On more than one occasion during my childhood, people would say to me, “Greg Laurie, will you just grow up?” I heard that because I was often goofing off or pulling a prank on someone.
Growing up is something every kid looks forward to. Kids can hardly wait until they are old enough to hang out with the big kids and do the things they do. But as they get older, they will look wistfully back on those days of childhood as the good old days.
We get old and have to mature and grow up, which is a good thing. Yet Jesus used a child as an example of what our faith should look like. Jesus and the disciples had been at Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus revealed that he would be betrayed, tortured, crucified and would rise from the dead on the third day. Without question, it was a heavy topic. Yet afterward, the latest topic of discussion among the disciples had been who was going to be the top dog.
It was as though they were saying, “Oh, yeah? Fascinating. By the way, who will be number one among us?”
Jesus effectively bypassed the question and did something completely unexpected. He called over a little child and put the child among them. Imagine the scene. The child was probably wide-eyed as he or she looked around at the disciples. Then Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3–4 NLT). Jesus was telling them they needed to be childlike.
Children, especially when they are very small, have a sense of awe and wonder. That is why I highly recommend that you do not go to Disneyland with only adults. Always take a child with you, because adults are, well, cynical. First of all, we will complain about how much it costs to get in. Then we will wonder what we are going to eat. We will say things were better in the old days. But when you take children to Disneyland, they are seeing it all for the first time. Children see things in a different way.
The idea Jesus was communicating was that we should always maintain a childlike faith. Jesus was not saying we should be childish. There is a big difference between being childlike and being childish. The fact of the matter is that we need to grow up spiritually. The apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Ephesus, “We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14 NKJV). We have to grow up. Yet at the same time, we want still to be childlike in our faith.
The disciples were arguing about greatness and who would be the best. So Jesus brought a child over to illustrate humility. He said, “Anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” He was saying they needed to have the humility of a child.
Little children, very young ones at least, know they need their parents’ help. They know they need someone to pick them up when they get tired of walking, someone to get them out of their car seat and put them back in their car seat. They need someone to cut up their food and to be there for them when they are scared in the middle of the night. They understand that. They are fine with that. They depend on that and accept the role of their parents.
Jesus was effectively saying, “Just as a little child is happily dependent on their parents, you should be dependent on me. So here is the answer to your question, guys. The way to greatness is to be childlike. The way to be strong is to recognize your innate weakness. The way to greatness is through humility.”
So we have a choice: We have God’s Plan A and God’s Plan B. Plan A is to humble yourself. Plan B is to be humiliated. Which one sounds best to you? I like Plan A. Don’t wait for God to humiliate you and allow some circumstance in your life that will reveal how weak you really are.
Then Jesus issued a warning: “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NLT).
People who want to undermine the faith of Christians, especially young ones, will be in for a day of reckoning, because God takes this very seriously. For those who go out of their way to try and hurt someone in their spiritual life or to challenge it or destroy it, Jesus said it would better if a millstone were tied around their neck and they were drowned.
Here is the thing we need to remember: We are being watched by other believers every day. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” ((1 Timothy 4:12).
Believers should be living in such a way that they are an example of what it means to be a genuine follower of Christ in this day and age.
If all of the church behaved exactly as you behave, what kind of church would we have? What if every Christian attended services as faithfully as you do? Would the church be full or empty? What if all of the church worshiped like you do? Would the church be quiet, or would it be filled with the praise of God? What if all of the church shared the Gospel as faithfully as you do? Would people in your community be hearing about Jesus Christ? What if everyone in the church gave as faithfully as you give? Would we find ministries being supported?
What if all of the church were just like you? In a sense it is, because it is made up of people like you and me. And every one of us either contributes to its strength and growth, or we contribute to its weakness and decline.