By Barrett Vanlandingham
Just like reading any other book, I’ve learned over the years to make sure I read the Bible in context. In other words, find out the story surrounding a verse before jumping to any conclusions. This makes for a better informed Bible student and can help you teach others.
For instance, without context, you could read the words of Paul and the words of Jesus and come away very confused about whether we are to be more mature or more childlike.
In 1 Corinthians 13:11 Paul says, “When I was a child, I talked as a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
But in Matthew 18:3 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
So which verse should we obey? Both! Here is the key. Paul is actually explaining Christian maturity, while Jesus is encouraging purity. There is no contradiction.
Paul is talking about how so many of the things that have been done in the name of religion eventually cease, but that “love never fails”. Paul followed Jesus’ teachings closely in dealing with those who would argue over the things a child might argue over: Who is the greatest? Who baptized you? Who gets the best seat? Who has the best spiritual gift?
Paul compares our spiritual journey with the process of growing out of childhood into adulthood. And in the end, love is the most important thing. He writes about this in Ephesians 5:1 saying, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Now in Matthew 18:3 when Jesus said that we should become like children, again he is not talking about maturity, but rather purity. He condemns those who would destroy the innocence of a child by introducing them to sin.
Jesus ties maturity and purity together in Matthew 10:16 as he explains to the twelve apostles how they should conduct themselves when they go out to teach. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Jesus knows it will take the wisdom and perseverance of a mature adult to maneuver through a culture often hostile to the teachings of Jesus. But the apostles would also need to become innocent like children who blindly trust that their parents will take care of them. May we all learn to put our total trust in God who will find a way for us even when there seems to be no way. Have a blessed week!
Reach Barrett Vanlandingham at the Fort Gibson Church of Christ at (918) 478-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.