Matthew 25 illustrates the shocking depth of Jesus’ love for the human race. His identification with “the least of these” is so profound that when we reach out to them with love and enter their pain, it is Jesus himself we are loving and embracing.

Rich Stearns, U.S president, World Vision.

In today’s fast-paced, gadget-crazed, interconnected world, it can be hard for young people to think about the needs of others, and find ways to serve them. But as packed as their days may be, it is important for them to learn what the Bible says about service — and there is no better place to do so than the twenty-fifth book of Matthew. A few days before his death, Jesus was sitting on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, teaching His disciples. Speaking metaphorically, as He often did, Jesus told them: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36 ESV)

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Jesus’s words were confusing to His disciples. They couldn’t remember a time when He was hungry and they had fed him, or when they had given him something to drink because He was thirsty. When had He needed clothes? When was He sick? When was He in prison? In response to these questions, Jesus said to them: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 40 ESV) With that statement, Jesus made one point crystal-clear: When people care about others and help fulfill their needs, they are doing the same for Him.

Putting Faith to Work

For students at Santa Fe Christian School, serving others is an integral part of their school experience. A different theme is chosen each year, and this year the theme is compassion. “We talk about how we can live out compassion,” says Amanda Walker, SFC Lower School assistant principal. Children in the Lower School have participated in activities such as sending notes of encouragement to people, cleaning up different areas around the SFC campus, and making sure lost and found items are returned to their owners. “All of these things are acts of worship,” says Mrs. Walker, “because you’re living out that you are part of this community and you want to help it glorify God.”

LS Students putting faith to work

Because serving others is such a fundamental message of Scripture, the Lower School devotes one full week each year to the Matthew 25 Challenge. Engaging in activities that revolve around sharing Christ’s love, the students learn about the importance of serving others and helping people in need – recognizing those whose needs are far greater than theirs. The SFC students also get a taste of what it’s like to go without certain things, and from that they learn empathy.

One night, for example, students are encouraged to sleep on the floor at home rather than in their beds. Mrs. Walker says this is the most popular activity of the whole week. “For our students, this is really fun,” she says. “It’s like a campout.” But in class discussions, they begin to see things differently. When asked what if they had to sleep on the floor every night because they didn’t have a bed, they start getting the idea that maybe it wouldn’t be so much fun after all. Then Mrs. Walker asks them, “And what if you had to sleep on the floor and you didn’t have blankets?” The students get a glimpse of just how unpleasant that would be. Of course, this is nothing like what desperately poor children actually experience; their needs are far greater than those of SFC children. But, says Mrs. Walker, “it’s causing our students to think about others and remember that many people do not have their basic needs met. What can we do about it? We can think about them, we can care about them, and we can pray for them.” Students in Jessica Martin’s class also learn about the needs of children living in poverty. Mrs. Martin, who teaches fifth-grade language arts, says the Matthew 25 Challenge is one of her “favorite things” during the school year because of how much the students gain from it. They learn, for instance, that not all people have the luxury of turning on a faucet to get water—in fact, many do not. “Things we take for granted,” she says. The class looked at pictures of children in Africa who have to walk a long distance just to get a drink of water. “It opens their eyes to kids around the world,” says Mrs. Martin. That leads to a discussion of why Jesus wants (and expects) Christians to help others in need.

After the last Matthew 25 Challenge, Mrs. Martin received a note from one of her fifth graders. The girl had seen the photos of children walking to get water, and it had a profound effect on her. Her note, which Mrs. Martin keeps pinned to her bulletin board, says: “You know, I can’t wait to go to Africa with you when I’m in high school.” The student was referring to SFC mission trips, in which high school students serve people in need in countries outside the United States. They travel to many areas of the world, including several countries in Africa as well as India, Thailand, and the Dominican Republic.

LS Students embodying Matthew 25 at home

Embodying Matthew 25 at Home

When SFC students go home and talk about their Matthew 25 activities, parents often wonder what they might do to further encourage the message of compassion and service. There are many ways to do this, including regular family discussions about Jesus’s teachings, volunteering in the community, and/or sponsoring a child or two from a developing country.

For parents who are interested in taking on the Matthew 25 Challenge activities at home as an extension of what’s going on in the classroom, the World Vision website is an excellent resource.

Families can sign up to be part of the challenge and take part in a number of suggested activities, such as a daily sacrificial challenge (skipping a meal like children in poverty often do), taking trivia quizzes about hunger and other poverty-related issues, watching videos on the website, and participating in family discussions and prayer. As World Vision explains: “Through small, sacrificial challenges, you’ll step out of your comfort zone and engage in God’s love for ‘the least of these brothers and sisters’ of ours, who Jesus calls us to care for in Matthew 25.”

Whether it’s at school, at church, or at home with their families, SFC students gain invaluable lessons from taking part in the Matthew 25 Challenge. And from the experience, they learn that Jesus’s message about “the least of these” applies not to just one week out of the year, but every day of a Christian’s life.