What is Childlikeness?
The spiritual are those who are seeing the glory of the Lord, and trusting in Jesus, and knowing Him as all-sufficient. Of course that’s the essence of spirituality! That cuts across the grain, doesn’t it, of all that’s cold and lifeless and religious, all that would substitute activity for real life. That brings us to the second section. If I’m really doing that, not just writing it in a notebook, not just meditating upon it, but if that’s real in my heart, what will my life look like?
In Matthew 18-25 you have eight or nine different stories, where God again laid down great age abiding principles. What does a spiritual Christian look like? Of course, He doesn’t just give you a list; one, two, three; A, B, C. He doesn’t write His Bible like that. He tells it in stories. He hides it in the histories. He writes it in life. He gives it in object lessons; in parables; in discussions. Because He writes principle in life, He’s taken those things, and then He allows us by the Holy Spirit, to extract them from life, in order that they might be real in our own lives.
Let me begin by giving you sort of a (I’m not good at this, at all, matter of fact I don’t enjoy this part of study. I don’t like maps and geography), but since we’re starting a new section, I think it will be helpful to get the most basic of the geography in your mind’s eye. In the New Testament days Palestine was not divided into twelve tribes, like it was in the Old Testament days. Really, it was divided (if you take this to be the Mediterranean) into two parts, rather than twelve; west of Jordan and east of Jordan. If you want to break that down a little more, it was really divided in five parts rather than twelve; three on the west of Jordan, and two on the east of Jordan. There were five provinces; Judea, Samaria, Galilee on the west (from the south to the north), and then on the east there was Perea and Decapolis which is just a word that means “ten cities”.
The reason I call attention to that is this; that usually when you’re talking of the ministry of the Lord Jesus, commentators divide it up into three sections. The early part of His ministry was called “The Judean Ministry” because He spent most of His time in Judea. The greater part, or the middle part of His ministry was called “The Galilean Ministry” because He spent most of His time in Galilee, and He did all of His miracles around Galilee. The last six months of His life, He ministered on the earth for 3 ½ years, He lived for 33 ½ years, but His ministry was only 3 ½ years, and the last half of the year is called “The Perean Ministry of Christ”.
Not all the gospels give equal space to these particular ministries. For example, Luke gives us ten full chapters on the Perean ministry. Matthew spent a lot of time on the Galilean ministry. The Gospel of John doesn’t even mention, only once in passing, the Galilean ministry. So, it depends on which book your reading; different ones emphasize different things. When I say “the early ministry or Judean ministry”, “the middle ministry or Galilean Ministry”, “the late ministry or the Perean ministry”, don’t nail Jesus down to those places. What I mean is, the bulk of His time was spent there. When He was in His Judean ministry He went really far north to Sidon and Tyre, and then He came back down. He didn’t just stay there, but it means the bulk of His ministry, His healing and teaching were done in these localities. I call attention to that because now we’re in the last six months of His life. We’re in the Perean ministry. The last six months of His life cover a period of time from the transfiguration to the cross. That was about six months. That’s where we are now.
Matthew 18:1-14, that’s what we’ll look at. This gives us the first characteristic of those who are living spirituality. It’s first because it’s the most basic. It’s the most cardinal principle. Above everything else this principle will characterize a truly spiritual heart. You can’t see Jesus glorified, and trust Him unreservedly, and have Him as your all-sufficiency, and not have this characteristic true in your life. This is the most basic of all spiritual characteristics. If you look in your heart, and this characteristic is not there, don’t try to put it there. It’s the worst thing you can do. You can go into bondage very fast trying to put it there. When we go through these chapters 18-25, and you look in your life and you don’t see those things, you don’t try to put them there. Instead, you run back to Matthew 16:17-21, because when those things are true in your life, these characteristics will be automatic. Anything in the Christian life you have to work at is probably not real. Anything you have to struggle with is probably not from God, because the Christian life is intuitive, it’s automatic. When you are right with God, these things will be as natural as breathing. We always run back to the basics.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He 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. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]
There’s one theme in all fourteen of these verses. That’s why we take the whole section at once. It’s easy to see, verse 2, He called a child to Himself. Verse 3, “Unless you are converted and become like children.” Verse 4, “Whoever humbles himself as this child.” Verse 5, “One such child.” Verse 6, “One of these little ones.” Verse 10, “One of these little ones.” Verse 14, “One of these little ones.” I think if you are going to understand the passage, you have to understand that God has written this passage in two paragraphs; one through four in which He lays down the principle, and then in verses 5-14, where He illustrates the principle that He lays down. In the second paragraph the Lord guarantees what He will do if this is true. We’ll examine both paragraphs.
