1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Don’t you love how Jesus responds to this type of question? The Lord never rebukes His disciples for seeking the applause of heaven or the blessings of heaven. Every true disciple of Christ wants to know how to please God and reach the goals of heaven. The passage we read was about greatness and how it is achieved. The response of the Lord surprised the disciples quite a bit. The Lord took a child as an example of one whose attributes were a key to greatness in the kingdom of heaven. The Lord wants us to study this tonight so that your desire for greatness in the kingdom can be realized.
What is it a child possesses that is important in achieving greatness in the kingdom of heaven? Before we look at the answer to that question, we must first see that acquiring the attributes of a child requires what the Lord calls “conversion”.
stréphō – properly, to turn (transition); (figuratively) to convert by changing (switching) direction, i.e. go the other way (an "about-face"); taking an opposite or divergent course. (stréphō) usually has a straightforward meaning ("turn"), graphically illustrating dynamic change (transitioning). (Ref. Matthew 18:3 & John 12:40)
If we have any hope of achieving greatness in the kingdom, we must become people who are willing to make dramatic changes. Change is often a point of tremendous resistance. Many adults want improvement but without change. Jesus is telling us clearly that if you are going to be great in the kingdom, you must be a person who embraces change when it is needed. This leads to the second essential for greatness: humility. It is arguable that this is a childlike quality in and of itself! Now, what attributes of a child are necessary for kingdom greatness?
1. An understanding of authority
Children realize that they are not the biggest dog on the block. They can see that they are under authority of parents, teachers, etc. This is an important understanding for kingdom greatness. While an adult may have more control over things than a child, submission to authority is still an important aspect of being used by God. Most Americans have very little true understanding of authority and many Christians are no different. God gives authority. We must first be under His authority. We must realize that He is the one calling all the shots when it comes to our lives and we must be absolutely submissive to His authority even if we think we have a better idea.
Another test to determine if we are under God’s authority is how we respond to His human authority. God does not require us to submit to blatant unbiblical teaching, but He also does not bless rebellion against human authority. In the study of the apostle Paul’s writings, it appears that submission to authority and unity were more important components of God’s blessing than perfect understanding of doctrine. Greatness in the kingdom requires absolute submission to authority.
2. Awareness of a lack of ability
Along with their understanding of being under authority is the sister understanding that they don’t have as much ability as their parents. The understanding of a child’s inabilities adds to the ease of their submission to authority. When we forget our weaknesses and get enamored with our wisdom and power, we are tempted to violate authority. We must remain constantly aware that we don’t know everything, that we have blind spots, that a test of our godliness is how we respond to God’s direction directly and through human authorities. A knowledge of our inability brings humility – a necessary quality for greatness in the kingdom.
3. Inquisitive nature
Children love to learn. They want to explore and experience. This is a God given quality. But, we all know that this must be tempered by someone who is in authority and wise. Children have many teachers but only one father. They look to their father as their ultimate authority because the relationship with their parent is one founded on love and divine placement. God loves those who want to learn.
4. The ability to trust
Finally, the trusting nature of a child is important to greatness in the kingdom of heaven. A child not only understands authority and their own weakness in relation to their parents, but they also trust the love of their parent. A child believes that their parent loves them and is telling them what to do and what not to do based upon that love. If we are going to be able to do great exploits for God, the same trust is essential in our relationship with God.
- Matthew 18:1-4
- John 12:40
- 1 Peter 5:6 (NLT)
- James 4:6
- 1 Corinthians 4:15 (NLT)
- Proverbs 2:4
- Proverbs 3:5
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