Imagine this. Your family walks into a church and the person in the pew to you looks at a member of your family and says, “Oh. He doesn’t belong here. We have a room in the back his kind can worship in.” You try a new church the next week and you hear a member say, “Oh, we try to avoid all distractions, might be good to send him to activities we have planned for people like him.” Your family stays together but people keep looking at you- sure, your members of your family are a little loud, but that shouldn’t impact their focus during the service. Friends, this sort of interactions are not rare- in fact, they happen every Sunday in churches around our county.
But to what group? Are these issues racial? Are they economic? What sort of people would we relegate to another room, seek to free ourselves from their “distraction”, and treat as a disturbance for their participation? Children. Children.
Many churches relegate children to a sanctified baby-sitting service, rather than the service with God’s people. We wouldn’t take our lost friends to entertainment and expect them to encounter Jesus- why do we expect it for our children? I have heard people look right at me and declare that children, the very people God calls a “blessing”, as we read this morning, are a distraction to our worship. We act uncomfortable when they call out, yet when any of us Amen we consider it the “spiritual” thing to do.
Brothers and sisters, we need to evaluate our view of children.
Over the last several weeks we have been looking at what the Proverbs has to say about the Family. We have looked at Manhood, Womanhood, and Parenting. This week we will look at the youngest in our families- children, and next week we will consider the oldest- grandparents. Interestingly, we see a lot about parenting and about the instruction of children throughout the Proverbs, but very little about the nature of children. At least explicitly.
But, our text for this morning is not irrelevant.
Lets read it again. “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” This verse is one of a plethora of verses about God’s care for the outcast, the poor, and the forgotten. Consider Proverbs 17:5, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker…” Wow! To oppress the poor is to oppress God Himself! To cast aside an outcast is to go against the God who made you. To forget the forgotten is not the way of the Lord.
And friends, there is no one poorer than a child. There is no one further on the outside than a child. There is no one easier to forget than a child. This verse may not be explicitly about children, but children are certainly a group this applies to. Most of the sermon going forward will be application and will be rooted in this text, but also in what the whole Scripture says about children.
So, as we consider this text and apply it directly to children, we have two questions we must ask. First, how do we oppress children? Second, how can we be generous to children?
As we begin we need to say out right, this is not a sermon for just parents. All of you know a child, and if you don’t, all of you have been a child, so you can relate. All of us encounter neighbors, friends, family, church members who are children and thus we all should glean from the wisdom in this text. Even if you have not been able to have children, for one reason or another, this sermon is about how the church, the people of God, can love the children around us and among us.
How do we oppress the children?
First, we oppress children when we see them as less valuable than adults. You know, the attention Proverbs gives to the instruction of children shows us that children are valuable. Because God is their Maker, we must show them love and respect!
As Christians we affirm that all mankind, regardless of economics, or level of development, or race is made in the image of God. This is rooted on the creation account in Genesis. To be made in the “image of God” means that we were created to reflect God in a unique way. From womb to tomb- people are valuable. Children are eternal souls.
Ask yourself: Do you view children, all children, as creations to be treasured or burdens to be bared? I cannot count the number of times I have heard young couples given the advice to not have children because they wouldn’t want to be “burdened with a child” at that season of life. Whether they are ready to have a child or not is not the point, the advice assumes a view of children that is unbiblical.
This is becoming even more important as our cultures view of children is shifting. In 2018 40-50 million babies will be slaughtered through abortion in the United States. Let that sink in for a moment. 40-50 million dead babies A YEAR. If speaking about the slaughter of the defenseless is political or divisive, count me in!
Less staggering, but still relevant, the average child bearing age is moving ever higher, currently at 28 years old on average. Many of these rates can be attributed to a number of factors, including men who remain in adolescence well into their late 20’s. Many couples are choosing to not have children because they value career or freedom over the God-given call to parent the next generation.
Consider how the Psalmist described children in the opening Psalm we read this morning. Psalm 127:3-5,
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
Children are gifts to us, not burdens. They are to be loved, not murdered in cold blood! They are to be treasured and not seen as barriers to what we want. This may be the view of children in the world, but some of that view, I fear, has seeped into the church.
