Note: This sermon was first preached in 2005. Since that time, my theology has undergone some significant changes, and I no longer hold to most of what I say in this sermon, especially the parts near the end where I talk about childlike faith growing through the study of Scripture. The greatest Scripture experts in the days of Jesus were the Sadducees and Pharisees, but they are the ones whom Jesus challenges in this text.
So what is Luke 7:31-35 about? Well, it is NOT about childlike faith vs. childish faith. Here are some notes which will help you understand this text:
1. Jesus calls the “men” of this generation “children” (Luke 7:31-32a). This was an insult. Why does He says this?
2. They make the rules and then complain when nobody follows their rules (Luke 7:32b).
3. But the rules are rigged. You cannot win with their rules. Both John and Jesus are condemned by them, though both lived opposite “holy” lives (Luke 7:33-34).
4. The proverb of Luke 7:35 means that the “right” (wise) way to live is not governed by rules, but by results (children). This verse is parallel to Luke 7:29 (justified by God) and is then illustrated by Luke 7:36-50.
How then should WE love? It doesn’t matter. Pick a way. Either John’s way or Jesus’ way is fine. But whichever way you choose, don’t be like the children who complain that people won’t play their games. Don’t criticize. Don’t condemn. Don’t accuse. Such things are the children of self-righteous religion. God’s way is a life that is lived BOTH in righteousness AND in relationship with sinners. John and Jesus did both, though both of them approached it in different ways. The religious leaders thought they were righteous, but since they kept themselves from sinners, proved that they were only self-righteous.
I. Children of this Generation (Luke 7:31-32a)
A. Childish requests (Luke 7:32b)
B. Childish criticisms (Luke 7:33-34)
II. Children of Wisdom (Luke 7:35)
What is the difference between being childlike and childish?
In Luke 18:17, Jesus says that anyone who does not receive the kingdom like a little child shall not enter into it. Childlike faith provides entrance into the kingdom. And yet many Christians confuse having faith like a child with actually behaving like a child. There are many who may or may not have childlike faith, but who behave in childish ways. Jesus wants us to be childlike, not childish.
Childlike faith trusts. Childlike faith knows no bounds. Childlike faith listens to what is said, and believes it. My daughter Taylor loves to paint and color. Almost every night when I get home from work, one of the first things she says is, “Daddy, will you color with me?” Those of you who have been in our house in recent months have seen the art gallery in our kitchen of all of her work.
A few weeks ago, as we were sitting down for dinner, Taylor noticed a beautiful sunset out of the western window. Wendy told her that Jesus had painted the sky. She thought about that for a moment, and then said, “Mommy, can I paint the sky with Jesus?”
That’s childlike faith. Taylor knows that we love her and only have her best interests at heart. We have told her that Jesus loves her too. Taylor also knows that she loves to color. And so, when she sees something that Jesus has colored, she believes that since He loves her, He wants to color with her just like Mommy and Daddy color with her. And I don’t know how it all works, but we told her that probably, when she gets to heaven, Jesus will let her paint the sky.
Of course, in order to do that, she realized that she needed wings. So she asked if Jesus would give her wings. I told her that Jesus would probably give her wings so she could fly like a bird into the sky to paint it. Taylor looked at me very seriously and said, “No, Daddy. Not like a bird. Like a Taylor.”
Childlike faith. It believes the most amazing things. Taylor believes she will paint the sky, and that to get there, she doesn’t need to be like a bird, she can go just as she is, with the minor addition of wings. Childlike faith is simple. It is pure. It is honest. It simply believes. It is beautiful.
Childishness, on the other hand, is not beautiful. What is childishness? Childishness is childlike behavior gone sour. Childishness is a refusal to grow up. Childishness is when a person of any age acts younger than they are. While it is natural for children to act like children, it is expected that they will grow up and stop acting like children. When they do not, they are being childish. Childishness is when people who should know better throw temper tantrums and pout when they don’t get their way. Childishness is when people are irresponsible and behave as if the world revolves around them. Childishness is when people make petty demands and selfish complaints.
Children are born with the natural tendency to disobey, to throw temper tantrums, to cry when they don’t get their way, to scream at the top of their voice when they get a little bit hungry, and to fuss when they get tired. It is a parent’s responsibility to train and discipline these things out of child. If a boy turns eight, and consistently throws temper tantrums in order to get his way, he is acting childish. If a girl turns fifteen, and still pouts and cries when asked to vacuum the living room, she is acting childish. These sinful tendencies must be trained and disciplined out of a child. Children must grow up.
