Lincoln Park UBF

Lincoln Park UBF is a non-denominational Christian church ministry comprised of college students and young adults from the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. We are a local chapter of University Bible Fellowship (UBF), which is an international ministry at college campuses throughout the world. 

We welcome students and young adults from all faiths and backgrounds to come and learn with us what Christian spirituality is and what it means to follow Jesus.


John 15:1–17

Key Verse: 15:4a



“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.”

          We’ve been going through a special series entitled, “A Real Relationship With God.” Through Isaiah 1 we learned how to have such a real relationship—though we’re sinners, God initiates a real relationship with us, if only we’re willing to repent and turn to him. Through Romans 8 we learned the nature of a real relationship with God—it’s a relationship through the Holy Spirit, a relationship that draws us out of the realm of the flesh and into the realm of the Spirit: a real, personal, intimate love relationship with God our Father.

Today we want to think about another aspect of having a real relationship with God. It’s commitment. Today people are afraid of commitment. What is a commitment? The Urban Dictionary defines it with a poem: “Commitment is what/Transforms the promise into reality./It is the words that speak/Boldly of your intentions./And the actions which speak/Louder than the words./It is making the time/When there is none./Coming through time/After time after time,/Year after year after year./Commitment is the stuff/Character is made of/The power to change/The face of things./It is the daily triumph/Of integrity over skepticism.”

In having a real relationship with God, God is already fully committed to us, but we have to respond by being really committed to him. How can we be committed to God? What does it mean? And what happens when are? A great passage in the Bible about this is John 15, where Jesus repeatedly tells his followers to “remain” in him. In this passage, we want to learn more about who Jesus is, about who we are, and about how we can really remain in him and be truly committed to him. May God speak to us through his living words.

First of all, we want to see what today’s passage tells us about Jesus. In verses 1 and 5 Jesus says that he is the “true vine” or “the vine.” What does he mean? It’s not by nature or ideas or people; Jesus is the only way we can be connected in a real relationship with God. Jesus is the true vine because he’s the source of life (1:4); in fact, he is “the life” (11:25; 14:6). Jesus became the true vine, the source of spiritual life with God, through his death and resurrection. Through Jesus, any person, no matter who we are, can be reconnected with God and come alive spiritually. On the other hand, without being connected to Jesus, the true vine, no matter who we are, we’re spiritually dead (Eph2:1–5). In any Christian fellowship, there are always people who don’t have this real connection. Jesus says that the Father, who is the gardener, will eventually cut off all such dead branches (2,6). But through being united with Jesus, we have a living, breathing relationship with the living God.

In verse 3 we see that Jesus’ words make us “clean”—it’s through his words that we have a real connection with Jesus, and through him, with God the Father. In verse 4 we also see that Jesus remains in us. Though we’re weak and sinful and fail so often, Jesus remains in us with his unconditional love to help us take a deeper root and grow. And in verses 4 and 5 we see that Jesus is the one who makes us fruitful. Without remaining in Jesus we can’t bear fruit, and in fact, we can’t do anything. But as we remain in Jesus, we’ll bear much fruit, and our lives will glorify God (8).

In verse 9 Jesus shows us what God’s love is. God the Father loves Jesus the Son. In fact, he loved him before the creation of the world (17:23,24). Jesus says in verse 9 that it’s with this love of the Father that he has loved his followers. Beginning with the first disciples, we all taste the love of the Father through Jesus the Son. And we see how Jesus would ultimately love. In verse 13 he says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus laid down his own life for us. He sacrificed himself for us, for our sakes. By doing this, he proved to be our true friend. Finally, in verse 16 he says that he chose us, even though we did not choose him. In doing this, he showed us God’s love that takes the initiative. Jesus shows us God’s love that's so committed to us.

Next, in today’s passage, we can learn about ourselves. In verses 1–8 Jesus repeatedly refers to us as branches. As a branch, we’re dependent on the vine. And as a branch, we receive life and nutrients from Jesus so that we can bear much fruit. According to verse 2, as a branch sometimes we need pruning so that we can be even more fruitful. This pruning is God’s discipline. Why do we need God’s discipline to prune us? It’s because even though we’re connected to Jesus the true vine, we have many other things in our lives that weaken our relationship with him. These things can be worldly distractions or attachments that take our hearts and minds away from Jesus and his words. Often we can’t even recognize what these things are in our lives. But God the Father can see them, and in his greater spiritual love for us, he sometimes prunes these things away, so that our relationship with Jesus can grow deeper and more fruitful.

