The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Like A Child’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 3/15/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1bhnpqF
Like a Child
Jesus exhorted His disciples to, “…become as little children”:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matt 18:1-4
But what did he mean? The passage above deals specifically with humility. The disciples were arguing about who would be greatest in the new Kingdom of Israel. The Angel Gabriel had promised Mary that her Son would, “…reign over the house of Jacob forever,” and that His kingdom would have no end (Lk 1:33). The commonly held belief was that Jesus would come and establish a literal kingdom to overthrow the Roman occupation; not a spiritual kingdom to overthrow Satan. The disciples were all jockeying for position in that new regime. They were vying for earthly authority, when all Jesus wanted them to do was simply agree on spiritual priorities.
His message was clear: if we are to follow Him into heaven, we must humble ourselves. The disciples’ desire for position demonstrated that they were undeserving of the very position they desired. Instead of contending for rank, Jesus asked them to forget all about that “adult’” business, and become like children in humility.
In order to gain access to the Kingdom of God, we must admit that we can never gain it on our own. Salvation is by grace, through faith; not by works (Eph 2:8-9). The minute we contend that grace has anything to do with our own behavior, we lose sight of the Cross.
Foolish and Fickle
Sometimes, in order to see what Jesus was teaching in a given passage, it’s useful to examine what He was not saying. In Matthew 18, Jesus’ exhortation to become like little children is not saying two things: 1) be foolish, or 2) be fickle.
Foolishness is condition we should never seek to attain. Yes, we are supposed to trust Jesus unconditionally, just as a child who is well-loved always trusts his parents. However, we are also encouraged to aggressively pursue understanding when in comes to our faith in God:
Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. – 1 Cor 14:20
Children will play with anyone. Children of blue collar workers will play with the children of the richest millionaires. They simply want to interact and have fun, and don’t care whom it’s with.
Jesus instructs us to share ourselves with others in exactly that way. We are told to be childlike in judgment and malice: to always seek the best for the people around us, regardless of who they are, or where they come from. When it comes to our understanding of other people – our brothers and sisters – we are encouraged to always stay genuinely curious and compassionate.
But when it comes to our understanding of God, we are encouraged to do everything we can to satisfy our curiosity. We are called to seek to understand everything about God that we possibly can. God asks us to meditate on His word day and night (Ps 1:2). We will never understand everything; but that does not mean we shouldn’t seek God and ask Him all the tough questions we can think of!
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to seek understanding of God’s word: to never settle for surface-level knowledge when full immersion is available:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. – Heb 5:12-14
We improve our capacity to digest God’s word by reason of use. In other words, proper digestion takes practice! A baby is slowly introduced to solid food, turns it over in his mouth, and eats softer foods before trying complex starches. In the same way, we can put our heads in our Bibles and allow God to feed us His word: first the simple exhortations, and then the more complex. Just like an enzyme in a baby’s stomach, His Holy Spirit will help us to dissolve and digest everything we are taking in.
We were never meant to settle for milk for our entire lives. Milk requires a breast: a mother who is willing to be tethered to a child, so that whenever he is hungry, that urge can be satisfied. Many of us rely on our pastors in exactly the same way. We convince ourselves that we are too busy, or too tired, or simply not smart enough, to dig into the word on our own. The end result is that we ask to be fed our entire adult lives, instead of growing into the capacity to feed ourselves. And that is a condition that Jesus seeks to change in His church!
The answer to every single one of life’s toughest questions lies in God’s word. Why are we here? What are we supposed to do? Why is life so short? What happens when I die? How do I find happiness and fulfillment before I die? Jesus answers all of these: elegantly and adequately.
When we commit to humble ourselves as children of God, we agree to stay teachable. Children are always genuinely curious. They are amazed by the complexity of the world around them, and know they can – and should – be learning every day. Their brains are rapidly growing, and ready to adjust to accommodate whatever new stimulus and information comes their way.
We must never assume we know best when God is available to teach us better. Matthew Henry, a Biblical commentator, noted that, “[Jesus] set [the child] in the midst of them; not that they might play with him, but that they might learn by him.” Jesus taught in the synagogue in Luke 2, as a child. As his parents searched for him frantically, He was in the synagogue asking questions of the most academically decorated teachers in the city.
What can you learn from children? Stay humble, and stay teachable. Jesus used children as an intentionally frequent reminder that we should seek to know anything and everything we possibly can about the God who created us!
Second, Matthew 18 never intends to give us permission to be fickle. Children change their minds frequently. If you ask a child, “What do you want to do with your life?” you might get a different answer every day for a week. God asks us to be more committed than that. He asks us to be willing and able to make tough decisions based on the knowledge we gain from His word, and the communication we constantly enjoy with Him through prayer.
