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                      No More Children

 

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Christian Unity.” The sermon was preached at Westminster Chapel, London, between 1954 and 1962 and first published in 1980 and reprinted in 1998.

 

`That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive'. (Ephesians 4:14)

 

We have seen that the function of the ministry---apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers---and all that has been appointed by the Lord, is to bring all the members of the body of Christ to a `perfect man', to `the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ'. We have also seen that the way in which that end is achieved is that we all are brought to `the unity of the faith and of the knowledge', this full knowledge, `of the Son of God'. That is what the future holds for us, that is the goal at which we are going to arrive. But we have not yet arrived, and much has to take place before we arrive. The word `henceforth' in and of itself suggests this contrast between what we are and what we shall be. We must always keep our eye on the ultimate goal, but it is equally important that we should realize what we are at present and start from that point.

Once more we must comment on the profound wisdom of this Apostle as a teacher. He does not merely state the goal, nor regard us as if we had already arrived; he is always practical and realistic and animated by a profound pastoral care. The first great principle of all good teaching, whatever the subject, is that you deal with people as they are, not as they should be. The good teacher is always aware of the knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of his students and takes trouble to relate his lesson to their condition. The Apostle does precisely that in this statement and by the word `henceforth'. As I have indicated earlier he actually interrupts himself in order to do this. The Apostle reminds us that there are certain things which we have to realize about ourselves. They are mainly negative, but they are absolutely essential. If we are not aware of these negatives we shall never arrive at the positive and the perfect. Once more I emphasize that it is our failure to realize these negatives that accounts for so much in the present state of the Christian Church; and here we have a perfect portrayal of the Church of today and her problems.

 

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The first thing we must understand is that we all start in the Christian life as children. This seems so obvious, and yet we are always forgetting it. `That we henceforth be no more children', says the Apostle, indicating that we all start as children. It is but another way of reminding us that the Christian life is a new life. It is not a continuation of any other life, it is not an addendum to any other life, it is a new life. The word `children' draws an absolute line of division between the non-Christian and the Christian. There is no gradual change of movement from being in the world to being in the Church. It is a birth, an entirely new beginning. We are born into an entirely new realm which is in complete contrast with the old realm. And because this new life starts with a birth we therefore start as children. The New Testament constantly emphasizes this vital principle. 'Ye must be born again', says our Lord Himself to Nicodemus (John 3:1-8). This implies at once the whole principle of growth and of development. We start as infants and from that beginning we are to grow and develop and to mature. This is the central principle of the Christian life taught throughout the New Testament.

In his First Epistle John addresses `little children, young men, fathers' (2:12-13). We all have to go through these stages. Peter deals with the same truth when he writes, `As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby' (1 Peter 2:2). Yet in spite of the New Testament emphasis on this foundational truth, there is a curious tendency on our part to forget it and a fatal tendency to assume that once we become Christians we have everything, that we have arrived. Conversion is not an end but a beginning and we must rid ourselves of the idea that becoming Christian is the end of the story and that we are now complete and have only to spend the rest of our lives in activities. Thus we by-pass so much of the teaching of these epistles, and produce the state of confusion which is the main characteristic of the life of the Christian Church at this present time. To illustrate what I mean we have but to read the pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, to note that the Apostle writes about novices, and about what novices should not do, and what novices should not be asked to do. Then applying all that to the Church in general as she is today we see how this is almost entirely ignored. Far from teaching that we start as novices and babes the slogan is `Give the convert something to do'. But the teaching of those pastoral epistles is that the first business of the novice is to grow and to learn and to become fit and qualified to do service for the Lord.

For the sake of emphasis we can state this all-important principle thus. Everyone who becomes a Christian and enters into this Christian life, comes into it as a babe. That he may be a great intellect or that he may be a great man in a profession and have what is described as a strong personality is quite immaterial. Whatever may be true of him when he comes into this Christian life, he, as all others, comes into it as a babe; he is a spiritual babe. He must be regarded as such, and he must regard himself as such. But unfortunately it is assumed that if a man is great in some other realm he starts as a great man in this realm. That this is not so is often found in practice. Failure to remember this has led to the unscriptural practice of placing certain people in positions of leadership immediately, simply because of their prominence in some secular or natural realm.

