“It’s Not About You” Sunday School Lesson from Matthew 23:1-12

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“Actions speak louder than words.” “Practice what you preach.” We hear these types of sayings, but it can be easy to fall away from them or to begin trusting ourselves rather than God’s grace. Children are likely to witness examples of adults in the world that are similar to the prideful Pharisees in this Gospel text. People will often say one thing and live out another, but we want to instruct our kids to live as true humble servants of Christ. We want to explain to them what it means to be humble. We live not for the attention of other people, but for God.

Lesson focus: This lesson focuses on the difference between pride and humility. There’s nothing wrong with taking joy in hard work, but sinful pride occurs when we become self-absorbed, brag, and think that our actions can somehow save us. Being humble doesn’t mean that we beat ourselves up or constantly think negatively. It does mean recognizing that we live for Christ. This lesson reminds students to place others before themselves, and to place God at the head of all things.

Bible Passage: Matthew 23:1-12

Target Audience: Kindergarten-6th grade (variable for activity emphasis)

Materials Needed: Construction paper, scissors, decorations, glue, string, hole punch, paper bags, balloons, Bible (optional materials, depending on crafts and activities of choice).

Game and Lesson Introduction Activity

Lesson Opening: This lesson is focused on living lives for God, rather than attention, as well as being humble and not prideful.

Here are some activities to get kids thinking…(select the best ones for your audience and age group): 

  • How do you use it? Present children with a “grab bag” of various items (shoes, kitchen tools, pencils, etc.) and have them one at a time pull out an item and describe how they can use it to bring glory to God.
  • Play “opposite Simon Says….” In this variation, instruct students to do just the opposite of what “Simon says”. Explain that in the Gospel lesson, the Pharisees did not do what they told others to do!
  • How high can you go? Take turns stacking blocks or playing “Jenga” with other students. When the tower falls, remind students that pride comes before a fall.

Discuss with students how important it is to put God first and foremost in our lives. When we focus on loving God and loving His people, other things will fall into place. When we try to put our own interests as the main focus, we will likely fail.

Ask: Have you ever heard the phrase “practice what you preach” or “actions speak louder than words”? What do you think these things might mean?

Sunday School Lesson (Matthew 23:1-12) It’s Not About You

Bible Lesson:  This Gospel lesson is pretty simple and straightforward. It can be read pretty quickly, but we do well to go deeper into detail and consider what these words of Christ mean. Explain to children that Jesus was once again warning people not to follow the ways of the hypocrite leaders. Some people in His time were talking about obeying God, but not really living out what they said others should do.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.  -Matthew 23:1-3

Explain that Jesus warned people not to be hypocrites. What does that mean? A hypocrite is someone who says one thing, and does another. God wants us to be sincere. That means we mean what we say, and do as we promise to do. The Pharisees in Bible times told people they needed to follow a lot of fancy rules, but they didn’t follow the rules themselves!

Ask: Have you known anyone who said one thing, and did another? How can you tell when someone is telling the truth?

Explain that Jesus further delved into the troubles of these “teachers….” Examine the motivation behind their behavior.

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. -Matthew 23:4-7

Why were the actions of these people wrong? What were they doing things for? Discuss the potential answers with students. The Pharisees wanted attention. They were doing things to be seen and admired by others. What should we be working for? Whose approval do we need, and whose alone? (GOD!)

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. -Matthew 23:8-12

Discuss the meaning of humility. In these verses, Jesus wants us to remember that we answer to Christ alone. He is the ultimate teacher, and He lived as a servant to let us know how we should live. Being humble means not thinking too highly of ourselves. Sure, we can take joy in things we do well, but we recognize that’s not where our strength comes from. We should not think too much of our abilities, but rejoice in God first.

Ask: Do you think you need to practice humility in some area of your life? How can we be sure that we are living for Christ first and foremost?

Close with a prayer thanking God for giving us Jesus and the example of His life. Ask for help in being “servant leaders” who live in humility, putting others first and trusting God for every good gift.    

Sunday School Crafts

Crafts: This lesson focuses on the importance of humility. Pride leads to downfall, but when we have a servant-like attitude, Christ (the ultimate servant) will lift us up. Select crafts that will highlight the importance of living with a humble and kind attitude at the center of our ambition:

  • “Humble Pie Recipe” bag
  • “Don’t be Puffed up” balloon creature

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