In this passage, Jesus addresses us as branches and he repeatedly tells us to “remain” in him. It’s kind of odd because usually, a branch doesn’t have to be told to remain in a vine—it naturally does so, and it doesn’t really have a choice. But in Jesus’ allegory here, we as branches do have a choice. We can either choose to remain in Jesus or choose not to remain in him. What does it mean to “remain in Jesus”? In Greek, the word “remain” literally means to “live in.” We’ve all experienced it: We go to church, a meeting, a conference or a Bible study and feel really inspired and touched by God’s love, but then we go off into our real lives. And in our real lives, we hardly ever hear God’s word. There may be very few believers around us. We get immersed in a godless mindset, to the point that we hardly ever even think about God. We get immersed in a “me-centered” mindset that seems so much more natural, and everyone’s doing it. Worst of all, we forget God’s love for us—his amazing grace and forgiveness. Then we dry up spiritually. Let’s read verse 4a. Jesus repeatedly says in this passage, in one way or another, “Remain in me” (4,5,6,7).

But how can we remain in Jesus? Let’s read verse 7. Jesus says we remain in him as we allow his words to “remain” in us. Notice he doesn’t say “my word” but “my words.” It’s not one or two things Jesus said, but everything he said. To remain in Jesus, we’ve got to get really interested in everything Jesus ever said or taught. We’ve got to keep thinking about it, meditating and reflecting on his words and asking what he really meant. We’ve all heard the expression, “In one ear and out the other” or “Like water on a duck’s back.” Often, right after church or a Bible study, we can’t even remember what it was all about, or even what the passage was. For his words to remain in us, we’ve got to be intentional enough to keep thinking about it. This is why it’s good to write things down whenever we study the Bible so that what we hear can actually remain in us. It’s also good to write a reflection after studying a passage in the Bible so that we can retain what we learned and start applying what Jesus taught to our practical lives. It’s good to even memorize verses of the Bible.

But this can be tricky. Even the Pharisees memorized large chunks of the Bible from their childhood, and yet Jesus told them, “You have no room for my word” (8:37). For his words to remain in us is not what we know or write or say, but a matter of what’s really in our hearts. If our hearts are full of other things, practically speaking, we’ve got no room for Jesus’ words. We’ve got to get rid of some of the other things in our hearts to make room for the words of Jesus. The words of Job in the Old Testament actually help us. He wrote: “I have not departed from the commands of his lips. I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread” (Job23:12). Most of us delight in delicious food. But for Jesus’ words to remain in us, we’ve got to treasure them more than the most delicious meal we can imagine.

Let’s read verse 7 again. The other way to remain in Jesus is to pray. If we never really pray personally, it’s just not possible to remain in Jesus. Sometimes we don’t know how to pray. But as we turn our thoughts to Jesus’ words, we can find things to pray about. We can ask God’s help to do what Jesus taught. And we can ask God to help the people we care about to be connected to Jesus the true vine and to remain in him.

Here’s where we come back to the whole idea of commitment. Any real relationship requires a mutual commitment. As we’ve seen, God is already totally committed to us. The problem is our commitment to him. As in any relationship, we can take and take and take and not really be committed. To be committed, first of all, we’ve got to make time. Most people are very busy. Most people have to go to work to make money to pay their bills to survive. And a job can be very demanding—it can consume all our attention and strength. Even if our job is mindless, when we’re off work, we just want to relax and enjoy. Students are busy going to school and to classes, and when they’re not there, they usually have homework. Some have to work and study, and so there’s so little time for anything else. But for Jesus’ words to remain in us, and to have a real prayer life, we’ve got to make time when there is no time. People do it all the time. Some people work and study and still make time for friends or for being in a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse. How much time do we put into having a real relationship with Jesus, with listening to and making room for his words and spending time in prayer? Some people may think they know it all already, and so they stop making room for his words, and they stop praying. Over time, they dry up spiritually. May God help us take Jesus’ words seriously. Read verse 7 again.