We must realize that in the realm of the Church we are concerned with something which is altogether different. The Apostle repeats this principle so frequently that it is astounding how we can ever forget it. `The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God' (1 Cor 2:14). `Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called' (1 Cor 1:26). In this realm we are dealing with spiritual truth, truth which must be `spiritually discerned'. So each one of us starts as a babe, as an infant, and becomes a child. The first test to be applied in the realm of the Church is not natural ability, still less natural position or status or power; what is required here is spiritual understanding, spiritual apprehension, a spiritual knowledge of the truth. We should thank God for this; and realize that this is the peculiar mark of the Christian Church. In the Church all divisions and distinctions are abolished, `there is neither Greek nor Jew, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free' (Col 3:11). But not only so, there is neither great nor small. All these divisions and distinctions become quite irrelevant. We all enter God's kingdom in the same manner and we all start as `newborn babes'.

 

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The Apostle next goes on to show that children have certain particular characteristics and tendencies. He calls attention to these in the words `that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, wherein they lie in wait to deceive'. Here we have an example of the Apostle's knowledge of what is today described as `child psychology'. It is a perfect description of children and of the child's outlook and mentality, and it is true of all of us as we begin in the Christian life. There is a parallel passage in chapter 3 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, where again he analyses this condition, but from a slightly different aspect and standpoint. It is essential to our growth that we should realize these things about ourselves; because if we fail to do so, we shall never learn and we shall remain children. I know of nothing which is more tragic than to see Christian people who remain exactly where and what they always were. They end as children, as they began. They thought that they had everything at the beginning, and so they have never grown and, spiritually, they remain children throughout their lives. They do not seem to have understood that we have to appropriate and grasp what is promised and made possible to every one of us, and that we have to `grow in grace and in the knowledge' of the Lord.

According to the Apostle there are two main tendencies in children. The first is instability. He uses a most picturesque phrase to describe this: `tossed to and fro', `tossed like waves'. It does not mean that we are tossed about by waves but that we are like waves, tossed to and fro and constantly in motion. Indeed, we might translate it by the expression `pitching about'. The word which the Apostle used, and it is the only instance in which it is found in the New Testament, conveys the sense of violence---`a violent pitching about of waves'. James has the same idea in the first chapter of his Epistle, where the word used means `tossed to and fro', or `agitated'. Nothing is so characteristic of the sea as its restlessness, its constant motion and change. The Apostle's word conveys this idea of the sea tossed to and fro, or the waves of the sea in constant motion, with the suggestion of violence and agitation. And that, says the Apostle, is the characteristic of the childlike state.

But we must analyse it further, as the Apostle clearly intends us to do. The condition reminds us that one of the most prominent characteristics of the child is fickleness and changeableness. How quickly a child can change from smiling to crying! The quick changes can be seen on its face. The child cannot help it, of course, because it is a child. There are many instances of this as it applies to a child-like state in the Scriptures. Take for example what we read in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Paul had landed, after a shipwreck, on the island of Melita (Malta). The weather was rather cold so they got some sticks together to make a fire to warm themselves. Suddenly out of the fire a viper fixed itself on to the hand of the Apostle. The people concluded immediately that he must be a very bad man and expected him to start swelling up at any moment and to die a violent death. But when they noticed that he did not swell up and die they changed their opinions and said that he was a god. They changed immediately from one extreme to the other. Such conduct is typical of the child, `tossed to and fro like the waves of the sea'. It is always sad to see that kind of behaviour in Christian people, but we all start as children.

Another thing which characterizes this condition of childhood is a lack of self-control. It is because of this that older people have to control them. Children are creatures of impulses and moods; they know little about self-discipline, and are not able to master and to control themselves and their own spirits. The Book of Proverbs tells us that the man who can control his own spirit is a greater man than he who can capture a city. Self-control is a most difficult task. The child does not control itself; it expresses itself. It wants something, and wants it at once; and shows its temper and displeasure if it is refused. The child manifests an inability to control its reactions and responses to the things that happen to it.

