The life of Jesus is full of examples of how Christ criticized judgmental, hypocritical Pharisees, and encouraged his disciples to let God worry over righteousness, and instead live for Him. The epistles echo this sentiment. Unfortunately, modern day Christians and “church people” seem to have developed a reputation for judging or chastising those who might differ from our beliefs and ideas. This lesson takes a peek at what it means to belong to God.
Lesson focus: Jesus commands us to love one another, which includes accepting and caring for each other, no matter what. All that we do should be aimed to please the Lord.
Passage: Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 14:1-12
Target Audience: Pre-k through fifth grade (adaptable)
Materials Needed: Aluminum foil, popsicle sticks, pictures of various objects, snack wrappers or containers; decorating supplies.
Lesson Opening: Trick wrappers! This opening activity will introduce how easy it is to make mistakes when we try to judge too quickly…
- Have a couple of snack items available. This might be one large box or a couple of smaller (candy bar-sized) things. Have different items inside than what would be expected. One wrapper should appear “boring” (oatmeal, vitamins, bland crackers) while the other looks enticing.
- Ask students which one they think they want to open. The more “fun” looking container should have something bland and boring, like raisins or cotton balls or carrots (not that there is anything wrong with raisins or carrots, of course!). In the other container, have something fun and desirable, like cookies or candy.
- Explain that sometimes things are not as they might appear. We often try to make judgments about things without knowing all of the details. This can wind up hurting people, including ourselves!
The passage today needs a little bit of background. Remind students that in the book of Romans (which they will be looking at), Paul is writing a letter to the church in Rome. Explain that some of the church followers there had argued about the specific rules and details of the faith. We would never do that, would we….??? Have students popcorn or group read the first verses:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. -Romans 12:1-4
Ask students if they know anyone on a special diet. Sometimes people can only eat certain things because of allergies or health reasons. But other times people choose to give up foods, often animals, but sometimes out of dietary concerns. Let’s face it: sometimes people who are very strict and vocal about diets can seem just a bit like they look down their noses on others. Well, this was sort of happening in reverse, with the church leaders scorning those who did follow the law more strictly. This was because the emphasis was not supposed to be on eating and drinking or rule following. The Romans had missed the point, because the focus was to be living for the Lord.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. -Romans 12:5-9
Play another game of sorts. Place several pictures on the table, and invite students to put them into two categories, “good” or “bad.” There are no in betweens, no particular definitions or distinctions within those categories; just good or bad. Include things like donuts, broccoli, people with tattoos, church signs, bars, cats, dogs, boats, balloons… talk about why students might place things as “good” or “bad.” Can we truly judge what things are good or bad? Do we ever do this with people?
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. -Romans 14:10-12
Now, do note that there IS an absolute right and wrong/good and evil in the world. Murder is wrong. Sin is wrong. What Paul is describing here is that we are not the ones who can determine a person’s heart. We cannot be the judge over what people do or how. Our lives should not be all about that. Instead, our job is to love and serve God. We do this by loving and serving people—all kinds of people. Jesus did that. He ministered and talked to and loved the outcasts of society that most people would have judged. Refer back to the wrappers at the beginning of the lesson. Some people look great on the outside, but inside are still dirty or empty. These people are often called “hypocrites.” We cannot judge others when we are surely imperfect ourselves. We can demonstrate love and mercy, and compassion.
Going along with the mercy theme, if time allows, discuss another of Jesus’s parables, the story of the Unmerciful servant (found in Matthew 18). Discuss how we should show mercy and love, just as God does. We show mercy, rather than judgment.
Reflecting God… help children create a “mirror” by decorating wide popsicle sticks and arranging them like a picture frame. Place aluminum foil behind the frame like a glass mirror, and place a cross in the center of the foil to remind children to reflect Christ in all we do, looking to Him for direction.
Close with prayer and thank God for all He has given. Ask for help in showing others kindness and compassion, and not judging how others think or behave.