Welcome to the final part of What the Bible says about children. In part 1 of this series, we talked about Your Children are a Gift from God, Now What? and part 2 covered How to Discipline Your Children without Crushing Their Spirit. This post focuses on children’s place in the kingdom of God. Specifically, we are talking about why God cares about children and why that matters to you.
If we truly let the weight of Scripture penetrate our hearts, the way we treat children and welcome them in Jesus’ name would change dramatically. Now is the time to develop a better theology of childhood so that we care for children in the way God intended. Here are just a few thoughts on what I see in Scripture when it comes to children.
Now is the time to develop a better theology of childhood so that we care for children in the way God intended.
God made children in His image and the way children reflect God’s image adds to our understanding of God’s character.
I have written about this idea before here, but seeing children in this way has so profoundly changed how I see children that I will keep repeating myself. All people are created in God’s image and reflect His image. But just as men portray God’s masculine traits more completely and women portray God’s feminine traits more completely, children portray God’s childlike traits more completely. God is so much bigger than us that we need to understand humanity in all its forms to get the best picture of who God really is.
And yes—God does have childlike traits…isn’t the work of creation a playful work? God is inventive and imaginative and children live this out in their play in ways adults find hard to emulate.
What about God’s ability to be present in the moment? Our infinite God is somehow able to be present with us and for us in each moment. Children are a bit like that. They live in the here and now and enjoy the moment without worrying about what the next day may hold.
Or what about the way children show grace? I have been on the receiving end of my children’s forgiveness so.many.times. They forgive me so much better than I forgive them sometimes. Maybe this is insight into God’s great mercy.
God created childhood and even came to earth as a child.
Have you really ever stopped to wonder about what it says about the value God places on childhood that He sent his own son to earth as a baby? Jesus started out his life fully dependent on earthly parents for His very life. They cared for Him and provided for His needs just like any other baby. (Can you even imagine being responsible for keeping the Savior of the World alive through the toddler years?)
Have you really ever stopped to wonder about what it says about the value God places on childhood that He sent his own son to earth as a baby?
Jesus went through the stages of cognitive development just like any other child. He had to figure out things that babies figure out: That every time Mary left the room she hadn’t disappeared forever. He had to learn how to walk, how to talk, how to read.
Sometimes I wonder, Was it hard to be Jesus’ sister or brother? Did he always do the right thing? Just how good was he? Were Mary and Joseph always saying things like, “why can’t you be more like Jesus?”
But then I take a look at the story where Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for three days before finding him in the temple. In the story they are frustrated and confused—even though they had a perfect child. And I connect with how frustrating it is as a parent when your kids are not on your agenda—even when they aren’t doing something sinful. So then I think, I bet it was hard to raise Jesus and that He probably “got in trouble” for things like staring at a flower in wonder when he was supposed to be helping Joseph saw some boards.
There must have been something inherently necessary about Jesus experiencing childhood or God would have just skipped it.
So what is necessary about childhood? What is it about how we see life as a child that shapes who we are, how we see the world? When we see childhood as necessary and valuable rather than just something to be passed through and left behind, it changes how we treat children and how we provide for their learning during childhood.
God does not see children’s spirituality as inferior to adult spirituality.
According to Jesus, children have a lot to teach us…
Mark 10:13-15 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Matthew 18:1-5 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 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. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Children are deeply respected in the kingdom of God and just as we as adults are models to them, they are models to us. Children teach us how to receive God’s love freely, how to trust in God’s goodness, and how to believe in God’s power. Children are ok with the mysteries of God and they approach Him with wonder and playfulness and joy.
Our children long to please us as their parents (even when their actions don’t exactly show it). That longing is the same longing God longs to bring about in our lives in our relationship with Him. Think about the way your child beams when you praise them well or about the way they receive your affection.
God does not desire that we hold on to the immaturity of childhood as we grow up, but he does desire that we approach him as children do.
We are all God’s children and even as we grow into spiritual maturity, there is a sense of child-likeness in approaching God as our father. There is a point where faith requires faith. God will never make perfect reasonable sense to us. He doesn’t really even want us to figure him out–what he wants is for us to love Him and come near to Him so He can love us. We are to crave Him with a purity of mind and intention.
1 Peter 2:1-2 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation
Children are often left out of spiritual discussions or their insights are treated as cute and entertaining. I wonder if some of the cynicism and disbelief that has been growing among Christians is a result of separating children too much from the life of the church. How would adults benefit from spending more time with children?
Spending time with a child who loves Jesus will ignite your faith in ways no Bible study or class ever will.
Spending time with a child who loves Jesus will ignite your faith in ways no Bible study or class ever will. They just receive Him differently than we do as adults and we have a lot to learn from their example.
God has different goals for our children than what culture teaches us to provide for our children.
Childhood is a season, a stage of life. None of us stays a child. The years start coming and they don’t stop coming (I know..how did a smashmouth reference get into this article!). So even though, childhood is valuable and should be treasured and nurtured. The point of all that nurturing is maturity.