Verses 1-4, you don’t have to dig very deep to see it. It’s right on the surface. Let me state it for you. The most basic characteristic of a truly spiritual life is childlikeness. God’s people love to pray for revival. Have you ever asked yourself this question? If God suddenly answered that prayer and sent revival, and if He began to pour out the spirit of revival, what form would it take among the people of God? Some people think it would be power, that revival means power. “Boy, if God would send a revival, there would be signs and wonders and miracles, and people would be restored, and people would be healed; power. Other say, “No, it would be numbers; great hordes of men and women and young people would turn to the Lord. The churches would all be filled. Thousands and tens of thousands would trust in the Lord if God would send revival.” Others say, “I think the main sign would be righteousness. If God really sent revival, then there would be a new wave of righteousness on the earth; the schools, theatres, publishers would have to clean up their acts. The bars would close, honesty would replace corruption in high office. There would be holiness and righteousness.
I don’t doubt for a moment that if God sent revival that there would be an outpouring of power. I don’t doubt for a moment that hosts of people would rush to the Lord to be saved; they would run to their rock. I don’t doubt for a moment that the stronghold with Satan would come tumbling down if God sent a revival. But there is a more basic characteristic than all of that. It’s even more basic than love. I’m sure if God sent revival the terrible walls that separate God’s people from one another would come down; all of these sectarian walls and denominational walls that make a difference, that divide us from one another. Christians would love one another. The world would know by our love for one another that we are the Disciples of Christ. But that’s not the chief thing. There’s something more basic than that.
I think if the Lord sent a full scale revival, it’s chief mark would be childlikeness; His people would become childlike. There is no higher credential, there’s no better proof of the life of God in your soul, that you are living spiritual, than a childlike temperament, a childlike disposition, the attitude of childlikeness. Of course, we better nail down exactly what we mean by that. What did the Lord have in mind when he said “childlikeness”. I’m convinced that childlikeness is the most basic characteristic of a spiritual life. It’s our seal of adoption. Christians are human infants; it’s childlikeness. The Christian life at its purest is nothing more than a glorified childhood. If God would only begin to teach us these principles!
We’re going to get to Matthew 18 in a moment, but let me play with you another moment or two. The truth of childlikeness seems, as you go through the gospel record – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – one of the Lord Jesus’ favorite truths. He just couldn’t get away from it. Of course, His own life in His relationship with His Holy Father God illustrated childlikeness. But in addition to that, everywhere He went He seemed to manifest His love and His tenderness to children. He loved children. He held them in His arms. He blessed them. On one occasion He just stood and watched them play. He just loved children. A number of His miracles He did on the young. He’s full of affection and compassion for children. He healed a nobleman’s son at Capernaum. He healed a demon possessed boy. He raised Jairus’ daughter. He healed a child of the Syro-Phoenician woman. He healed the only son of the woman at Nahum. He just loved children.
In this passage, chapter 18, when the disciples were disputing with one another… and by the way this argument from the other gospel shows that it was a heated argument and when they came to the Lord Jesus He brought it up in their face, just as He had done with Peter about the taxes. They didn’t even know He knew they were talking together. And He said, “What were you discussing on the road on your way here to the house?” They were arguing which one of them was greatest. They had this mental idea that Christ was going to set up His earthly kingdom, and the earthly kingdom was a physical kingdom, and it meant a hierarchy, and it meant rank and position; people over cities, over provinces. They were arguing who was going to have first place, and who was going to have what rank, and that kind of thing.
In this passage it looks like this child, when Jesus called him, however old he was, the Bible doesn’t say here, but it looks like he sort of walked up and Jesus put him in a circle of the twelve disciples, and said, “Now, here’s an object lesson.” But when you read the gospel of Mark, it’s the same record, it’s Mark looking at the same incident. Mark says that He took that little child, and took him up in His arms, and held him to His own breast. So, I don’t know how old the child was. He was young enough to be held by the Lord Jesus. Jesus used that child to illustrate this basic characteristic of the Christian life.
