Children should be seen and not heard” is a popular expression that can evidence any one of several different attitudes toward youngsters. Some would repeat this phrase because they believe children are too simple to offer any meaningful contribution to our society. Others say it because they expect children to be mini-adults — to stand still and quietly under any and all circumstances. Some adults believe that kids should be seen and not heard because, for whatever reason, they just cannot stand to be around children.
None of these attitudes is appropriate for the Christian. This truth, however, was not always well-understood among God’s people. In today’s passage, when several people, presumably parents, try to bring their children to Jesus for a blessing, the disciples attempt to turn them away (Matt. 19:13). We do not know why the Twelve forbid the parents from coming forward; they may just feel that the Master has better things to do than to spend His time with these little ones. Even though Jewish culture prized children, the disciples’ attitude is not unusual since young people also had a fairly insignificant role in first-century society. Still, parents commonly sought out respected rabbis to bless their children, and the disciples, knowing the custom, should not have been so quick to cast them aside.
Our Savior’s response indicates that children are anything but outsiders to the kingdom. Once again He uses them as an object lesson, telling His followers the kingdom of heaven belongs to them (v. 14) and that salvation belongs to those who become like children. Of course, Christ is not teaching anything significant about an “age of accountability”; rather, He means that only those who possess childlike qualities like absolute dependence and simple trust can turn from their sin and rest upon Him alone (Matthew 18:1–6; John 15:5; Gal. 2:15–16).
Jesus’ words also demand that Christians treat children well. If Christ will not turn them away, how can we? Unfortunately, if we are not careful, we can steer children away from Jesus either through programs that separate them from corporate worship and the preached Word of God, or by just assuming our children are believers and not taking the time to disciple them.
Dr. R.C. Sproul often notes the difference between childishness and childlikeness. Believers must be childlike in that they trust and believe God without hesitation, just like little kids trust their parents. However, Christians cannot be childish, never having anything more than an elementary knowledge of the faith. Young and old alike must be growing in their knowledge of God, trusting Him like a child while maturing in their doctrinal comprehension.