Oh, how we love this passage! Sweet, beautiful Jesus extols the joys and glories of childlikeness! I don’t know that the Bible holds an illustration that makes the bells of our souls ring more sweetly. Yet, ironically, the powerful image of Jesus, setting a boy who might even be Peter’s own son, in the midst of his students, coupled with our somewhat anti-theological (or at least anti-interpretational) heritage in the Restoration Movement, has produced more mediocrity than greatness in the kingdom of heaven. In fact, we seem to have produced more disciples like the children in Matthew 11, unable to be pleased with any offering, than we have disciples like the child in Matthew 18, pleased to accept whatever the Master offers. Why?
We can live our lives according to any of several different paths. However, if the internal map we follow does not correspond to reality, we will find ourselves woefully off-track. This can occur even (perhaps especially) among Bible-believing people. Lost people live life from day to day, doing their best to get by and trying to do what they think is good. Many of them, at least, understand that they are indeed fumbling blindly through life. We who have the Bible have a greater danger to face (cf Jn 9:36-41). If we approach God’s word with humility and integrity, expecting it to make sense and to speak wisdom to us, and allowing ourselves to hear its message and to be changed by that message, then we will see our world more and more clearly through the focussing, informing lens of Scripture. If we look to the Bible to reflect our own beliefs, or if we accept either implicitly or explicitly that some Biblical teachings simply cannot be reconciled, then we will find ourselves trying to see the world through a mirror. One path leads to truth and salvation, the other to danger, confusion, and eventually pain when we run into a wall.
How does this work out in practice? Jesus says, “Become like children.” Paul says, “Grow up!” (Eph 4:14-16). If we try to hold both thoughts in mind WITHOUT reconciling them, either one will eventually dominate the other or we will quit the whole business in frustration. If we allow “become childlike” to dominate, we will become either whiny, bickering ‘enfants terribles’ or lackadaisical, purposeless, silly juveniles. If we allow “Grow up!” to dominate, we will become either stiff, stodgy, humorless ‘religious people’ or cold, meticulous defenders of proof-texts. There must be a better way!
There is a better way. Jesus exemplified the better way, the ONLY way, through the course of his own life. “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…” (Php 2:6-7a NRSV). Though he had nothing to repent of, yet still he changed, he submitted, he was immersed in human life! Not only did he follow his own command to become like children, he became a child! He accepted the undeserved, unearnable love of Mary and Joseph and God, and what did he do? Luke tells us that “he increased in wisdom and in stature, and in divine and human favor.” In other words, he grew up. Did his ‘growing up’ mean that he gave up the humility of his childlikeness? No, rather they supported one another, so much so that humility and maturity met in the peak of loving sacrifice: he “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Php 2:8b) Surely no man has greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. I pray, I request, I plead, I beg that we all seek to imitate our Master Teacher when we open our heads and hearts to the Scriptures, when we open our arms and our hearts to one another, when we raise our hands and our hearts to God, and when we lay down our bodies and hearts in sacrificial kingdom service to the lost.
in HIS love,