Here’s a free junior high lesson on “Labels” based on Genesis 25:21-34
The lesson’s bottom line: Only by the cross can we escape the weight of labels.
It includes a fun opening game to setup the message. You know…because junior highers love playing games 🙂
Enjoy the lesson!
– Nick Diliberto, Junior High Ministry
OPENING GAME: LABELS
Index Cards or sticky notes
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
Have an index card or sticky-note for every student with their name on it.
Have students secretly write a character trait they admire in another student on that person’s index card or sticky note.
You want each student to have three attributes on their cards.
Have leaders check the cards to make sure they are positive traits and that they are sufficiently different from others.
These cards will be taped to the back of the person they are describing.
Students will then mingle within the group and show each other their cards.
Then students will take turns trying to act out the trait.
The person gets one guess per interaction.
If they get it right, the person will cross it out (or highlight it) to show that that one has been guessed.
The next person they encounter would move onto the second trait.
The first student to guess all their traits wins.
Saying a form of the word counts: The card says “athlete” and the person guessed “athletic.”
Saying a synonym does NOT count: The card says “friendly” and the person guesses “kind.”
Allow leaders to give hints if a student is stumped for an extended period of time.
You may want students to use some of the words listed in the closing activity.
Open the lesson by sharing a personal story of a “label” that you have received.
Labels can be good and bad and affect each of us in different ways.
Experiments have been performed where students are labeled smart or not-so-smart to teachers.
These labels did not show actual ability but were randomly assigned to students.
What psychologists saw were that those labeled smart began to live up to those expectations and those who were labeled dull lived down to that expectation.
Perhaps you’ve been labeled something that you’re trying to get away from.
You may have a teacher that has labeled you the “bad kid” and doesn’t ever give you the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe your family has labeled you the troublemaker.
Perhaps your “friends” label you the “dumb one” or the “ugly one” or the “un-athletic one.”
As hard as you try to change, people are slow to recognize the change and you end up living down to their expectations.
It often seems that the bad labels are so much stickier than the good ones aren’t they?
I have some bad news for you.
You can’t always escape labels, especially those given by your family.
Even if you graduate high school, go onto college, cure cancer, become famous, you’ll still be the kid who wet his pants coming back from the ski trip.
The Bible tells a story of a man named Jacob who needed to be transformed.
God would eventually make him into a great man, but he started off with deep character issues and it all started with a label.
Read Genesis 25:21-26.
And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them (ESV).
From the womb these twins were locked in the battle, though we are told who will ultimately win.
The younger (second-born) will end up being the strong one.
However, we see something not so pleasant about Jacob-his name.
In ancient times names were very important as they often characterized the person.
It was a label that stuck for your entire life.
While Jacob may literally mean “God protected (him)” it is a play on words that remembers how he was born by grabbing hold of his twins heal.
He was labeled a heel-grabber, which suggests serious problems of his character.
To snag by the heel is a picture of being sneaky, selfish and manipulative in order to get ahead.
This is exactly the character that Jacob will go on to show as he lives down to his name.
Read Genesis 25:27-29
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
We see from the beginning how these twins couldn’t be more different.
Esau was an outdoorsman; Jacob a homebody.
Esau was a hunter; Jacob a cook.
Esau was loved by dad; Jacob by his mother.
We see the character of Jacob on full display as he manipulates his brother to take the birthright.
The birthright-generally a double-portion of the inheritance which usually went to the firstborn male (meaning with two children, the oldest would get ⅔ of the inheritance).
While Esau struggled to provide food, leaving him exhausted, he is met by a cold-calculating Jacob, rather than a grateful brother.
Jacob is will to take this moment of his brother’s weakness as an opportunity to get rich.
He is indeed a heel-grabber, living down to the label.
Living under Labels
The sting of the label is that you don’t measure up.
Maybe it’s physically, you’re not good-looking enough or athletic enough wearing “ugly, loser, unwanted” as a label.
Perhaps socially, you’re not the cool guy and wear “dork, loser” as a label.
Perhaps morally, you can’t seem to shake the label “troublemaker, selfish, bully, whiny.”
All these labels let you know that you don’t measure up.
Even good labels can be hard, because they put tremendous pressure to maintain the label.
For example the “smart kid” often feels enormous pressure to do well on every test in order to feel that he still measures up.
We know good labels can be easily lost but bad labels seem to never go away.
New Labels in Jesus
In Jesus the sting of our labels is taken out.
When we put our faith in Jesus, even though we don’t measure up to God’s standard, we are accepted.
God gives us a new name “Christian,” where we are no longer called by our faults and inability to measure up, but we are labeled by the Christ who measured up for us.
In Jesus we are given new labels: accepted, loved, wanted.
On the cross, Jesus was rejected so you could be accepted.
He was forsaken, so you could be included.
He was shamed, so you could be exalted.
All the other religions of the world, and society itself, says to us, “fix yourself” then eventually we’ll change your label.
For many of us, we’ve tried again and again to measure up and fix ourselves only to find ourselves once again living down to our label: angry, jerk, unlovable, screw-up, the bad kid, ugly, etc.
The story of Jacob lets us know that despite how we’ve been labeled (whether fairly or unfairly), God offers hope.
Even the good labels that often put so much pressure on us don’t affect us the same way.
We no longer have that pressure to maintain that label, because our identity rests on what Jesus has already done, not on our future performance.
On the cross, our labels were placed on Jesus.
While it’s us who act unacceptable, Jesus was rejected.
While we’ve forsaken God, it was Jesus who was forsaken.
While we are the sinners, it was Jesus who died.
When you put your faith in Jesus, your labels are placed on him and God gives you a new label.
If you’re in Christ, God has already changed your label and invites you to “live up” to the label He’s already placed on you.
In Christ, you are accepted and will find yourself acting in ways that are more acceptable.
In Christ you are labeled “righteous” and will act more and more righteous.
In Christ you are given the label “saint” [literally “holy one”] and become more and more holy.
In Christ you are labeled “loved” and you will act more lovely.
In Christ you are a Christian, and become more and more Christ-like.
While the world, the school, and our family often give us labels that we can’t shake and find ourselves living down to them, when we put our faith in Jesus we are given new labels that Jesus has earned but are applied to us.
We are invited, God being our helper, to make those labels a true reflection of our character.
Have students write something they’ve been labeled on a second name tag (may have already done it during the game portion).
Have students respond to message by putting their label on a cross and your leaders replace it with a label the flows from their identity in Christ.
SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
What have you been labeled?
Have you ever felt the weight of a label (either good or bad)? How did you deal with it?
How does faith in Jesus help living under a label?
Next time you are feeling the weight of a label, what should you do?