The following are the notes from this week’s CROSSROADS lesson. Words in bold identify key phrases from notes pages handed out each week. If you would like copies of our slides, please feel free to reach and request them. As these are from the notes pages for each week, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.
Sometimes Christians get the idea that they “own” certain actions or reputations. We see this a lot around the holidays where everyone begins feeling very giving and charitable towards others. Around the holidays, we see tons of people getting into the holiday spirit by dropping dollars in Salvation Army buckets or purchasing toys for the unfortunate. While many of these groups are Christian, many of them are just people doing nice things for others.
This leads us to an important question: what makes Christian giving so different? Is it different at all? Is the ‘act of giving’ all there is to it?
The Bible teaches us that giving and charity is about far more than just an ACTION. If it were only about the action, then there are tons of secular organizations who are being more “Christian” than most churches! So what is so different about Christian charity? It has everything to do with our RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
“‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40)
Jesus paints this picture of sheep and goats. Just for context, sheep are good and goats are bad. He says that in heaven, God will look at the sheep and thank them for their kindness and compassion. The sheep as an interesting question. “When did we ever show you kindness and compassion?” God says that when they CARED for the LEAST among them, they were also caring for God.
How can that be? How can it be that showing compassion for others is showing compassion for God? Let’s look back at how God perceives mankind in Genesis.
So God created man
in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female. (Genesis 1:27)
God seeing man as being CREATED IN HIS OWN IMAGE which means that anything we do to each other is what we are doing to the image of God. Imagine you had an identical twin. If you saw someone going up to that twin and making fun of their appearance, it wouldn’t make you feel very good, would it? Likewise, if someone started gushing about how amazingly beautiful they were, you’d probably feel pretty awesome knowing you guys share the same look. That is kind of how God feels in this instance. When we show love and compassion to each other, it is as if we are doing that directly to God.
That sounds easy enough, but now we have to ask ourselves why all Christians don’t give to charity. We can all be honest enough with each other to acknowledge that some Christians aren’t the most giving people, right? I can tell you from experience that I have been in conversations with very devoted, very active Christians within our own church family who have gone to great lengths to explain why they don’t feel like they need to give to this cause or that individual. So what is holding us back? Why don’t we just give until we can’t give anymore?
I’ve heard a few good messages on this subject and have boiled some of the best explanations I’ve heard into a few points:
1.“Those people don’t need charity because THEY PUT THEMSELVES IN THEIR POOR SITUATION.” Some people claim that they shouldn’t have to help others because the misfortune someone is facing is due to their own mistakes. They ‘earned’ their misfortune. This makes sense to a secular world, but is that really was Jesus taught? Can someone mess up so bad that they don’t deserve our compassion? Let’s think about Jesus’ charity towards us in the form of grace. God charitably gives to us the gift of grace despite the fact that we have all earned, through our sin, death. God did not pick and choose who gets grace and who does not based on our merit. He didn’t decide that some of us were sinful because of our own ‘mistakes’ and therefore didn’t need saving so why should we act that way to others?
2.“I DON’T KNOW THAT THE MONEY WILL BE USED WISEST!” People say this when donating to organizations or when giving money to individuals in need. The phrase you hear from a lot of people is “they’ll probably just spend the money on alcohol or drugs”. How Christian is that? Again, it makes sense from a worldly perspective, but what if I applied that mentality from a youth ministry perspective? “I don’t want to let that kid get baptized because he’s probably just going to go back to trying to play all the girls and getting into trouble!” Doesn’t sound very “Christian” does it? The truth is, we are here to love others and to help do God’s work. The only way we can be a part of God’s plan is if we are willing to put aside what we think is “wisest” and let God work in the lives of others.
3.“I don’t have to help this person because I’VE ALREADY DONE OTHER ‘CHRISTIAN’ THINGS.” I like to call this ‘SCOREBOARD JESUS’. This is the Jesus that keeps a scoreboard of all the ‘Christian’ things you do and as long as you have a high enough score, you’re off the hook for things you don’t want to do. You went to church two times this week, were nice to some people you aren’t normally nice to, and you did a chore around the house without being asked… that means you have like a billion points. With that many points, Scoreboard Jesus is totally fine with you not giving your money or your time to that person in school going without a lunch again because they mom can’t afford to send lunch money. The problem with this mentality is that the score Jesus demands is ‘infinity’ and we can never get there. We can’t win the game of life through score; we can only win it through accepting Christ into our hearts. The best way we show our gratitude to Jesus for this gift of grace is by turning around and showing the same unconditional love and grace to others.
4.“MY GIVING WON’T REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE.” It’s easy to look at all the pain and all the suffering in the world with an attitude that nothing we can do will ever fix it. Even looking at one homeless man, you may think to yourself “how can one dollar actually get this man’s life back together?” Because it seems hopeless, we decide to not give and save our pennies for other things. We decide not to spend our time helping out that classmate because it probably won’t stop them from being annoying. We decide not to sacrifice the things we enjoy to do things with others because this one thing probably won’t really matter in the long-term. This is where we have to ask ourselves if we truly believe in the power of Christ. Do we truly believe that God can do all things? If so, it’s not for us to decide if our gift of money, things, or time can make a difference. In fact, if we give with the mentality that God can actually turn that individual’s life around, we might be shocked to see what happens.
With all these things in mind, let’s go back to the sheep and the goats. Remember the sheep? They were the ones who were told that they served God because they served even the lowest of the low around them. Let’s see what Jesus has to say to the goats.
“Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of me.’
“Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help you?’
“Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:41-45)
Jesus makes it very, very clear that charity does not have BOUNDARIES. Jesus mentions the poor (‘hungry, or thirsty’), he mentions those we might find ‘disgusting’ (‘sick’) and he mentions those we might think don’t deserve our charity (‘in prison’). God doesn’t care. He doesn’t care how horrible we might find someone or whether we think they are worthy or not because it all comes back to our relationship with God. Do we love God and trust in his power or do we trust more in our own wisdom and our own power? If we trust in God and God’s ability to work through any large or small action on our part, then we must realize that we are CALLED to give of ourselves to others.