This section provides Bible stories with the theme of cooperation, along with questions to guide follow-up discussions. Choose one story that is appropriate for your children. If the Bible passage is too complex for your children, paraphrase the story yourself or use the summary provided under “key concepts.”
Note: See “A cooperative building project” in the hands-on options section for a related activity.
Sitting and listening to this long story will give your children some empathy for the Israelites who had to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem! Before reading the story, share this background information:
In the years leading up to these events, God had allowed the king of a foreign country to capture most of the Israelites and bring them back to the foreign king’s country to work as slaves. Nehemiah was working for the foreign king. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, he asked the king for permission to return to Jerusalem to lead others in rebuilding the city walls.
Read Nehemiah 3.
Questions for discussion
- How do you feel after you have finished a long job or project?
- How do you think the Israelites felt after they worked together to complete the wall of Jerusalem?
- In verse three we read that the nobles of Tekoa would not help with the rebuilding. Why do you think they refused to join in the work?
- Which jobs do you like to avoid?
- How did the Bible say that Baruch son of Zabbai worked?
- Do you think God was more pleased with the nobles of Tekoa, or with Baruch son of Zabbai?
- How do you want others to think of you – as a zealous worker, a cooperative worker, or someone who refuses to do their part?
- When the Israelites became fearful and discouraged, Nehemiah reminded them to keep trusting in God. If our family members or teammates are tired and feel like quitting, how can we encourage them?
- How do you feel if someone quits in the middle of a game you are playing together?
The Bible says the nobles of Tekoa “would not put their shoulders to the work” of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:5). We don’t know why these people refused to help, but we can imagine that perhaps they felt they were “too good” to do physical labour, or maybe they were simply lazy. All of us can be tempted to avoid work at times, but we are instructed in the Bible to work as though we are working for the Lord, not men (Colossians 3:23-24).
From the story in Nehemiah, it sounds like Baruch son of Zabbai was a hard worker. When we work it is important to do our jobs well in order to please those we are working for, but it is even more important to focus on working in a way that pleases God.
We also read in the Bible that God sees what we do and will reward us for what we do. During long and hard jobs it is easy to get to the point where you are tired or bored and want to quit. At these times we can encourage each other to keep on trusting God, just as Nehemiah encouraged the Israelites when they were fearful and discouraged (Nehemiah 4:14,20).
Colossians 3:23-24 “
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Matthew 16:27 “
For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.”
Standing strong together
Before reading this Bible story, share this background information:
In the years leading up to these events, God had allowed the king of a foreign country to capture most of the Israelites and bring them back to the foreign king’s country to work as slaves. Nehemiah was working for the foreign king. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, he asked the king for permission to return to Jerusalem to lead others in rebuilding the city walls. The king gave Nehemiah permission, so he went back to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:1-3, 2:4-9). When the rebuilding of the wall began, some neighbouring people wanted to put a stop to it. They made fun of the project and threatened to harm those who were building the wall.
Read Nehemiah 4:7-21.
Questions for discussion
- Would you have been scared to stay and rebuild the wall if there were bad guys lurking around who wanted to harm you?
- What did Nehemiah and the builders do?
- What do you think would have happened if some of the Israelites rebuilding the wall had decided they didn’t want to follow Nehemiah’s plans for protection?
- What kinds of excuses might the workers have made if they didn’t want to serve as soldiers?
- The Israelites were under the leadership of Nehemiah. Who are your leaders?
- Do you ever make excuses as to why you don’t want to do what your leaders ask?
- If you were facing a problem, whose help would you want?
- Is it easier to face problems when you are alone, or when you are with others?
Just as the Israelites began making progress on rebuilding the wall, a problem came up. Some of the people living in the surrounding area were very angry that the walls of Jerusalem were being rebuilt. They made fun of the workers and even threatened to come and hurt the people who were working on the wall. Nehemiah prayed, then made a plan. He posted guards day and night to watch over the walls. During the day, half of the people kept working on the rebuilding project while the other half stood guard with spears and swords.
Nehemiah told the people to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” and to fight to protect their brothers, sons, daughters, wives and homes (Nehemiah 4:14). Nehemiah also made a plan that involved the cooperation of all the people of Israel. If anyone was attacked by their enemies, the trumpeter would blow the trumpet to let everyone else know they should come to that part of the wall and help those who were being attacked.
Nehemiah’s safety plan would never have worked if some of the Israelites had said, “I will not be a soldier. I won’t protect anyone but those in my own family.” In order for a team to succeed, each person must be willing to work cooperatively toward the same goal. Jesus even talked about this in the Bible when He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12:25). When we face a problem, we can ask for God’s help, just as Nehemiah did. It’s important that we support others too. The term “I've got your back” is a way of telling a family member or friend that you are watching out for his or her safety or well-being. Successful teams and families have members who encourage and look out for each other.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 “
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”
Matthew 12:25 “
Knowing their thoughts, He said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.’ ”
Submitting to authorities
Read Romans 13:1-7.
Questions for discussion
- Who are the governing authorities in our community?
- What rules do these governing authorities ask us to follow?
- What happens if we break the rules?
- What would happen if someone ignored a “yield” sign and drove their car into a lane of oncoming cars?
- Who decides which people should be government leaders?
Being submissive means that we respect those in authority and obey the rules they put in place. Authorities include police officers, pastors, school teachers, principals and members of government (local, regional and national).
God is the one who decides which people should be in places of leadership and He wants us to submit to them. Our government has many rules that are similar to God’s rules in the Bible. For example, in our country we are not allowed to steal things or to kill or hurt other people. God’s rules and society’s rules are in place to protect us.