Jesus had many pet names for His own. Of course, every pet name He used showed His heart toward His own disciples. He called His own disciples “servants”, but He said in John 15 that He didn’t really like those titles. He said, “I’d rather call you friend than disciples, or servants.” Sometimes the Shepherd’s heart would come out, and He’d call them His “flock”. But in Luke 12:32 He called them His “little flock”, “Fear not, little flock.” He called them “sheep”, but in John 10 the Greek uses the expression “little sheep”. Matter of fact John 21:15 He uses the word that means “baby lamb”. One translation translates it “lambkin”, “Feed My lambkin.” That’s tender. The Lord calls you “lambkin”. So, He loved the Father/child relationship, and one of His pet names over and over again is “children”, or like John 13:33, “my little children”.
Remember when after the resurrection they went fishing and Jesus was on the shore cooking breakfast in John 21? Very interesting word that He uses. When they come out of the boat… Now, these are big fisherman. He said, “Babies, have you caught any fish?” In the New American Standard it translates it “children”, but it’s the same word that was used when He said, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” out of the mouths of newborns. “Babies, have you caught any fish?” Six times in the gospels the Lord Jesus doesn’t even put an object after it. He just calls them “My little”. We fill it in. We say, “My little children,” or, “My little ones,” but in the Greek it doesn’t say that. It just says, “My little.” He was so tender, “My little flock, My little sheep, My little children, My little…,” constantly called them “My little”.
Matthew 10:42, “Whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little…” It’s doesn’t say, “Little ones,” or “Little children.” “Whoever gives to one of these little a drink of water in My name.” He was very tender toward His own. We can read these things, “la, la, la,” but I’ll tell you, it’s wonderful to look at the heart of the Lord Jesus, as He uses these pet names for His own, and one of His pet names was “children”, and “little children,” and “babes,” and “little babes,” and just “little”. He loved that. How would you feel if a grown man came up to you and called you a “newborn”? “Hi, newborn. How are you doing?” Boy, it really shows the heart of the Lord. He loved childlikeness, and the whole gospel record is full of it, and His pet names just illustrate that. Matthew 18:2, there’s a good chance this was little more than a toddler. We don’t know how old he was. The Bible doesn’t say, but as I said in Mark, the Bible said that He picked him up in His arms and He held this child, and He said, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all. Whoever receives one child like this, is receiving Me.”
Let’s get back to the passage. Matthew 18:3&4, the Lord Jesus tells His arguing disciples that they must be converted, and become like little children. They are worrying about rank in the kingdom. He said, “You better make sure you are even going to get in there at all, let alone what position you are going to have when you get in there.” “Unless you become as little children; unless you humble yourself as a child, you don’t understand true greatness,” He said. Childlikeness, whatever it is, and I’ll show you what it is in a moment, is the starting point of all true greatness, and there is no true greatness apart from childlikeness. What is childlikeness? What is a childlike spirit? If I want to humble myself and become as child, what will my life look like if I’m childlike?
Well, as you can imagine, there are many, many sermons and messages and comments on what it means to be childlike. Let me give you some. Many say, “Childlikeness is a disposition of mind,” in other words, “Study a child, and see what he’s like, and then you be like that. That’s childlikeness. That’s what a child is like, then you be like that.” For example, a child is a believer. A child lives by faith. It’s a tendency of a child to believe what he’s told. So, they say that’s why it’s so important what you teach children; to be very careful. If you tell a child that Santa Claus is going to come down the chimney, and then he does it to every child in the whole world on the same night, and they’ll believe you.
I used to tell my little boy that I used to have wings, and I could fly all around. He’d believe me. I’m not saying I was right in telling him that, but that’s what I used to tell him. He believe me. How amazing. They’ll believe it intuitively. They’ll believe anything and anyone. They are not hard. They are impressionable. They confide without any hesitation whatsoever. If you see a little child he’ll stand there with thirsty eyes and he’ll drink in everything you say. He just loves to hear, and he’ll believe it all. There’s that old German proverb, “He who deceives a child is as him who ravages a virgin.” Don’t deceive children because they believe everything. If a child asks for bread, he believes you aren’t going to give him a stone or a serpent. He’s going to get bread. He trusts without suspicion. “Child-faith. That’s what it means. Be like a child. Don’t question God. Just believe God. A child believes without light. They have confidence, and they are to be our instructors in faith.”