Acting like a child is okay and expected when we are children. But as we grow up and mature, as we are trained and disciplined, we should leave childish ways behind. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” When you are a child, it is okay to act like one. But as you grow up, you should put away childish behavior.
In culture and society, we have a pretty normal method for accomplishing this. Hopefully, as children age, they are trained and disciplined and taught about life. They are given good work habits, taught good study skills, and learn appropriate social behavior. This is maybe not as common as some would like, but this is the goal. Most parents want their children to grow up, mature, move out and become successful.
But when it comes to spiritual children in the church, we have become experts at fostering and encouraging perpetual immaturity. Many churches do everything they can to stunt growth. We allow spiritual babes to remain spiritual babes – forever.
They cry for candy; we give them candy, rather than the milk and meat of the Word that they need to grow. They throw temper tantrums, and we give in to their desires. They threaten to run away from home, and so we buy them the toys they want. We play the little games. We feed the felt needs. We cater to the selfish desires.
I am reading a book called The Transformation of American Religion by Alan Wolfe. It is an amazing critique of modern churches and how they are no longer standing up for the truth, but instead cater to the demands and desires of people. He says several times that the American church is becoming just another self-help organization, where it gives people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. This is exactly what Paul says will happen to churches that do not remain true to Biblical truth, and Alan Wolfe has documented it.
The most amazing thing about the book however, is that Alan Wolfe is not a Christian. He’s not religious at all. Yet here he is, a non-Christian sociologist, surveying the American religious landscape, and arriving at the conclusion that the church has lost its power and influence because it now caters to the demands and desires of the people, rather than holding fast to Biblical truth.
He even says that if the church is going to survive, it must return to the one thing it has which nobody else does – Biblical truth. This is what a non-Christian says. But really, who cares what he says? He could say just the opposite – as many do – and we would still say, “Who cares?” What matters most is what God says in His Word. And God says that a church must dedicate itself, a pastor must devote himself to the teaching and preaching of the Word of God so that the Christians in that church can grow up into maturity (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 2; Heb. 6; 2 Pet. 2). God’s goal is that Christians will leave childish ways behind, and grow up into maturity by the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word of God.
But this is not happening in most American churches. And so we find ourselves in a situation similar to what we read about in Hebrews 5. The Christians whom the letter is addressed to had been saved for quite some time. The author says that by this time, they ought to be teaching others, but they are still babes. They still need milk, not solid food. He tells them in Hebrews 6 to leave childish thinking and childish ways behind and move on to maturity. Paul speaks similarly to the Christians of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 3.
So while childlike faith is commendable, childish Christianity is not. So we must root childish ways out of our life. But before we can root these ways out of our life, we need to know what they look like. Toward this end, in Luke 7:31-35, Jesus provides two defining characteristics of childish Christianity. He is speaking to the people of His own day, before the church has come into existence, but the principles He provides are universal. Christ explains how some of the people in His day are childish, and we must take care that His indictment of them is not true of us either. Jesus introduces this idea in Luke 7:31-32.
I. Children of this Generation (Luke 7:31-32a)
Luke 7:31-32a. And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children…
Jesus is continuing on with a statement He has been making about John the Baptist. Back in Luke 7:18-20, John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the promised Messiah or not. Jesus answers them in Luke 7:21-23 with signs, miracles and wonders. Then in Luke 7:24-30, Jesus explains to the crowd the greatness of John, and yet, despite his greatness, how some people did not respond to him.
In Luke 7:29-30, Jesus explains the two basic responses to John’s message. Some repented and were baptized, others rejected what was taught, and so rejected God’s will for themselves.
And now in Luke 7:31-32 Jesus says that these two responses, and especially the second response – that of rejecting John – is because the people of this generation are childish. Why? For two reasons: because they make childish requests, and they have childish criticisms. Their childish requests are revealed in Luke 7:32.
A. Childish Requests (Luke 7:32)
Luke 7:32. They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not weep.”
This is an actual song that children used to sing while they were playing. Even today there are many children’s games centered around songs. Two of the more popular song games when I was a child were “London Bridge is Falling Down” and “Ring Around the Rosie.”
