Our children are bombarded with cultural messages. From friends at school, the media, and messages all around, they gather information that insists they dress, eat, or act a certain way to “fit in.” They feel pressure to do certain things and see people focusing so much on temporal matters, and then hear a twenty-minute Sunday school chat on fixing their eyes Heavenward. What does that mean, exactly? This lesson hopes to illustrate the principles of Philippians 3 and reminds students that we are more than just an earthly shell.
Lesson focus: While it is easy to become caught up in things that the world claims are important, we need to remember that God created us for something more than just this life. We should focus not on physical pleasures (or pains) that will pass away, but on God and His everlasting promises.
Passage: Philippians 3:17-4:1
Target Audience: Kindergarten-6th Grade (adaptable older or younger)
Materials Needed: Healthy and “tempting” snacks (carrots, broccoli, etc. vs. chips/candy); pictures of various people and situations; plastic bags (small); cotton stuffing; other soft/squishy materials (water beads); ribbons; rocks; verses and captions.
Lesson Opening: Which would you pick?? Have a couple of snack options for students to choose: one should be very healthy, like carrot sticks or fruit slices…the other will be more “junk” like (but delicious), like cookies or chocolate chips. Allow students to pick one or the other and talk briefly about why we sometimes give foods connotations as “good” or “bad” based on how they might benefit our bodies. Ask kids if they know anyone on a diet. Why do people seem so obsessed with their physical appearance or well-being?
Show students a series of pictures. For older students, the first several will be beautiful or athletic people. Do they seem in-shape or with it? Then show pictures of older or injured bodies…remind students that an instant can alter appearances forever. For younger students, display pictures of young children and some of older wrinkled bodies. Talk about aging and how the way we look and feel can change a lot in our life times. It is important to take care of our bodies, but it’s also important to remember that we have even higher matters to consider.
Bible Lesson: Begin by asking students if they know what “citizenship” means. There are multiple components of this, of course: in one sense, being a good citizen can refer to taking care of community and participating. But having citizenship also means that we belong somewhere. If we are citizens of the United States, we were born or immigrated to the country and consider it our home now. In olden days, being a citizen of a place could be hugely significant. Well, today we’ll look at how we are citizens of Heaven. How can this be? Read the passage that Paul addressed to the people of Philippi:
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. -Philippians 3:17-21
Provide some background on the apostle Paul. He was born a Jew and actually did a lot to hurt Christians in the early days of the church. Then Jesus came to him and changed his life, and he actually worked hard to found churches all over and spread Christianity to many people. But Paul did not have an easy life. Find out what students might know about him already, and invite them to consider some of his challenges:
- He was beaten and even had heavy rocks thrown at him
- He was shipwrecked
- Paul was put in jail multiple times
- Paul had people wanting to kill him and had to escape huddled in a basket
- He was bitten by a deadly snake
- He had a chronic terminal condition of some sort (perhaps eye trouble)
Sometimes we want things to be comfy. Would you rather sleep on a picnic table or a soft cozy bed? That’s pretty much a no-brainer. Would you rather walk through a cold forest in the rain or a warm sandy beach? Generally, we want to do things that please us. We want fun things. But Paul knew that he was bound for Heaven, and that with God’s help he could make it through tough times because this life is not all that there is.
That heavenly citizenship means we belong there for eternity. Our bodies are nothing compared to the soul, where God lives. Look at verse nineteen… “their god is their stomach…their mind is on earthly things.” We see people all around us that pour so much attention into the here and now. Some of these people believe this life is all that there is. This attitude can either force us to obsess over body image and try to achieve “perfect” health, or drive us to just the opposite, a carefree abandonment of discipline. Paul hints here that the right mindset is a balance. Our focus should be on the Savior, who promises to transform our bodies.
Consider the classic story/movie Beauty and the Beast. At the end of the movie, Belle’s genuine love and selfless care manage to transform not only the hairy beast but all of the castle inhabitants back into human form. They are restored to what they were meant to be before the spell was cast. (If possible, play a clip from the movie or show a picture.) Well, that is what Paul promises will happen to us. Our bodies will be transformed when we one day go to Heaven. Meanwhile, we want to make sure that the things we do and live for are ones that will last and be for Jesus. In this way, we can stand firm in true lasting things. As Paul says:
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! -Philippians 4:1
Craft: As a reminder to focus on things that last students will make a “stand firm” sensory sack. Provide each child with a fold-top (not zip) plastic bag and some squishy elements: cotton, mini marshmallows, water beads, etc. At the center, place one solid stone, and surround with the squishy items. Have students place the things in their bags and select a color of ribbon to tie it up. With the ribbon, attach a caption and verse:
“Things of earth will only last a little bit and then waste away…but I stand firm in the Lord Jesus because my citizenship is in Heaven!”
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. -Philippians 3:20-21
Close with prayer and thanks to God for making us citizens of Heaven. Ask for His help in focusing our hearts on the things that truly matter.