Someone else says, “Yes, that’s true, but that’s not really what it means to be childlike. He’s not talking about faith. He’s talking about the fact that children are simple and uncomplicated and unsophisticated. See, He hides His truth from the wise and the prudent, and He reveals it to babes. So, to be childlike is to be childlike in your understanding. Didn’t David in Psalm 131, ‘Oh, Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes faulty, nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me, for I have composed and quieted myself like a weaned child resting against his mother. My soul is like a weaned child within me.’” So, they say, “You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to know all the answers. Don’t try to get down so deep, and don’t try to be profound, and don’t fill your head with a thousand facts. Be childlike. You don’t have to know all of that stuff. Emphasize the heart and not the head. Emphasize the spirit and not the brain. Afterall, these high faluten intellectuals who think they know so much, and who dig so deep, and stay down so long, and come up with so little, are really only swimming in a sea of intellectualism, anyway, a sea of theology, and they aren’t getting anything out of it, and not really knowing God. Be childlike; i.e. be dumb and know God.” Is that what He meant when He said, “Be childlike?”
So, someone else says, “No, that’s not what He meant. He was talking about the intuition of a child; the sweet, naturalness of a child.” Whatever else they do, children don’t fake it. They aren’t embarrassed. They are just themselves, and they don’t try to be anything else. They are just naturally themselves; they aren’t hypocrites. They have affections without distinction. Where do you find prejudice? Not among children. You find it among adults. Adults teach the children. Children don’t care who they play with. They are just themselves, and it’s natural.” They say that’s what it means to be childlike.
You open another commentary and it says, “No, that’s not what Jesus had in mind. He was talking about innocence; the innocence of a child; be like a child in innocence. You see, one of the great characteristics of a child’s life is that he’s so naïve and so simple. He doesn’t know what’s going on. They aren’t aware of all the sin, and all the corruption. They sort of have blinders on their eyes. So, we should be like them; naïve, simple, and ignorance toward that which is evil. Be childlike.”
Another says, “No, that’s not what He meant. He’s not saying to have a child’s faith. He’s not saying to have a child’s simplicity. He’s not saying to have a child’s naturalness. He’s not saying to have a child’s innocence. Well, he comes right out in verse 4 and say, ‘Humble yourselves as a child.’ A child is humble. A child is naturally humble, some say. They aren’t rebellious. They don’t strive for positions, and how to become famous and all of the rest. They aren’t trying to be preeminent. They are lowly and meek.” What did the Lord Jesus mean, and what did He have in mind? Is it a combination of all those dispositions of children? Is He calling us to child’s faith, and child simplicity, and child naturalness, and child innocence, and child humility? See, He means something. He said, “Except you become as children.” What does He mean, and what is He saying?”
I don’t have any trouble believing that God wants us to have faith, to trust unhesitatingly. I have no problem believing He wants us to have a singleness of purpose, and He wants us to be ourselves, and not to fake it, that He wants us to be holy and to be humble. Of course, He wants that. But I honestly don’t believe Jesus was using this child to illustrate any of those things. I don’t think that was His point at all. Matter of fact, I can prove it to you. Let me take a moment to prove it to you, and then I’ll come back to what I believe the Lord Jesus was saying. May He write it in our hearts!”
Are we to believe everything we hear? Listen to Ephesians 4:14, “We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness and deceitful schemes.” God says, “Stop being like children, and don’t believe everything you hear. There are imitators of faith.” He said in Ephesians to not be like that in faith. “Well, how about simplicity? Hasn’t God called us to be ignorant to everything around us? Why should we spend all our time in study? Hasn’t He called us to be simple in our understanding?” Listen to 1 Corinthians 14:20, “Brethren, do not be children in your understanding; do not be children in your thinking, but in understanding be men.” He doesn’t want us to think like little children. He’s come right out and told us that in another place. What did He mean, then? That we should be natural as children and be ourselves? No! Luke 7 militates against that. You see, in Luke 7:32, He saw His generation as “fickle, undecided, arguing, and not agreeing on anything,” and He says, “You are just like children, playing in a marketplace, arguing and disputing about what game you should play and what rules you should play by. Don’t be children. Don’t just do what comes naturally, like children.” He was using children as an illustration, but He wasn’t illustrating their faith. He wasn’t illustrating their thinking. He said, “Don’t’ believe like they do, and don’t think like they do, and don’t be natural like they are.” It’s amazing! Certainly He meant something.
He’s says to be childlike. He calls us His “little flock”, and His “little sheep”, and His “little children”, and His “newborns”, and His “little”. What does it mean to be childlike? Sometimes when we say that children have certain characteristics, I have to wonder if all my children are normal, or if people don’t know what they are talking about. I almost laughed when I read some of those commentaries telling me that children are naturally humble. Do you have any children? I don’t know where they get that idea. I think childhood is the most egotistical age we pass through.
