Matthew 18:2-4; 1 Corinthians 13:4-13
How many of you remember your first birthday? All of you had one, but none of you remember it. Yet I bet most of you had an experience like this.
Someone baked you a cake with lots of icing and put a single candle on the cake. The candle was lit and people stood around you and sung “Happy Birthday” to you for the first time.
You wanted to touch the candle but before your finger was burned in the flame, someone pulled back your hand. Cameras were clicking and for some of you videos were being taken like you were a rock star. Then someone said, “Blow out the candle.” You looked at that person like he or she speaking another language and then that person actually blew out your first candle.
Then everyone waited to see what you would do with your cake. This strange item was not peas and carrots from the baby food jar. This was much different. But instinctively you knew it was supposed to go into your mouth. With the first taste of that sugar, your taste buds danced inside your mouth and you dove into your cake with fingers and thumbs. Before you were finished, you looked like a clown baby, with icing from ear to ear. Some found its way into your hair and some on the floor.
Then all those people who wanted to touch you and hug you before, now kept their distance. Now you were mama’s baby.
The cake was destroyed. Some of it actually found your mouth, but most of it lay in ruins on the high chair and on the floor. The cake looked like an erupted volcano. Today, you don’t remember any of this, but there are photos and videos to prove that it happened.
For children, mealtime isn’t just a time for nourishment; it’s a time of learning. A child wonders what will happen if he drops a pea on the floor. Will it bounce? Will it run away?
“Uh-Oh,” the child says as the spoon falls for the third time. “If I drop it again, will Daddy play retriever one more time? This is fun,” the two-year-old thinks.
Parents are quite content to allow children to be children to a point. We all have our limits. We expect children to act like children, but by age five what they did at one isn’t accepted and by twelve what they did at five isn’t either.
Childish table manners are expected to give way to good manners as we age. Can anyone imagine the disbelief people would have of watching a teenager or an adult using the table manners of a three-year-old? That would be so appalling that the person would likely be asked to leave the table.
Now you have a better understanding of what Paul was saying to the church of Corinth. What Paul was trying to help the church of Corinth to understand is that they needed to stop acting childish and start behaving more like adults.
Paul wrote, “11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”
The people at Corinth were acting childish.
So, perhaps we can look at 1 Corinthians 13 through this lens.
Children aren’t very patient. They have little concept of time. They live in the now. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Who hasn’t been asked that question while traveling with a child? It does little good to say to a three-year-old, “We will be there at 3:00” because a three-year-old doesn’t tell time and has little concept of time.
Children live in the now and patience is not a virtue.
When children don’t get their needs met quickly, they often whine and cry and complain. I bet you know some adults like that. The Christians of Corinth were acting this way. Paul says to them, “Stop acting childish. Grow up. Love is patient.”
Children can be kind but it doesn’t seem to be a trait that comes naturally. Children are naturally selfish. Most will meet their own needs before thinking about others.
Give a child a bag of candy with instructions to share the candy with a sibling or a friend and you have just created a situation. The situation you’ve created is a math conundrum. The little fellow will share but the math involved will go something like this: “One for you, two for me. One for you, three for me.”
Kindness becomes relative to how kind we are to ourselves. Jesus said to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We have to set aside selfishness in order to be kind. Paul wants the Corinthians to do this so he says, “Love is kind.”
It’s very difficult for a child to be satisfied with what he or she has. Have you ever noticed that? Some people never seem to outgrow this childish trait.
It’s in a child’s nature to see what another child has and that becomes the child’s desire. It then becomes the child’s mission to acquire that item.
The child may have seen a toy a hundred times before and never had much interest in it until another child picks it up. This childish trait is one that isn’t always outgrown. Paul says to the Corinthians, “Stop envying what others have. That is not love.”
What child hasn’t said, “Look, what I did”? “Mine, myself, and I,” are all favorite words of a child.
As a child seeks to develop a sense of identity, it’s understandable that a child will see himself or herself as the center of the universe. Yet this childish trait is one we must set against God’s mandate to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So Paul wants us to move beyond boastfulness and pride and develop an attitude of service and humility.
Children who often care only for themselves will rush to the front of the line without any concern for the rest of those behind them.
We have seen children who would pitch a temper-tantrum if they didn’t get their way, who would bully some people or ignore others, or who take revenge because of something that was said about them or done to them. We have known children who actually took delight in bringing pain and fear into the lives of other children. We’ve known children who wouldn’t tell the truth.
