Who is the greatest?

Jesus was asked by the disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of ­heaven?” (Matthew 18:1–6). He called a child over and answered, “…unless you ­become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ­Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” ­Become like a child?

Recently we went to eat with our niece in Louisville. Our group was larger than normal (5 people) and we had to sit with the class at their lunch table. It just ended up that I was furthest from our niece, which meant I found myself surrounded by six-year-old girls I didn’t know. There are a few things you should know—some of you already know them. I have no problem talking with ­strangers. Also, I find myself obligated to entertain people… even six-year-olds. It provided for an entertaining lunch.

I also learned a few things. Qualities young children have that we should imitate. Here are a few…

Children are accepting. At first, I was the stranger at the table. You could see they had all been programmed with the “stranger danger” mindset. But after a few moments, we were friends. It didn’t matter that I was so big. It didn’t ­matter that I looked and acted goofy (okay, maybe that helped). It didn’t matter that there was a 35 year age gap. By the end of lunch we were friends. They even invited me to stay for recess. Us “­grownups” aren’t that way always. We look at every new person with a ­judgmental eye. We ask questions like “Who are they?” Or, “where did they come from?” Sometimes that harms us when it comes to evangelism. It doesn’t matter what someone looks like, where they came from, or who they are. God wants all of them to be saved (1 ­Timothy 2:4).

Children are honest. I used my lunch opportunity to conduct a social ­experiment of sorts. I pretended that I was scared to take my trash up to the window. I said that I didn’t know how to do it because it was a new place. I also said I was afraid I would trip. One girl looked at me and said, “So. I fall all the time.” A six-year-old doesn’t mind admitting they fall all the time. They ­innocently realize that admitting their mistakes is no big deal—­everybody falls in their eyes. It’s sad to know the day will come when they grow up and ­pretend they have never fallen. ­Spiritually, we realize that all of us have fallen (Romans 3:23). And yet, we often pretend as if we have never sinned. When we become like children, we have no problem admitting our failures. Our recent meeting with Keith ­Stonehart was a good example for all of us. As he shared his “terrible story,” many sat in awe that he would so openly and ­honestly admit such a past. But think for a moment… How encouraging was that to hear? If that encouraged you, how much could you encourage others if you were honest like a child? Honest enough to say, “I fall all the time.”

Children are encouraging. During my little experiment about taking my trash up, every girl around me told me how easy it was to take the trash. Some just said, “Just follow me.” Another said, “It’s easy. You just throw your trash away.” When I explained I didn’t know how she said, “Watch me.” Every one of them wanted to encourage me to finish the task.  In a very real way, these six-year-olds were willing to bear the burden of a strange 41-year-old (Galatians 6:1–2).

Children are humble. The reason all of these ­qualities was witnessed in these school ­children really goes back to one quality: humility. Little ­children don’t think they are any better than the other ­children around them. They’re all equals. They see ­themselves as the same. And even though there are times they compete, their life isn’t caught up in ­competition. Jesus said in Matthew 18:4, “whoever humbles himself like this child…” They truly look out for the interests of everyone else around them more than their own (Philippians 2:3–4). We should learn to be humble like these little children.

Oh, I know the day is coming in a few years where that will start to change. Sadly, I think parents are to blame for that. Parents start encouraging little ­children to be better students, better athletes, and better “­every things” than the other children around them. It robs them of the humility and innocence they once had. But for a moment at a first grade lunch table in ­Crestwood, KY, I was able to look into the beauty of childhood.
“…unless you become like little children…”