Key Scriptures: Matthew 19:16-30, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8, 1 Peter 4:10-11, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:16, 1Timothy 6:17-18, Matthew 5:14-16, 1 Corinthians 4:2, Luke 19:11-27, Luke 12:48, Exodus 36:1-7
Guiding Question: How does God want us to use the gifts He gives us (And what are those gifts anyway?)?
Introductory Activity: Tell students about what happened during the plague in the Roman Empire around 250 C.E. Dionysius provides a contemporary account of what happened. You can find it at this link under the first question. In the 250’s Christianity was still forbidden. The Roman Empire was struck with a terrible plague. The Christians helped those sick with the plague, even though they knew it could mean they would also die. As others learned what the Christians were doing, they were impressed and curious. This led to one of the most well known growth spurts in Christianity. After telling the story, have students think of things that could be a modern day equivalent. Ask them to speculate why the people in the Roman Empire wanted to learn more about Christianity and God merely because of how the Christians served others. It is important to note, that there was no evidence Christians had a lower rate of infection or death. They viewed this as an opportunity for martyrdom – sacrificing one’s life so the Gospel might spread. Martyrdom is considered by many something to which they almost aspired. Not because they wanted to die a horrible, early death, but because it showed their willingness to sacrifice everything to be obedient to God.
Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) Read or tell the story of the rich, young ruler found in Matthew 19:16-30. What had the rich young ruler failed to consider when he walked away sad? What did his choice show about his priorities? It is interesting to note that the rich, young ruler said he had kept all of the commandments. Whether or not he meant just the ones Jesus mentioned or the law in general is not quite clear. If he kept the Law as well as he claimed, he was already giving 20-30% of his income back to God each year. It was not that he was so selfish he didn’t want to share any of his wealth. The problem was that his heart was unwilling to engage in the sacrificial giving which is required by God. He was wealthy enough that giving away 20-30% of his income didn’t really lower his standard of living. It wasn’t a sacrifice to him, because he in reality wasn’t sacrificing anything personally. Giving everything away, however, would have meant a huge change in the way he lived. He was not willing to do that – even when God’s son personally asked him to do it!
Read the two stories of the women who anointed Jesus – Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-8. What clues do we have that these women were using gifts they had been given by God? What clues are there (if any) that the gifts they gave Jesus were sacrificial in some way? What was the reaction of others when the women anointed Jesus? Why do you think they reacted this way? What was the response of Jesus in each incident?
It is unclear whether or not the women fully understood that everything they had was a gift from God – from the substance they used to anoint Jesus to even their hair that they used to dry his feet. What is extremely clear is that the women were willing to give Jesus something they owned that was extremely expensive. For the woman in Luke, it was probably the most valuable thing she owned. They understood who Jesus was and wanted to use something they had to honor him. They weren’t thinking about the loss of the substance or what it might cost to replace it. There focus was totally on honoring Jesus.
We learn from these stories that God wants us to give our gifts to honor Him. What we need to figure out is what those gifts might be and how many of them we are supposed to give and to whom. Read Exodus 36:1-7. What are some of the gifts in this story? How much were the people giving? What clues do we have that their giving was generous? The people were given four different types of gifts by God which they were in turn using to serve and glorify God:
- Their material possessions. They gave so many of the precious things needed to build the Tabernacle that Moses finally had to tell them to stop. This would have included jewels, gold and expensive fabric.
- Their talents. Notice many of these people were already using the talents God had given them, but it seems God gave them even more talent in particular areas and possibly some people received a talent that was new to them.
- Their time. The people had to give some of their time to take items to donate or in the actual building of the Tabernacle.
- Opportunities. This was a special opportunity God was giving this particular group of people to serve Him. People who had already died were not given this opportunity. People born after the Tabernacle was built were not given an opportunity to serve God by helping build a Tabernacle. Those other people were given other opportunities specific to their time and place and at times specific to them alone. Opportunities to serve are gifts from God, too.
There is a basic principle behind the idea of giving to God. It is that everything we have belongs to God. He gives it to us as wealthy people used to give their things to people called stewards. Often wealthy people had properties they did not have the time to care for personally. They would hire stewards to act on their behalf – making decisions as if they owned the property, but decisions the real owner would make in hopes of increasing the estate of the owner.
God expects us to be stewards of the gifts He gives us in the same way. He wants us to make the choices He would make in how those gifts are used. He also wants us to bear in mind the steward’s ultimate purpose – to grow the estate. God’s estate is His Kingdom. Everything we do should be in an effort to grow God’s Kingdom – help more people become Christians or stay strong in their faith if they are already a Christian. (You may want to quickly review the parable of the minas found in Luke 19:11-27.)
There are other passages which reinforce this concept. Read the following passages to find other points we need to know.
- 1 Corinthians 4:2
- 1 Peter 4:10-11
- 1 Timothy 6:17-18
- Matthew 5:14-16
- Luke 12:48
There is another type of gift and another principle we haven’t discussed yet. God also gives us spiritual gifts that are tied to the gift of the Holy Spirit every Christian receives at baptism. These spiritual gifts differ from person to person and quite possibly in time and place. They are a little more difficult for us to understand. Most of the time, these gifts are best discovered when we are already using all of our other gifts to serve God. (You may want to read 1 Corinthians 12 to give them an idea about spiritual gifts.)
Read Ephesians 4:16. The other principle that is crucial when discussing using our gifts is the idea of teamwork. The Bible refers to it as the Body of Christ or Christians working together. Often doing the good works God wants done takes a lot of different gifts. All of these gifts are under the stewardship of various Christians. When they put all of their gifts together, they can accomplish what God wants them to do. That kind of teamwork involves a lot of humility. If one person believes his or her gift is more important or if someone believes he or she is better somehow because of the gift in his or her possession, often the good work God wants them to do never is accomplished or isn’t as good as it could have been.
We also have to remember that God also gives us individual opportunities each day to use our gifts to serve Him. Sometimes those gifts and opportunities aren’t as exciting as we might want. Helping someone pick up all the papers they accidentally dropped on the floor doesn’t seem like using our gifts, but it is. We are taking advantage of the opportunity to do good, using the hands God gave us and taking the time to serve the person who dropped them. That one act alone might not spark the other person’s curiosity about Christianity or God. If we do those little things consistently though, we will stand out in our world just like those early Christians did during the plague in the Roman Empire. People will start wondering why you are always the first one to help. They will start asking questions. You will be using your gifts like a good steward.
Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. Have the students work together to create master lists of the material gifts, talents and opportunities that someone their age could have. Discuss the ways they can find or make time to use their gifts to serve God. Then have each individual create their own personal list of gifts and a plan for using them to serve God.
This is another lesson where it can be beneficial to ask mentors or other strong Christian adults to work with individual students. This is especially important if you already know there is a large disparity in family income or the talents of some students. (It is important to remind students that much of what they think is theirs materially speaking is actually their parents. They should ask permission before giving away the things that their parents purchased for them! You may also want to let parents know about the lesson ahead of time, so they can be prepared to work on using their gifts to serve God as a family.)
Students need to be reminded throughout the process of the story of the widow’s mite and the verse about to whom much is given, much will be required. Those with lots of gifts can give more than someone with a few gifts, yet still not be giving as much as the person with only a couple of gifts. It is also important to remind students that time and opportunities are critical gifts. While money and possessions are great gifts to give, often the good works aren’t being accomplished because no one takes advantage of the opportunities or is willing to give their time to help.
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. Look at the list of gifts you created in class. What are some ways you can use your gifts this week to help others? Now go do them!