Another characteristic of a child and one which follows from the previous ones is that the child always reacts excessively and violently to things that happen to it. The child acts as a whole, and does so with an element of violence and excessiveness. A child is either very fond of something or else it hates it; there is nothing in between. It goes from one extreme right over to the other. All the child's reactions bring out this element of excess and of violence and of lack of discipline and of control. How disconcerting Scripture can be when it holds this kind of mirror before us! The true and adult Christian is not to react violently and excessively; he is to manifest discipline and control, and an element of temperance. `God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind', says the Apostle to Timothy, the young man (2 Tim 1:7). `Sound mind' means discipline and self-control. We must not react excessively and violently to the things that happen to us.

A further characteristic of the child is that it holds its views violently and tends to change them from one extreme to another. We are all familiar with the dogmatism of a child; and what makes it yet more difficult is that when it changes its views completely it holds the new view equally dogmatically. Furthermore you never know when the change is going to take place. The result of all this is that the child is in a state of perpetual turmoil and mental agitation. In much the same way the adult who has just become a Christian tends to show these characteristics both individually and in groups. Look at a little group of children, they appear to be terribly troubled; some trifle has upset them, and they get into a huddle together and all seem to talk at the same time. They are violent in their reactions, agitated, in a state of turmoil. They feel that the end of the world is about to happen, all because some little toy has been broken or because of something equally trivial. They are like the waves of the sea, tossed to and fro. Mental agitation is always indicative of a childish condition unless it is due to actual mental illness.

All this should lead us to ask whether we are manifesting these characteristics of the child, this instability, this constant motion and agitation, this tendency to be violent in these different respects; this lack of discipline and of self-control and especially this inability to control our reactions to the things which happen to us. In other words the child life is a life that is lived on the surface. The child has no reserves on which it can fall back. This is no criticism of the child; it is a description. It is the characteristic of the child. And because it is a child, the child cannot help it. But when you find this condition in one who has been a Christian for some time the first thing needed is to get him to realize that it is very wrong and that he is `henceforth' not to continue in that state.

 

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The second main fact about the child is his liability to be misled and to be deceived. `That we henceforth be no more children,

tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine'. A better translation would perhaps be, `carried around in all directions'. The wind comes from a certain direction, then suddenly it seems to be turning round to another. The constant turning of a weather vane indicates changing winds. A child in a similar manner turns round and is carried away by every kind of teaching in all conceivable directions. This is simply a graphic and pictorial way of saying that the child is always liable to be imposed upon; because it tends to believe everything it is told. The child, because it is a child, readily falls a prey to any imposter that comes along. The Apostle is particularly concerned about this. That is why he spoke as he did to the elders of this church at Ephesus as recorded in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts in one of the most moving passages in the whole of Scripture. He could see what was going to happen to them and consequently he was concerned about them. He could see how liable they were to be imposed upon, because they were still children in the Faith. It is interesting that he should have said all this to the elders of the church at Ephesus to whom he wrote later this very epistle we are now considering.

A most important question to be faced if we are to be delivered out of this state is as to why a child is thus liable to be imposed upon? What is our psychological analysis of its position? Here are some of the answers. This is true of a child because of its ignorance. Ultimately it is indeed due to nothing but lack of knowledge. The child's problems arise because it has not got a standard, and it lacks a standard because it lacks knowledge. Without a standard one cannot test or evaluate anything. And the failure to test it means that you are lacking in judgment. When you are confronted by a number of teachings, how do you tell which is right? There is but one answer; it is knowledge alone that enables us to perform the test, and if we have not got the knowledge we simply will not be in a position to test and to sift and to discriminate. That is the problem with the child; and it becomes tragic when you find it in those who remain children when they should have become adult. It is inevitable in the child because it lacks the knowledge, and it needs to be taught for that reason. But it is inexcusable in those who are adult and who should have gained the knowledge.

