The disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1).
Jesus used their question to make an important point: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (verse 3).
The disciples must have been surprised by his response. Their idea of greatness was someone like Elijah, who called fire from heaven, certainly not a child. Jesus said that what God wants most in his people is not spectacular works, but childlikeness. If we do not become like little children, we will not be in the kingdom at all!
In what way are we to be like children? We are to put childish ways behind us (1 Corinthians 13:11). We are to discard some characteristics of children, while keeping others. One characteristic we need is humility, as Jesus says in verse 4: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The humble person is, in God’s way of thinking, the greatest.
This is because humility is characteristic of God himself. God is willing to give up his privileges for our salvation. What Jesus did in becoming flesh revealed what God is like all the time. God wants us to be like Christ, willing to give up privileges to serve others.
Jesus knew that only he knew the Father well enough to reveal him to others (Matthew 11:27). Jesus called God “Abba,” an affectionate word that has the modern equivalent of “Dad.” Jesus says that we do not have to flatter our way into an audience with the King. He’s our Dad, and we can talk to him because he is our Dad. He has given us that right, so we can be confident that he hears us.
God is Creator, Sustainer and King, but far more importantly for us, he is Dad. In Rome, in the early centuries, your place in society was determined by your dad. Your economic status, your occupation, your future spouse, were determined by your dad. If you inherited anything, it was from your dad. In that early society, the father had absolute rule and could disown, sell into slavery or even kill his child if that child displeased him.
In modern society, mothers play a more prominent role, and many people today have a better relationship with mom than with dad. God sometimes reveals himself in a maternal manner, but he always calls himself a Father. We often see God in accordance to the relationship we have with our physical fathers, whether it was good or bad. But no human being ever matches God. God is far better than the best.
God loves us deeply, and he sacrifices to prepare us for success. He made us to be like himself, and he wants us to succeed. We look to God in faith, as totally dependent on him. We are not self-sufficient. We trust him to provide our needs and guide us in life. We have daily security in him, knowing that an all-powerful God is looking out for us. He knows our needs. We do not need to worry, because Dad will take care of us.
We can face trials with hope. We know that our Dad allows difficulties to teach us so we will be better in the long run (Hebrews 12:5-11). We are confident that he is working in our lives for our best, and he will never disown us.
These are enormous benefits. Surely, there is nothing better in all the universe than being a child of God. That is the greatest blessing of the kingdom of God. When we become like little children, we become heirs to all the joy and blessings of the eternal kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Kathy Houston of White Hall is pastor of Christian Fellowship Center of Grace Communion International.
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