Building Spiritual Champions (Matthew 18:1-14)



  • If you could write the epitaph on your tombstone, what would you say?

Some funny examples

  • I’m finally thin… maybe a little too thin.
  • My mother inlaws chicken really IS “to die for”
  • My new healthcare deductible was too high, so I flatlined.
  • Died, from not fwd that email message to 20 people
  • At last, a hole in one (for golf lovers)
  • Herein lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go (cemetery in Thurmont, MD)
  • The best is yet to come
  • But what if your eulogy could have a substantial legacy?[1]
    • One man’s negative legacy: Max Jukes
      • alcoholism plagued adult life
      • failed to hold steady job
      • failed to care and provide for wife and children
      • Descendants: 310 died as paupers, 150 were criminals (including 7 murderers), 100+ drunkards, 100+ were female prostitutes
    • One man’s positive legacy: Jonathan Edwards
      • Graduated valedictorian of Yale at age 16
      • would pray and fast as a child, built a booth in a swamp designed to be a place of prayer
      • Husband to Sarah with 11 children, 3 sons and 8 daughters.
      • Rose awake at 4:30am each day to read & write, studied about 13 hours a day.
      • Spent 1 hour each day with children; if he was traveling he made up the hour upon return.
      • Descendants: 14 college presidents, 65 college professors, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 pastors, 60 prominent authors, 3 US Senators, 80 public servants including governors and international ambassadors, and 1 VP of US.
      • Legacy traces back to Jan 12, 1723 wrote “I made a solemn dedication of myself to God and wrote it down; giving up myself and all that I had to God; to be for the future, in no respect, my own; to act as one that had no right to himself, in any respect…”

Today’s message will help us understand what it takes to have a great legacy.spiritual champions day 2015

EXAMINE                       Matthew 18:1-9

The local church is more than an event; it is a family with a purpose. The purpose of the church is to glorify God by making disciples to each new generation.[2] The church is more than just a collection of separate or segregated generations, but a partnership of generations working together in their time to fulfill God’s purposes.[3]

The Gospels reveal Jesus’ perspective of relationships between generations of adults and children. Given the cultural setting of the New Testament, where children were generally marginalized, children are surprisingly and frequently present around Jesus’ life and in His ministry.[4] Further, children were not only present in Jesus’ life they held a prominent place. While the Jewish community valued children, it was more for their future development rather than their present identity. “Jesus’ openness to children was for their own sake, not principally for their potential.”[5]

  • Jesus spoke about the social value of children playing, showing he took time to notice and learn from their activities (Matthew 11:16).
  • Jesus showed compassion for children by healing them (Matthew 9:25), blessing them (Matthew 19:14-15), and including children in his teaching (Matthew 7:11; 15:26; 18:2-4).
  • Jesus signaled alarms against those who would cause children to stumble (Matthew 18:6).
  • Ultimately, Jesus shared the value of children by coming as an infant, not a mature adult, into a family unit of a father and mother; and then lived each phase of childhood into adulthood.[6] Therefore, Jesus’ incarnation and subsequent life was a profound affirmation of life across the generations.[7] (cf. Matthew 1:18-25).

2 principles for the church

#1 The local church must become child-like (Matthew 18:1-4).

While the twelve disciples debated whom was the greatest, Jesus took the opportunity to teach an important lesson on the kingdom of God and the significance of child-likeness.

“At that time” refers to the context of Jesus’ previous teaching of his upcoming death and resurrection. Yet, immediately following the disciples are arguing over who is the greatest in God’s kingdom. They obviously do not understand or grasp the urgency of Jesus’ mission.

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said…” The Gospel of Mark describes Jesus taking the child in His arms and placing him in the midst of the group.[8] The point of Jesus utilizing the presence of a child was to teach the disciples about the kingdom of God.

