Key Scriptures: Genesis 41, Genesis 45:4-8, Nehemiah 1&2, Esther, Romans 13:1-7, Acts 5:26-29, 1 Peter 2:13-17, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Titus 3:1, Matthew 22:17-21, John 19:10-11, Matthew 26:52-54, Romans 12:21
Guiding Question: When Christians want to advocate for changes in the world around them, how does God want them to do so?
Introductory Activity: Tell students you are going to make them the holder of any office of their choice – from principal of their school to President of the United States – for one day. What is one law or rule they would change or add? After they have shared their thoughts (do not allow for debate on their choices, but they can be silly answers like making the caf at school serve their favorite meal every day), ask for some ways they could advocate for that change since they don’t actually have the power to make it. Make a list of their answers, but don’t comment on whether or not their ideas are godly. Ask them to list other ways people advocate for change – godly or ungodly (including things like wars and riots). Keep the list to use later.
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) Sometimes in our world, we see things that we believe need to be changed. Sometimes, the changes are based on our personal preferences. Sometimes we want things changed because we believe the way they are currently does not reflect how God would want them to be. We could easily come up with a list of thousands of things we think need changing and hundreds of ways to do it.
Change takes time and effort. The question becomes what types of changes would God want us to spend our valuable time advocating for and what are the ways of advocating for change that He would consider acceptable? The answers aren’t necessarily what you would think or simple to discern.
Read or tell the story in Genesis 41. What are some things Joseph needed to change in order for there to be enough food during the coming famine? How was he able to make those changes? What had God used in the life of Joseph to allow Joseph to easily make the necessary changes to help thousands of people live, (who might have died during the famine) – including his own family? What might have happened if Joseph had rejected God at any point during his life when those hard things were happening? How did Joseph explain it to his brothers? (Genesis 45:4-8) How might God work in your life in a similar way to make it easier for you to make changes He wants made?
Joseph wasn’t the only one who appealed to a ruler to make changes so that God’s will could be accomplished. Read or tell the story in Nehemiah 1 and 2. Nehemiah had been living in captivity. Once again, not something he would have chosen for his life. God had blessed him though and he had risen to the level of cupbearer to the king. This was a position for a trusted servant as they made sure the king’s food and drink were not poisoned. What did Nehemiah do when he heard what was happening in Jerusalem? What changes did he think need to be made? What did he do before talking to anyone or making any concrete plans? Why do you think he waited until Artaxerxes asked him what was wrong, before he said anything? In fact, why do you think he waited four months before saying anything and just fasted and prayed during that time? Why do you think Artaxerxes might have been so helpful to Nehemiah when he explained the problem and what he wanted to do to change things? What might God want us to do today before we try to make any changes in the world around us?
Briefly tell the story of Esther, focusing on her approach of Xerxes and asking him to dinner instead of immediately explaining the problem and her proposed solution. Why do you think Esther went to the trouble of entertaining Xerxes before she explained the problem and the changes she wanted? What did Haman do to make the king even more likely to do what Esther wanted? How can God use situations when people who are ungodly are exposed? What can we learn from the way Esther approached Xerxes when she wanted changes to be made? What pattern are you seeing in how people in the Bible lobbied rulers for changes?
In the New Testament, things get really interesting! The Jews were under the rule of the Roman Empire. This was an Empire known for its cruelty…in fact some of the books in the New Testament were written during the reign of Nero – who history tells us was probably responsible for the deaths of Peter and Paul. Why would it be easy to assume Jesus and later, his disciples, might have spent a lot of time trying to change the Roman government – especially the laws which eventually made Christianity illegal? Do we have any evidence in the Bible that they spent much effort lobbying the Roman government? (Note: The account of their various court trials may or may not be considered lobbying by some students.) What seems to have been their primary focus? Why do you think they focused on helping others and teaching them about Jesus and how to be strong Christians after they were baptized?
Read the following scriptures. Each gives a glimpse at part of the over all philosophy of Jesus and the early Christians towards governments.
- Romans 13:1-7
- Acts 5:29
- 1 Peter 2:13-17
- 1 Timothy 2:1-2
- Titus 3:1
- Matthew 22:17-21
- John 19:10-11
- Matthew 26:52-54
- Romans 12:21
The history of the first couple of hundred years that we can find outside of the Bible confirms these verses molded how the early Christians reacted to government. They paid their taxes and obeyed laws…except when those laws forbade them to worship God and tried to force them to worship Caesar instead. Many Christians faced horrible deaths because they refused to denounce Christ. Ironically, because they focused on loving others and teaching the Gospel message, people with access to power and people in power gradually became Christians. Eventually, a Roman Emperor became a Christian and in 313 a.d. or c.e. Christianity was legalized.
Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. Explain to students that while people in the Bible worked in various ways to bring about change, God has always wanted the focus to be on helping others on Earth and helping them spend eternity in Heaven. They didn’t seem to spend a lot of time worrying about taxes and other things that can distract Christians from their main goals set by God.
Show students their initial list of ways people advocate for change. After the lesson, which options would they eliminate as ones of which God would not approve? Did the lesson give them ideas of other options they could add?
Depending upon your group of students, you may want to work on the project as a class or in small groups or even individually. Have them find a change they believe God would want made in our world. It does not have to involve a law or governmental policy, although it can. They may want instead to focus on an issue like hunger or human trafficking. Have them plan and execute an effort to bring about positive change. As they work remind them their primary goals are still to help people with their physical needs but also teach them about God. How can they incorporate sharing their faith with their efforts? What safeguards do they need to put in place to make sure they don’t forget helping people get to Heaven because they become too distracted by their earthly needs. (You may want to refer to or have them read our free ebook Ministering to Marginalized Children for lots of helpful information.)
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. What changes do you want to see in the world around you? What are God’s priorities in those areas? What is one thing you can do today to work towards those changes? Now do it!