A DEFENCE OF CHILD EVANGELISM (2)
CHILDREN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
- Not the will of the Father (Matthew 18:1-14)
- Whoever humbles himself like this child
The concern about rank in the kingdom of heaven (read: an earthly kingdom like King David) among the disciples prompted them to ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1). Using a child as an object lesson, Jesus solemnly declared that unless the disciples are converted and become like children, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The word “converted” (strepho in Greek) means to turn again, back again. 2 What do the disciples need to turn back to? Apparently, the disciples’ preoccupation with status had caused them to stray away from depending on Jesus. Earlier they failed to cure a lunatic because of their unbelief (Matt. 17:14-20). Jesus in his prayer to the Father had earlier described the disciples as “babes” (Matt. 11:25); now they need to set aside their rivalry and turn back to their former childlike trust in Jesus. Jesus made this crystal clear when He said that whoever humbles himself as the child achieves kingdom greatness (Matt. 18:4).
Entering the kingdom of heaven: There may be a parallel between entering the kingdom of heaven and entering the Promised Land. The first generation of (adult) Israelites (20 years and above) who came out of Egypt failed to enter the Promised Land because of unbelief (Num. 14:1-4) but the LORD brought their children into the land (Num. 14:31). These children are described as little ones who have no knowledge of good and evil (Deut. 1:39). When Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they were declaring their independence from God – that they were no longer subject to or accountable to God. The second generation of “little” Israelites was described as having no knowledge of good and evil meaning they were totally dependent on God (in contrast to the rebellion of Adam and Eve) to give the Promised Land to them. Children are humble and have a simple trust in God.
If Jesus had hinted that children can enter the kingdom of heaven in Matt. 18:1-4, He made it clear when He used the phrase “little ones who believe in Me” in Matt. 18:6. The verse shows that children can believe in Jesus! If they can believe in Jesus then we must evangelize them.
- Whoever receives one such child in my name
Jews during the times of Jesus regarded children as inferior to adults (c.f., Mark 10:13). Children were to look to adults as examples to follow and not the other way around. Probably to demonstrate to the disciples that it was acceptable to become like children, Jesus identified Himself with a child and said that to welcome a child is to welcome Him (Matt. 18:5).
- Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin
From Matt. 18:6 onwards, Jesus used the words “little ones” (mikros in Greek) instead of “little child” (paidion). Paidion means a little young child or figuratively, an immature believer while mikros means small in size or quantity or figuratively, less in dignity. 3 It is clear that Jesus had a literal child in view when He used “little child” in Matt. 18:2. Was Jesus still talking about children in Matt. 18:6? If so, why was there a change in terms to little ones? A few commentators are of the view that Matt. 18 relate to new believing adults and not to children. 4
It is likely that Jesus was still referring to children. The change in terms probably reflects a change in topics; previously He used paidion or a little child as an object lesson to answer the disciples’ question, now (Matt. 18:6 onwards) He talked to them about children. He warned His disciples not to despise or look down upon mikros or the little ones (i.e., children). Children may be small in size and they may have less dignity in society but their angels have continual access to God, the Father (Matt. 18:10 c.f., Heb. 1:14).
Jesus warned His disciples about the seriousness of causing a believing child to stumble. "Cause to stumble" or "offend" (skandalidzo in Greek) means to entrap, trip up or entice to sin.
Millstone at CEF International Plaza
as a reminder of Matthew 18:5-6
How does one cause a believing child to stumble? Probably when we reject or ignore him; this would be the opposite of welcoming a child (Matt. 18:5-6).
Why would rejecting or ignoring a believing child cause the child to sin? Because it may cause the child to doubt his faith and to turn away from following Jesus. When we reject or ignore a believing child, we are in danger of judgment – of having a heavy millstone hung around our neck and be drowned in the sea; of eternal fire and of fiery hell (Matt. 18:8-9). As in Matt. 5:29-30, Jesus used hyperboles to urge the disciples to discipline their thoughts and actions that might be stumbling blocks to believing children.
- Parable of the Lost Sheep
This section ends with a parable of a shepherd who left his 99 sheep to go in search of one which has strayed. God is the shepherd in the story and children are the sheep (Matt. 18:14). The story illustrates God’s love for every one of his sheep and that He does not want any of the little ones to perish. Herein is another reason why the disciples should not despise children - each one is precious in the eyes of God. The word "perish" (apollumi in Greek) means to be destroyed or lost. In the immediate context, it is best to interpret "perish" to mean to be led into sin and hence failed to follow Christ. In other words, to scandalize one of these little ones is to cause him to perish and to go against God who desires all people (including children) be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (Matt. 18:14 c.f. 1 Tim. 2:4).