The other day I lifted my daughter by her elbows, and when I set her down she said, “Let me lift you.” I said, “You can’t lift me. I’m too heavy.” “Yes, I can. I promise I can.” “You can’t. It’s not possible. You are too little, and I’m too big.” “I know I can. I can.” So I said, “Okay. Try it.” So, I held up my elbows and she tried to lift me, and then she blamed me for standing heavy. Now, there’s something wrong with that reasoning.
Let a child paint a picture, write a letter, clean a room, set the table, achieve in some sport, and that will be all you hear about for the next week. They aren’t humble. They are proud. They’ll argue over who is the best, who is taller, who is stronger, “did I eat better than so and so?” It’s unbelievable. They aren’t innocent. They are selfish and mean and they are nasty. Hebrews 5, the Spirit of God describes Christians who were not trained in righteousness as children. Children are naturally not trained in righteousness. So, you’ve got to teach them in righteousness, because naturally they are going to do the wrong thing. That’s they’re nature. They are going to do the wrong thing. He says, “You Christians are like children, and you shouldn’t be. By this time you ought to be like teachers, but you are still babes.” Then do you know what He says? “Except you become as children…” What is He talking about?
There’s a tremendous difference between childlikeness and childishness. Paul said that when he had become a man he put away childish things. Christ didn’t call His disciples to be childish. That’s repulsive on the earth. That’s repulsive in heaven. He called His children to be childlike, and He had something in mind, and if the balance of scripture cancels out all of those others things that we call “dispositions of children”, that they believe so easy and they’re so sweet and they are so natural and so innocent, if He didn’t mean that (and He didn’t because He wouldn’t contradict Himself, and the other parts of the Bible say that He didn’t mean that, and He said to not believe like children, and don’t think like children, and don’t be natural like children, and don’t behave like children; they are a bad example of the Christian. Don’t follow children.) “Unless you are like a child, you aren’t going to enter the kingdom.” He mean something. What did He mean?
He not only meant something, but this principle is the most basic characteristic. It’s the most fundamental, and the most cardinal characteristic. It is the indispensable evidence and proof that you are living spiritually. If this is not in your life, you are not spiritual. Okay, I’ve played with you long enough. Let me tell you what it is.
If childlikeness is not a disposition of the mind, and it isn’t, then what is it? It’s a condition of the nature. Luke 15, when the mothers were bringing their children to Jesus, the Greek word for “child” – there’s four Greek words for child, and this particular one is “infant of days”. They are almost newborns; still in diapers. They are too young to have any disposition of mind. When Jesus held that newborn of days, He said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” What was He saying? He’s not talking about what a child does, but He’s talking about what a child is; about the condition of their nature, what they are by nature. Let me put it in simple words. The principle of childlikeness is helplessness. That’s the principle He had in mind; helplessness. It’s a condition of their nature. It’s what they are. He’s calling attention to the absolute dependence of infancy. Those who are spiritual are as helplessly dependent upon the Lord as a newborn is helplessly dependent upon their mother, their parents.
A child enters this world stripped naked. There’s nothing. He doesn’t have wisdom, he doesn’t have strength, he doesn’t have clothes, he doesn’t have merit. He can’t imitate his faith. He had no faith. He has no humility. He has nothing. He can do nothing. Everything must be done for that newborn. Everything must be done for him. Even in Matthew 18, the Spirit of God gives the same emphasis. They were arguing who was going to have the best place, and who was going to be first, and who was going to earn the best place, and Jesus proves by this illustration, this object lesson, that the kingdom of heaven is given, and it’s not acquired. The kingdom of heaven is received. It’s not deserved. That’s what He illustrates here. I have an idea that this was just a very young baby that Jesus took in His arms. The disciples were very, very far from that disposition of helplessness. They were quarreling about their own greatness, and Jesus said that they needed to humble themselves in order to see their own helplessness. Childlikeness is helplessness.