There’s another way to remain in Jesus. Read verses 9,10. To remain in Jesus is to remain in his love. How do we do it? We should remind ourselves of his love every day. It’s good to start out praying, thanking God for his great love for us in Jesus. If we don’t remember his love, we can’t really remain in it. Jesus also teaches us here a specific way to remain in his love. He says we need to keep his commands. As we keep his commands, we remain in his love. He says this is the way he remained in the Father’s love, by keeping his commands. And he had a specific command in mind. Let’s read verse 12. We remain in Jesus by obeying his command to love each other the same way Jesus loved us. If we don’t love the way Jesus did, there’s no way to remain in him. If we stop loving the way Jesus did, we cease to remain in him. Loving the way Jesus loved is the way to remain in him. This, too, requires commitment. We’ve got to love others in the same self-sacrificing way Jesus loved us when he laid down his life for us.

It’s how we transform the promise into reality, how our actions speak louder than our words, how we make time when there is none, how we come through time after time, year after year, how our character becomes like Jesus, how we gain power to change things, and how we change from skeptics into people of integrity. The fruits that come from a relationship with Jesus are love and joy. If we’re not loving and not joyful, we need to examine our relationship with Jesus. May God help each of us really commit to remaining in Jesus.


Matthew 19:1–15


Key Verse: 19:14

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”

          In the previous chapter, Jesus gave his disciples several teachings on how his followers should live in community with one another. Instead of competing for the top position, we should take the lowest one. Instead of avoiding the weak, we should welcome them. Instead of being obsessed with self, we should be careful about our influence on others. Instead of being self-indulgent, we should fight against our own sins. Instead of despising and ignoring the weak, we should treasure them and risk everything to rescue them. Instead of gossiping behind each other’s backs, we should talk to each other directly and personally to work out problems, and we should learn to listen humbly to one another. Instead of holding grudges, we should remember God’s great mercy and forgive one another from the heart.

          Though today’s passage begins a new section in Matthew’s Gospel, it continues the themes of chapter 18. It tells us further about the community of Jesus’ followers. Marriage and children are very practical aspects of any community. In the community of Jesus’ followers, marriage and children are an opportunity to practice the love of Jesus. May God open our hearts to learn how we can be a community that does not hinder but draws people to our Lord Jesus.

          Look at verse 1. The phrase “When Jesus had finished saying these things…” indicates in Matthew’s Gospel that one of Jesus’ major discourses is now over (cf. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 26:1). He leaves Galilee and travels to Judea and the other side of the Jordan because he’s on his last journey to Jerusalem, where rejection, suffering, and death await him. Look at verse 2. Though it’s a hard time for him personally, Jesus welcomes these crowds that also need healing. Jesus’ healing ministry shows that he has authority from God to teach.

          Sadly, there are those who don’t see it that way. Verse 3a says, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him.” Throughout Matthew’s Gospel Pharisees come to do this (12:2,14,24,38; 15:1; 16:1; 19:3; 22:15,34,35). No matter how powerful Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry is, they are bent on discrediting Jesus, because they perceive him as a threat to their own positions. Their testing of Jesus literally means they were tempting him. It’s hard to be criticized and challenged constantly. But Jesus handled it with such strength and grace because he was depending on God his Father.

          What did these Pharisees say this time? Look at verse 3b. Then as now, marriage was a hot-button issue. In Jesus’ day, there were two schools of thought about divorce. The conservative side taught that divorce should be avoided; the liberal side taught that it should be allowed. The Pharisees weren’t interesting in learning from Jesus about which side was right; they brought this up to get him to take sides and lose some of his popularity, and maybe, to say something wrong.

          How did he respond? Read verses 4–6. When he was being tested or criticized, Jesus loved to respond by saying, “Haven’t you read?” (cf. 12:3,5; 21:16,24; 22:31) Jesus was always talking about the Bible and basing his teaching on it. Answers to questions and criticisms can always be found in Scripture. In this case, Jesus went all the way back to the beginning of Genesis, in the two stories of creation.

In Genesis 1 the phrase “[God] made them male and female” (Ge1:27b) tells us about the origin of marriage. Marriage began not with a contract between two people, but with creation itself. What’s the point? It tells us that God made one man for one woman and that one woman for that one man. It means God created marriage to be mutually exclusive, and for life. So we have an expression, “Made for each other.” Instead of focusing on each other’s flaws, a husband or wife need to see each other from God’s point of view, as God’s perfect match for me.

