:38)

Someone said it this way: "You can't out-give God." That is true. But, of course, we don't give in order to receive or to become wealthy. That is selfishness. We give because we love God!

I must say that I enjoy giving to God. For me it is worship. And over the years God has blessed me so that I could tithe. It hasn't always been easy. I've had some pretty lean years. But I have also seen God's wonderful provision. I have never been able to out-give God.

Financial Responsibilities

Of course, God expects us to take care of our financial obligations and the needs of our family. But in doing so, we are not to neglect our responsibility to give to God's work. In fact, giving is part of our worship, as discussed in Lesson 9.

It is not easy to tithe. It is a sacrifice. For example, before being able to tithe fully, you might need to pay off some of the debts you accrued in acquiring nice things. But getting your priorities straightened out is a good thing. Even if you can't start giving 10%, start where you can -- 2% or 5% -- and then work up year by year until you reach the tithe.

God Is the Owner, We Are Managers

When we think of our property and money as our own, it is easy to resent tithing as a kind of a tax. But consider this verse:

"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it." (Psalms 24:1)

We acknowledge that everything we possess really belongs to God. We are not owners, but managers, caretakers, or stewards of what God has entrusted to us for a time. With that mindset, giving back a tithe to God is a joy. If you have time, read Jesus' Parable of the Ten Pounds (Luke 19:11-27) to better understand this view of stewardship of God's property.

We are also caretakers of God's earth. At the beginning of time, God gave Adam and Eve a commission to care for his creation:

"The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Genesis 2:15)

This is one reason that we Christians take responsibility for the ecology of our cities as well as our planet. We are caretakers of what God has entrusted to us. He is the Creator and Owner. We are not!

Serving Is Another Way of Showing Generosity

One of the key ideas for Jesus was serving.

At the Last Supper, the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before his crucifixion, Jesus knelt down at the feet of each of his twelve disciples and washed their feet. It was a radical act. People just didn't act this way! In Jesus' culture, a host would provide water for a guest to wash his own feet near the door, but he did not do it for them.

But Jesus took the role of a servant and gently washed the feet of each of his disciples. It was a lesson in humility and service that none of them would forget. Afterward, Jesus said:

"Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:12-15)

Serving is an act of humility that characterized Jesus' whole approach. Jesus came as a servant. We also are called to serve others, not with pride, but with humility. That is the disciple's way.

The Church Is Like a Body

In Lesson 4, we observed that the church -- the assembled believers -- are spoken of figuratively as a body. In this analogy, Christ is the head and each of us is a part -- a finger, a toe, an eye, a muscle. "Now you are the body of Christ," the Apostle Paul wrote, "and each one of you is a part of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27).

The only way a body can sustain its life is for each part of the body to do its part to serve the whole and work together (Ephesians 4:16).

Spiritual Gifts Equip Us to Serve

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So what is your part in the body of Christ? As we discussed in Lesson 7, the Holy Spirit has given spiritual gifts to each of us. These enable us to serve effectively both the church and the community in which he has placed us. It is God's job to equip us. It is our job to humbly serve using those gifts.

Love gives. Love serves. The natural consequence of making love our number one priority is orienting our lives towards giving and serving. How will God have you serve him in his world?


Father, help me to catch the humble servant's heart that Jesus had. He came to serve us because he loved us. Help me to love like that. I pray that you would replace my natural selfishness with a desire to serve you. Teach me to give to you and to others. Teach me to be like Jesus. In his name, I pray. Amen.

Memory Verse

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45, NIV)

Questions and Discussion Points

  1. Read aloud five times today's memory verse (Mark 10:45) and write it on a card.
  2. Discuss. Why does love require giving and service? What is the logical connection?
  3. Define the word "generous." Why is love generous rather than stingy?
  4. Discuss. Why do you think God identifies himself so strongly with justice and grace for the poor, the widows, and the orphans? Why do they so often suffer injustice?
  5. Discuss. What is our motivation to give financially to God and his work? In what way is our giving an act of worship? In what way does our giving reflect our love?
  6. Define the word "tithe." How should the principle of percentage giving guide our giving in the New Testament era?
  7. Discuss. Who is the owner of the world? In what sense does all we have belong to God? If God is owner, then what is our role towards our world and our possessions? How does this affect how well we take care of the earth?
  8. Discuss with your mentor about giving to God's work. Ask your mentor how he or she determines how much to give? Discuss how you can determine what percentage of your income you can begin to give.
  9. Review. Last week you were to experiment with six or more postures in worship. What did you discover when you did this? Which worship postures did you find most meaningful to you?
  10. Review. Have you had an opportunity to share your testimony yet? Do you see anything happening in the lives of the friends you are praying for?
  11. Review your memory verses from Lesson 1 (Ephesians 2:8-9), Lesson 2 (John 8:31-32), Lesson 3 (1 John 1:9), Lesson 4 (John 13:34-35), Lesson 5 (1 John 4:7-8), and Lesson 6 (John 3:16), Lesson 7 (John 14:16-17), Lesson 8 (Matthew 5:16), and Lesson 9 (Psalms 34:1). Try to say them together with your mentor without looking at your cards.
  12. Pray for each other. Share with your mentor your needs to pray about and ask your mentor how you should pray for him or her. Then spend a few minutes praying for each other aloud. Also pray for the friends to whom you hope to witness.
  13. Appointment. Set a time and place to meet and go through next week's lesson.

18. For more on the topic of tithing, study the Scripture passages mentioned in my article, "Does Your Church Run a Spiritual Sweatshop?" The Joyful Heart, October 27, 1997. www.joyfulheart.com/church/sweatshop.htm

19. "That there may be food in my house," means that there should be food to provide for the temple priests and their families.

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Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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