When we stay teachable, we learn; and when we learn, we gain knowledge of God that should remain steadfast through thick and thin:
…that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ… – Eph 4:14-15
We are called to be steadfast in our faith and filled with solid doctrine, so that the enemy cannot cause us to sway any time he blows hot air in our direction! We should not be foolish, and we should not be fickle. We cannot allow what we do not know about God to interfere with what we do know about Him.
Become As Children
What do children do? What does Jesus intend for us to take from His encouragement to be just like them?
First, children cherish interaction with their parents. My wife and I have a son, Clive, who is 9 months old. I can sit and play with Clive for hours, enjoying his presence, while he enjoys mine. He doesn’t care where he is, or what he’s doing, as long as his parents are giving him attention; and that is how God wants us to be with Him!
Too often, we ask for God and. We see God as a road to happiness, and not the destination at the end of the road. But God has designed us very specifically for intimacy with Him! He is the prize. He is our end goal. Nothing can satisfy like He does.
Second, children ask questions. Where are we going? Why are we going there? What are we doing when we get there? How long will we be there? Why? Why why why why why?!
Children ask questions because they are genuinely curious, and they expect to hear an answer. God encourages us to seek Him the same way in prayer. Asking questions of God is one of the best ways we can pray! When we ask Him a question, we must expect to hear an answer, and give Him room to speak.
How many questions do you really ask in prayer on a daily basis? Too often, we sit with God and tell Him everything we want and need. I believe God would much rather have us ask what He needs from us.
Third, children completely trust their parents: for provision, and for direction. Children must be materially dependent on their parents, because they are too young to provide for themselves. Just as a 5 year old is too young to find his own employment and provide for himself, we lack the resources to build any lasting legacy on our own. God invites us to seek Him first, and then promises He will provide all our needs (Matt 6:33).
Children also trust their parents for direction: where should I go, and what should I do? Our son is 9 months old. We just got back from our first trip to Florida with him. At no point in the trip did he ever stop and say, “Mom and Dad, I’m not taking one more step until you tell me where we’re headed!!” All he knows is he’s safe as long as he’s with us. He doesn’t need to know where we’re headed and why. He simply needs to know that Mommy and Daddy know what’s best for him.
Fourth, children seek their parents for permission to trust others. Whenever a parent introduces a child to a stranger, that child looks right up at Mommy and Daddy for a cue: can I trust this person? The child seeks his parents’ face. If they smile, he smiles.
The takeaway is this: God will give us discernment as to whom we should trust, and whom we should avoid. God knows we are compassionate (or at least we should be!), and He will send people into our lives so that we can love them like Jesus would. But Satan also knows we have compassion, and he can send people to distract us from our real mission on earth.
Some people genuinely want help, and others simply want to be helped. God gives us wisdom and discernment to tell the difference.
With Open Arms
We see Jesus encourage His disciples to become like children again in Luke’s gospel account:
Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” – Lk 18:15-17
We must receive the kingdom of God as a little child. Our childlikeness hinges on our ability to freely receive God’s gifts.
How do children receive gifts? They take gifts from Daddy with arms wide open, and a smile on their face! Children with a loving earthly father know they don’t have to earn anything from him; they simply receive because they are loved. They always know any gift from Daddy will be good. And if earthly fathers give good gifts, “…how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matt 7:11)
Salvation is a gift. There is a difference between gifts and wages. Children are far too young to earn wages, but always old enough to receive gifts. We can never earn righteousness; it has to simply be received as we trust in Jesus’ ability to provide for us. We are saved by grace, through faith. Grace is unmerited favor: by definition we can never earn it.
When children receive gifts, they drop whatever else they have in their hands to grab hold of what Daddy is offering. We can be the same way with the good, heavenly gifts from our Father who is ready and willing to provide for us!
Jesus’ encouragement to, “…receive the kingdom of God as a little child,” (v 17) is immediately followed by the story of the rich, young ruler. This man, who has all the earthly possessions a person could ever desire, approaches Jesus and asks Him why he feels so empty. Jesus tells him to sell all that he has and follow Him (Lk 18:22). He asks this rich, young man to give up everything he is holding on to so tightly – to loosen his death grip – and accept the gift of salvation and new life.
You have found the Pearl of Great Price. God has already demonstrated He is willing to offer everything he possibly can to redeem us – His children – to Him. Are you ready to let go of everything you’re hanging on to, and receive His kingdom like a little child?
– by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 Matthew Henry Bible Commentary on Matthew 18. Accessed March 12, 2015.