Certainly, the disciples were expecting a much different answer from the one they received from the Lord. Perhaps they had wondered among themselves—even argued (it wouldn’t have been the only time)—before they brought their question to Him, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1). Was it the richest? The smartest? The boldest? The most talented? The most knowledgeable? No. Surprisingly, the Lord “called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (vv. 2-4).
Vance Havner has written these thoughts on this passage. “We are a generation of tired, fussy little Christians, experts but not examples. We know too much. We have heard all the preachers and read all the books. It is hard these days to be converted and become like little children. We want to be thought philosophers and scholars and brilliant—but childlike? Never! Somebody would think we were dumb, so we miss the secrets God has hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed unto babes. Not many wise, mighty, noble have been called, but we go on trying to be wise, mighty, and noble.”
Don’t mistake Havner’s meaning. God does not put a premium on ignorance—particularly the willful ignorance of casual, careless, and indifferent Christians. On the contrary, everywhere we turn, whether in the Old Testament or the New, we are admonished to learn and to know—God’s Word, God’s will, God’s works, and God Himself. But there is a vast difference between knowledge that is acquired in order to appear smarter than someone else or to impress someone else and knowledge that is acquired from a thirst to know God and to please Him. The Apostle Paul warned the believers in Corinth that mere “knowledge makes arrogant” (1 Cor. 8:1), or as the Authorized Version reads both more literally and more graphically, “Knowledge puffeth up.”
To be a child in scriptural parlance is not to be an incessant seeker of pleasure or one neglecting mature responsibilities, but it is to be trusting (the Lord and His Word), innocent, and guileless. To be a child is to be dependent—knowingly dependent, ready and willing to ask for help without shame or embarrassment. It is to be hungry to know. (Have you ever been around a young child whose curiosity drove him to ask questions incessantly—not because he wanted to impress someone with his knowledge, but simply because he wanted to know for the sake of knowing?)
To know a little and obey it a lot is preferable to knowing a lot and obeying it a little. But better than either is to know a lot and to obey it fully. Solomon knew a lot, but his disobedience far exceeded his knowledge, and his life became a dishonorable shambles. The man born blind whose sight the Lord Jesus restored knew almost nothing: “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). And like a child, when the Lord revealed Himself to him as the Son of Man, the promised Messiah, he, who knew so little responded: “’Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped Him” (v. 38).
There is scarcely a more powerful testimony in all the Word of God. So we should seek to know, but only as the childlike blind man came to know: in order to believe, trust, and worship the Lord, and in order to serve Him better. A child believes what he is told. And so should we regarding God’s Word. And believing, we should submit to obedient service. “Be diligent,” Paul exhorted Timothy, “to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Despite a child’s rebellious nature, he desires to please his parents, longs for their approbation, and delights to do things that please them. Those believers who reflect that childlike attitude and behavior are approved in the sight of God. The disciples ultimately embraced the truth the Lord offered them in answer to their question. What about you and me?
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