Let me tie that into the whole point of the kingdom of heaven. When we were discussing the Sermon on the Mount, and when we did the kingdom of heaven parables, we nailed down what the kingdom of heaven was. The kingdom of heaven is the rule of the kingdom of heaven, in the place called “heaven”. There’s a kingdom up there. They are doing fine up there. They aren’t having the struggles that we’re having. They are doing the will of God with joy. They are worshipping the Lord. The angels of God dart like lightening, going back and forth, doing His bidding. Wouldn’t you like that down here? That’s exactly what He said. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” And Jesus laid down the great principles of the kingdom of heaven, and He said that it’s now possible to have the same rest, the same love, the same worship, the same adoration, and do the will of God with the same joy that they do it in heaven. You can do that now on the earth. And He laid down the principles of the kingdom of heaven.
Do you see what He’s saying here? He’s talking about the rule of heaven, and He says, “The helpless are the ones in the kingdom of heaven, and are the ones I’ll rule over.” Now, there’s different rules of Christ. There’s His sovereign rule, His millennial rule, but then there’s that personal rule where God rules your life, where He is King of your life. He will not rule anyone who is not helpless. He will not; not with the personal rule. With the sovereign rule He will, but if you want that intimate, personal rule of Christ in your life, He’s describing the spiritual, those He rules, those He’s King over, those who are in His domain and in His realm. Who does Christ rule? The childlike, the helpless, and no one else. That’s why we ought to humble ourselves, and become as little children.
Those who see the glory of Christ, those who trust in Him unreservedly, those who rest in Him as their all-sufficiency, there’s not a drop of self-trust in their lives. Childlikeness is the exact opposite of self-trust. Those who are spiritual don’t trust themselves. They don’t trust their own knowledge, and they don’t trust their own faith, and they don’t trust their own sincerity, and they don’t trust their own strength, and they don’t trust their own service, and their own ministry, and their own works. They don’t trust in their own resources. All these little babies cast upon their God in helplessness. That’s the spiritual; those who don’t trust themselves. They have to trust Him for everything. They have to live by His life, and by His strength, and by His wisdom, and by His provision, and by His Spirit. In their own lives they are helpless in their own ministries, and they are helpless. That’s the attitude that God loves. That’s spiritual living; helplessness before God, childlikeness before Him. There is the great evidence of spiritual living; not those who trust their great esteems and their great programs, and are always figuring out what is going to happen next, and always having every base covered to make sure everything is going to work out alright. The helpless are not those who trust their own minds and their own education. The helpless are not those who trust their own gifts, and trust their own talents. They are helpless. They trust nothing of themselves. They are dead, and they have nothing in their hands to contribute. Those are the spiritual. Find the helpless. Find the ones that the King rules, and you’ll see the kingdom of heaven.
It’s heart searching to realize how much my life contradicts Matthew 18:3, and how much my ministry contradicts Matthew 18:3. Do you realize this? If your life, or your teaching, is not designed to help others take their place as helpless children before God, your life and your ministry is not fulfilling God’s purposes. Your ministry is not to make people smart and theological and know the Bible. It really doesn’t matter to God is you understand Matthew or not, if you take your stand as a helpless child before Him. That’s understanding Matthew, and nothing else is; not knowing outlines and illustrations, and all the rest. How many times we win souls, alright, but not to Him; it’s to our philosophies, or to our doctrine, or to our church, or to our ministry, or something like that. You win somebody to your program or thinking, you aren’t winning him to Him. Until they stand a helpless babes before Him; that’s childlike.
There’s no way that anyone can stress childlikeness too much. Hudson Taylor made this comment, and I love it. “In ordinary growth, we grow away from the cradle, but in spiritual growth we always grow backwards toward the cradle.” I pray that you are more childlike tonight than you were last week. And if you are really going forward in the Lord, that next week you’ll be more helpless than you are tonight. And the more you see and the more you know, and the more you experience, and the closer your walk becomes with Him, the more God will open your eyes to your spiritual poverty, the more you’ll see how helpless you are in His sight. That’s childlikeness. Oh, if we were free of self-trust. It’s so stupid when we trust ourselves. Trust the Lord to deliver you from every drop of sophistication, and to just make you childlike; helpless before Him. See, this isn’t optional. This is the universal characteristic of all spiritual Christians. Anyone who is spiritual will evidence that; in childlikeness. If childlikeness is not present, and increasing in your life, then you have a spiritual problem.
