Key Scriptures: Matthew 18:21-35, Matthew 11:29, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, James 1:5, Colossians 2:8, Proverbs 22:6, Colossians 3:20, Numbers 22, Psalm 25:4-9, Proverbs 15:5, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 12:1, John 14:26-28
Guiding Question: Why does God want us to learn from others instead of trying to figure things out for ourselves?
Introductory Activity: Find someone with a talent like crocheting that most (and preferably all) of your students don’t know how to do. Most people who crochet have enough crochet needles and left over yarn to teach a fairly large group how to do a basic crochet stitch. Give each student a crochet needle and some yarn. Tell them you want them to each crochet a hat. They cannot ask anyone for help, nor can they use resources like YouTube, the internet, books, etc. They can’t even use a pattern. They must figure it out entirely on their own. After a minute of their initial reaction, ask them if they would like someone to teach them something helpful for their project. Then have the guest teach them how to do a simple crochet stitch (cast on chain). After a few minutes, most students should have a fairly good grasp of the stitch. Ask students how long they think it would take them to complete the assignment without any help/instruction versus with help/instruction?
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) What are some ways we learn things? Read the story in Matthew 18:21-35. What should the servant have learned from his experience? Did he learn that? How do we know? Why did the king get upset with the man? Ultimately, this parable is about forgiveness. Part of the story though is that the man didn’t learn about the importance and value of forgiveness from his own experience. Had he learned his lesson well, he would have forgiven the servant who owed him money.
When we are born, we know nothing. A lot of the things we learn, we didn’t even realize we learned them. It probably just seemed like we always knew how to use a fork or drink out of a cup. Your parents, though, can probably remember some of the things they did to help you learn those things. Maybe they let you experiment, or perhaps they showed you how to do it. Maybe they guided your hand or gave you verbal instructions. Most likely, they used a combination of methods to teach you how to do those things.
What are the ways we can learn things? Why do you think Otto von Bismarck said, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”? Or why did Eleanor Roosevelt say,”Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourselves.”
When we need to do something that is new to us – whether it’s using a fork or the best way to choose good friends – we have to figure out how to do it. If we don’t learn from others’ experiences, we are forced into what is called “trial and error”. When we use trial and error, we just keep trying different things until something seems to work. The problem with trial and error is that it can take a lot of time, the mistakes we make can have lots of negative consequences and even if we find something that eventually works, it may not be the best answer. (It is said Thomas Edison failed 1000 times before inventing the light bulb. His initial invention has been improved many times since then.) Sometimes we are forced to use trial and error, but most of the time there is a better option.
There are three basic types of things we learn in life:
- Wisdom – learned and applied knowledge
All wisdom and knowledge come from God ultimately. It is crucial when we learn something new that we check it against scripture to compare it to God’s truths. Sometimes, we won’t find anything – there is no information about decorating a cake in the Bible. Sometimes, though, even skills we think won’t be in the Bible may have scriptures that apply to them. For instance, in business, you may have someone teaching you who suggests that some form of lying will help you make more money. Even if that were true (most of the time business lies eventually come back to haunt you), obeying God about being honest all of the time is more important than making extra money.
So what are some of the best and most reliable ways to learn the things that will help us live the life God wants for us?
- From God/Jesus via reading the Bible. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 25:4-9, Isaiah 1:17, Matthew 11:29. What do we learn about learning from these verses? The Bible is full of wisdom that applies to a lot of the things we face in life. The book of Proverbs is especially filled with lots of God’s wisdom. Regularly reading it can help teach you how to make wise choices. Wonder why many of the lessons in this curriculum refer back to some of the same Bible verses? Because revisiting scriptures at different intervals, helps move them into your long term memory. Then when faced with a decision, you will have easy access in your brain to what God wanted you to learn about how to handle that particular choice. It’s also why memorizing – really memorizing scripture is such a good idea. In fact, by the time of Jesus, most young men had memorized the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) and some had perhaps memorized the entire Old Testament! Partially that may have been because everyone didn’t have Torah scrolls in their homes. Even with today’s easy access to scripture on our phones, though, there will be times when you don’t have time for even that – you need to know what God wants you to do immediately.
- From parents. Read Proverbs 22:6, Colossians 3:20, Proverbs 15:5. Did you know the most important job God gave your parents is to teach you everything God wants you to know? Some parents are better teachers than others. Some are still learning themselves what God wants them to do. Some parents don’t believe in God and don’t obey Him. God expects you to obey your parents. The only exception would be if they are telling you something that would force you to disobey God. If you want your parents to teach you more about God, ask them. Or suggest you do something to learn more together.
- From wise Christians. Read Colossians 3:16. God gives us a Christian family in the Church. There are people in your congregation who may know as much or more Bible than your preacher. They may have a lot of wisdom to share and important lessons to teach you – if you are willing to listen to them. Strong Christians can also help you figure out which scriptures may have commands or principles that apply to a modern situation you are facing.
- From discipline. No one wants to be disciplined. Most of you have probably done plenty of things to avoid being disciplined by your parents or others. Read Proverbs 12:1. What does this verse teach us about the connection between discipline and learning? Sometimes we are stubborn. We refuse to learn important lessons. If these lessons are important for us to learn well, our stubbornness may be disciplined . Whoever is disciplining us believes if we do not learn these lessons, we will suffer negative consequences they don’t want us to experience. They would rather us suffer a little from discipline than suffer much worse consequences from failing to learn the lesson.
- From the Holy Spirit. Read John 14:26-28. What does this tell us about the Holy Spirit? Every Christian receives the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism. The Holy Spirit has things to teach you. We don’t have a lot of details in the Bible about exactly how that works, but it can if we pay attention.
- From asking God. Read James 1:5. What is another way we can learn how to be wise? If we believe we don’t have the wisdom we need, God wants us to pray and ask Him for it. He may provide it through one of the previous methods or in some other way. We just need to remember to ask.
- From other sources. Because God’s wisdom is the absolute truth, others may stumble across it – even if they have rejected God. It’s more difficult because they have had to learn it by accident from others or through child and error, but they found it. That’s why sometimes even an atheist can teach one of God’s truths (but they usually don’t realize the source of the wisdom they are sharing). Read Numbers 22 for a really odd example of someone learning something from a really odd source!
It’s important to understand why God wants us to be lifelong learners of His truths. Read Colossians 2:8. God knows if we learn everything He wants us to know and use it, we can avoid being tricked by philosophies and the lies Satan uses to try and trick us into disobeying and even rejecting God.
Skills Activity: Review the main points from the lesson. Before class, ask members of your congregation to share with you some things they had to learn the hard way that they wished someone had taught them (or that they had paid attention to when they were taught to them). Have several people with the best stories come and share them with your students. Allow students to ask questions, but make sure you invite people who know scripture well and won’t suddenly give ungodly advice to them.
With the time remaining, have students develop personal lists of the things they feel like they need to learn….they can fall into any of the categories. Help them notice areas where the secular might also intersect with scripture.
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. What is one thing you need to learn? What resources do you need to learn it? Make a concrete plan (with a deadline) for learning it.