Key Scriptures: 1 Kings 17, Luke 14:26-33, Mark 8:34-36, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 5:11-12, Jeremiah 37 & 38, Daniel 6, 2 Kings 2, Ezekiel 24:15-27
Guiding Question: What does it mean to count the cost of being a Christian?
Optional Introductory Activity: Bring in lists of foods and their calorie counts as well as recommended calorie and nutrient consumption for teens. Explain that when one is planning what to eat, one should take into account the amount of calories and the nutrients the item is adding to the day’s food intake. If you decide to have a cookie, but don’t want to gain weight or lose nutrients, you have to make adjustments in your diet. Give students a sample diet and a suggested substitution. Have them calculate the “cost” of eating that item…what would they need to change in the menu for the day to still have the same amount of calories and nutrients? Explain that while you may get away with adding a cookie one day without making adjustments, if you did it every day, you would begin gaining weight or having issues from the extra sugar in your diet. (Note: If there are concerns about possible eating disorders, make the diet one for a diabetic where the amount of sugar must remain stable throughout the day.) Explain that in life often our choices come with a “cost” of some sort. We may gain something, but we may also have to sacrifice something else to get it.
Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) Read 1 Kings 17. What do we learn about the prophet Elijah in this passage? The Bible doesn’t give us much information about Elijah’s background or how he became a prophet. We do know that he was a Tishbite, which means he was from Tishbe in Gilead. It was a mountainous region east of the Jordan River in what is today the country of Jordan. Elijah’s name means “my God is Yahweh”, which is what the Jewish people called God. We don’t know if his parents named him that because of their faith or because they already knew he would be a prophet one day.
In this first passage about Elijah, we find him prophesying to King Ahab. Ahab was the king of the northern tribes known as Israel. Israel had a lot of evil kings, but Ahab was perhaps the worst. He even married Jezebel, the daughter of the priest/king of the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon. She brought her false gods or idols with her, particularly Baal. Her influence convinced the people to reject God in favor of these false gods, which angered God.
God had Elijah to prophesy to Ahab that because of his practice of idolatry, God was sending a severe drought on the land. This drought was to be so severe that there wouldn’t even be dew on the ground during it. It’s important to remember, this was an agricultural society. They ate what was grown in the region with a few exceptions like some spices. A severe drought – especially one that started immediately – left no time for storing food for the future. Hunger would come quickly and last until rain allowed food to grow once more.
Since we don’t know how Elijah became a prophet, we aren’t sure how he reacted to the news. Surely, he knew of Abraham and Moses who had heard prophecies from God. He may have been humbled and perhaps even honored that God had chosen him to deliver His prophecies to Ahab. Or Elijah may have been a bit nervous. A later story in the life of Elijah tells us others were afraid of telling Ahab about Elijah’s prophecies. We just don’t know how Elijah was feeling at this point in his life.
What we do know is that the drought caused even Elijah some troubles. What happened to Elijah during the drought? What thoughts and emotions might those experiences have caused in Elijah? First, God had Elijah hide in a ravine, near a brook. God had ravens bring Elijah bread and meat twice a day and Elijah drank from the brook. When the drought became so severe that the brook ran dry, God told Elijah to go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there with a widow who would feed him. It’s important to note that Sidon wasn’t in Israel, but was where Queen Jezebel was raised in Phoenician territory. Once again, the Bible doesn’t tell us how Elijah felt, just that he obeyed God, as did the widow. God miraculously provided food for them for some time.
Then something really interesting happened. The son of the widow who was feeding Elijah died. What was the widow’s and then Elijah’s response to this death? This is the first time we are given some insight into the emotions Elijah was having. He basically asked God why he had allowed tragedy to strike the family of the woman who was probably taking a big risk by housing and feeding him. In this case, God raised the son from the dead. The woman’s belief in Elijah as God’s prophet was strengthened by the miracle, but we aren’t told why God allowed the boy to die or why he raised him from the dead.
