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At one level the "little ones" here are little children. At another level they are the true followers of Jesus Christ. Verse 3, tells us all to "become as little children." That Jesus is referring not only to little children per se, but also to his true followers, may explain the otherwise odd phrase "which believe in me."
In verse 6 the subject is offending little children. Verse 7 talks about offense without referring to an object. Now in verse 8 Jesus talks of offending one's own self. The fact that later in verse 10 Jesus says "despise not of of these little ones" suggests that he hasn't left-off talking about offending little ones. So why interject here a discussion of self-offense? One interpretation is that what is meant is more like "if thy hand is offensive." Alternatively, since (as noted above) Jesus is telling us all to be little children, verses 8 and 9 are telling us how to do that--to become like little children we must stop acting in ways offensive to little children--stop offending our own selves.
Points to ponder
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I have a question
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- It is curious that the phrase "which believe in me" is appended to "one of these little ones." Is it worse to offend children who believe in Christ than those who do not?
- What should we make of the last part of this verse "in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." What does it mean that they have angels? Also, this sentence seems to suggest that some angels always behold God's face while others do not. What is the point of making this distinction?
- What does it mean that we are to become as little children? Despite having sat through many lessons on this subject I can't say that I feel very confident at all that I have a good answer. One question I have is how children were perceived at the time of Christ. I remember at some point in college learning that before the early 19th century children were not thought of as innocent. (I am probably getting this all wrong so please someone who knows something about the history of how children were perceived through the ages, straighten me out.) But regardless, it doesn't really seem to make sense to try to be innocent does it? We have left the Garden of Eden. We are not innocent. In my mind to be innocent is not to know right from wrong. So, knowing right, we can try to be good, but we shouldn't try to be innocent. Maybe it mainly means something like "be humble." Thoughts?
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- Margaret S. Lifferth, "Behold Your Little Ones," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 74–76. Sister Lifferth offers encouragement to those who work with children. "Brothers and sisters, as a mother and a Primary leader, I know this work with children is not easy. Protecting, teaching, and loving children can be demanding, often discouraging, sometimes exhausting, and occasionally the fruits of our efforts are long delayed. But it is precisely because it is not easy to bring children to the Savior that we must come to Him ourselves. As we seek Him and His Spirit to help us, we will see a miracle. We will recognize that our own hearts are changing and we too are becoming 'submissive, meek, humble, patient, [and] full of love' (see Mosiah 3:19)."
- The Juniper Tree recorded by the Brothers Grimm (use of millstone paralleling this text)
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