“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:14-15
“It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom,
so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28
Because of the richness of Scripture’s literary contexts, historical backgrounds, life settings, and genres, you can find verses like the two above that sound like they’re moving in opposite directions. But these two verses highlight an important faith tension, one we should seek to hold in balance, gaining insights from both sides of the equation.
On one side, we have the incident during Jesus’ ministry (Mark 10:14-15) in which adults are bringing children to be blessed by Jesus. The disciples, annoyed at this interruption, spoke harshly to them. Jesus, indignant with the disciples’ self-important response, says, “…do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Jesus goes on to affirm the central importance of childlike humility, dependence, and simple faith, declaring that those who don’t receive the kingdom like a child will not enter it. By his words and deeds, Jesus affirmed the place of children in the kingdom of God and the importance of the child-like qualities of vulnerability and trust.
But Paul’s words in Colossians 1:28 express another angle, applying the analogy of moving from immaturity to maturity in the Christian faith. While Jesus commends some child-like qualities in his teaching, Paul is thinking of the process of growing up spiritually, of how one moves from childish qualities such as inconsistency, ignorance, or a lack of self-control, into more dependable adult behaviors. Paul is not negating the need for a humble and reliant faith but rather is emphasizing that faith is a process of change, transformation, and growth analogous to how we move from physical and emotional immaturity to physical and emotional maturity.
One way of maintaining this biblical tension in the practice of our faith is to say that we are to be child-like in our faith without being childish. Some qualities of children are appropriate for grown-up followers of Jesus while others are not. We need to be open to learning from the simple sincerity of children even as we invite them to learn from the mistakes and experiences we’ve made that have challenged simplistic faith. There are childish ways we are to put away as adults (1 Cor. 12:11) even as we also know that when we welcome a child in Jesus’ name, we are also welcoming Jesus (Mark 9:37). May God grant us the wisdom to know the difference!