Read: Matthew 18
The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4, NLT)
At some point in our developing years, most of us heard the parental admonition, “quit acting like a child.” We were sometimes derisively chided, “you’re being a big baby!” We were told to “grow up and act our age!” The Bible even gets in on the act, telling us to put away childish things (I Corinthians 13:11), to stop thinking like children (I Corinthians 14:20), to grow out of the instability of our emotional/spiritual infancy (Ephesians 4:14).
Yet here Jesus tells us that the people who are the greatest in his Father’s kingdom are those who become like little children. Obviously, we’ve heard that before, and I’m sure most of us think we get what Jesus is saying, but have we really stopped to think about those child-like qualities exhibited in the faith, character and life of a believer that cause Father God to sit up and take notice? It would be easy to simply pass by this familiar passage without giving it much thought, but let’s take a moment before we move on to consider what it is about little kids that not only makes them, but anyone who embodies those very characteristics, so precious to God.
First, Jesus mentions repentance: “Unless you turn from your sins and become like little children you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” It is typical of children to recognize their own “childishness”, and along with that recognition is an innate sense that change is desperately needed, correction is helpful (though not always appreciated), and a new course is required if maturity is to take place. The starting point in the Kingdom is acknowledgment of our sinfulness, sorrow for our offensiveness to a holy God, and our willingness to change the whole orientation of our life by walking in a way that is pleasing to the One who created us to glorify him by our very existence. Jesus declares that this attitude of repentance—not just the act, but an attitude of repentance—is both a child-like quality and a necessary condition for entrance into the Kingdom Life as well as growth in it.
Second, Jesus speaks about humility: “Anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Many helpful definitions of humility have been offered, but the kind of humility a child naturally exhibits is simply one that recognizes its utter dependence on the parent for day-by-say sustenance, guidance and protection—for life itself. Jesus says that those who know their utter helplessness and their total moment-by-moment dependence on the Father are on their way to greatness in his eyes.
Third, Jesus talks about trust: “If you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) Perhaps the most endearing quality of a child is a fully devoted trust in their parent. So precious is a child’s trust to God that he reserves his worst punishment for adults who damage it in children. And so precious to God is the trust of his spiritual children that Jesus died to make it possible. Eternal life is the gift God gives to his children; complete trust is the gift God’s children give back to him.
Do you desire to be great in God’s eyes? I do. If you do, then join me today by nurturing a repentant spirit, cultivating authentic humility, and by wrapping up your trust and giving it as a gift to the Father who gave you your very life. According to Jesus, his Father will think it’s great. He’ll think you’re great, too!
“Childlike trust that is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship.” ~Brennan Manning
What If God Took Over?
Repentance, humility and trust—we much more easily and naturally exhibit these as children. As adults, the current of sin causes us to drift further from them as authentic expressions of who we are before God. The good news is, since these very things are so precious to God, he is ready and willing to help you reclaim them in your life. All you need to do is ask. That’s a good start!