This was a song like that. Generally, the bullies, or the big kids, or the rich kids, or the ones who had the most friends, got to pick the game and make the rules. Obviously, in such situations, the rules of the game favored those who were in charge.
If the underdogs, or the weaklings, or the unpopular kids decided not to play, they would get taunted with this song. It was a song that some children sang during playtime to taunt other children who did not want to play with them, or at least did not want to play according to their rules. On playgrounds today, a similar statement would be, “What are you going to do? Go home and cry to your mommy?”
That is the attitude and tone of this song. It’s a song of derision. It is intended to make fun and criticize the other children for not playing. Those who are childish always want things their way. One of the chief characteristics of children is the insistence on getting their own way – even if it is unfair to everyone else. They want others to dance to their tune. They want others to do things their way. They want to call the shots. They want to be in charge. They want to control others. A child will even learn to control his or her parents if the parents allow it.
In Jesus’ day, the bullies on the playground were the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Jewish religious leaders of His day wanted to pull John and Jesus around by a leash. “Whether they played a light tune of the flute or a funeral dirge, Jesus and John did not follow the Jewish leadership’s desires.” When John and Jesus did not dance to the tune, the leaders began to criticize John and Jesus. We see in Luke 7: 33-34 their childish criticisms.
B. Childish Criticisms (Luke 7:33-34)
Luke 7:33-34. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
John the Baptist was more ascetic and strict than even the Pharisees and Sadducees. They observed fasts and has rules against getting drunk and overeating, but they did drink wine and eat meals. John the Baptist was too extreme even for them. He lived in solitude in the wilderness. He didn’t drink any wine. He ate only locust and wild honey. He clothed himself in camel’s hair. For this, he ought to have been admired for his humble, sober, self-denying lifestyle. He should have been sought after as a man of thought and contemplation. But what did they say of him? That he was demon possessed. That he was mad.
Then Jesus came on the scene, and he is on the other extreme, from the Pharisaical viewpoint. Jesus enjoyed life to the full. He ate, drank and attended parties. He laughed and joked.
So here we have these two approaches to life. Two approaches to ministry. Which is better – John’s lifestyle or that of Jesus? I’m convinced Christ’s lifestyle is higher and nobler than John’s. Christ lived the perfect life, and during His life, He accepted all of the pure, material blessings this world has to offer. Asceticism is not better. The person who can enjoy the blessings and pleasures of this life without being mastered by them, is loftier than all pale hermits and emaciated saints, who preserve their purity by avoiding such things. Christ came, and He enjoyed life.
This was true of most of the Old Testament saints as well. They were warriors, statesmen, shepherds and vine-dressers. They bought, they sold, they planted, they built, they married and were given in marriage. All the while they were the saints of God. It was only during those 400 years of silence between Malachi and Matthew that religiosity became popular. But when devotion cools its crust, the crust is superstition and formalism and precise attention to the details of worship, rather than just enjoying God for God’s sake.
That’s what Jesus did. He came and enjoyed life. He came eating and drinking. And wherever Jesus went, whatever Jesus did, His servants may also do, if we do it in the same spirit and same manner as He. This is why Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:4 that everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. He also writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God.
This is how Jesus operated. This is how Jesus lived. And look what it got him. First, it got him criticism by the religious rulers. “Look, a glutton and a winebibber” they said. In today’s world they would have said, “That’s not how a Christian acts. That’s not proper behavior. You aren’t a true Christian if you do those things.”
In calling Jesus a glutton and a drunkard, the Pharisees were in fact condemning Jesus. According to Deuteronomy 21:20, being a glutton and a drunkard was punishable by stoning. They were saying that Jesus could not be a man of God, much less the Messiah, because He ate and drank too much, and hung out with the wrong kind of people.
Many Christians get the same accusations leveled at them today by other religious people. I have a book in my study called “Real Christians Don’t Dance.” It’s written by John Fisher, and actually, the word “dance” is crossed out with a big, red “X.” The book is written to show how legalistic certain forms of Christianity have become. He says it’s easier to focus on a manmade set of silly rules, than it is to be honest with ourselves about God’s rules.