Before leaving this first paragraph, let me say one more thing. Since God is a God of infinite variety, and He is unpredictably wonderful in all of our lives, though we all have the same characteristic of helplessness, though we’re each different and each unique, that basic characteristic will take different forms in different lives. The profound principle of your spirit and mine, that each one of us knows the same God, but each one of us know Him differently, because God is infinite. Each one of us if going to follow a different path for our hidden life with God. According to our own disposition, according to our character, according to our temperament, according to our personalities; no place in the Bible does it say that God will change your personality, if you trust Jesus. He won’t change it. You’ll have the same personality you had before you were saved, and you’ll have it after you are saved. What He wants to do is to liberate that personality, and set you free in what and who you are, and show the world what He can be in and through a person like you, with your temperament, and your personality. Each one of us is going to express it differently, but in each case it’s going to be helplessness; freedom from self-trust, but we’re all unique. Pay attention to that because it’s easy to judge, isn’t it?
It’s easy to look at somebody else and say, “Oh, he’s got self-trust. He’s working hard, and that means he’s trusting his own hand, and his own resources.” No, you don’t know that. There are many hard workers who are not trusting their jobs, but are helpless before the Lord their God. There are many active Christians who are not bogged down in legalistic programs, who are helpless before the Lord their God. We can’t see the heart. Only God can see the heart. Look at Matthew 18:5-14; the principle is childlikeness and that’s helplessness. I pointed out verse 5 “child”, verse 6 “little ones”, verse 10 “little ones”, verse 14, “little ones”. You may get the idea from glancing at the second paragraph that He’s talking about the same child that He used in the first paragraph. He is not. In the first paragraph He uses a physical child to illustrate a spiritual child; helpless. In the second paragraph He is no longer talking about the physical child, but now, He’s talking about those who are patterned after him; a spiritual child. Verses 5-14 talks about the Christian who is childlike. He’s talking about the spiritual. In 1-4 it’s a helpless baby. In 5-14 it’s helpless believers; humble children.
Let me try to summarize these two paragraphs this way, and may the Lord give us eyes to see it, in paragraph one He describes what the child looks like standing before God; he’s helpless. In paragraph two He describes what God looks like standing before the helpless child. That’s why this is so important. If I come and stand before God as helpless, what can I expect? 5-14 tells you how God stands before you. You stand before Him as helpless, He stands before you, toward His children, as the mighty Father and great protector. He has you under His wing, and under His care. Before we try to answer, and I won’t do it this time, we’re going to look at some of these details, what is the millstone, what are the stumbling blocks, what does it mean to pluck out our eyes and cut off the members of our body? What about verse 10? What are the angels of children in heaven continually beholding the face of the Father. There is an answer to every one of those questions. But the temptation is to roll up your sleeves and dig right in, and get into all the controversy of those marvelous verses, and miss the big thing. So, let me close by giving you the big thing, and then next time we’ll pick up some of those details before we look at the second characteristic.
Glance at the verses, verse 5, and I’ll make this statement; He rewards those who benefit His little ones, His little children. Verse 6-9, He punishes those severely who in any way offend His little ones. He wants to take care of His little ones. “It’s better for you if a millstone is hung around your neck.” There are two Greek words for “millstone”, by the way. One is the little hand millstone that you can lift up, and the other is the Greek word for “millstone pulled by oxen”, and it was a big one. That’s the Greek word that’s used here. It’s not some little old millstone. “It would be better for you if a big huge millstone – and it’s a capital offense. I never understood that, really. I used to read, “The worst thing if you offend somebody, it’s a capital offense. That’s worst.” It doesn’t say “worst”. It says that better. It’s better for you that a millstone…. Better? Better than what? I suppose He’s contrasting that it’s better to die in an ocean of water than to go alive into a lake of fire. As I stand before God I stand healthy. But here I am helpless. What’s going to happen? I’m afraid. What if He doesn’t come through? What if He fails? He says, “No, all those who touch My little ones I’m going to bless, and all those who hurt my little ones, they are in terrible trouble.” Even when He makes the transition, He says, “If you offend them, you are going to go here. It’s better that you pluck out your eye.” He didn’t change and say, “If you offend them, what about offending yourself.” He’s not saying that. What He’s saying is, “If you hurt them, you only hurt yourself. If you hurt them it’s like plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand. I’m going to take care of My own, and I’m going to bless those who bless My little ones. I’m going to curse those who curse My little ones.”
Look at verse 11-13, “And if My little ones go astray, then I’m going to drop everything and I’m going to go searching for them, and I’m going to find them, and I’m going to bring them back. Nothing is more important than My helpless ones. And if they should wander off into some field or mountain some place, then I’ll leave everything, and leave the ninety nine and go after them.” He said, “There are angels behold their face of their father…” I don’t think that’s a guardian angel. That’s the only verse in the Bible where people use for “guardian angels”; chapter 18:10. There is no other hint of it in all of the scriptures.
