Sonship, part 8: Stages of Spiritual Growth
The three compartments of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness correlate to the three stages defining our relationship to the Father while we are on our the path to complete and full sonship. These three relationships are found in the epistle of 1 John.
First, I will list the Scriptures and point out how the apostle John addresses his readers, and then we will come back and analyze them in their context, as well as looking at these words as they appear in other areas of the New Testament. The data in the brackets is the Strong’s reference number and the corresponding Greek word.
1 John 2:1 My little children [G5040 tekni,on teknion] these things write I unto you, that ye sin not…
12 I write unto you, little children [tekni,on teknion] because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.
13 I write unto you, fathers [G3962 path,r pater], because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men [G3495 neani,skoj neaniskos], because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children [G3813 paidi,on paidion], because ye have known the Father.
14 I have written unto you, fathers [G3962 path,r pater], because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men [neani,skoj neaniskos], because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
18 Little children [paidi,on paidion], it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
1 John 2:28 And now, little children [tekni,on teknion], abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
1 John 3:7 Little children [tekni,on teknion], let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
Notice now in verse 10 that John uses the word “children,” but it is not in the form of addressing his readers. It is a different Greek word from the phrase “little children.”
10 In this the children [G5043 te,knon teknon] of God are manifest, and the children [te,knon teknon] of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
1 John 3:18 My little children [tekni,on teknion], let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
1 John 4:4 Ye are of God, little children [tekni,on teknion], and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
1 John 5:21 Little children [tekni,on teknion], keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
Scholars believe that John wrote these three epistles of First, Second and Third John towards the end of the first century—very late in his life. He had pastoral care over the church at Ephesus and probably many daughter churches also, that had sprung from the church at Ephesus in one way or another.
Commentators tell us that John used this form of address, calling them “little children” as a term of affection. That may be true but I think there is something more to be learned here. We do not deny that there is a literal meaning in this epistle when John addresses three different age groups or classes of people as little children, young men and fathers. However, I think we can understand this allegorically or metaphorically as well. We have just noted where John calls them “little children” nine times in this epistle.
The phrase “little children” appears only seven other times in the New Testament, and only twice is it used with the same Greek word and in the form of direct address. We will take a look at those in due course. We also noted that John used the term “young men” only twice and the term “fathers” only twice in this epistle.
Nowhere else in the New Testament is the term “young men” used in the form of direct address. Therefore, we have a special case of its use here in the epistle of John Of course, the word “fathers” is used numerous times in the New Testament, but there are only four other places where it is used in the form of direct address.
Those four are in entirely different contexts. For example, in the book of Acts, both Stephen, the martyr, and Paul used the term “fathers” as they are making a defense of the faith. In both of those cases, the term “fathers” is in reference to the religious elders who are present.
In the other two uses, “fathers” are addressed in terms of their responsibilities as head of the household, head of the family. For example, in
Colossians 3:21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, …
Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
From all of this, we can see that John’s use of these terms of direct address: little children, young men, and fathers, is a special usage. And it is than just being terms of endearment, or of speaking to three different age groups. I believe it has reference to stages of spiritual growth. As the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says in:
Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
The apostle John is pointing out the possibilities of spiritual growth. He is encouraging his flock to go on to perfection, to progress to the stage of spiritual young men, and ultimately to the stage of spiritual fatherhood.
I want you to realize that spiritual fatherhood is simply another name for the sonship which we are describing. We’re talking about mature sons, sons who are fully grown. And what do fully grown, mature sons do? Well, among other things, they become fathers. (To be continued.)