Learning To Be A Christian From Our Children

Matthew 18:1-4; 19:13-15

This morning, I'm going to begin to telling you a story which does not depict me in the most favourable light.

Shortly after Allison and I were married, we rediscovered a love for that classical board game--Scrabble. After purchasing the game and having played each other a few times, a small dispute arose between us. I believe the dispute arose when I made a comment about how I always seemed to win at Scrabble. Allie insisted that this was not the case at all--I did not more frequently win at Scrabble, according to her.

So back and forth we went--reminding each other of particular games, and who won that game. Essentially we were arguing over who was the better Scrabble player. To resolve this dispute, we drew up a score sheet to keep track of our Scrabble wins and losses.

I can tell you this now because we no longer keep score. But I am interested to know, does this seem like a strange story to you? Or have you too found yourself comparing your relative greatness with someone else?

We are not alone. Jesus' disciples engaged in an argument as to who would be "greater" in the kingdom of heaven(v.1).

That question initially shocked me--Who is greater?!--how full of pride they must be to argue this point! . . . I then quickly remembered my Scrabble chart. I realized that we all struggle with pride. If we don't voice it like the disciples, we say it to ourselves, "If only everyone worked as hard as me", we say. Or, "If only everyone helped out at church as much as I do". The disciples are not alone. We too struggle with pride.

It is interesting that Jesus didn't rebuke His disciples here. He didn't say, "You foolish disciples! Why are you so full of pride!". Jesus gives no indication that He is even surprised by this dispute. Instead, Jesus calls a child to Himself and says, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven"(v.2, 3).

Now the word translated "converted" literally means to "turn". The word is meant to convey the idea that a radical change is involved. And when you think of it, "becoming like a child" is a very radical change!

How are we to become like children? Jesus says that, "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven"(v.4). We are to become like children by humbling our self like a child.

Now there are 2 ways of understanding this "humbling" of ourselves. The first interpretation is that we are to endeavour to obtain the humble nature that a child possesses. The problem with this interpretation, however, is that I have not met any parents who would argue that children are, by nature, humble!

The second way to read this "humbling" of ourselves is the more likely interpretation: to humble ourselves as children is to accept an inferior status(repeat).

Children, though perhaps not humble by nature, readily accept their inferior status. And when I say "inferior", I don't mean to say that they are less valuable--they are inferior in that children are dependent on something bigger than themselves.

We all know this to be true. That is why children are never left home alone until the age of about 11 or 12. They need to be told when to wake up, when to eat, when to brush their teeth, when to go to school, when to do homework, when to go to bed, and so on. Young children require constant guidance and supervision. At times, they may resent this supervision, but at the end of the day they understand the need to cooperate. On an everyday basis, children accept their status as dependent individuals.

So when Jesus tells us that we must become like "children" to enter the kingdom of heaven, what is He saying? He is saying we must accept an inferior status--a status as human beings who must depend on God.

Just like you wouldn't expect a 2 year old boy to make himself bacon and eggs in the morning, we can't expect to get into heaven by our own efforts. Just as the 2 year old boy is completely dependent on his parents for breakfast, we too must depend completely in God for our salvation and for the formation of our Christian character.

Now I don't know how motivating all of this is for you. I have basically just told you that the key to a fruitful Christian walk is taking on an inferior status. To walk closely with God requires that we strip off our independent exterior and depend on God like a new born depends on their mother.

If this sounds unappealing to you, I would like to return you to the last half of verse four: "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is THE GREATEST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN".

Who doesn't aspire for greatness? I don't mean fame and fortune here. I think it is safe to say that we all desire a good reputation. For Christians this means a good reputation as a Christian --as a godly person. And what is the key to godliness? What is the key to "greatness" in the kingdom of heaven? The key is becoming like a dependent child (repeat).

It is important to clarify, that the example of a dependent child is more than an analogy. The text isn't simply stating that we should depend on God like a young child depends on a parent. There is more. In fact, this next statement is the very heart of this sermon: We are called to depend on God in the same way our children depend on God (repeat). Our model for faith in God is our young children.

I have 2 examples of this for you. The first example comes from this congregation(Beeton). I was speaking with a parent that belongs to this church about some theological issues. We were discussing the difficulties the modern mind has comprehending some of the things taught in Scripture. This person then spoke up and said that what is amazing is that his young daughter believed all these things without a shadow of doubt. There was no question in her mind , he explained.

It is no wonder that Jesus says, "do not hinder the children from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these"(19:14).

The second example of a child modeling faith for adults comes from the well-known biblical account of David and Goliath.

Many of us forget the details of this story though. The first being that David was not yet a strong, fully-grown, man, but a boy .

The story goes, as you might remember, with the giant, Goliath, issuing a challenge to the people of Israel. The challenge was a battle to the death . If Goliath wins, Israel becomes enslaved to the Philistines. If the Israelite wins, the Philistines become enslaved to Israel.

The difficulty arose when it became apparent that "all" of the Israelite warriors were too "afraid" to fight Goliath(1Sam.17:11). And then young David arrives on the scene offering to fight Goliath. Listen to King Saul's reply: "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are BUT A YOUTH"(1Sam.17:33).

"How could a CHILD be of any assistance here?", they all thought. Notice that David's response to Saul has nothing to do with age: "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear . . . The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine"(1Sam.17:36, 37).

This is not a case of youthful arrogance. This is a case of child-like trust in God.

To make the story even more amazing, we read that young David could not walk in the battle armor made for a man(1Sam.17:39). So with only a stick, a handful of stones, and a sling, David approaches the fully armed giant and kills him with the first stone.

This encounter between David and Goliath is often presented as a story that models courage. However, a close reading of the text reveals something far greater than courage--it reveals faith in the Living God . Young David did more than give the Israelite army a lesson in courage--what David taught them was how to trust completely in God.

I am sure we all could use an infusion of faith in God. These passages should turn our attention to the young children in our midst. Talk to the children about God--not simply as a teacher or parent, but as a student .

Their ability to trust and depend on God is the key to the kingdom. It is the key to Christian godliness. Let us pay attention. Let us learn how to be a Christian from our children. Amen.