Second, we oppress children by not forming friendships with them. This is especially true when we consider young adults, youth, and teenagers. Why do we not seek some form of friendship with them? If we can have friends with people of a variety of backgrounds, why is age the one barrier that we refuse to break down? Believers- are you friends with others in this church who are young or older than you? Do we see the value in generations crossing boundaries and pursuing real community together?
It is in community that we see obedience to commands such as Psalm 145:4, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” Many believers will speak with disdain about the state of the youth in our community, yet we rarely put our walk with our talk and pursue these young people. For every prayer for the next generation, lets take a step toward getting to know them. Many youth around us are longing and eager to be included.
The good news? You don’t have to know what Instagram or Snapchat are. You don’t have to know the meaning of Lit or Fam or know any of the latest hits songs. Brothers and sisters, in the house of God and in God’s family, our connection runs much deeper! You don’t feel the pressure to be “hip” with others, don’t feel it with them! Youth are looking for friendships and mentors, especially in an age where many are without moms and dads. Will we take the first step of obedience toward multi-generational community?
Third, we oppress children by not including them! Certainly there are places where age-segregated activity can be a good thing- but the Sunday worship of the church is not it! You may recall an interaction between Jesus, the crowds, and his disciples involving children. You can find this in Matthew, Mark, and Luke where parents were bringing their babies to Jesus so that he might bless them. No doubt a noble desire- they wanted their child blessed by the Lord. They obviously were parents who had believed Jesus was who He said He was.
But, what happens? The disciples rebuked them! They likely thought that Jesus had better things to do, or they as disciples had better things to do, than to focus on children. Maybe they thought their cries were too loud and their diapers were too smelly. They might even have said, “But Jesus! They will distract people from hearing your message. Get that child out of here!”
But, Jesus’ response is incredible. Instead of rebuking the parents, the Scripture says He was indignant with the disciples and here was what he said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Jesus would gladly embrace and bless these children. They could do nothing for him. The children couldn’t even thank him, yet He came to them.
Consider what this means for discipleship and for the mission of the church. Did you know that every child you meet is either a current or potential disciple of Jesus? What will you communicate to them, through word and deed, about who Jesus is? How you treat Children is ultimately how you treat the helpless, broken, and downtrodden. Children are core to our mission as a church- discipling all nations must include children.
In fact, I’ll go this far and I want the youth and the children in the room to hear this: We want and need children and youth here. A church without the cries of babies is a dead and dying church. A church without the active involvement of young people is a church standing on its last legs. Who will be here to continue the mission of this church in 10 years? 20 years? How we treat children around us today is the “passing of the baton” for the mission of God.
Do we see how we treat children, not just ours, but even others, as a core piece of the mission of God? Do hinder children by not seeing them as current or potential disciples? The Word of God to all of us this morning: Let the children come! Do we hinder them? Do we oppress them?
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker. If we mistreat the downtrodden, the outcast, the poor we spit in the face of their Maker. If we mistreat children through our view of them, our neglect of them, or our hindrance of them, then we insult their Maker. Solomon continues… “but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”
Instead, we are to be gracious. We are to have mercy on the needy. By doing so, we honor God. We are to be gracious to the needy, the poor, the outcast- to children. How do we do that? Let me offer three ways that involve specifically our community as a church, though it may expand beyond that.
- Acceptance before Expectation.
We must remember that when we bring children into a new situation, they do not have the prior experience we have to know what to do. Our first posture should be gracious. Before we begin to lay expectations, it is necessary that we establish that they are welcome here.
Let me offer you an example.
This is not simply shaking hands with the youth or speaking in a baby voice to the nearest infant. No, when was the last we looked into the face of the children of this church and said, “I am glad you are here. You are welcome here. We need you.” Regardless of what age they might be, regardless of if we know they might be giving their parents grief right now, before we lay expectations we must lay down acceptance. Let’s say we are teaching a child to be quiet during church, or to sing in the service. We want to be careful we don’t give the idea that those things are how they are going to “earn” their acceptance here.
Children are far more like you than you would often like to admit. They have struggles. They have questions. They need a place to belong and grow- will we be that place?
