In Matthew 18:1-4, Jesus' disciples approached him wanting him to settle a dispute. This dispute took different forms at different times. Sometimes the form was a personal, intense confrontation as they argued among themselves. Sometimes it was a general discussion in the form of an interesting conversation. They wanted Jesus to answer the question. The question: "Who is the greatest person in the kingdom?"

Jesus' answer was simple, direct, and likely misunderstood. "Unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself as a child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

In Matthew 19:13,14, people, likely parents, were bringing children to Jesus wanting him to bless them by laying his hands on them and praying for them. The disciples scolded and condemned them for bothering Jesus in this manner. Perhaps they thought that Jesus' time should be used in healing the sick rather than in blessing and praying for children.

Jesus said to his disciples, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

In these two situations Jesus clearly acknowledged the value and importance of children. Children are valuable. Valuable enough to be an example to us adults. As an example, unless children have been prejudiced by adults, they will accept and play with other children regardless of racial differences, economic differences, or cultural differences. Children in their innocence accept other children as children just like themselves.

  1. Tonight we honor and encourage the parents of the youngest children in our congregation.
    1. We earnestly pray for God's guidance and wisdom to rest on you.
      1. Having small children provides you one of life's unique opportunities--there is no other experience in the entire human experience even similar to the experience of being the parent of a small child.
      2. In this unique experience:
        1. There is the awe of bringing a new life into existence.
        2. There is an awareness of a new form of responsibility--nothing is as dependent on you as your newborn child.
        3. There is the joy of witnessing this new person grow physically, mentally, and emotionally--you can see this person develop as you watch the growth occur on a daily and weekly basis.
        4. You dream dreams and you have hopes that center in this new person.
        5. Nothing will affect and impact your life as long as you live as does the maturing of this person and your relationship with this person.
    2. From the moment that you knew for certain that this new person would become a part of your family, you began planning and preparation.
      1. During pregnancy, you carefully selected the doctor you saw, the food you ate, the medications you took, and precautions you took to protect your baby before birth.
      2. As birth neared, you prepared your home to receive a small, helpless human.
      3. After birth you concerned yourself with everything from diapers to food, from car seats to beds.
      4. When your child began to crawl, you learned to baby-proof your house.
      5. From the moment your child took his or her first steps, you learned to put safety first everywhere you looked, everywhere you went.
      6. With each new stage of life, from birth to twenty-one, you will always address new concerns, always seek the best way to meet new needs.

  2. In the whole process of parenting, as your child grows from infant to adult, what are the most important gifts that you can give your child?
    (That is a hard question to answer, but let me acknowledge some common answers. These are in no sequence, no order of priority.)
    1. Common answer # 1: give your child a childhood that will allow your son or daughter to build a sense of self-esteem.
      1. Provide him or her the experiences that will develop a healthy view of self.
      2. Involve him or her in activities that will encourage self-esteem.
    2. Common answer # 2: provide an education that will equip him or her for a quality adult life.
      1. That may involve the place of education.
      2. That may involve the type of education.
      3. That may involve the circumstances of education.
      4. That may involve the college he or she attends.
      5. That may involve how much education that you make possible.
      6. That may involve the field of advanced studies that you encourage him or her to consider.
    3. Common answer # 3: create cultural and social preparedness.
      1. Help him or her learn how to function in our society.
      2. Help him or her learn how to interact with and relate to other people.
      3. Help him or her develop an understanding of what is and what is not appropriate.
      4. Help him or her develop the basic understandings that produce good judgment.
      5. Help him or her learn how to be responsible and how to work.
    4. Common answer # 4: create an inheritance.
      1. It is expensive to live an adult life.
      2. It is expensive to get married.
      3. It is expensive to have a car.
      4. It is expensive to buy a home.
      5. It is expensive to furnish a house.
      6. It is expensive to live the middle class lifestyle of today.
      7. It is much more expensive to live a prosperous lifestyle.
      8. It seems that all of us parents want our sons and daughters to avoid the struggles we experienced and to have a better physical life than we had.
      9. So we seek to give them a better house than we had as a child, more things than we had as a child, and an infinitely more prosperous lifestyle than we knew as children.
    5. With many parents, these would be among the greatest gifts that they planned to provide their children.