- Do not hinder the children (Mark 10:13-16)
In Mark 10:13-14, the disciples rebuked those who brought the children to Jesus for blessing. We are not told the reason why they did so. But the disciples incurred the displeasure of Jesus. Earlier He had told the disciples that if they wanted to be first (i.e., the greatest) then they must be servant to all including children (Mark 9:33-37). They had not learnt the lesson. The disciples should not have hindered the children but allowed them to approach Jesus because the kingdom of God belongs to such children as a possession.
Jesus went on to explain that the children’s possession of the kingdom has to do with the way they receive it (Mark 10:15). Children do not strive or struggle to earn the kingdom of God but trust Him to give it to them and they receive it with simple faith. Jesus solemnly declared that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child (with simple trust and dependence on God) cannot enter the kingdom of God. Jesus then took the children in His arms and began blessing them (Mark 10:16). The word kateulogei in Greek for “blessing” means that He blessed them fervently again and again.
This attitude of childlike trust and dependence is totally opposite to that of the young rich ruler who asked Jesus what he should do to gain eternal life that is to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:17 c.f., 23). The young rich ruler thought that he could enter the kingdom of God with works – what he should do. He claimed to have kept God’s commandments from his youth (Mark 10:20). His unwillingness to give up all his riches betrayed his dependence on wealth and his lack of trust in Jesus (Mark 10:21-22). The disciples asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus responded that with men it is impossible. That implies no works. Only those with a childlike trust in God to do the impossible can be saved. And it is the nature of children to have childlike faith!
- Believing Children at Ephesus and Colossae
Ephesians is a letter addressed to the saints at Ephesus. Paul described them as having redemption through the blood of Christ and forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:1,7). Therefore, the original recipients of this letter were believers in Christ. Towards the end of the letter, Paul addressed directly different groups of believers in Ephesus on how they could walk in a way worthy of their calling as saints (c.f., Eph. 4:1). Children (teknon in Greek) are commanded to obey (in the Lord) their parents. Teknon refers to a child of either sex. 5 The fact that Paul addressed children means that these children were saints - believers in Christ as this letter was addressed to the saints at Ephesus. If there were children who believed in Christ at Ephesus at that time then children today can also trust in Christ.
The above same reasoning can be applied to the letter of Colossians and the same conclusion reached – that the children addressed must have been believers. Colossians was addressed to saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colossae. Paul described them as people who were delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Christ in whom they have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). In other words, they were believers in Christ. In Col. 3:20, children (teknon in Greek) are addressed and commanded to be obedient to their parents in all things. Therefore, there were believing children at Colossae. The application for us is that since children can be believers, we must share the Gospel with them.
The phrase "in the Lord" in Eph. 6:1 does not imply that children are to obey their parents only in those matters that are consistent with Scriptures because then the children would have to be Bible scholars! Moreover, Paul also taught that children are to obey parents in everything (Col. 3:20). A similar phrase “as to the Lord/Christ” is found in Eph. 5:22 and 6:5 when Paul addressed wives (to submit to their husbands) and slaves (to obey their masters). It is probable that when Paul commanded children to obey their parents in the Lord, he meant that as believers, children are to obey their parents even non-believing parents. This is their duty as believers. Obedience to parents is right (Eph. 6:1) and well-pleasing to the Lord (Col. 3:20).
- Children of Elders
In the letter to Titus, the qualifications for elders are laid out (Tit. 1:6-9) – being above reproach, the husband of one wife and having “tekna pista” (translated as “children who believe” in NASB but as “faithful children” in KJV), not of dissipation or rebellion. Is it biblical to hold a man responsible for the conversion of his children? Salvation is the work of God! It is better to understand “pista” here in a passive sense – that the children are faithful to obey their earthly father as evidenced by their behavior - not accused of riot or of being unruly. This view would make the qualifications of elders in Titus consistent with those in 1 Tim. 3:4 where the elders are required to keep their children under control.
- Childhood and Conversion of Timothy
Timothy was the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer but his father was Greek (Acts 16:1). His mother and grandmother probably instructed him with the (Jewish) Scriptures from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15 c.f., 1:5). In 1 Timothy 1:2, Paul called Timothy his “true child in the faith”. Timothy was probably converted through Paul’s ministry during the latter’s first visit to Lystra (Acts 14:6-7, 16:1-2). The teaching of the Scriptures set the stage to prepare Timothy to receive Christ.
“… The Scriptures do not save, but they are able to make a man wise unto salvation. Children may know the Scriptures, and yet not be children of God” 6
The Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-6) is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16) therefore, we should not be ashamed to share it even with children of Christian families.
2 Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, www.e-sword.net, Version 7.9.8
4 Bob Utley, “Matthew 18,” http://bible.org/seriespage/matthew-18-0 (accessed September 10, 2011).
5 Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, www.e-sword.net, Version 7.9.8
6 C.H. Spurgeon, “Come Ye Children,” (Warrenton, Missouri: Child Evangelism Fellowship Inc.), p. 63.