Next, in Genesis 2 the man leaving his father and mother and being united to his wife (Ge2:24) tells us that marriage is a lifetime commitment. Now, his wife should be more important to him than even his own parents. The same is true for the wife; her primary commitment in life needs to shift from her parents to her husband. A husband and wife need to be committed to each other even more than to their own children. Without this kind of practical commitment, the marriage is greatly weakened. In Greek, the word “united” in verse 5 literally means “glued.” The commitment glues the husband and wife together, and so does their intimacy. If we neglect intimacy, the marriage glue is weakened. People may have many human ideas about it, but God ordained for the two to become one flesh.

Read verse 6 again. It’s more than a physical union. It’s a mystery that two persons become one, but it’s something God does. We need to think of our spouse not as a burden or annoyance or even as my enemy, but as a person with whom God wants me to be absolutely united. This is Jesus’ answer to those who have questions about divorce. In light of his words, divorce is not just about “irreconcilable differences”; it’s rebellion against God’s sovereign will. We live in a culture where divorce is rampant, even in the church. But God said through the prophet Malachi, “I hate divorce” (Mal2:16, NLT). He’s talking about divorce among his people. It’s not meant to get us to hate all divorced people. God wants us to be merciful and compassionate towards them. But why does God want a believing husband and wife, especially, to stay together? Malachi says it’s because they belong to him in body and spirit, and when they live in him, they also belong to one another in body and spirit. Also, when they keep their marriage alive and healthy and are faithful to each other from the heart, they can raise godly offspring. God especially holds husbands responsible. He wants us to guard our heart and not be unfaithful to the wife of our youth. He wants us not to overwhelm our wives with cruelty, but protect them (Mal2:15,16). This protection includes not complaining about our wives to others. Sometimes marriage can be hard, but people shouldn’t give up so quickly and easily. As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” God refines and matures us through being faithful to our marriage commitment. Especially, godly, faithful husbands are so important in the community of Jesus’ followers.

Look at verse 7. Jesus had already talked about this back in chapter 5 in his Sermon on the Mount (5:31,32). At that time, sadly, it was popular among Jewish rabbis and Pharisees to divorce their wives. They were using Deuteronomy 24:1 as their justification: “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…” According to Matthew 19:7, the Pharisees call this verse a “command.” But actually it’s not a command, but a concession. It’s a classic case of taking something out of context to get what we want. If we read on in Deuteronomy 24, we find the point is in verse 4: “…then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again…” When Moses wrote this, he was actually trying to protect women from whimsical, tyrannical men. Men would kick out their wives, abusing their power, but when they got lonely, they’d go out to find them and try to take them back again, even if their ex-wife had remarried.

What did Jesus say? Read verse 8. What did he mean that “your hearts were hard”? It means men’s hearts can become hardened by sinful desire. When their wives don’t satisfy their desires, husbands can harden their hearts and become so cruel. In Jewish society, women had to get special permission from the courts to divorce their husbands. It’s hard for modern people to digest. But Jesus taught against divorce to protect women. Matthew the former tax collector may have known many women who had to turn to “the world’s oldest profession” (cf. 21:31,32) simply because their husbands had cast them out on a whim. Jesus didn’t care that his view on marriage would make him unpopular. Because he was a shepherd who respected women, he strongly denounced men’s right to divorce them based on a vague interpretation of something “displeasing” or “indecent.” Based on God’s creation truth, Jesus upheld the union of marriage.

Read verse 9. Jesus was addressing all the hypocritical rabbis and Pharisees who thought they were so knowledgeable of the Bible, so strict, so spiritual. If they have divorced their wives and remarried, Jesus calls them “adulterers.” What a powerful rebuke! So often, the real motive for divorce is to switch partners. Instead of making many excuses like a smoke screen, we need to be honest about what’s really in our hearts. And we need to ask God’s mercy to help us to stay faithful to him and to our spouse. We really need the help of the Holy Spirit to do this. In light of the parable Jesus just told about the unmerciful servant, we need to remember God’s great grace to us so that we can forgive our spouse from our heart.

In verse 9 Jesus gives only one valid reason for divorce: “sexual immorality.” Why only this? Why not alcoholism, or physical abuse, or mental cruelty? It’s because all these other vices can be addressed, but sexual immorality undermines the very glue of marriage. We also should notice that even in the case of immorality, divorce is not commanded but allowed. It means that great effort first should be made to help the erring partner to repent. It reminds us of Jesus’ teaching on helping a fellow believer who sins. He said the relationship should be ended only when the person refuses to listen to repeated urging from more and more of God’s people (18:15–17).

