According to Merriam-Webster: “Unless” is first defined as: “except on the condition that.” At www.wordcentral.com they give a kid’s definition, used in a practical, understandable phrase. It is: “She will fail unless she works harder.”
As a conjunction, the word “unless” is, in our English language, a subordinate conjunction. That means, it joins an independent clause and a dependent clause. “She will fail…unless…she works harder.” Enough about the English grammar lesson. Let’s quickly look at a segment of Scripture from the lips of Jesus Himself. To some, it is overlooked and undervalued. Too others, it seems nominal and precious at best. After years of studying and digging into it – I continuously find it amazing and foundational. Pivotal for our relationship with God.
After wondering, pondering, and just plain out asking Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” – there can be little doubt that the disciples reckoned, or thought, that there names might be mentioned right after Jesus’ Name. They said “yes” to following Him, traveled where He went, listened and gleaned His messages and teaching, witnessed the miracles, and left some professions behind. They had commented before, to Jesus, “We have given up everything to follow You.”
Matthew records this in chapter 18. At that time, Jesus had a child come up to Him and stand with Him. I can only imagine the scene as Peter, James, John, and the others watched this – wondering what in the world this had to do with anything. Then Jesus said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (vv.3-4).
I imagine deafening silence fell – at least briefly – on that scene. The Word doesn’t record that – but I can see it very plainly. One of those “weird” moments where they just wanted to change the subject altogether, but couldn’t. In a statement with a real example, Jesus spoke truth on what God is seeking in His children: dependence; humility; innocence; and faith. This is just a short list, of course, but one that helps identify who we are to be in Christ.
Today, there are many that are “puffed up.” They reason they are experts and specialists – intellectuals and theologians. Knowledge can do this (and will do this) if we aren’t careful. I have written on this before: “Knowledge puffs up” – so I won’t revisit that here. On the contrary, the Word tells us that “Love builds up” and that “Love never fails.” Let’s pursue love. I am simply reminded that in the grand scheme of God’s design and order and will – we are to be His children, adopted and brought into His family. Not self-seeking, not full of pride, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we should. We are dependent on God. People will show who they are, and in time, their motivation will shine through. That is trustworthy.
May we be like children – the greatest in His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. That will bring Him glory and honor His Name!