If we choose not to follow rules, we could be punished. If someone chooses to disobey the laws of the land, they can be asked to pay fines, be sent to jail, or be given unpaid work to do in their community. In a family, if children refuse to submit to the house rules they may lose privileges, be put in a time out, or be given extra work.
1 Peter 2:13-14 “
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 “
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”
Learning to submit to God
Read Judges 2:6-23.
Questions for discussion
- What did the Israelites do to make God angry?
- What are the names of the other gods they followed?
- How did God discipline the Israelites?
- Did they learn their lesson? (Deuteronomy 5:7)
- Were the Israelites doing things God’s way or their own way?
- Are you ever stubborn enough to insist on doing things your way, even if a parent has warned you of harsh consequences for refusing to obey?
- Is life more pleasant when you cooperate, or when you refuse to do as your parents ask?
- How are God’s instructions to children in Ephesians 6:1-3 similar to the instructions He gave the Israelites?
To submit to God means a person is willing to do things God’s way, and to live following God’s rules. The opposite of submission is rebelliousness and stubbornness. Rebellious or stubborn people insist on doing things their own way and refuse to follow rules and instructions.
The Israelites honoured God during the time Joshua was alive, but after he died the Bible tells us that the Israelites forgot to teach their children about God’s faithfulness and how He cared for them. They started to worship the gods of the other people who lived in the land. This made God angry, so He allowed rival armies to defeat them.
After being taken over by their enemies, the Israelites would then become very miserable and God would have compassion on them and give them a leader, called a judge, who would save them from their enemies. The Israelites would follow God for a short time, but as soon as the judge died, they would quickly go back to following the other gods. The stubbornness of the Israelites finally made God angry enough that He decided to leave the foreigners in the Promised Land with the Israelites in order to test their willingness to stay faithful to Him. Similar to the warning God gave the Israelites about obeying Him, God tells children to obey their parents so that it may go well with them.
Ephesians 6:1-3 “
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ ”
Psalm 81:10-12 “
I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. But My people did not listen to My voice; Israel would not submit to Me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”
Working together for truth
To add excitement and anticipation, consider printing out 3 John 1:1-11 and sealing it in an envelope, then “discover” it in your mailbox – a letter from Pastor John! Prior to reading out the letter, hand out some pre-packaged snacks. Be sure to give out only one bag of fish crackers, one bag of carrots, one bag of small cookies and one bag of apple slices. Allow your children to decide who gets which bag, and how to share the snack fairly.
Read 3 John 1:1-11.
Questions for discussion
- What do you think John meant when he said the believers were “walking in the truth”?
- What does the word “hospitable” mean?
- Why would God want us to be hospitable?
- Diotrephes was not hospitable toward the travelling pastors. How can we make others feel welcome in our home?
- How did Diotrephes make things difficult for others?
- Gossiping (saying unkind things about others) is considered evil. What is the opposite of gossiping?
- What is the meaning of the phrase, “He likes to put himself first”?
- Can you think of any ways you can put others first?
- Is it possible to “put someone first” in a conversation? If so, how?
- Are there ever times that you want all the attention instead of being willing to share the attention with others?
John talks about three ways we can obey God’s commandments or “walk in truth.” They include speaking kindly and respectfully, putting others first, and showing hospitality. The Christians John was writing to showed hospitality to pastors who were visiting the region by letting them stay in their homes. They took care of each pastor’s needs so the travelling pastor could keep sharing the good news of God’s love with those who had not heard about Jesus yet.
Many people cooperated in this way, but John tells us about one man who was not cooperative. His name was Diotrephes. Diotrephes made things difficult for others by gossiping and insisting on being first himself. He also refused to welcome the visiting pastors and made life difficult for those who did.
When we are hospitable, we are treating others in a way that pleases God. We can make people feel welcome in our home by sharing conversation, food, toys and a place to sleep or rest. Putting others first is another great way to please God. We can put others first by allowing them to have the first turn doing something fun, by letting them talk first, or by giving them first choice at snack time.
1 Peter 4:8-10 “
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace . . .”
Mark 9:34-35 “
But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And He sat down and called the twelve. And He said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, He must be last of all and servant of all.’ ”
A task requiring teamwork and determination
Read Mark 2:1-12.
Questions for discussion
- How did the friends of the paralyzed man show that they cared for him?
- What kind of teamwork would have been required to lower a man on a stretcher down through a roof?
- What do you think the paralyzed man said to his friends afterward?
- How do you feel after you have been part of a cooperative effort to help another person?
- How can you show that you care for someone who is hurt or sick?
- Do you have any friends or family members who don’t know that they can have Jesus as their friend?
- How could you introduce them to Jesus?
Four men brought a paralyzed man to see Jesus, but the building was so crowded that they couldn’t get in the door. Instead, they went up on the roof and dug a hole in it. Then they lowered the man down on his mat to see Jesus. The Bible tells us that when “Jesus saw their faith,” He healed the man spiritually by forgiving his sins, then healed him physically too. For the first time, the man could walk! How special the paralyzed man must have felt to have four good friends put forth such a cooperative effort to help him see Jesus. His friends must have been pretty excited too when they saw their friend walking.
The best thing anyone can do for a friend is to introduce their friend to Jesus. If we have a friend or family member who is hurt or ill, we can ask them if it is okay with them if we pray for them and ask Jesus to heal them. In praying for someone, we are taking their problem to Jesus for them.
Psalm 103:2-5 “
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.”