Read verse 9 once more. Jesus is teaching people who divorced for superficial reasons not to remarry. It could also mean that instead of divorcing, it’s better to stay separated for a while and work on our problems, seeking godly counseling and God’s help. Let’s pray that God may bring healing to many people in our nation who have suffered through painful marriages and divorce. Let’s pray that we may share God’s mercy and forgiveness and help divorced people to have hope in God. And let’s pray that God may raise godly couples in our community who can be a blessing through their loving marriages.

Look at verse 10. The disciples were scared. They thought it was too hard to stay committed and faithful to one lady their whole lifetime. Men are still afraid of committing to marriage. What did Jesus say to them? Read verses 11,12. Here Jesus is saying that marriage is normative for most people. And he gives his followers the only valid reason not to get married. It’s “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” It’s not to avoid the struggle of being a responsible husband and father, or wife and mother. And it’s only for the very few people who can accept it. Eunuchs, people who biologically cannot marry and have children, were looked down upon by the Jews. But Jesus isn’t making fun of them; he’s valuing them as precious human beings. He’s also valuing those who “live like eunuchs.” It may mean they never marry, or it may mean they choose to live apart from their spouses for some amount of time so that they can spread the kingdom message. Whether we marry or stay single, we should live for God’s honor and glory, for his kingdom and his will, regardless of what suffering we may have to endure.

Look at verse 13. It was a common custom among the Jews to bring little children to rabbis to be blessed. These little children may have been brought by their parents, grandparents or caregivers. It’s a bit surprising that the disciples rebuked them—especially after Jesus had just recently placed a little child among them and taught them to welcome children (18:2,5). Why did the disciples do this? Clearly they were not really listening to what he taught them. It may be their idea was that Jesus was too tired, or too busy, or too important to be bothered. Or it may be that they thought these people were being too demanding. The disciples’ idea was very different from that of Jesus.

Read verse 14. So many people around the world in history have been so comforted by these words of our Lord Jesus. So there’s the famous hymn: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” What a beautiful king Jesus is! How humble, how loving, how gracious! He didn’t mind that some of these little children were dirty, full of germs, and smelly. He wasn’t too tired to welcome them, embrace them, place his hands on them, bless them and pray for each one, and they were not his own children or grandchildren! In the community of followers of Jesus, children should be welcomed, not sequestered or dumped somewhere. In his community, marriage is important, and children are also important. We should not sacrifice marriage and children in the name of ministry; we should build up marriages and children as the core of our ministry.

Read verse 14 again. Jesus says here that the kingdom “belongs to such as these.” He the same thing earlier, in 18:3: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What does it mean to be like little children? It means to be humble, simple and trusting, instead of proud, complicated and suspicious. Jesus wants us to run to him with an open heart like a little child, even with all our weaknesses and sins, asking for his mercy, help and love. We should never become too proud to come to Jesus.

Read verse 14 once more. Jesus said, “do not hinder them.” Perhaps it’s connected with his teaching on divorce. When parents divorce, in many cases it hinders their little children from growing well. Especially when believing parents divorce or have a poor marriage relationship, it hinders their children from wanting to come to Jesus. Parents who truly love each other and are faithful to each other are expressing healthy faith in Jesus and are a blessing to their children. And if little children represent those who are seeking God, Jesus tells us not to hinder such people from coming to Jesus, either. It’s sad but true that many people try to go to church, but they get so disillusioned by the behavior or practices of the church members. We should make up our minds not to put any obstacle or stumbling block in people’s way—whether it be our cultural traditions, rules or expectations. We should do our best not to hinder but help people come to Jesus. May God make us a community that welcomes people who are like little children and shows them how beautiful a life in Christ is.


Matthew 18:1–14

jesus children.jpg

Key Verse: 18:3

“And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

          Everybody loves a winner. We see it in sports, in entertainment, in business and politics. We admire people who make something of themselves, who aspire to be or achieve something great. But in today’s passage Jesus teaches his disciples about the kingdom of heaven, and again, it’s the opposite of how most people think. Jesus says it’s the lowliest person who’s the greatest. He tells us to change and become like little children. What does it mean? And how can we do it? May God speak to our hearts through his word.

