With sporting events like the Super Bowl and March Madness so close at hand, many Americans have competition on the brain. In our culture, winning is highly prized and success is measured by performance. Again and again, though, the Bible gives quite different definitions of victory and achievement. Remind students in this lesson that our triumph is in Christ alone.
Lesson focus: Though we can become competitive and weigh our success on what others do, the Bible emphasizes that the grace of God is the only thing worth bragging rights.
Passage: Various New Testament references, most notably Matthew 20:1-16 and Ephesians 2:8-10
Target Audience: Kindergarten-6th Grade (adaptable older or younger)
Materials Needed: Chairs, music, puzzles, cups (plastic or Styrofoam), toilet paper tubes, markers
Unexpected winners…explain that you will be starting off with a couple of “competitions.” First will be a puzzle race. Hand each student a simple puzzle and have them work to put together as quickly as possible. When all students are finished, provide a small reward for the last person finished. Then play a little twist on musical chairs. Arrange chairs in a circle and start some upbeat music for kids to march around. When the music stops, have students run for a chair as usual, but again, instead of getting “out,” the person left chair-less will receive a prize. If children seem confused, explain that the disciples of Jesus were often confused as well, but that we will be talking about a story he told to explain something special called grace.
Game on…start by seeing who in the group plays sports. How important is winning? Discuss how people tend to define victory in most areas today. We glorify competition, scoring big, winning awards…the unsuccessful are usually overlooked or ignored. What about in church? Do we tend to think that people who are most devout are those that work in the church most frequently or have attended the longest? How does God view our faith?
Take a look at Jesus’s parable of the vineyard workers. As you tell it, randomly pass out grapes (or maybe grape-themed treats like candy or raisins) to students, awarding varying numbers to see if kids catch on to the fairness principle.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a]for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” -Matthew 20:1-16
God has a different concept of wins and losses. He does not operate on a points basis or hourly salary. There is no way we can earn Heaven. Nothing we can do could possibly cover our sins and we are forced to rely on God’s grace. God covers all things. He does not weigh our production output or our goals made. He loves and serves all equally. He is the only way to Heaven and anyone and everyone trusting Him can get there. Jesus gave this parable to emphasize this. He was always defying expectations:
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” -Mark 9:35
We also see the apostle Paul emphasize the value of putting faith in Christ. We cannot brag about our own accomplishments because they aren’t enough and they cannot complete us…
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. -Ephesians 2:8-10
We like to win. We like to brag about winning sometimes. Mention some sports stars that are known for their boasting. How does it look when they don’t do so well? What do they have to do to maintain the image of perfection? The Bible emphasizes that grace comes through faith alone. It has nothing to do with our actions. We can only hope in Him.
The Old Testament also speaks of boasting and of trusting in God alone…
This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. -Jeremiah 9:23-24
Sometimes competing can be fun, and when we are good at things it is easy to show that off and let others know what we have done. But the Bible is clear that our pride is in our heavenly citizenship. No trophy, medal, or award status can top that!
Craft: Heavenly trophies…create a special reward captioned “Winner in God’s Eyes” or “Boasting only in Blessings”…have students decorate a cup with stickers, markers, designs, etc. as a “trophy” and place or glue atop a tube as a stand. Alternatively, decorate a cardboard circle as a medal and string onto yarn.
Close with prayer and reminder of God’s work in our lives. Thank Him for His grace and humbly request that it be enough to cover all things.
Don’t miss these other ideas from our website:
- Kids Bible Lesson: Parable of the Laborers
- Bible Lesson: Building on Solid Ground (Matthew 7:24)
- Free Lesson Plan: Jesus Is Greater Than Sickness (Matthew 8:1-17)
- Treasures in Heaven Object Lesson
- Bible Lesson: The Greatest Treasure from Matthew 13:44
- Object Lesson: Finishing the Race