Exploring the Themes in Paul's Epistles

About this article

This 50 minute session invites the participants to research some of Paul's major theological themes and create billboard representations to “sell” their assigned theme.

Background for the Catechist

This session invites the participants to work in small groups to research some of Paul's major theological themes and create billboard representations to "sell" their assigned theme. In this way the young people get a deeper look at one theme but exposure to those researched by the other groups. The themes are then used as the basis for creating the closing prayers.

Material Needed

  • newsprint and markers
  • Bibles, one for each participant
  • pens or pencils
  • masking tape
  • a copy of resource 2-B, "Themes in Paul's Epistles" (PDF)
  • a scissors
  • blank paper
  • items for the prayer space: a large candle, matches, a small table, a tablecloth, and a group Bible

Other Necessary Preparations

  • For step A. Prepare team directions by copying resource 2-B, "Themes in Paul's Epistles" (PDF), and cutting it along the dashed lines.
  • For step B. Open the group Bible at Col. 1:1-5a,9-14. Set up the prayer space with a small table, a tablecloth, a large candle, and a group Bible.

Step A: Exploring the Themes in Paul's Epistles (35 minutes)

1. Divide the group into five teams. If the group is small, the participants may have to work individually. Give each team a pencil, markers, newsprint, and one of the slips of paper from resource 2-B, "Themes in Paul's Epistles" (PDF). Explain that each slip of paper is labeled with a theme from Paul's epistles and that each team is to do the following:

  • Look up and read the Scripture passages listed for its theme.
  • Write on the back of your slip of paper a paragraph summarizing what Paul says about the theme.
  • Show it to the teacher, who will check its accuracy.
  • Finally, use the newsprint and markers to create a billboard ad for your team's theme.

Remind them that billboards use short, clear messages and catchy slogans and phrases that people remember. Encourage the teams to be creative in getting their message across.

Make sure everyone understands the instructions. Tell them they have about 25 minutes to complete these tasks.

2. When the young people come to you with their paragraph, check the content against the following summaries. Suggest corrections or additions where needed.

  • The cross and Christ's death. For Paul the greatest symbol of God's love for us is Christ's death on the cross. All people have sinned and are worthy of condemnation. Yet Christ humbled himself to be crucified for us while we were sinners. Through his sacrifice we are reconciled with God. For many people the idea of worshiping someone who died on a cross is foolishness. But for Paul and all those who accept the cross, it is the greatest wisdom and our only boast before God.
  • The resurrection of the body. Saint Paul is confident that life does not end with death. By sharing in Christ's death we will also share in his resurrected life. Through God's power our natural bodies will become glorious, spiritual bodies, never to die again. This will not come without sacrifice. We must die to our sinful habits through baptism and be willing to share in Christ's sufferings as we follow him in faith.
  • Righteousness and salvation. God does not wish us to suffer wrath, that is, to be lost from God's love. Yet all people have sinned, and no one can claim righteousness--a state of being "right" with God--on her or his own. The Jewish people of Paul's time believed their Law could make them righteous. Paul's response was that the Law only makes us more conscious of our sin, it cannot save us from our sin. We are made right with God not by observing the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And being made right with God through our faith, we will achieve salvation.
  • Hope and joy. If God loves us so much that he did not spare his own son, will God not take care of all our needs? Because God is supreme over all creation, nothing in creation can ultimately separate us from God's love. In Paul's eyes, through our suffering we share in the suffering of Christ. Through our suffering, our salvation and the redemption of the world is worked out. So Christians are called to be hopeful and joyful, knowing that the final victory over sin and death has already been won through Christ Jesus.
  • The Christian community and the Body of Christ. Saint Paul compares the Christian community to the human body. Like every part of the body, every person in the community is needed and has a special gift to give. Furthermore, everyone must work together, sharing their gifts for the good of the whole. Because everyone is equal in Christ, there should be unity in the Christian community, with no prejudices or divisions among its members. To reach this ideal, everyone in the community must practice forgiveness and love.

3. After 25 minutes invite each team to present its billboard to the group. Ask the first team to begin by stating its theme and reading its summary paragraph before displaying its billboard. Applaud each group's work and add your comments where necessary to ensure the theme is properly understood.

Step B: Closing Prayer Service (15-20 minutes)
1. Ask the young people to stay in their teams as they prepare for the closing prayer. Tell them to prepare a short prayer based on their assigned theme. The prayer should apply their theme to people and things they know and care about. Announce that they have just 2 to 3 minutes to create their prayer. If necessary, suggest the following connections between themes and prayers:

  • The cross: Pray for people who are suffering.
  • The Resurrection: Pray for people struggling with faith or offer a prayer of thanksgiving for people living the faith.
  • Righteousness and salvation: Pray for people struggling with sin.
  • Hope and joy: Give thanks for things that give hope and show God's power.
  • The Body of Christ: Pray for the church.

During this time you may wish to play some instrumental music to introduce a prayerful atmosphere.

2. Invite the young people to gather around the area you have set up for your prayer experience. Ask the group members to center themselves in silence for a moment. Then read Col. 1:1-5a. When the reading is finished, direct each team to share its prayer. You might wish to pass a candle for one team member to hold while another reads the prayer.

3. After the teams have read their prayers, invite any member of the group to share a more personal prayer with the group. Conclude the prayer service by reading Col. 1:9-14 and making the sign of the cross together.


(This session is adapted from the Horizons book, Paul: The Man and the Message by Brian Singer-Towns, published by Saint Mary's Press, 1997) Copyright © 1997 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. These activities may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order these books, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at www.smp.org)

Published July 24, 2008.