7 Levels of Serving Others

What’s the best way to serve others? There is no shortage of opinions about that.  Does it matter? All serving has value, but some produces better outcomes. December is the giving time of year. More people give and givers give more during Christmas. Then maybe it would be worthwhile to consider the various ways we can give and/or serve others.

Leave it to the Jews to “grade” various ways people serve others. Any group that concocts 39 laws about observing the Sabbath cannot be trusted to leave giving charity alone. It seems we must be able to quantify serving so we know which are better than others. Actually, a famous Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, of the Twelfth Century came up with 8 Levels of Charity identifying different ways of giving to the poor.

Maimonides 8 Levels of Charity (in order from lowest to highest)

  1. Giving to the poor unwillingly [with reluctance or suspicion or obligation]
  2. Giving to the poor gladly and with a smile.
  3. Giving to the poor after being asked.
  4. Giving to the poor before being asked.
  5. Giving to the poor without knowing the person(s) to whom you are giving but the recipient does know.
  6. Giving to the poor knowing to whom you are giving but the recipient does not know the benefactor.
  7. Giving to the poor without knowing to whom you are giving nor does the recipient know his benefactor.
  8. The greatest level of giving is to strengthen another person by giving him a gift or a loan, or making a partnership with him, or finding him a job so that he no longer needs to beg from people.

Given the fact that Maimonides put this out nine centuries ago and at the time charity was almost exclusively in the form of money given to beggars, he did a good job of attributing value to various kinds of charity. But we live in a very different world with many, many other ways to serve people in need. Even so, we can affirm that Maimonides got it right and we can aspire to his highest level—raising a person’s ability to provide for himself rather than depending on the charity of others—the old teach a man how to fish thing.

What would Maimonides’ levels of charity look like if he were making that list today? Allow me to take a shot at that (from the least helpful to the most):

Levels of Serving Others

  1. Give money to an individual, e.g. the man on the corner asking for a handout
  2. Give money to a non-profit or organization with ways to multiply resources and services to best meet human needs
  3. Have donations to serving organizations matched by an employer or matching donor
  4. Give time, expertise in personal, hands-on help, e.g. help build a home for a low-income family with Habitat for Humanity
  5. Build a relationship through ongoing serving that goes beyond presenting needs and addresses underlying issues, e.g. become a mentor to a disadvantaged child or a foster parent
  6. Work alongside people in need in helping themselves
  7. Include the gospel message as the reason for serving others using occasions of serving to facilitate spiritual growth

Notice the first 3 levels have to do with money. Giving money, however it is done, requires the least involvement of any serving. Levels 4 through 7 go beyond giving money, to giving some of self, i.e. time, expertise, emotional/spiritual support, etc. These are the levels to which we should aspire, especially for followers of Jesus.

Can you move to a higher level?

When I was a pastor, some of my church folk groaned audibly when I preached on tithing. I knew it was because they weren’t tithing. Occasionally, I tried to encourage those folk to move toward a tithe. If they were giving 5 percent, move to 6 percent this year and 7 percent next year. Can we do the same in our serving of people in need?

I say it again: each of these levels of serving has value and comes from sincere, caring motives to help people in need. However, the higher the level the better the outcome. If most of your serving involves giving money, consider giving some of your time to volunteer for a local non-profit. But, when you do, try to do something that puts you in direct contact with the people you are serving. If volunteering is part of your serving, consider moving toward the kind of serving that enables you to build relationships with those you serve, or find ways to get those you serve to be part of their own solution.

What do you think?

Does the levels of serving in this blog make sense to you? Where are you? Probably not at only one level, but several depending on the circumstances. Is it reasonable to ask folk to make a conscious effort to move to a higher level of serving? What do you think?

Written by:
David Crocker

David Crocker is the Founder of Operation Inasmuch. He was a pastor for 38 years prior to launching the Inasmuch ministry which has equipped more than 2,100 churches in 25 states and several other countries to mobilize their members in mercy ministry. David’s passion is seeing believers serving as the hands and feet of Jesus as a lifestyle.

One response to “7 Levels of Serving Others”

  1. Jim and Kay Bailey says:

    I think Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter met all 7 levels – not bad for a Baptist Sunday School Teacher, husband, wife, and parent. With an exception (President) and an also (Pastor), same can be said for the Crockers. Way to go guys. You are in very favorable and faithful company. Than-you for your service.

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