The disciples wanted to keep the children away. Luke says they were rebuking the adults who were bringing them to Jesus. That’s what you do when someone sins. You rebuke them. What a contrast then, that Luke says though the disciples rebuked them when they brought children to Jesus, Jesus himself “called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:16). Though the disciples rebuked the crowds, Jesus rebukes the disciples. He wants to reverse their thinking about children and the preaching of the gospel. Notice he gives two commands here. First, he says “let the children come to me.” It’s a positive statement; an exhortation. Do this. Secondly, he says. “do not hinder them.” This is a negative; a prohibition. Don’t do this. If Jesus loves children and welcomes them, then we should as well.
So, practically speaking, what can you do to keep from hindering children? What can you do to welcome them? I think I could probably do a six week’s worth of blog posts fully answering those questions. But here I want to think about living out these commands in three broad categories; three categories that apply to individual family members as well as church fellowship that children may be a part of. These applications touch on both our attitudes and our actions.
1. Set an example for them
A few years ago, Michael Weaver wrote an article called “5 Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Church.” There he gave five practical things you can do to set a bad example and turn your kids away from Christ. The point, obviously, is that we should then do the opposite so that our kids will love church. More importantly, so that they will love Christ. I won’t explain them all, but let me read you the list. How do you make your kids hate church?
- Make sure your faith is only something you live out in public
- Pray only in front of people
- Focus on your morals [not the gospel of grace]
- Give financially as long as it doesn’t impede your needs
- Make church community a priority… as long as there is nothing else you want to do
What do all of those things have in common? Hypocrisy. That’s something that hinders kids from coming to Jesus. So, instead of living a life of spiritual duplicity, set an example. Set a consistent example of faith and godliness. If you’ve got kids at home, never forget that they’re watching you. And there’s no fooling them. They can see hypocrisy from a mile away. So, go hard after God. Show them what it means to be a faith disciple of Jesus. Be humble and repent before your kids when you fail, especially in your relationship with them.
2. Strive to engage their minds and hearts
Strive to engage them with what? The truths of Scripture about who God is, who they are, and how they should respond to Christ. This is the plan that God had for the instruction of children in the Old Testament which you can read about in Deuteronomy 6. But you see the same thing in the New Testament where Paul says that fathers, especially, should not provoke their children to anger but should bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
How do we do this? The simplest way is to just open the Bible and read to your kids. A few months ago, my kids and I read through a verse of 1 Corinthians 13, thinking about the words Paul uses to describe love. We thought about how Jesus displayed those traits. Then we thought about how we needed to change to be like him. After that we repented to one another for the ways we had been unloving, and prayed to ask God to help us be patient, kind, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on our own way, or irritable. It only took about 20 minutes and was a meaningful time for us. For younger kids, we’ve used a good Bible storybook that focuses on Jesus and the gospel, not just moral behaviors. Other times, I just think about what my kids are talking about, or what’s happening in the books they’re reading, and I try to make connections to the Bible’s teaching for them. It’s very informal and happens naturally in the course of conversation, often in the car.
These are just some examples for how we can be striving to engage the hearts and minds of my kids. This is something we should be doing at home as well as church—in classes, hallways, and in community groups with our own kids and the kids of others.
3. Serve as an encouragement to their families
As a parent with four kids, I can’t tell you how encouraging it has been to see someone loving their child through ministries like Sunday School and nursery. Welcoming children into the kingdom is about more than just sharing Christ with kids. Sometimes it’s also about helping parents share Christ. Sometimes it’s about encouraging children and their families by serving them in ministry; by humbling ourselves and working to remove hindrances through servanthood.
Much like obeying Christ’s great commission to make disciples, there’s no special calling needed to welcome children into the kingdom. There’s no special gifting needed to serve parents and families by loving on their kids, setting an example of godliness, and engaging them with sound doctrine through tiny board books and catchy songs.
Picturing the Gospel
Why this emphasis on children? Why spend so much time thinking through how not to hinder, but welcome children into the kingdom? Not only were children inherently important to Jesus, but he tells us here that the basis for thinking clearly and serving joyfully the children around us is rooted in gospel realities. Specifically, children serve as a picture of the gospel.
Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Why? “for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (18:16-17). What is he saying? He’s not saying children are automatically saved or part of the kingdom. Jesus doesn’t say ‘they belong to the kingdom.’ But to such, to those like children, the kingdom belongs to them. In other words, Jesus says that coming to God for salvation is like a child living before their earthly parents. They are needy and trusting. Thus, Jesus wants to be clear that anyone who thinks that they are spiritually self-sufficient will not be entering the kingdom of God. Anyone who comes like an adult—independent and hard-working, a self-made man—that person cannot enter the kingdom.
Instead, Jesus says you have to be like a little child. When you come to God, seeking to enter his kingdom—that is, enter the realm of his salvation—you don’t come with hands full of all your good works. You don’t come with a spiritual resume of your years of service and holy living. No, you come like a children. You come with no clout, no standing, no importance. You come as one fully trusting and dependent on God. You’re looking for grace and mercy, not a reward for all your labors. And we will find those things because of the saving work of Christ through his life, death, and resurrection.