It is also true to say of the child, not only that it is ignorant but that it has an innate tendency to dislike being taught and to submit to discipline. We know that this is true when we look back into our own experiences, and also our experience of children at the present time. In particular the child does not like being taught slowly. The child is impatient and always wants to advance quickly. Think of a child who is being given music lessons. He hates having to practise the scales; he wants to play the big classic piece immediately; he dislikes drudgery and regular application. The child who is learning arithmetic does not enjoy learning the Tables, but wants to be solving the problems. The idea that you have to take time and grow from stage to stage is abhorrent to the child. The Apostle knew that the spiritual child shows the same dislike of discipline and of being taught, and always overestimates its own ability and knowledge.

Or, again, there is nothing more characteristic of the child than the way in which it likes novelty and change and something new. The child is not very much concerned about the intrinsic value of anything as long as it is new. The child may be playing with its favourite toys but if you suddenly produce a new one, they are forgotten and thrown out of its hand. The childish mind and mentality is fond of change and craves for the novel and the new. We are told of the people at Athens in Acts 17, that they spent their time `either to tell or to hear some new thing'. That is typical of the child mentality, which is always interested in the latest thing whatever it may be. How typical this is of many Christians today who betray themselves unconsciously by this liking of change and newness!

Furthermore, the child likes entertainment and excitement. This was true of all of us in childhood. The child tends to have a secret antagonism even to its own parents, if they are parents worthy of the name, because they exercise discipline. The parents are always there, exercising a measure of restraint and enforcing certain principles. How much nicer is a favourite uncle who comes for a week occasionally and who gives us everything we want and refuses nothing! The uncle comforts us when we are chastened and is prepared to play with us and to entertain us and join us in various escapades. He seems to be much better and kinder than father or mother. I distinctly remember the secret joy which I and other boys of my age used to experience when the headmaster under whom I once had to study had his annual attack of lumbago and could not come to school. How exciting it was to be allowed to go through the lesson on our own, and with a teacher who perhaps was also enjoying a little bit of freedom himself!

 

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Unfortunately all this tends to be true of us as Christians. I have sometimes thought that one of the first problems and trials a young pastor has to meet is due to this very thing, that he has to accommodate himself to the fact that so many Christian people display this characteristic of childhood. They like a change; anything as long as it is different; change and novelty and newness, and especially the craving for the element of entertainment and excitement. How much more enjoyable it is to be entertained than to go through the drudgery of a lesson! If you keep your eye on the religious periodicals and their advertisements and apply this teaching of the Apostle you will understand what I mean. The unusual, especially if it has the element of entertainment and excitement, is clearly that which is most popular. That is a clear indication of the child outlook and mentality. The Apostle is concerned to impress this on the minds of the Ephesians, because if they did not realize it and understand it, they would never grow out of it.

The last characteristic of this childlike state and condition which leads to the danger and the susceptibility of being carried about by every wind of doctrine, is that the child is peculiarly susceptible to showmanship. The child instinctively likes a showman. The greater the element of showmanship the more the child will like it. The child has no discrimination; he has no means of assessing these matters. The bigger the show, the bigger the deceit in a sense, the more the child is likely to believe it. Because he lacks knowledge and the ability to discriminate and to understand, he tends to be seduced by the spectacular, the big, the gaudy, anything which is done in a self-confident manner. Showmanship always appeals to children; that is why the child has to be protected, and also why it is so essential that the child should be disciplined and should be taught.

All this is but introductory to that which the Apostle goes on to say. It is important that we should understand this child mentality because of the terrible dangers which surround us. And of all the dangers none is greater than `the sleight of men', and the `cunning craftiness wherein they lie in wait to deceive'. But there is no purpose in proceeding to consider these further matters unless we examine ourselves and are aware of the characteristics of the child mentality. Two things are essential. The child must realize that he is a child; and he must also realize that because he is a child he is in an extremely dangerous position. The Apostle places these things in the right order. May God forgive us for being so unstable, so fickle, so ready to be imposed upon, so ready to react violently! May He also forgive us that we are so lacking in discipline, and in that true understanding which leads to a concern for the glory and honour of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and also the glory of the Church which is His body! We have all entered this life as children, we are `born of the Spirit', `born from above', `born again'. Some of us may have been in the Christian life for a long time. Are we still children `tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine'? May God have mercy upon us! [221-230]

 

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