Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
The disciples were arguing again about who would be the greatest in heaven’s kingdom. It wasn’t the first time they had pridefully jostled for first place, nor would it be the last. Maybe they thought that if they asked their Master about it in a general way, they’d get a clue about what each of them needed to do to get the top spot. They should have known that Jesus would see right through them.
They might have considered children to be somewhat of a nuisance, considering that it wouldn’t be long before they were rebuking parents for bringing their children to see Jesus (Matthew 19:13-15). If so, Jesus now sought to teach them an object lesson in humility using an illustration they would least expect. Calling a child over to Him, He put the child among them and told them that they needed to “become like children” in humility in order to be the greatest in heaven’s kingdom.
Children’s positive attributes are exactly how Christ wants all Christians to be. Children are innocent in nature. They tend to smile a lot and be positive in what they say. When faced with sadness, they tend to take it seriously and respond in kind. Children tend to be sincere in wanting to do the right thing and expect everyone else to do the same.
My oldest daughter recently taught me a lesson in these regards. While I was out of the room, she made her younger sister cry. I don’t know whether it was an accident or purposeful. Nonetheless, I corrected her. She was upset because I corrected her. However, not five minutes had gone by before I noticed that she had gone up to her sister, on her own initiative without any prodding on my part, and gave her hug while telling her she loved her and was sorry. Then she got right back down on the floor and started playing with her again like nothing had happened.
I thought, “What a lesson for me and practically every adult I know!” Face it, we don’t act like that! When we mess up, we play the blame game for as long as we can. When we are corrected or punished, we tend to get mad and stay mad and resentful. It’s like pulling teeth to get us to apologize, and how may times do we say we’re sorry and yet deep down don’t really mean it?
Scripture teaches us the following: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5). Christ was humble. Being Deity (John 1:1, 14), He was on an equal plane with God…and yet chose to put our need for salvation above His own interests and so humbled Himself to the point of dying an agonizing, humiliating death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). We must follow His example of humility as well as the examples of humility children so often put in front of us. As Paul also wrote, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12-13).
Our journey of becoming more humble starts with our conversion, as Jesus pointed out when He said we must “turn” or “be converted” before becoming like children (Matthew 18:3). Conversion starts when our faith in Christ (John 3:16) motivates us to repent of our sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19) and have our sins washed away in baptism into Christ and His body which is His church (Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; cf. Ephesians 1:22-23). That’s when we begin to submit to God working in our lives (Colossians 2:12; Philippians 2:12-13).
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