Paul saw all of these as childish behaviors. Therefore, he said to the Corinthians, Love “does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres…And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13:5-7
What has to happen in order for us to grow out of our childish ways and into an adult response to life where our lives are characterized by the kind of love that Paul describes?
The answer might surprise you. It certainly surprised the people Jesus was talking to one day when he summoned a child to come and stand in the midst of a group he was teaching.
If it’s childishness we are to grow out of, then surely a child has nothing to teach us. Perhaps that’s the reason the disciples were quick to move the children on out of Jesus’ way on one occasion.
Surprisingly, Jesus uses a child to teach these important people about the Kingdom of God.
I imagine that Jesus placed his hands lovingly on the child’s head and shoulders as he used him or her as teaching example.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:3-5
So, there is a great irony here. Jesus doesn’t want us to be childish. Being childish shows that we are not in a proper relationship with God.
However, Jesus says we cannot be in a proper relationship with God unless we are child-like.
Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like a child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What is a child like? Here are three ways that we need to be like a child.
A child is trusting. A child naturally trusts the adults in his or her world. A child has to be taught not to trust. We come into the world trusting because we must. We must trust because our very survival depends on a trusting relationship with those who have our best interest at heart.
We stop trusting only when we learn that there are people who do not have our best interest at heart, people who might wish to harm us.
By the time we are adults, we’ve learned not to trust every person. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have a trusting relationship with Christian parents usually have an easier time developing a trusting relationship with a loving God. Otherwise, learning to trust God is not such an easy thing.
If you have been abused, neglected, abandoned, deserted, unclaimed, or unloved, your trust level is very low and it will make it more difficult for you to trust Jesus. Jesus says that if you want to see heaven, that you must learn to trust Him like a child trusts his or her parents.
Secondly, children are dependent. Children don’t wake up in the morning and think about the electric bill, buying the week’s groceries from the market, or holding down a job.
Children are dependent on adults for a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, love in their hearts, and opportunities to learn.
Sure, a time comes when we are supposed to be independent from our parents, but when we become independent from our parents, the temptation usually increases to seek the same distance from God.
In order for us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, arrogance or pride cannot hold our hearts captive. We must be like children who acknowledge to God that we are dependent on Him for life, health, and the blessings that come our way. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Thirdly, children are humble. Children understand their place in the world and most accept it without complaint.
When I was a boy and the cousins from Florida came to my grandparents’ house, I knew that I wasn’t going to get a place at the big table. Grandmother set up a card table on the back porch. That’s where I ate lunch as I sat with my cousins.
Now it would have been childish if I had complained and pitched a fit that I couldn’t sit at the big table. Humility was sitting at the little table, separate from the adults. That’s a lot better than it used to be when children had to eat after the adults ate and hoped there was still enough chicken for everyone to get a piece.
We didn’t go hungry. We got up and asked for seconds and the adults at the big table were happy to help and there was always plenty, and dessert as well.
In order to gain entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven, we have to be humble. We don’t earn our way into heaven. We cannot be so arrogant as to think that the big table belongs to us. God is the one who sets the great banquet table and He is the one who extends the invitations. We are privileged that He’s even invited us to pull up a chair.
In the Old Testament, David made a promise to his best friend Jonathan that he would remember his descendants. Jonathan died in battle defending the throne of Israel. Years later David discovered that Jonathan had a son that was still living. This son was just a child when Jerusalem came under attack. His feet were crushed when his nurse dropped him as they were trying to escape Jerusalem.
Years later, after he found out about this man, King David sent an entourage to the home of Mephibosheth to bring him to the King’s Palace.
Being the grandson of King Saul, this crippled man was afraid he was going to be killed. Kings were known to get rid of the family of their adversaries. He humbly bowed before King David, afraid for his life.
But David had not brought him there to harm him, but to restore to him his father’s land and all that had belonged to his grandfather. He told Mephibosheth that from then on he would always eat from the King’s table.
That would never have happened had Mephibosheth not come before the king with humility. Had he come there with arrogance, David would likely have seen he was making a mistake. Instead, he invited this exiled man to the banquet table.
A lot of people will miss out on the Great Banquet table that’s been set for us because they refuse to humble themselves before God.
In order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to become like a child, trusting, dependent, and humble.
Today, take inventory of your life. Where you find childish ways, Paul says we should lay these things aside. Replace them with childlike qualities so you can receive God’s gift of grace and be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.