Individuals must “turn and become like children” to enter the kingdom. Having the child present was the complete contrast of the disciples’ debate over self-greatness. Becoming childlike is compared to turning, changing, or converting. This comparison is important because Jesus is pointing to the radical nature of the change required to enter God’s kingdom (cf. John 3:3). Greatness in God’s kingdom is not about power or position but the paradox of becoming humble. Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom often reverse the world’s values; where the last and unworthy enter first.[9] Adults changing to become like a child is the radical conversion necessary to enter God’s kingdom.

  • “turn” is a change of direction.
  • Double negative is used to emphasize the need for turning or the results will not be in your favor: “no not ever enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus exhorts us to become child-like:

  • Humble: Child-like Christians acknowledge their need for their Heavenly Father. The Bible describes this acknowledgement of need as repentance, and as a sign of maturity.
    • 1Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
    • 1Corinthians 14:20 “do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil but in your thinking be mature.”
    • à Repentance of sin for salvation ß
  • Hungry: Child-like Christians love to spend time with their Heavenly Father. They communicate constantly (pray & read Scripture) and make bold requests of their Father (Matt 7:11; John 16:23-24).
    • 1Peter 2:2 “like newborn infants long for pure spiritual milk, that you may grow up in salvation”
    • à Commitment to Christ for spiritual growth & service ß

#2The local church must build up children of God (Matthew 18:5-9).

A second principle for believers is not just to become child-like but to build up other children of God. The local church is a family with a purpose, and that purpose is healthy spiritual reproduction – making disciples.

Jesus instructs about welcoming children (δέχομαι = welcome, show hospitality) in his name and watching guard over those who may cause their downfall. The consequences of not obeying this instruction is eternal – it would be better to a heavy anchor cast into the sea. In other words, true discipleship is humble to not only care about oneself, but to nurture and protect others. Receiving a child, and others, is comparable to receiving Jesus. Likewise, rejecting others or causing them to sin deserved condemnation. Jesus takes the passing on of faith, and illustratively, intergenerational ministry very serious in light of eternity. According to Jesus, “what happens to a child and to a child’s faith, is a matter of great consequence to those who are in the kingdom of God… in God’s sight their worth cannot be exaggerated.”[10]


 – Conviction

George Barna writes, “Our national surveys have shown that while more than 4 out of 5 parents (85%) believe they have the primary responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of their children, more than two out of three of them abdicate that responsibility to their church. Their virtual abandonment of leading their children spiritually is evident in how infrequently they engage in faith-oriented activities with their young ones…-1 out of every 20 [families]- have any type of worship experience together with their kids…” [11]

– Character

– Competency



  • be
  • build

In the Muir woods, just north of San Francisco, lies an incredible forest of breath-taking sequoia trees. These trees, reaching almost 250 feet into the sky, are considered to be the largest living things on earth. Many of them have been alive for over 1,500 years, enduring nature’s fiercest winds and storms. What is the secret to their permanence? Contrary to what you might think, it is not a deep root system. These trees’ roots only descend four feet into the earth, extremely shallow for such immense trees. The reason for the sequoias’ sustained growth is their support system beneath the earth’s surface. Sequoia trees only grow in rows or groves. You will never find them growing alone. The roots of these trees interlock with each other, and this is the secret to their survival through the centuries. What a lesson for the body of Christ! Just as no sequoia grows alone, no believer grows alone.[12]


[2] Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:39; Ephesians 3:21.

[3] David Kinnaman, You Lost Me. Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… And Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 203.

[4] Scottie May, Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community (2005), 39.

[5] Strange, W.A. Strange, Children in the Early Church, 50.

[6] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining Children On The Spiritual Journey: Nurturing A Life Of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: BridgePoint Book, 1998), 34.

[7] May, 38. Also see W.A. Strange, Children in the Early Church, 41-46.

[8] Mark 9:36.

[9] Matthew 20:16; 21:31.

[10] Strange, 57-58.

[11] George Barna, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 77-78.

[12] Robby Gallaty. Growing Up

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