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Sonship, part 9: Little Children, Young Men, Fathers

May 21, 2012

In this the epistle, John calls his readers “little children” nine times. Only twice does he address them as “young men ” or “fathers.” I think these ratios are important. I think that it gives us somewhat of an indication of the ratios in Christianity as a whole—of those who are babes in Christ, that is, little children—as opposed to those who have progressed on to the stage of young men, and thirdly, of those who will ultimately be part of the overcomer company, those who will bring forth spiritual progeny.

Let’s go back to the beginning of 1 John, chapter 2, and analyze these three classes. As we do, we will refer to the Greek words. Therefore, I am reproducing the relevant words and their definitions taken from my BibleWorks Hermeneutika software. The numbers refer to Strong’s reference numbers. Underlining emphasis is mine.

G5040 [tekni,on teknion] {tek-nee’-on} Meaning: 1) a little child 2) in the NT used as a term of kindly address by teachers to their disciples

G5043 [te,knon teknon] {tek’-non} Meaning: 1) offspring, children 1a) child 1a) a male child, a son 1b) metaph. 1b1) the name transferred to that intimate and reciprocal relationship formed between men by the bonds of love, friendship, trust, just as between parents and children 1b2) in affectionate address, such as patrons, helpers, teachers and the like employ: my child 1b3) in the NT, pupils or disciples are called children of their teachers, because the latter by their instruction nourish the minds of their pupils and mould their characters 1b4) children of God: in the OT of “the people of Israel” as especially dear to God, in the NT, in Paul’s writings, all who are led by the Spirit of God and thus closely related to God 1b5) children of the devil: those who in thought and action are prompted by the devil, and so reflect his character 1c) metaph. 1c1) of anything who depends upon it, is possessed by a desire or affection for it, is addicted to it 1c2) one who is liable to any fate 1c2a) thus children of a city: it citizens and inhabitants 1c3) the votaries of wisdom, those souls who have, as it were, been nurtured and moulded by wisdom 1c4) cursed children, exposed to a curse and doomed to God’s wrath or penalty

Usage: AV – child 77, son 21, daughter 1; 99

G3495 [neani,skoj neaniskos] {neh-an-is’-kos} Meaning: 1) a young man, youth 1a) used of a young attendant or servant

G3962 path,r pater {pat-ayr’} Meaning: 1) generator or male ancestor 1a) either the nearest ancestor: father of the corporeal nature, natural fathers, both parents 1b) a more remote ancestor, the founder of a race or tribe, progenitor of a people, forefather: so Abraham is called, Jacob and David 1b1) fathers i.e. ancestors, forefathers, founders of a race 1c) one advanced in years, a senior

2) metaph. 2a) the originator and transmitter of anything 2a1) the authors of a family or society of persons animated by the same spirit as himself 2a2) one who has infused his own spirit into others, who actuates and governs their minds 2b) one who stands in a father’s place and looks after another in a paternal way 2c) a title of honour 2c1) teachers, as those to whom pupils trace back the knowledge and training they have received 2c2) the members of the Sanhedrin, whose prerogative it was by virtue of the wisdom and experience in which they excelled, to take charge of the interests of others 3) God is called the Father

3a) of the stars, the heavenly luminaries, because he is their creator, upholder, ruler 3b) of all rational and intelligent beings, whether angels or men, because he is their creator, preserver, guardian and protector 3b1) of spiritual beings and of all men 3c) of Christians, as those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate
with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere him as their reconciled and loving Father 3d) the Father of Jesus Christ, as one whom God has united to himself in the closest bond of love and intimacy, made acquainted with his purposes, appointed to explain and carry out among men the plan of salvation, and made to share also in his own divine nature 3d1) by Jesus Christ himself 3d2) by the apostles

G3813 [paidi,on paidion] {pahee-dee’-on} Meaning: 1) a young child, a little boy, a little girl 1a) infants 1b) children, little ones 1c) an infant 1c1) of a (male) child just recently born 1d) of a more advanced child; of a mature child; 1e) metaph. children (like children) in intellect

Now with these Greek words and their definitions in sight we can go back and examine the text and see what comes forth.

