Nobleton Community Church
February 25, 2024
Matthew 18:1-4
Pastor Paul V Lehmann

Listen to the audio here

In the gospel of Matthew there are a few recurring themes: True spirituality; living by faith; and achieving greatness. All of these themes overlap to some extent. Matthew 18 begins with the disciples re-opening these issues again by asking Jesus a question:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

In other words, “What does it mean to be a five-star Christian?” Or another way you might say it is: “What does it mean to be truly spiritual in God’s eyes…to be truly holy?”

In the next three chapters of Matthew, Jesus teaches about the nature of holiness. What does it mean to be holy in God’s eyes? How does one become “the greatest in the kingdom?” This is the topic we’ll be addressing, and I’m going to give away the ending right now — I’ll let you know how this will end. Becoming a five-star Christian — becoming the greatest in God’s kingdom — has almost everything to do with how you treat others.

The Bible says that when Jesus was asked this question, he called a young child forward to stand with them and he said…

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

These verses, three words jump out at us: “Unless you change.” Jesus spoke these words to his disciples — men who had been following him for almost three years; men who had already performed miracles in his name; men who would ultimately turn the world upside down with the message of the gospel.

These were great men, and Jesus said to them, “Unless you change…” These words teach us a primary principle in becoming holy; this may seem rather obvious, but it’s a principle that must be noted.


The Bible teaches that we are born in sin, that we are born sinners, that we are, in our natural state, separated from God. He is good, we are not. We may make the occasional stab at goodness, but without experiencing a life-transformation, we will never become truly holy.

Just like the disciples, when we make the decision to follow Jesus, that’s where the process of change begins, it’s not where it ends. When you make the decision to follow Jesus, he comes into your life, he wipes away the past, he cleanses you of your sins, and he gives you a new life. At that point, you begin a journey into holiness.

I want to make something clear: for each and every one of us, it is a long journey. In fact, it is a lifelong journey. As long as we live, we must be 3 engaged in the process of change. As long as we have breath, there will be things that we need to eliminate from our life and things we need to add to our life in order to become more like him. The question, then, that we must ask ourselves is not “do I need to change anything about myself?” but rather, “what do I need to change about myself in order to live a life more pleasing to God?” And I can guarantee that he has an answer for each one of us. In today’s text, he spells out the first change we must make…

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Become like little children. That’s it. Do you want to be holy? Do you want to be a top-tier Christian — the greatest in God’s kingdom? Then you have to change; you have to become like a little child. What does that mean — to become like a child?

Today we’ll look at three characteristics of child-like faith. I want to quickly point out that he said that we’re to be child-like, not child-ish. It’s not that we don’t grow in the knowledge of his Word, it’s not the we become pouty and petulant and kick and scream when we don’t get our way. He’s not telling us to imitate the worst behavior of some children, he’s telling us to develop the attitude of a child .The first attitude is….

Verse 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 4 Have you ever noticed how our attempts at humility are often laden with pretentiousness? Oftentimes our efforts are focused on doing things that make us appear humble, rather than striving for true humility.

There’s a joke about a pastor who one day was overcome with a sense of humility and entered into the sanctuary and fell on the altar saying, “Oh, Lord, I’m nothing. I’m nothing.”

The associate pastor heard the commotion and followed suit, kneeling beside the pastor, saying, “Oh Lord, I’m nothing, I’m nothing.”

Then the youth director showed up, heard the other pastors praying and he joined in, “Oh Lord, I’m nothing, I’m nothing.”

The associate then tapped the pastor on the shoulder, pointed at the youth leader, rolled his eyes and said, “Get a load of who thinks he’s nothing.” Too often our efforts at humility are merely surface level efforts; we want to look humble more than we want to be humble. We think that humility is defined by the car we drive or the clothes we wear or our physical posture. For example, the Rule of St. Benedict, written hundreds of years ago, says…

“A monk should be not easily moved or quick to laughter…when a monk speaks he should do so gently and without laughter, humbly, gravely and with few and reasonable words…a monk should always show his humility to all who see him…in the monastery, in the garden, when traveling, in the field, or wherever he may be, whether sitting, walking or standing, he should always keep his head bent down, his gaze fixed to the ground.” [Rule of St. Benedict]

The Rule of St. Benedict teaches many other things about humility that are quite valuable, but this is often the only part we pick up on — that humility is about staring at your shoestrings. And, of course, it’s much more than that.

Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child…” How does a child humble himself?

For starters, a child is not pretentious. Children are not likely to put on airs; they’re most often straightforward and honest about who they are, and they accept others the same way.

I mean, have you ever met a class-conscious child? Of course not. Put a kid with rich parents on a playground, and he’ll make friends with the poor kids. A child will also make friends with children of other races; they accept everyone as they are — until they’re taught differently. Children aren’t pretentious. They don’t see themselves as being more than they really are; they don’t see others as being less than they really are.

Charles Swindoll gave a good example of this. He told about some kids who built a playhouse and posted these rules on the door:

  1. No one acts big.
  2. No one acts small.
  3. Everyone acts medium. Do you want to develop the humility of a child? Act medium towards everyone. Treat everyone as your equal. It’s been said that humility doesn’t mean that you think less of yourself, it means that you think of yourself less. Don’t be the most important person 6 in your world; develop the humility of a child — treat others as your equal. Act medium.