One commentator said, “If these are the children of guardian angels,” I’m quoting, this is not my expression, “what are they doing moping around the throne? If they are guardian angels why aren’t they guarding? What were they doing up there in heaven always beholding the face of the Father?” I don’t think these are guardian angels. I think this is the same kind of angel that Peter experienced in Acts 12 when he got delivered from prison, and they thought he was killed, and he comes to the door and knocks at the door, and they say, “It’s his angel. It’s not him.” They didn’t mean guardian angel. They recognized his voice. They meant him. What He was saying is, “These little children are so precious, and when they die their spirits, they’re angels, the real them are in heaven, and they continually behold the face of My Father forever.” That’s what He was talking about.
Glance at verse 14, “It’s not the Father’s will that even one of these shall pass.” Do you hear what He’s saying in 1-4? We stand before Him as helpless. 5-14 He stands before us as mighty. I don’t have to worry about those who offend me. He’ll take care of that. I don’t have to worry about rewarding any that bless me. He’ll take care of that. If I go astray, He’ll take care of that. He’ll bring me back. It’s not God’s will that not one of them shall pass. We’re going to make it, safe and sound.
I suggest this is what He means in this first characteristic. If we’re spiritual, then we’re going to be childlike. The characteristic of childlikeness is helplessness. We’re not done with verses 5-14 but I think we’ll close there for now.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS:
But I don’t think Jesus aimlessly changed the subject. He was talking about offending others, before and after this. He said, “Don’t offend My little ones. If you offend My little ones,” and He’s talking about offending others, and then all of a sudden it looks like He changes the subject, and then goes back to the subject. I’m suggesting that He doesn’t change the subject. He says, “Don’t offend them; better pluck out your eye, better cut off your hand; don’t offend them.” I think He’s talking to the same group, and He’s saying, “If you offend them, you would be better to have a millstone around your neck. You’d be better to have your eye plucked out. You are going to hurt yourself by offending them. If you offend them…. And I don’t think He was saying to the children, “Little children, if your hand offends you, pluck it off.” He’s not talking about the little children. He’s talking about those who would offend the children, as I understand it.
I think He was saying there that it’s inevitable that in His sovereignty He’s not going to force man’s will. He’s not going to overpower man’s desire. There are those who are going to offend. It’s inevitable, but He has to have a righteous judgment on them. In other words, He won’t stop people from doing that. He could; He’s God. But I think it’s inevitable that offenses will come
In the Sermon on the Mount there’s another illustration with a different application of this plucking out the eye and cutting off the hand. In that He was talking to Christians, and what He meant there was that it’s better to make violent separation of those things most precious to us, than to depart from God. It’s not literal. The facts pass away, but the great principles are underneath. He was just using strong illustrations to say, “Whatever is precious to you – the eye, the arm. An illustration in life is when a person really gets right with the Lord, sometimes they have make violent separations with close relatives and friends. It’s like losing an eye or an arm. But they have to, rather than continue in sin. That can just be a principle that He’s using – a strong illustration. It’s like hating your wife and children. It’s just another strong way.
I think it’s comparative love. I think what He’s saying is that the ultimate hate is death, and that we’re to hate, in that we surrender over to death. I trust that I’m holding my family like this (open hands). I love my wife, but I hope I hate my wife. I hope I hate my wife in the sense that if God were to reach down and take her, He wouldn’t have to pry my hands open; that I’m willing to let go; hate it in that sense, that it’s His, and I’m not loving it, and not embracing it. I think He’s just saying to let go. If you could think of something you hated, you would let go of it fast. You would let go of a thorn, of a snake; hate it and let it go; have that attitude toward other things.
If they minister in their own strength, if the anointing of God is not on that piano playing, they’re just entertaining. Unless God does it, it’s not God. I think it would apply to all of those human strengths. Helplessness isn’t just falling away into some puddle someplace. Helplessness is an attitude of the heart. It’s coming to the Lord, acknowledging Him, and saying, “Lord, I can’t. You do it through me.”
Father, we do thank You tonight for Your Spirit, for Your word. We’ll ask you again for all that You know childlikeness to mean. Work that in our hearts; not what we think it means, but everything You know it means. Work that in our hearts and in our lives. We thank You, Lord, that You stand before us as our tender Father when we stand before You as helpless children. Take us forward in that truth, we pray. Amen