1 John 2:1 My little children [tekni,on], these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

Is the apostle John really speaking to very young children here in terms of chronological age? He’s talking to these little children about sinning. What do little children understand about sin? Some, but not very much. They just don’t have the chronological maturity yet.

I believe this applies more to those who are considered babes in Christ, because one of the very first and most important things you learn about as a baby Christian is the doctrine of sin: that we are sinners; that Jesus died for our sins, and that, as Christians, we should be striving not to sin.

This is one of the main focuses in our early Christian walk. And of course it remains so throughout our life, but it is one of very first doctrines of Christianity that we learn. So it is entirely logical than that John would speak about sin when he is addressing the babes in Christ. He goes on in the same vein in verse 12

12 I write unto you, little children [tekni,on], because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.

Here again John points out the marvelous good news to the babes in Christ: that their sins are forgiven. And what does John have to say to those who would go on to spiritual perfection and spiritual maturity? He says only one thing:

13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.

Stop in the middle there and drop down to the beginning of verse 14

14 I have written unto you, fathers [path,r pater], because ye have known him that is from the beginning.

Is John stuttering here as he repeats himself? I don’t think so. I have a bone to pick with the translators here. You’ll notice that in both verse 13 and verse 14 that they inserted the words that
is. They will be in italics in most Bible versions. Of course, there is no question that God has been from the beginning, but I don’t think that is the point here. Let’s read the phrase omitting those words:

because ye have known him from the beginning.

John is referring to the fact that these mature Christians had known the Father from the beginning, that is, from when they first heard the gospel. That makes sense, doesn’t it? So what about the repetition then?

Several times in the course of my audio lectures, I have pointed out the different levels of meaning of the verb to know. We discussed yada, yada, yada in the Hebrew (now popularized and made vulgar by a sitcom), and in the Greek, one of the words is ginosko. Both of those words have a wide range of meaning.

And so here, speaking to the spiritually mature, John summarizes the totality of their Christian experience by stating that they have known the Father. There he is using it in its most complete and fullest sense. To know the Father in His fullness—does that not really encompass everything?

So that the first time John says that these spiritual fathers have known the Father, he is referring to their initial knowledge at the beginning of their Christian walk. Then the second time he tells them that they have known him from the beginning, he is referring to the highest level of knowledge of the Father, the most complete and full knowledge available. Now let’s go to the last part of verse 13:

13:I write unto you, fathers, 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 [paidi,on paidion], because ye have known the Father.

We can now understand how John can be saying the same thing to the babes in Christ. They also have known the Father because they have come to Christ; but this is the lowest level, the initial level of knowledge of the Father. It is not knowing the Father in his fullness and completeness as one who is a mature son would experience.

We should also point out that the phrase little children there is from the Greek word [paidi,on paidion], not [tekni,on teknion]. And remember paidion
has reference to infants and younger children, or, metaphorically, “like children in intellect” or this case, children spiritually.

I mentioned earlier that there were only two other places in the New Testament where the phrase “little children” was used in direct address. Let’s examine these now. Part of this epistle from Paul to the Galatians Christians is written in a scolding manner. In chapter 3, he starts out:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you,

Paul is not teaching that the law has been set aside and done away with, but he is chastising them for believing that they can achieve salvation by keeping the law. He says:

2 Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

So this is the context, and when we look in chapter 4 we see Paul addresses them as—

Galatians 4:19 My little children [teknion], of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,

And further he says:

21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

Then Paul goes on in a long discourse about the allegory of Sarah and Hagar. Paul is coming down hard on these Galatians Christians because they were turning back to the idea that they had to earn their salvation by keeping the law. Now look back again in verse 19, and notice the spiritual metaphor Paul is using there—as though he is their spiritual Father? —No! Their spiritual mother!