Jesus said that to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become like a child. One way we become like a child is through humility. Another way is through…


it’s not until they become teen-agers that people begin to think they know everything. Children remain quite teachable. And have you ever noticed how much little children love to learn? When you ask a child, “Do you want to practice your ABC’s?” they’ll never say, “No, thanks, not today. I’ve got too much on my mind and I just can’t deal with it right now.” Instead, they say, “YEAH!” and they sing that song over and over and over again.

And when you offer to read a book to a little child, they never say, “Do I have to hear that story again? We’ve been through that book a thousand times. Go get the encyclopedia and read that to me.” Instead, little children absorb those books like every time is their first time. They love the process of learning: “That’s a cat, that’s a dog; that’s yellow, that’s blue…” and on and on.

And have you ever tried to complete a household project with a child around? They’re between you and what your work, asking, “What are you doing? Why did you do that? What is this for? Can you show me how to do it?”

Kids aren’t just teachable, they’re enthusiastically teachable. Have you ever met a first grader who didn’t love school?

This is the same attitude we must bring to the Christian life. We must be enthusiastically teachable.

The prerequisite of this is that we must first acknowledge that we don’t know everything. For some, this is very difficult.

In some churches, there are some people who believe that they are more spiritual than anyone else in the church, including the pastor. For them the teaching is never deep enough, the worship is never intense enough, and they just don’t get much out of church. These people are rarely involved in serving others and tend to church hop.

In every church I’ve been in there is another group of people who have a dynamic walk with Christ, who leave each Sunday service exhilarated, and who are accomplishing things for God between Sundays

There is never any overlap between group A and group B, because they represent two completely different mindsets — one group is teachable, one isn’t.

Now folks, I may not be the greatest preacher in the world —— but I do preach the Word of God to the best of my ability, and the fact is: if you’re teachable, then God will speak to you through the sermon. I mean, if God can speak through a donkey in the Old Testament, the parallel is obvious: he can speak through me.

If you don’t get anything out of a sermon, the problem most likely is not the sermon; the problem most likely is your attitude. Are you teachable?

Listen to what Solomon said:

Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers. (Proverbs 16:20)

Do you want to become a top-tier Christian? Become like a little child: recognize that you don’t know everything there is to know, and become enthusiastically teachable. There’s a third principle here to look at. Humility, Teachability, and…


“Unless you change and become like little children…”

You know what I’ve noticed about children? They’re utterly dependent and they know it. You’ll never hear a five year old say, “I’m a self-made child…I picked myself up from my bootstraps and made myself what I am.” They don’t say that; they’re utterly dependent. They say, “I’m hungry. I need help. Will you do this for me? Will you get this for me?” etc.

Just as children are completely dependent on their parents, we need to be completely dependent on God.

Listen to what Paul said in the book of 2 Corinthians. He talks about the hardships he has faced, and then he says…

Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead…On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…(2 Corinthians 1:9-10) 9

The Apostle Paul, had to learn dependence in order to become a great Christian. We have to learn dependence, too. God isn’t looking for a bunch of self-made disciples who can get through life without his help. He’s looking for followers who will depend on him for everything.

Alex Haley, author of Roots, had a picture in his office of a turtle sitting on a fence post. He said the picture was there to remind him of an important lesson: if you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help getting there. Haley said, “Every time I’m tempted to think, ‘Aren’t I marvelous? Look at all I’ve accomplished!’ I look at that picture and remember how this turtle me — got up on that post.”

That’s how much we need to depend on God. Becoming great in God’s kingdom — becoming a holy person — is about as possible as a turtle climbing a fence. We can’t do it on our own; we have to depend on him.

Are you struggling with sin right now? Are you fighting it in your own power? Are you trying to accomplish goodness on your own? It’ll never work.

You have to get to the place where you depend on God. Are you struggling with your emotions right now — feeling things you don’t want to feel, wanting things you shouldn’t want? You’ll never win this battle on your own. You need God’s help.

Just like a child can’t go out and earn the money to pay the mortgage, you cannot manufacture holiness on your own. And just like a child depends on his parents for food and shelter, we must learn to depend on God for strength for daily living.

We must pray, “God, I cannot change the way I feel, and sometimes it seems I cannot control my actions, my temper, or my sinful desires. All I can do is depend on you to change me through your mercy and power.”

Do you want to be a good Christian…a top-tier Christian…the greatest in God’s kingdom? In order to become holy you must change, but you can’t do it on your own.

Stop working at it as if you were working for a job promotion, and do it the way Jesus said: become like a child.

Be humble. Put everyone else on the same level as you; act medium.

Be teachable. Acknowledge that you don’t know all there is to know, and enthusiastically embrace instruction.

And be dependent. It may go against the grain of American rugged individualism, but it’s the only way to grow.

Stop depending on yourself and start depending on God, just as a child depends on his parents for all that he needs. When you become like a child, you will become mighty in the eyes of God.

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)