Are Christians to Act Like Children? (Matthew 18:2-3)

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Take a look at the following verses.

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:2-3)

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Jesus teaches that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven one must change and become like a little child. Paul says that we should put childish ways behind us. What are the meanings of these verses and do they contradict one another? Let us take a look.

Jesus’ teaching

To help us understand what Jesus was talking about, we to think about a small child, an infant or a toddler. These children trust their parents with their lives and are completely dependent on them. This trust and dependence are such an integral part of the child’s mind that he or she does not have to worry about anything else in the world.

This is the meaning of what Jesus was teaching. People are supposed to be so dependent on God that they will trust in him for absolutely anything. We should go to God for all our needs.

Paul’s teaching

But what about what Paul was teaching? Notice what Paul was saying. That we should not talk, think, and reason like a child. These are completely different from being dependent on God. Every person, even a small child, is tainted by sin. We are all sinners and can only be saved by God’s grace. And now apply this to the way children can act.

Children, by nature, are sinners. Children do bad things all the time – just think back to when you were a child, or think about how awful your children can act at times (anybody who says they were a perfect child are either naïve or are lying). I like the way writer Frost Smith puts it:

“So children are sinners, but babies and toddlers often have a sort of honesty about them – they’ve not yet become skilled in deceiving others about how they feel or what they want. Childish actions reveal the sinful nature we inherit through Adam. Acting like a child, then, is not desirable, yet being like a child (in the sense of trusting) is.”[1]

Reasoning like a child is also a bad thing. This doesn’t just apply to things such as technology, science, math, etc., but also to the wisdom needed to deal with a sin-cursed world. 1 Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”

Notice what Paul just said: think like adults, but be like infants in regard to evil. This actually sums up the meaning of our two passages mentioned above. We are to be dependent on God, trusting in him for everything, like infants do with their parents. But we are to not be like children in our thinking and reasoning.

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[1] Frost Smith. “Act Like a Child.” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions Volume 2. Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge, & Tim Chaffey eds. Green Forest: Master Books, 2011. Pg. 99.

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