Children seemed to readily accept and be drawn to Jesus. (Matthew 21:14-16) In return, Jesus often used child-like faith and trust to encourage, teach and even scold his adult listeners. In responding to the question – ‘Who is greatest?’, “He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (As the child probably came forward a bit shyly yet happily accepting the Lord’s attention.) “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-4
The Gospels relate another incident where parents were bringing infants and children to Jesus to be blessed by him, only to be rebuked by the disciples who thought this was a waste of time; to which Jesus became indignant. (Mark 10:13-16) “He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” This incident being particularly irritating to him because he had already declared, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:36,37) Which had been said in response to their ongoing debate of greatness among themselves. They just weren’t getting it! Maybe that’s what led, at least in part, to Jesus saying that much had been “hidden” from the so-called wise; those who considered themselves privileged and thus qualified to lead – and yet it was the children to whom it had been revealed due to their openness and willingness to believe. (Matthew 11:25) This in turn allows for unrestrained, child-like exuberance (1 John 3:1) in contrast to a childish, misdirected excitability.
Christ redefined what it meant to be a child; encompassing the pure in heart – those purposely innocent of evil, (Matthew 5:8) including those open to new teaching – not set in the traditions of the past (Matthew 9:16,17) but sensitive to the realities of what they were being called to believe, discerning the difference between not just good and evil but the better and best of a situation – qualifying us to become God’s children at any age. (Romans 8:16) Sometimes the principles taught were so simple that the elder listeners couldn’t understand as they sought deeper meanings that clouded the issues and masked the reality of what was being taught. They often didn’t want to have their minds expanded with new thoughts, preferring to have their existing “knowledge” validated rather than being challenged to consider alternative ideas.
And yet – children can be fickle and unreliable. Surely that’s not what Christ is looking for as a Christian characteristic. (See 1 Corinthians 14:20) In fact, scripture repeatedly calls for us to stand firm regardless of the circumstances (Mark 13:13), to be on guard and steadfast in the faith handed down to us (1 Corinthians 16:13), clinging to the written testimony and encouragement of the gospel. (1 Peter 5:12)
However, we can’t be so accepting, trusting and “non-judgmental” as to fail to discern the difference between truth and a lie; becoming prey to those who teach false doctrines, myths and controversies as opposed to concentrating on God’s true word and work. (1 Timothy 1:3,4) We must not, “…believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1 We are to “avoid godless chatter…” 2 Timothy 2:16, while training ourselves, “…to be godly.” 1 Timothy 4:7; realizing that “…no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 3:11 (See also Galatians 1:6-10)
But how do we become trained in godliness? By acquiring knowledge of God and his way, then putting that knowledge into practice. That will happen when we hunger and thirst for righteousness in our lives (Matthew 5:6), not merely having an interest in religion but craving understanding; a holy distraction that must be resolved before anything else makes sense or can be attended to. For, “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” Proverbs 10:11 There being those who, “…claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.” Titus 1:16 Proving Christ’s point that, “...wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Matthew 11:19
So how do we make sure our actions are pure in their reflection of God’s will; especially at an age when much of life appears hard to understand and often is so changeable? For, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,” Proverbs 22:15; creating problems in answering life’s questions and dealing with its ambiguities. Training. Exercise. Development. Not a passing interest or mere curiosity that demands answered prayer when needed but never considered otherwise; but persistent, consistent, purposeful study and application of God’s will as declared in Jesus Christ. As such, many of the decisions we will be required to make throughout life will be easier and more productive (Proverbs 22:6), in part because we are more able to discern the difference between obeying God as opposed to the dictates of man (Acts 5:28); in the process gaining the respect of believers and unbelievers alike. (1 Thessalonians 4:11,12)
That takes determination and practice. As physical beings we naturally grow – we must or we die. The same principle holds true in the spiritual realm. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,” 1 Peter 2:2 Paul lamenting that some Christians don’t grow up in the word, remaining “worldly”,… “mere infants in Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 He further pointed out that there were those who ought to have been teaching others concerning the life of Christ but who still needed, “…someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” They had become comfortable with what they knew and lackadaisical about their duty of putting it into practice. For, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:11-14Receiving the title, “Children of God.” 1 John 3:1
We must grow up, leaving childhood behind, while maintaining the admirable attributes of children Christ so admired; recognition and quick acceptance of truth, boldness in declaring ourselves in love with our Father (Romans 8:14-16) and sensitivity to his will. That will make us vulnerable, placing our trust in his way even when we don’t fully understand it yet; as all compliant love does. Yet our sense of reason must develop beyond that of a child if we are to effectively participate in the ministry of evangelizing the world for Christ. We must be like Paul in that regard as he declared, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 He was not childish in applying the truth of the gospel but child-like in his acceptance of his Father’s word.
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