1 Corinthians 3:1-2 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
Hebrews 5:13-14 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature,who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Ephesians 4:13-14 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves,and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
In Scripture, there is this sense that as we mature we are to let go of childish ways without letting go of our wonder. Even in our adult maturity, we still only see part of who God is. We cannot fully know Him and our worship grows out of our understanding that we are NOT God.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 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. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.
The primary goal in raising children is to raise them to be more like Christ
As parents we want a lot of good things for our children. We hope for their future success, happy relationships, and that they would be healthy, wealthy and wise among other things. But we need to keep their holiness at the forefront of our priorities as we raise them. Because some day they won’t be children any more and hopefully they won’t remain spiritual children either.
1 Peter 1:16 For it is written, Be holy because I am Holy
Holiness is God’s central attribute and only through a reverent understanding of His holiness do we understand His other attributes like love, mercy, justice, etc.
Holiness is very counter-cultural and forcing our holiness on others (including our children) doesn’t work super well. However holiness in light of the life of Jesus is very attractive, compelling and purposeful. Our lives need to be HOLY examples and that doesn’t just mean good behavior–that includes how we treat others and show love to our neighbor.
Our holiness does not come about through our own efforts and we can’t just make our children live holy lives.
Holiness begins with the work of the Holy Spirit and is primarily an inside-out process. But there are certainly things we can teach our children that can keep them from experiencing and valuing holiness. That’s why what we teach and how we teach our children is so very, very important!
God gives specific directions for including children in worship and remembering what God has done for His people.
You know those super wordy portions of the Old Testament that cover the law in explicit detail. Well the next time you think you are sitting through a long sermon, imagine being one of the Israelites listening to all that law being read to them. And picture the children, there with their parents listening to God’s instructions for His people. Cause that’s what happened. The WHOLE community gathered to hear the reading of the law.
And let’s talk about Passover. God commanded the Israelites to REMEMBER each year what God had done when he brought them out of slavery. And he did it in such a way that the whole family was included.
Not only were children included in times of corporate worship, but the community was commanded to pass on the commandments of God by talking about them with their children ALL THE TIME.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.
He even designed concrete reminders to pique the curiosity of the children.
Joshua 3:6-7 In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
Let’s also remember that children were present when Jesus performed miracles, healed the sick, taught through parables and preached day long sermons. They ate the bread and fish when Jesus fed the 5000, they sat on Jesus’ knee when the disciples wanted to send them away, they laid out the palm branches when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
If we want our children to mature in their faith, we must teach them to remember what God has done and show them what God is STILL DOING in our worshiping communities. They need to be a part of something where they see God at work and where they witness His power.
God values the protection of children, especially those who are most vulnerable.
This has become quite the mega-post, but I want to make one more point before shutting up about what the Bible says about children.
Children in need are our responsibility
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Psalm 68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
Deuteronomy 10:18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.
Psalm 10:14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.
Deuteronomy 14:29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Christian families not only need to raise Godly children, but we need to seriously pray about how we can help children in need. This will look different for every family, but we cannot ignore this part of our calling. Not everyone experiences Christ in a loving family environment. They should not also be excluded from experiencing Christ as part of the family of God.
Maybe this becomes about helping the single mom, or taking in foster children or maybe it becomes about helping a family who needs help getting out of poverty. Maybe it becomes about welcoming the neighbor boy who’s parents hardly notice him into your home or supporting the teenager you know who is estranged from her own family.
Maybe you take up the cause of child slavery and sex trafficking in our world or fight for the rights of children who otherwise have no voice. Maybe you support a child who would otherwise not have access to education or food and make a difference in a family you may never even meet. Maybe it becomes about lessening the stigma attached to placing a child into adoption and supporting the unwed mother so we can reduce the number of abortions that take place in our country.
Maybe you take steps to heal a marriage that is broken so that one less child needs to experience a broken home.
We cannot allow ourselves to become so family-centric that we ignore the needs of those who really need to experience Jesus through us outside of our home. Children deserve our protection and our care.
We live in a broken world and children are more vulnerable to exploitation and evil that adults. Statistically, people are most open to the gospel during childhood. What will you do to make the gospel real in a child’s life? How will you involve your children in reaching out to other families who need the hope you have to offer?
Whew! That last point should lead us all to prayer. God has a heart for children and we need to take seriously the message of the Bible concerning children by remembering:
- God made children in His image and the way children reflect God’s image adds to our understanding of God’s character.
- God created childhood and even came to earth as a child.
- God does not see children’s spirituality as inferior to adult spirituality.
- God does not desire that we hold on to the immaturity of childhood as we grow up, but he does desire that we approach him as children do.
- God has different goals for our children than what culture teaches us to provide for our children.
- God gives specific directions for including children in worship and remembering what God has done for His people.
- God values the protection of children, especially those who are most vulnerable.
What the Bible says about children should shape how we treat the children in our lives. The reason I wrote this series about children and the Bible was to force myself to dig a little deeper into my view of children. If you haven’t checked out part one and two in this series, you can read them here:
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