It’s easier to say, “Real Christians don’t dance” than it is to say “Real Christians don’t envy.” Which one do you hear more often? “Real Christians don’t smoke,” or “Real Christians don’t lust.” Which is harder to live by? “Real Christians love their enemies,” or “Real Christians go to church on Sunday.”
When we actually love God and live according to His rules rather than our man-made ones, something happens that is amazing. The Pharisees reveal it in Luke 7:34, but I doubt they realize what they are saying. In the last part of Luke 7:34, their final accusation of Jesus is that He is a friend of sinners. He is a friend of tax collectors, and prostitutes.
I think that there is almost no more beautiful statement about Jesus in all of Scripture. The religious leaders were accusing Him of guilt by association. “He must be a sinner because sinners like him,” they thought. “They don’t hang out with us, because we are too righteous for them.”
But sinners were not attracted to Jesus because He was guilty like them. Far from it. He was sinless. He was perfect. They were attracted to Him because of His holiness, and His great love for them. I doubt very much that any repentant prostitute ever sought out Gamaliel, and washed his feet with her hair. No sinful person ever found their way with tears and trust to the self-righteous Sanhedrin.
But Christ’s perfect purity coupled with His tender love, draws the impure, and warms the heart of the unlovely. It is a sign, not that you are bad, but that you are good in a Christlike fashion, if the outcasts and rejects of this world find their way to your door. It is not true of me yet, but I think one of the greatest compliments someone could pay me would be “He is a friend of sinners.”
Listen. If the church begins to lose its care for, and its power of drawing outcasts and sinners, it has begun to lose its hold on Christ. Alexander Maclaren has hard words for such a church. He says that “The sooner such a church dies the better, and there will be few mourners at its funeral.”
Do sinners feel welcome around you? Do sinners feel welcome here? Hard questions. But Jesus was a friend of sinners. Are we?
To develop this heart of love and grace, remember one simple thing: You and I are still sinners. We had all better be very happy that Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners, or else He would not be the friend of you or me. As you, a sinner, go and spend time with Jesus, and fall deeply in love with Jesus, you will learn to see others as He does. You will learn to look upon others with eyes of compassion rather than condemnation.
You will watch Him look upon Jerusalem, full of rebellious people, and rather than call down fire from heaven, cry. You will see harlots and sinners coming near Him with new hope. You will see touch the lepers and the lame who have been dejected and despised. You will learn to recognize that sad, compassionate gaze when He looks upon a sinner. And one day, He will turn that gaze upon you.
You and I are the lepers. You and I are the hungry who need to be fed. We are the prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners. And Jesus wants to love us, because He is the friend of sinners, and we are sinners. If you do not see yourself as a sinner, then Jesus is not your friend. Until you see yourself as a sinner, you will never be a friend of Jesus, and you will never be a friend of sinners.
Instead, you will be like the self-righteous, hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees, forever pointing the finger. You will find fault in others, and never see it in yourself. Those who never see themselves as the sinner think that they are right in everything, and everybody else is wrong. They looked at John and say, “He’s too serious. He needs to lighten up.” Then they looked at Jesus and say, “He’s having too much fun. He needs to get down to business.”
People who never see themselves as the sinner spend all their time criticizing others. One week, they say “The sermons are too doctrinal.” The next week, “The sermons don’t include enough of the Bible.” One person says, “The service is too long. People can’t sit that long.” But another says, “The service is too short to allow God to work.”
One will complain “The church is too gushy and syrupy.” Then the next week, “The church spends too much time condemning sin.” First, “Christianity is too dull and boring,” and then “There is too much emphasis on excitement and thrills.”
Ultimately, what it comes down to, is that people who do not recognize their own sin, want God to dance to their own tune. And their tune is completely out of sync with what God is trying to do. When people criticize the church, or what the church is doing, more often than not, such criticism comes from their own personal opinion and desires, and not from God’s Word. This is childish criticism. When God does not give you what you want, or how you want it, the fault is not with God. The fault is in you.
If your reason for why the church should do something is because the church down the road does it a certain way, that is childish criticism. If your reason for wanting something done a certain way is because it’s always done it that way, that is childish criticism. If your reason for wanting a change is because you are tired of the way things are being done, that is childish criticism.
There is only one good reason for wanting something done in a certain way and that is, “Because the Bible says so.” Do not expect God or the church to dance to your tune. The church that God blesses is one that dances to heaven’s tune as recorded on the pages of Scripture.
