Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:4 NASB
Humbles – The Kingdom is for children. We are quick to acknowledge that we need the humility and attitude of a child in order to enter into the Kingdom. But too often we fail to read this verse in its context. We act as though the verse stands alone as some universal requirement for humility (tapeinos). We don’t see that this verse is about a much more insidious issue – my evaluation of my own importance.
How important are you? Eighty percent of people believe they are above average. That gives us an indication of our self-delusions. The same mistake occurred among Yeshua’s followers. The context of this object lesson is the disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest among us?” In other words, they wanted to know who would take over after Yeshua died. Who would be the next movement leader? Who would attract the attention? Who would carry on the ministry? Who would do the teaching? Who would perform the miracles? Who would be the most important?
Go back and read verse 1 in this chapter. “At that time,” says Matthew. At what time? At the time following Yeshua’s announcement that He would go to Jerusalem to die. You’ll notice that He also says “and rise again on the third day.” But the disciples pay no attention to this “impossible” claim. They are far more interested in carrying on the ministry after He is gone. And to do that, they need Him to tell them who is important.
Yeshua provides the answer. “Look at this child.” We focus on the word tapeinos (humility) and think that Yeshua is speaking about the importance of lack of pride. We should be focusing on meizon (greater). That’s the issue at hand.
How is a child greater? The answer is not found in the actual behavior of a child but in an adult’s perception of a child. Adults see that a child doesn’t strive to take over. Adults believe that a child should accept his or her place under the authority. Adults think a child should go where he is told to go. Adults expect a child to follow the guidance of her parents. Tapeinos is related to meizon through the perception of expected behavior. A child doesn’t concern himself with his own importance. He doesn’t vie for position. A child does what he is told to do (at least that is the expectation).
Who is important in the Kingdom? The one who, like a child, leaves the question of importance to someone else. Who is important? The one who does what he is asked to do without regard to status. Who is important? The one who defers to another’s leading.
How important are you? Ask those around you if you act like a child.
Topical Index: greatest, meizon, humility, tapeinos, child, Matthew 18:4