Verily I say unto you, Except you turn, and become as little children, you shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven, Matt 18:3. Unfortunately, whenever this event in Jesus’ life comes up in Bible classes, we totally ignore the context and instead start listing all the wonderful qualities of children. By the time we have finished, it’s a wonder we can’t find dozens of passages telling us to act like children instead of dozens telling us to grow up! Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, Eph 4:13. Worse than that, we miss the point Jesus is making.
Look what was happening immediately before. The Twelve were arguing about which of them was the greatest in the kingdom. Surely that had something to do with Jesus’ admonition.
The verse after the one we all quote so often specifies, Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child…(v 4). What was it about this particular child? He had no status or rank, no wealth, and nothing to offer in worldly terms at all. All he did was come the minute he was called and trust the one who called implicitly. Don’t you think that made those men squirm in embarrassment at their previous behavior?
Then Jesus went on to add, But whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea, v 6. Here He included those metaphorical children who would come to Him with the same humility and trust. How we treat them determines our fate as much as how we live our lives, or even how we worship or where.
Do you think the early disciples did not need this lesson? Besides their constant bickering about who was the greatest, those early churches had arguments about who had the greatest spiritual gift and who should get the most “floor time” with his gift, 1 Cor 12-14. They bragged about which preacher baptized them, 1 Cor 1. They showed off their wealth in bringing so much Lord’s Supper that it constituted a braggadocio feast instead of a memorial supper, 1 Cor 11. Their women had to be reminded not to dress up to show off their wealth, 1 Tim 2. They were told that how they received guests into their assembly could condemn them as easily as committing adultery or murder, James 2. Clearly, personal humility and acceptance of others regardless of rank was a lesson they needed from the beginning.
Why was that important? Because, as Jesus tells the sheep in that great parable of the judgment in Matt 25, when they wonder how they had served the Lord by feeding, clothing, and visiting him, he answers them this way, Inasmuch as you did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, you did it unto me, Matt 25:40. Any time we reject a brother because we think we are better than he, whether because of wealth, education, race, or anything other consideration, we are rejecting the Lord for the same reason.
So the next time this passage comes up in Bible class, let’s see if, instead of listing all the sweet things our children do, we can actually get the lesson Jesus intended from it. It’s a whole lot more important than we seem to think.
And he took a little child, and set him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receives me: and whosoever receives me, receives not me, but him that sent me, Mark 9:36,37.