When we recognize that we are sinners, and we begin to listen to the music of Christ in Scripture, we begin to grow up. We mature. We leave behind childish ways and childish thinking. We become wisdom’s children. Jesus points this out in Luke 7:35.
II. Children of Wisdom (Luke 7:35)
Luke 7:35. But wisdom is justified by all her children.
Doubtless, people disagreed with Jesus. Especially the religious rulers. They already condemned Jesus as a glutton, and John as a demoniac. So Jesus tells the crowd to watch and wait. When He says wisdom is justified by all her children, He means that whether He is right or the Pharisees are right will be determined by the lives they live and kind of disciples they produce.
The Pharisees, we know, just made their disciples more a child of hell than they were. But Christ’s disciples went out and turned the world upside down. Wisdom was justified, or proved right, by her children.
Look around at all the local churches throughout America. Look around at all the churches throughout history. Ask yourself, “Which churches have the strongest and most faithful disciples of Jesus Christ?” Don’t ask, “Which churches have the most people show up on Sunday morning?” for if it was a crowd we wanted, there are things we can do to attract a crowd. I read of one church this week that wants to give away one car every week to people who attend their services. Last week, they gave away a yellow Hummer. They don’t give away a car every week, but they said that they wish they could. Do you think that attracts a crowd? You bet it does. But I wonder how many of those who attend just go for the car? How many who attend that church are faithful and committed disciples of Jesus Christ?
Wisdom is proved right by her children.
Don’t ask, “Which church has the most signs and wonders?” It does not matter what kind of signs and wonders go on in the service, or in the lives of the people. Jesus performed signs and wonders more than anybody else, but when He was asked to perform them, He said that only a wicked and adulterous generation seeks for signs (Matt. 12:39). Furthermore, when Jesus was with his disciples, He spent most of His time teaching them the Word. And they went out and turned the world upside down.
Wisdom is proved right by her children.
I don’t care if a church is huge or a church is small, you measure success and effectiveness in one way only. You ask, “Are the people becoming faithful and committed disciples of Jesus Christ? Are they loving Him more? Are they learning about Him more? Are they eager to get into His Word more? Are they serving Him more? Are they witnessing more? Are they exited to come to church and be taught God’s Word? Are they excited to teach what they have learned to others?” All of these things are marks of the healthy disciple.
And I will tell you that throughout America and throughout the world and throughout history, the churches where most disciples like this can be found are those that give people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. The churches where most disciples like this can be found are churches that preach and teach the Word of God unapologetically, systematically, week in and week out, in good times and in bad times, when it is popular and when it is not.
You study the book of Acts and discover that they were being daily taught the Word of God in the temple and from house to house. When Paul planted churches, He would teach night and day for weeks and months on end in the synagogues and in the homes where people would gather. In the first 300 years of the church, as the Gospel spread rapidly around the globe, it was customary and normal for churches services to be held almost every night of the week, and the main thing they did in these church services was teach the Word of God book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse.
Following this, the church went into decline for a while, but regained prominence when men like Martin Luther and John Calvin decided to put the preaching and teaching of the Word of God back as the central activity of the church. Disciples were made, and the world was changed.
Things went into decline for a while again, but then men like George Whitefield, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards began to preach and teach the Word of God again, and the Great Awakening occurred in Great Britain and the United States. Following this came men like Spurgeon who lit the world on fire with Biblical exposition.
In our day also, there is an awakening beginning to happen as some churches and pastors realize that the sole source of authority for all that they say and do is the Word of God; not popular opinion and community surveys. When churches preach and teach the Word of God, Christians grow up into maturity, eave behind childish ways, and begin to go out and witness to others.
Where Christians are allowed to remain in their childish ways, disciples are not being made. But where the Word of God is used for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, the people of God become thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Wisdom is proved right by her children.
Do you have childlike faith? If so, good. But move on from there. Leave behind childish ways and childish demands. If you’re going to demand something, demand what God says you should demand. 1 Peter 2:2 says that as infants, as babes in Christ, you must crave the pure milk of the Word. The word crave means to desire, to demand, to long after. It is not wrong to be like a child. We all start there, and we are all still there to one degree or another. But we move on from there by demanding the Word of God. By it you will grow up in your salvation.