Also, did you know that the Scriptures command you to learn from that child? Jesus teaches that believers must become like children to enter the Kingdom of God. Believers are to be child-like, but not childish. Jesus could have held up any example of what it means to be a faithful follower and what does he pick? A child. We are to be dependent as a child on its parents, we are to be humble as an infant, we are to be hungry for the things of God like a baby for milk. When was the last time you learned from a child? This why we must model acceptance for expectation.
- Participation not Perfection
As we seek to incorporate children in the life of faith, our goal is not perfection. They will talk out loud. They will cry. They drop things on the ground and make a loud “THUD” in the service. That is OKAY! Parents, that is nothing to be embarrassed by. Believer, it is not something to give a look at. The goal of children here is not perfection, it is participation. Participation in the worship of God.
Participation and interest in the things of God is not something to be corrected, but commended. It is something to cultivate, not cave in. Something to foster not set on fire. In participating they will better listen to God’s Word and grow to know it and love it. Plus, we don’t command perfection from anyone here, why should we expect it from them? So, parents, if your child is participating, celebrate it, don’t correct it.
When you see a behavior from your child you are unsure about, this is the hard part isn’t it, take a step back and ask, “Is this participation or disobedience?” The answer to the latter is correction, the answer to the first is celebration and, if needed, adjustment. Further conversation following the service. I promise, a child quietly showing you a picture they drew of Moses and the Israelites is not going to bother anyone and if it does, they are the one in need of correction, not your child.
- Discipleship not Dictatorship
This one sounds similar to the last one, but it asks a long-term question whereas the last principle had to do with short-term behavior. The goal is not to create soldiers who fall in line, the goal is to make disciples. Getting a child to act right at church is one thing, making a disciple of Jesus is completely different. Believer, to the children in this church who are not yours, your responsibility is not to be a parent but to be a disciple-maker. They can only have two parents, but they could have dozens of mentors and disciplers. In fact, right under family, the second most important position of influence in a child’s life are the adults who are not family. You hold that position. All of us are called to make disciples- of all peoples, all nations, even children.
So, where do we go from here?
Clear up calendar space. There are children in this church and all over this community who need godly adults to invest in them. To disciple them. Not to be their parent, cause none of us can do that, but to love them. Yet we fill our calendars with more important things, at least things we deem more important. What would be more important than an eternal soul? Can’t you afford an hour a week for the glory of God and the good of a child?
Look around the neighborhood. You don’t even have to go far! Some of you have children in your home and they are how you apply this sermon, others of us need to just simply step outside and look around! We have families everywhere that we can begin to engage.
I was able to have a discussion with two people about spiritual things yesterday just by being outside and friendly. One was while I was spraying for weeds, the other was at a yard sale right across the street. I was simply there and used the opportunity to introduce myself and ask questions. You never know how some of those conversations could open doors down the road for continued gospel conversation.
Look around this church. Jesus said that the world would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another. This is the love for fellow disciples, for other believers. Are there children, youth, teenagers, you could begin to pursue? Youth- are their adults that you could pursue real community with? In Jesus, regardless of age, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. We need each other. Children teach us how to follow God in humility and dependence, adults have the life experience and knowledge to disciple children.
I would like to close where I began. All of life, from womb to tomb is of infinite value to God. The greatest evidence of this is that Jesus became man, from womb to adulthood, which ended in an empty tomb. From unborn to adulthood- Jesus lived it all. He didn’t have to do it that way, yet he sent us a powerful message through it. The first step of Jesus’ ministry to save us was to be a baby. Without the God-man becoming a baby- you would have no salvation. Augustine wrote on this amazing truth,
“The Maker of man became Man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, the Teacher, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Vine, might be crowned with thorns; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Strength might be weakened; that He who makes well might be wounded; that Life might die.
Today, through the life, death, burial, and victorious resurrection of Jesus, men, women, boys, and girls can have eternal life and peace with God. Your sins can be forgiven, and your relationship put right. But, you must become like a child. You must put yourself in full reliance on Him for your salvation. Humble ourselves and turn to Him in faith. The call this morning is the call of Jesus to the child: Come to me without hindrance. This morning the way is open whether you need to encounter Jesus for the first or return to Him again.