Paul likens himself to a woman giving birth. And he is showing his frustration here because he is having to do it all over again. He uses the phrase “travail in birth again.” He thought these Christians had matured to some extent, and he is very disappointed that they are still babes in Christ, and so he addresses them here as “little children.”

Let us now turn our attention to the gospel of John, chapter 13. Here we find Jesus speaking to the disciples, the apostles, just after Judas left them during the last supper, and Jesus is alone with the eleven.

John 13:30 He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.

31 Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.

32 If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.

33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

36 Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards.

37 Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.

38 Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.

Once again, one could make the argument that this phrase “little children” is merely a term of affection and endearment. And there is no question of Jesus’ love for the disciples. But I also believe it applies equally to the idea of its reflecting spiritual immaturity. For example, there is “cocky” Peter claiming he would never deny Christ.

And let us remember that even though these apostles had been with our Lord for three years, practically day and night, that they really were babes in Christ because it was not going to be until a couple of months later that they would receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which would take them to a new level of maturity. Now let’s return to 1 John, chapter 2, and pick up where John addresses the young men.

13 …I write unto you, young men [neani,skoj neaniskos], because ye have overcome the wicked one.

14 … 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.

The Greek word here is neaniskos which means1) a young man, youth 1a) used of a young attendant or servant.

I especially want to call your attention to the idea that this word carries with it the meaning of a servant. That is something we will tie back into later in our studies. This is the intermediate stage. These are young men—no longer babes in Christ, no longer immature children, these are believers who have advanced to the stage of doing some serious spiritual warfare.

We know that because John is commending them for overcoming the wicked one. Now we must understand—John was commending them for having overcome, but this did not mean that there were no more battles to fight. Overcoming is a continuous process until we die.

And the reason these Christians, both male and female, these spiritual young men were able to overcome is because they had the word of God abiding in them. It is the word of God which gives strength to overcome during times of trial and temptation. Then John goes on to discuss some of these trials and temptations.

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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 Jo 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 the usage is not in the form of direct address to his readers. And it is a different Greek word from the phrase “little children.”

10 In this the children [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.

Let’s turn over to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, because I am sure that someone is remembering the discussion concerning little children in the ministry of Jesus.

Matthew 18:1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

2 And Jesus called a little child [paidi,on paidion] unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children [paidi,on paidion], ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The first thing we want to notice in this incident is that this is not the same Greek word that John was using when he addressed the believers in his epistle. This is the Greek word

Notice that in verse 3, Jesus is talking about simply getting into the kingdom of heaven. He is talking about conversion, becoming a believer. To do so requires a childlike faith.

Some of you parents, did you ever do this with your children when they were young…? When your son was about three or four or five years old, did you stand him on the stairway, on about the third or fourth or fifth step up from the bottom, and then encourage him to leap into your arms?

That is childlike faith. That child is at an age where he has probably tumbled down the some steps once or twice and so he knows, that if you do not catch him, that it’s going to hurt real bad. But he has this absolute faith that when he leaps, you’re going to catch him.

And then in verse 4, Jesus is no longer speaking about simply getting into heaven, he is now speaking about being the greatest in heaven. So the key point here is the humbleness, the humility of a little child. Now this is not to say that all little children are necessarily humble, but evidently this particular one that Jesus set in their midst was manifesting humility. Over in the gospel of Mark, it says:

Mark 9:35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.

36 And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them

Obviously, Jesus is the pattern for all of us in this. He humbled himself, he left his glory in the heavenly realm, and took upon himself flesh and blood like us. He further humbles himself even to the death on the cross. Jesus is the pre-eminent servant. Jesus is the pattern Son—something we will discuss in greater depth at some other time.

I want you to understand that what we have just studied, this progression from little children to young men to fathers is one tiny little aspect of the overall subject of sonship. Where are you in this progression? (To be continued.)

Category: Teaching