Childlike, Not Childish
Hayden asks, “Matthew 18:2–4 talks about having a childlike faith. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul says, “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Pastor John, can you explain the differences and the similarities between childlike faith and becoming a spiritually mature man?”
In summary, the way I would put it is this: Trust like a child, think like a man. First Corinthians 14:20 says, “Do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in your evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
So clearly, we are not supposed to be like children in our thinking: “Think over what I say [Timothy], for the Lord will give you understanding” (2 Timothy 2:7). Or consider 1 Corinthians 13:11, which the questioner referred to: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” And so, no, a mature man shouldn’t think like a one-year-old. One-year-olds can’t think, they can’t reason out what they need to. And the Bible says in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
In other words, as you grow older, you learn how to make right judgments. That is what we want for our kids. We don’t want them to use their minds at age fifteen like they did at age five. We want them to have the capacity to make judgments: “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Why? Because the Bible says, “You shall love the Lord your God . . . with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Grow Up to Grow Down
In fact, here is a really strange and provocative word from Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:1–2: “‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” Now my interpretation of that is this: right knowing is in the service of loving. And if your knowing doesn’t produce loving, you don’t know right yet. And now I would say the same thing about faith. Right knowing or right thinking — the right use of your mature mind — is for the sake of childlike faith.
We should grow up in our thinking, so that we can grow down in our humility, so that we can have faith like a child. So, the text that was referred to is, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and 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” (Matthew 18:3–4). The point there is humility.
What kind of humility? Well, picture a little child in a stroller standing in a line at a bank with his mom, and all these people are around him fretting about their finances. And he is asleep in this totally public, anxious, financially driven setting. Why? Because he knows momma is right there. I don’t worry about where my next meal is coming from. I don’t worry about my finances, whether I am going to be able to pay for college. My momma is right behind the stroller. That is what I know. If I didn’t believe that, I would panic. But that is what faith is.
So childlike faith is a humble faith that sits in a stroller, believes God is standing behind us, and doesn’t get anxious about all kinds of things. And the reason God gave us brains — mature, adult, sophisticated, hard thinking, studying brains, is to understand the Bible and the work of God well enough to become that kind of child.