To say that words hold significant meaning might be an obvious understatement. Just reading the sentence to myself causes me to roll my eyes and ask, “What were you thinking?” But that is precisely the way I want to start answering the questions I posed at the end of June. If it were not for the significance in the definition and meaning of words, I would not have asked those questions. In fact to trace back further down the rabbit trail this entire blog would not exist. After all it is modeled on the idea that the words that we say (or write) matter, and we must choose careful how we use those words. The words in question are childlike and childish. It is important that we exhort one and avoid the other.
In Mark 10:15 Jesus tells his disciples that in order to enter the kingdom of God, one must receive with childlike faith. Childlike faith is a faith that is relentless in its adoration of a perfect and loving Father. It requires that we correctly focus our gaze on God and be undivided in worship of Him. Childlike faith is genuine awe in the goodness and graciousness of God. It is simple in construction, uncomplicated by the lures of this world. In much the same way as a child trusts that their parents are looking out for them and providing for their every need, childlike faith takes the focus off what we can do for ourselves and places it squarely on what God has done for us in sending his Son, and continues to do for us by his own volition. Matthew Henry sums it up best when he says,
“Little children depend upon their parents’ wisdom and care, are carried in their arms, go where they send them, and take what they provide for them; and thus must we receive the kingdom of God, with a humble resignation of ourselves to Jesus Christ, and an easy dependence upon him, both for strength and righteousness, for tuition, provision, and a portion.”
Childlike faith frees us to be joyful children sitting at the foot of the throne of our heavenly Father who gives us every good and perfect gift. Childlike faith frees us to ask questions and learn things anew. That’s the message that Jesus was conveying to his followers, the message that he wanted them to really understand. Childlike faith is what we are to chase.
The word childish is defined in many ways, but the most striking definition, the one I will focus my attention on is “marked by or indicating a lack of maturity”. To be childish is to be self-centered, to think of your own wants and needs, and literally sulk and cry until you get them (or not). Childish believers spend their time stuck sucking down milk and stunting their growth. Borrowing from a sermon by Jeremy Myers, we can learn a little bit more of childishness and its effect on a believer:
“What is childishness? Childishness is childlike behavior gone sour. Childishness is a refusal to grow up. Childishness is when a person of any age acts younger than they are. While it is natural for children to act like children, it is expected that they will grow up and stop acting like children. When they do not, they are being childish. Childishness is when people who should know better throw temper tantrums and pout when they don’t get their way. Childishness is when people are irresponsible and behave as if the world revolves around them. Childishness is when people make petty demands and selfish complaints.”
Paul’s admonition is to move from being a child, to grow up, as is the natural order of things, to move onto solid food, food designed for those that are maturing. Just as growth applies to nature, it applies also to spirituality. And we must live in light of this reality. We must pursue maturity, not just cross our fingers and hope that one day we will be strong enough to move from milk to filet mignon. We must guard against self-centeredness, which entrenches us in childishness and instead strive for gospel-centeredness. In the gospel we get the clearest picture of God and His selfless love for His creation; The sending of His prized possession, His only begotten son. There was nothing childish about Jesus’ unwavering obedience to the Father; there was nothing immature in His willingness to lay down His life for the joy set before Him. But all these actions exuded the characteristics of childlikeness. Jesus fully and completely trusted the Father, and he knew that even though the cross meant pain and suffering, it also ultimately meant joy.
So the difference is not the same, the words may look similar but what they convey is not. Understanding how both words function transforms our relationship with the Lord. It is choosing the difference between death and life. Which one will you be drawn to?