We aren’t told whether Elijah had counted the cost of becoming a prophet before he started prophesying. It appears these things happened to him personally with as he followed the next set of instructions God gave him. Those of you who know the rest of the story, know that the adventures Elijah experienced as a prophet didn’t stop here.
Looking at what we know of Elijah’s life thus far, what has being a prophet of God cost him? What risks has he taken by being a prophet? What has he gained by being a prophet? If we were counting the cost of Elijah’s life as a prophet, had would we summarize it?
Elijah was not the only prophet in the Bible. Nor was he the only prophet to experience difficulties as a prophet. Look at some events in the lives of the following prophets: Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37-prison, 38-thrown in cistern), Daniel (Daniel 6-lions’ den), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 24:15-27-Ezekiel’s wife died). What cost did each prophet pay for being a prophet in these stories? What benefits did they receive for their faithfulness to God? What would you say was a summary of the cost of being a prophet for them?
The cost of following God is not limited to Old Testament prophets. What did Jesus have to say about counting the cost of following him in the following passages? Luke 14:26-33, Mark 8:34-36, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 5:11-12.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean we will live a perfect, problem free life. In fact, Jesus tells us we may very well pay a price for following him. For some people that cost will be higher than others. Many early Christians were martyred – died horrible, painful deaths – because they were Christians and refused to deny Christ to live. In fact, documents outside of the Bible tell us that the Apostles with the exception of John died in horrific ways from being beheaded to crucified upside down to being speared to death and more. Yet what would the Apostles have said about the cost of being an Apostle? Did they think it was worth dying horrible deaths to follow, obey and teach others about Jesus? Why?
We have no way of knowing everything being a Christian might cost us. It could be relatively small things. It could be major things. It might even be our lives. Regardless of what being a Christian might cost us, what are the benefits? Do the benefits make any possible sacrifices worthwhile? Why or why not?
Skills Activity: The purpose of this activity is to help Bible students be realistic about the possible costs of being a Christian. How you handle it will depend in part on the spiritual maturity of your students. It is crucial to make this discussion as safe as possible for students to encourage their honesty. This may be easier if they are dealing with counting the cost for various hypothetical teens, rather than their personal dynamics.
Review the main principles from the lesson. Start the activity by introducing a hypothetical teen. Describe this teen as much as possible. Try to mirror the issues that may cause issues for your Bible students. For example, if you believe some of your teens are tempted to use illegal substances, your hypothetical teen may “like to party” and fears losing friends if he no longer gets drunk/gets high. Or it may be a teen who is afraid of losing a boy or girl friend because they can’t have sex outside of marriage.
Don’t forget the “little” things that can trip up teens and cause them to reject living a Christian life. From the time it takes on Sunday for worship to the clothes they wear or even the fact they must always tell the truth, you want them to truly define life as an active, productive Christian and the things they may have to give up to live that life. Depending on the group you have, you may also want to discuss things like persecution, being jailed, sued or even physically harmed or killed for their faith. Is their a cost that they consider too high?
Discussing the cost of being a Christian gives you a great opportunity to explain some of the reasons why God has certain commands for His people. You may want to read sections of our free e-book Effective Teen Ministry for help in having some of these conversations.
Allow enough time to discuss the benefits of being a Christian. You may want to use the example of a very long rope representing eternity, with less than an inch of that rope representing our time on earth. Talk about the wisdom or foolishness of focusing too much on the bad things that happen while we are alive, while ignoring what can happen to us for the rest of eternity. Don’t forget to discuss some of the benefits of being a Christian while on earth. You may want to ask students their conclusion after discussing the costs and benefits of being an active, productive Christian. Make sure to continue conversations with any students who still seem to be struggling with the cost…even if they don’t verbally admit it. (Sometimes body language and silence communicate more than what they say.)
Application Challenge: Review the concepts from the lesson. What in the discussions you had in class made you think about something new? What discouraged you? What encouraged you? Find an older, faithful Christian to talk with about the principles in the lesson. How have they counted the cost of being a Christian in their lives? Ask God to help you remember any cost is worth following Him.