Every first Wednesday, we take our students to the local food bank and restock the pantry shelves. It was sheer coincidence that our lesson titled “Connecting in Service” just-so-happened to land on the first Wednesday in October.
Something I have started to enjoy, and something that seems to get our students really thinking, is to challenge the cliche terms we use to describe who we are as Christians. For example, I asked the students what it meant to be a ‘family of Christians’. Quickly, a teen responded that we were all ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’. After thanking her for her great answer, I asked “ok… what exactly does that mean?” What we uncovered was that there was a lot to that simple little phrase ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ that many of our teens hadn’t considered. That’s what happens when we question phrases that are commonly used to describe who we are as believers: we discover new meaning.
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-21 NLT, Source: BibleGateway.com)
In this excerpt of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he instructs the early Christians to not “live like fools” or “act thoughtlessly”. He also tells them to “give thanks for everything to God”. The way we often show our thanks to God is through service towards others so that they experience ‘thanks’ as well. This charity comes in many forms, both big and small. Simply helping a student with their books in the hallways or being a listening ear when they are going through a rough time can constitute charity.
When we think of charity, we tend to think of things like what our students do at Glory Outreach, our local Bowling Green food bank. Here, we are taking time out of our day, organizing as a group, and contributing to a non-profit that provides goods and services to the less fortunate. I asked our students why we participate in charity. The answers ranged from “because God tells us to” to “so we can show others love”. The first answer is too convenient. What I mean by ‘convenient’ is that God rarely tells us to do something without there being some practical reason [Christianity is an extremely practical religion]. WHY does God tell us to participate in charity? The second answer is a bit closer to the mark. When we engage in acts of charity, we are sharing something with others that God has shown us. That shows the importance of charity towards helping others and our community and also the importance of charity towards evangelism.
That said, charity just for the sake of helping others isn’t exactly the whole story, either. If we look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians we see something even bigger than showing love to others. Paul instructs us to give thanks for everything to God. We know from other scripture that there are two fundamental commandments for every Christian: love God and love people. As one of our students pointed out, charity is a key part of loving people. However, is that the main reason we contribute to charity? Recall, of loving God and men, Jesus says this…
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT, Source: BibleGateway.com)
What I glean from this is that the primary reason we engage in service to others is because of our love and thanksgiving to God. God has shown us a generosity beyond anything we can imagine. It’s only natural that we should want some way to demonstrate our appreciation. How can we demonstrate this appreciation? Through charity to our fellow man and service to our community.
Isn’t this just splitting hairs?! I’ll tell you why I think this is an important difference to note: people are going to let you down and disappoint you. When Meredith and I volunteer at food banks and free clinics, we see people walk in with brand new cars or expensive smartphones and do their best to game the system to collect more than their allotment of charity. It happens and when it does happen, it can really take a toll on your motivation to continue serving others. When we are focused on giving thanks to God, we are mentally liberated from having to worry about what people are doing or not doing. Our motivation isn’t tied towards whether the ‘right people’ are getting served or whether we are actually making a difference. Instead, our motivation is tied to something that will never disappoint and never fade: the faith, love, and generosity that God has in us.
It’s counter-intuitive to suggest that the main focus of charity isn’t really “helping other people”. In the end, it does help a lot of people and it does spread a lot of love to people who desperately need it, but our motivation and our drive is not dependent on those people showing appreciation. Our calling to serve is so much bigger than a smile or an “at-a-boy” from someone we admire.