  3. While I agree that these gifts can have value and merit, I want you to consider gifts of greater value that only you can provide your child.
    1. Gift # 1: give your child a stable home environment that has and practices love.
      1. No other situation can teach your child the true nature of loving relationship as can your home.
      2. No other place can teach your child what it means to love as can your home.
      3. Your child's primary definitions for love and relationship will be created by what happens in your home.
      4. The way your son or daughter as an adult will love and act in relationship will be more powerfully influenced by what he or she sees in your home than any other single factor.
    2. Gift # 2: teach your child how to resolve disagreements in a relationship with respect and consideration.
      1. No healthy relationship exists without experiencing disagreements.
        1. Regardless of how much two people love each other, they will disagree because they are two individuals.
        2. Some disagreements are insignificant, and some are significant.
        3. Primarily, there are two unhealthy ways to handle disagreements.
          1. The first is disrespectful arguments that are meant to hurt and cause pain.
          2. The second is denial--the pretense that there is no disagreement, no problem.
      2. Your children must see you resolving disagreements and problems with respect and consideration; if they don't, they may never learn how to do that.
    3. Gift # 3: teach your child how a Christian man treats a woman, and how a Christian woman treats a man.
      1. Many major problems in our society are rooted in the fact that men do not now how to treat women appropriately, and women do not know how to treat men appropriately.
      2. A child learns how men and women treat each other by watching Mom and Dad.
        1. That is the most influential, important information about the interaction between men and women that your child will ever learn.
        2. Nothing will influence the formation of his or her adult perspectives as much as what he or she witnesses in your interactions.
      3. A child who enters adult life not knowing how men and women can interact in a considerate, respectful, kind, appreciative manner will be at a serious disadvantage in every relationship he or she has in adult life.
    4. Gift # 4: let your child witness the things that are essential in building and preserving relationships.
      1. Help your son understand that kindness and gentleness are manly qualities.
      2. Help your daughter understand that unselfishness and devotion are valuable strengths, not weakness.
      3. Help him and her understand that godly hearts, Christ-like attitudes, and the fruit of the Spirit lead you to the best, most fulfilled you that an adult can become.
    5. Gift # 5: teach your child moral principles and ethical values in ways that he or she understands and comprehends.
      1. It is never sufficient to teach your child a set of do and don'ts.
      2. Teach your Christian morals and ethics.
      3. Explain to your child Christian morals and ethics.
      4. Help your child understand Christian morals and ethics.
      5. And absolutely illustrate Christian morals and ethics in the way you talk, in the way you treat other people, in the way you live your everyday life, and in the way that you respond to both the good and the evil that occur in life.
    6. Gift # 6: use your life every day to teach your child the importance of living for the eternal.
      1. Help him or her understand that money, career, success, prestige, or pleasure do not measure life or provide life its definition or meaning.
      2. Help him or her see in your life what it means for Jesus Christ to define and direct your life.
      3. Let him or her see this is real and good; let it build memories that they can never forget.
      4. You do not want your child to say as an adult, "The biggest hurdle I had to overcome in becoming a Christian was Mom and Dad."
      5. You do want your child to say as an adult, "The greatest blessing I had in being a Christian was my Mom and Dad."
      6. You cannot accomplish that just by coming to church; it must be your life, not just your religion.

Your children will never have another set of role models that influence their lives as powerfully as do you. In fact, you will be the most significant role models that they will ever have. Nothing will influence their marriage as much as does your marriage. Nothing will influence the kind of parents they become as much as the kind of parents that you become.

May God give you wisdom, courage, and strength. May you accept it.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 7 June 1998

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