Learning from children how to live honestly, simply
by Torrey Clark Contributing columnist
School is back in full swing. The “big yellows” are back on the road. The brown bag industry is rejoicing. The classrooms are ready for action. The students are feeling out their new teachers and perhaps new schools. All of this is done in an effort to make sure our children are being educated. While there are a myriad of different teaching and education philosophies, one thing is sure: the adults are the ones teaching the children.
However, children also have a great deal to teach adults. Not a few teachers I know say how much they learn from the students in their classes. The children aren’t usually intentionally trying to impart knowledge and wisdom to adults. The things we learn from children aren’t usually technical in nature. From children we learn lessons that are difficult to be taught, but easily learned and understood.
Jesus, the Master Teacher, believed there was much to be learned from children.
Much of Jesus’ teaching was in response to questions that were asked of Him. Much like people are today, the disciples were concerned about who was going to have the highest rank, or status in God’s kingdom. They asked, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1). Jesus knew that the disciples had been disputing about this same question prior to their asking Him (Mark 9:33; Luke 9:46).
Jesus answered their question with an “object” lesson:
“Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me’” (Matthew 18:2–5).
This probably would have been perceived as an odd response by the disciples. It was these same disciples who would later rebuke those who tried to bring children to Jesus only to receive a rebuke from Jesus: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
Jesus’ use of children as a model of greatness has warranted some different interpretations. Some have suggested it refers to a child-like disposition. Some groups have abused this passage to mean that we are to be child-like in our intellect – i.e. not giving serious and critical thought to religious truths.
The most convincing, in my estimation, is Jesus’ focus on the lowly status of children. Especially in Jesus’ world, children were at the bottom of the totem pole. They were completely dependent on their parents, had very few legal rights and were very much subject to their parents’ authority.
The problem Jesus was trying to correct was the disciples’ misunderstanding of “greatness.” They, like many today, probably thought of greatness in terms of prestige, position and power. Jesus took the members of society who had the least amount of prestige, position and power to teach them about true greatness: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
So what is here for us? What lessons can we draw from what Jesus said we can learn from children?
First of all, children recognize their dependence on their parents. God wants us to recognize our dependence on Him. Man measures greatness by how independent he can feel. God measures greatness by our own recognition that we are nothing without Him and His provision in our lives.
Second, children were generally powerless and without authority in society. God wants us to recognize our own powerlessness without Him. Man will never cease to clamor for power. Many become so powerful (whether in reality or in their own minds) that they see no need for God. Man becomes his own authority and forgets the source of all authority. Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he “could have no authority … unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).
Third, like children are to be in submission to their parents, we are to be in subjection to God. Jesus is the perfect model of submission and obedience to the will of the Father that Christians are to emulate (Philippians 2:5-9).
These are the primary lessons Jesus would have us to learn about children. There are so many other virtuous traits that we can learn from children. Because of their humility and recognition of ignorance about the world, children are naturally curious and unafraid of asking questions. Children remind us of the deep sense of curiosity and wonder that adulthood has a tendency to beat out of us.
Children show us how to live without pretense and with candid honesty and simplicity. Children are living, breathing illustrations of innocence. They are models of receptivity to truth. They are unafraid of considering new ideas even when they may conflict with things they once believed. Yes, children have a great deal to teach us.
Praise God for the gift of children! As we go about training the young ones, let us never forget all they have to teach us. May God help us to “humble ourselves” as little children and pursue true greatness.
Torrey Clark is the preacher for the church of Christ Northside (www.churchatlagrange.org) and host of the weekly Christian worldview talk show, Culture Shock (www.thelightnetwork.tv/shows). Clark may be reached at email@example.com or 706-812-9950.
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