A major theme of Matthew’s Gospel is discipleship. Jesus trains his disciples and challenges them to make disciples. But who’s a real disciple of Jesus? It’s the person who obeys everything Jesus taught. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus’ teachings are organized into five major discourses, and chapter 18 is the fourth one. If we want to be disciples of Jesus and make disciples of Jesus, we need to focus on learning and practicing Jesus’ teachings.

 Before we get started, we should pay attention to the context. It’s now the final months of Jesus’ life on earth, and he’s on his way to Jerusalem. He’s repeatedly been predicting that rejection, suffering and death await him there. He’s been trying to help his disciples grow in personal faith and follow him in the way of the cross. In today’s passage, he begins to help them build a new kind of community among them. Over the next three weeks, we’re going to be taking a closer look at what this new community is like. In today’s passage, we’re going to zero in on the foundation of this new community. What is it? Let’s see.

Read verse 1. We wonder why the disciples are suddenly asking about this. We can understand when we review what’s been happening. Back in chapter 16 Simon Peter had made a confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (16:16). Jesus gave him his new name, Peter, and promised that he would be the rock on which he would build his church (16:18). But when Peter tried to dissuade him from taking the way of the cross, Jesus called him “Satan” (16:23). The other disciples began to wonder about Peter’s leadership. But after that, Jesus took only Peter, James and John with him up a high mountain to witness his transfiguration (17:1ff.). When they came back down the mountain, the other nine disciples were unable to heal a demon-possessed boy (17:16). They were really wondering why not (17:19). We can imagine that Peter, James and John started looking down on the other nine as less than them. And the other nine really resented it. In fact, the other Gospels tell us that at this time they began arguing about which of them was the greatest (Mk9:33,34; Lk9:46). None of them wanted to be second; each wanted to be first. No one wanted to be under anyone else. As human beings we’re all made in the image of God. Because of that, we all have a desire to be great like God, which is good. But we all also have a sinful nature. Our sinful nature makes us want to be great without God; it twists our good desire for greatness into pride and selfish ambition, which are toxic to human relationships (Gal5:19,20; Php2:3a). Even Jesus’ disciples had this hiding deep within them.

How did Jesus respond to their question about being the greatest? Read 18:2–3. Jesus was such a good teacher. Bringing a little child among them, he was showing them a vivid example of what he meant. It must have been so heart-moving to see a little child among all those competitive grown men. At the same time, Jesus was giving them a very powerful challenge. He said if they didn’t change and become like that little child, not only would they not be great, but also they wouldn’t even enter the kingdom of heaven.

What did he mean? Here the word “change” literally means “turn.” They needed to turn from struggling with each other. They needed to turn to a new direction. What was it? It was to become like little children. Really? Little children can be difficult. Little children can be noisy, fighting over candy, throwing tantrums, so self-centered and demanding. Jesus couldn’t mean for us to become like that. We can understand when we see what else he says. Read verse 4. Here, to take “the lowly position of this child” literally means to humble oneself. In their society, children were unimportant, powerless and even invisible. In brief, Jesus meant that to become like little children was to become humble.

So, how can we change and become humble? That’s a really good question! Many people aren’t even aware of how proud they are. Many try to act like they’re humble in many ways, but in their deep hearts, they’re still proud and conceited, thinking they’re superior to everybody else. The Bible calls it “false humility” (Col2:18,23). It’s easy to say, “Change and become like little children,” but it’s so hard to do. Often, we become humble only when God forces it upon us, when he strips us of the things that make us proud. And as soon as we can get out of that adversity, we become proud again. When everyone is striving to go up, it’s so hard to step aside, or even worse, to step down. When people brag about themselves, it’s so hard to remain quiet and make ourselves like nobodies. In church we would expect people to be humble. But even in the church people provoke and envy each other (Gal5:26). In church people compete about how much they know the Bible, how much they are faithful, how much they pray, how much they sacrifice, how fruitful their ministry is. It may be hard to detect at first, but honestly, it eventually drives people away.

So how can we change and become humble? Jesus wants us to start by thinking about little children. Read verses 3,4 again. A little child has no wealth, no power, no wisdom, no achievements. A little child is actually unaware of these things. In a crowd there are many tall adults, but a little child crawls close to the ground. From carefully observing a little child we can learn many things. A little child is totally transparent, unassuming and vulnerable. A little child is trusting. A little child receives and gives love freely. A little child doesn’t despise anyone. A little child is constantly watching and learning. Jesus wants us to become like little children. For that to happen Jesus said we need to “change.” Change what? Change our mentality, our worldview, our value system, as well as our view of ourselves and each other. How can we change that deeply?

