Topic: Matthew 18:1-6
What does Jesus mean when He says we are to "become as little children"? Jesus has been misunderstood as promoting a naive or simplistic "childlike faith". And if that's true, aren't all these Bible studies, sermons, and discipleship a waste of time? While we're at it, if naiveness is so important, why waste time reading devotionals?
However, I don't think that's quite what Jesus had in mind. The Bible often encourages us to increase in wisdom and understanding; for example: "Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding" (Proverbs 3:13, TNIV) Paul tells us that in Jesus we may find "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3) So if Jesus didn't we should "become as little children" in the sense of naivete or simplicity, what did He really mean?
Reading a verse in context will usually clarify its meaning. Jesus' admonition to "become as little children" in verse 3 relates, in context, to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Then He says: "Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." (v4)
Jesus is not speaking about childlike faith, He is speaking about our attitudes towards entering the Kingdom. Jesus clarifies that we become "childlike" by being humble. A child in the first century had lower social status than his or her parents; thus they were ascribed a certain sort of humility. Jesus is admonishing us to become humble ... not naive.
Why is humility important? Jesus urges us to be humble (ex. Luke 14:11) because "True humility and fear of the LORD lead to riches, honor, and long life" (Proverbs 22:4) Humility is the opposite of pride, but it certainly doesn't mean feeling bad about yourself! Instead, being humble means recognizing our own strengths and failures, submitting to God alone, and treating others with respect and dignity ... even as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
This, I think, is what Jesus had in mind by becoming like "little children". Even as we increase in knowledge and wisdom, we still must recognize our limits, and like a child trusting and following their father, so too must we try to remain humble as we follow our Father in Heaven.
Do you know anyone who embodies the kind of "childlike faith" described here? What can you try to learn from them?