Jesus Said, “Become Like Little Children”

Jesus Said, "Become Like Little Children" | Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas

This idea that God can use children to teach us, that we have an opportunity to gain spiritual insight from those we are called to raise and teach, comes from our Lord himself, who in this regard was something of a revolutionary.

In the first century, children enjoyed little esteem and virtually no respect. While families appreciated their own children, society merely tolerated them. The very language of the day reveals this first-century prejudice. One Greek word for child (pais or paidion) also can mean “servant” or “slave.” Yet another (nepios) carries connotations of inexperience, foolishness, and helplessness. Greek philosophers regularly chided a stupid or foolish man by calling him “nepios.” Indeed, even biblical writers admonished Christians to “stop thinking like children [paidia]” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Imagine, then, the people’s astonishment when Jesus brings a troublesome, noisy child and places him in front of the crowd (Matthew 18:1-9). With His hand on the lad’s shoulder, Jesus has the audacity to suggest that this small tyke provides an example to be followed.

Even the boy himself had to feel great surprise! Young children couldn’t wait to reach adulthood. They eagerly looked forward to shedding their lowly station. But Jesus said, “No, you’re missing it entirely. Unless you humble yourself like one of these, you’ll never enter the kingdom of God.” He means, “Look at them now, learn from them now, and aspire to become like them.”

Then Jesus does it yet again, just after He clears the temple of the money changers (see Matthew 21:12–16). Jesus not only chases off the thieves, but He heals the blind and the lame as well. The kids start shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

The chief priests and teachers of the law were furious and demanded of him, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”

What went on here? The religious leaders scoffed at Jesus: “Rein in these ignorant, foolish, and lowly children who treat you like the Messiah. You might be able to fool them, but we see right through you!” Jesus shrewdly turned the tables, in essence saying, “You were fooled, but not the ‘ignorant’ children!”

Jesus seemed to delight in the fact that “inexperienced, simple” children had an understanding superior to the trained adults.

Speaking to the crowds in Galilee, Jesus declared, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure” (Matthew 11:25–26).

We find the genius of children, spiritually speaking, in their helpless state. The Bible, as well as Christian spirituality, has consistently held pride as the greatest spiritual failing known to humankind. The message of the gospel scandalizes the proud: it insists that we admit we are fallen, helpless, and in need of someone to pay the price on our behalf and then to imbue us with a foreign power so that we can live life the way it was meant to be lived. An infant incarnates this truth perfectly.

The process of parenting is one of the most spiritually formative journeys a man and a woman can ever undertake. Unless we are stone-cold spiritually – virtually spiritual corpses – the journey of caring for, raising, training, and loving children will mark us indelibly and powerfully. We cannot be the same people we once were; we will be forever changed, eternally altered. Spiritually speaking, we need to raise children every bit as much as they need us to raise them.

Excerpted with permission from Sacred Parenting by Gary L. Thomas, copyright Zondervan.

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Your Turn

Jesus said we are to become like little children. If you’re a parent, or grandparent, or aunt, or uncle, or coach, or teacher, how has raising or training children made a mark on your heart and life? How has God used children in your life to grow, shape, and mature you spiritually? Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

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Gary L. Thomas
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Gary L. Thomas

Gary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of over a dozen books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Pure Pleasure, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith.

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