Jesus invites us all: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (11:29). Real change starts when we begin learning from Jesus. We especially need to be learning from his gentle and humble heart. We can see Jesus’ gentle, humble heart in the way he treated people. The author Matthew experienced it personally. After living as a selfish tax collector he’d become so sick spiritually. But Jesus didn’t despise him. Jesus saw him with hope. Jesus treated him with grace. Jesus showed him love. So Matthew described Jesus based on the prophecy of Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…” (12:20a; cf. Isa42:1–4). Jesus tenderly cared for people who were like bruised reeds or smoldering wicks until they were healed. As we fix our thoughts on Jesus and personally come to him, we learn his gentle, humble heart. Philippians 2 tells us we need to be united with Christ so that we can grow in his humility, especially in the way we treat each other. Changing and becoming like little children isn’t a one-time event, but a life-long process.

Read verse 5. Not only should we be humble like a little child, but also we should welcome little children in Jesus’ name. What does it mean? In light of the first part of verse 6, “little children” aren’t just toddlers, but adults who believe in Jesus (cf. 10:42). Our fellow Christians usually have many weaknesses and struggles. They need a lot of help. It’s not easy to “welcome” them, for the same reasons it isn’t easy to welcome little children: we’re busy, and they’re needy. But Jesus says to do it “in my name.” It means to do it for his sake, for his glory, not our own—mainly because we love Jesus. Welcoming fellow believers in the name of Jesus requires humility.

Many years ago there was a woman who came from Korea as a missionary. Back in Korea she’d been an officer in the army. So when she came among God’s people in Chicago, she was accustomed to teaching and ordering people around. The pastor took notice and gave her training. It was training to be the babysitter for everyone. During the training, changing diapers, feeding and caring for many little ones, she wept a lot, and her inner person began to change. Actually, we all need training in the true humility of Jesus.

Read verse 6. Here we see Jesus’ shepherd’s heart for those who are young in faith. He wants us to take seriously our influence on them. Literally, the word “stumble” means to put an impediment in others’ way, to cause them to trip and fall. It’s an intentional act, but sometimes we do it unintentionally. Spiritually, “stumble” means to “offend.” It’s the same word Jesus had just used when he said we should not “offend” outsiders (17:27). Not offending others is hard, because we can’t always be aware or sure of how we might be doing it. Some of us may have no qualms about offending others—we do it all the time and may even seem to enjoy it. But Jesus says that to grow in true greatness, we need to learn how not to offend others, especially those who’re young in faith. Of course, the message of the cross and the message to repent are offensive, and we should never compromise them. But we should do our best not to offend others with unnecessary words, behavior or attitudes. Why? It’s because being offensive may cause young believers to stumble in their walk with God. In this case, “stumble” means to lose respect for God’s authority, to begin to rebel against him, to be enticed into sin, and thus, to “fall away.” We have to acknowledge that many things Christians have said and done in history have caused people to fall away from Jesus. We may not be able to repair the damage or change the history, but we can do our best to be accountable for our own actions.

          Jesus wants us to be serious about what is going on inside of us, because it seems that when we begin to give in to our own sins, that’s when we cause others to stumble. Read verses 7–9. Here, Jesus uses hyperbole not to make us start cutting off body parts—for that wouldn’t really change the sinful desires within us—but to help us have the right attitude toward sin. Instead of loving and secretly enjoying sin, we need to hate sin and cut it off. We need to struggle against the sins within us before God as a matter of life or death. Then we can be a good influence to others.

Jesus taught more about the attitude we should have. Read verse 10. Here he again mentions “little ones.” They may be children, or, those who are young in faith. To “despise” them literally means to think little or nothing of them, to treat them as not important or significant. This is especially clear in the context of sinning. When we sin, most often it’s because we’re treating others as unimportant. Jesus wants to replace our tendency to despise others with something quite opposite. Read verses 12–14. His point is to teach us God’s heart for even one little one who wanders off. It’s not a smart business plan, but it’s a true shepherd’s heart. This heart is another illustration of humility.

          Today Jesus taught us to change and learn humility, as the foundation of a new community of the heavenly kingdom. May God help us all learn the humility that pleases Jesus.

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