“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:12-17
June is my wife’s birthday month and it’s also the month we celebrate Fathers. More often than I can remember my wife’s birthday lands on “Father’s Day.” As a child she often had to “share” that day with the recognition fathers were given nationwide. (Not this year, though. She gets June 19 all to herself! And I will wisely plan accordingly).
That said, since Fathers’ Day is upon us, I want to reveal an insight or two from 1 John 2, about being a spiritual “father.”
In 1 John 2:12-17, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” tells us about three levels of spiritual maturity “– children”…“young men” and…“fathers” – and three things to avoid at all costs in our journey toward spiritual maturity. These levels of spiritual growth have nothing to do with sex or gender or how long you or I have been a Christian. They have everything to do with our capacity to love God and his people.
CHILDREN is the first level of spiritual maturity. One thing all kids have in common is that they can’t wait to grow up. Ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up, and they’ll be happy to finish this sentence: “When I grow up, I’m gonna be….” EVERY KID WANTS (AND NEEDS) TO GROW UP!
The words in this passage for “little children” (vs. 12) and “children” (vs. 13) are two different Greek words with two different meanings.
In verse 12, teknia or “little born ones” refers to all Christians, regardless of age or maturity level. So, John is addressing ALL believers who are reading his letter, as teknia – all of God’s born-again children (“little born ones”).
However, in verse 13, John is addressing paidia or “immature little folk” – spiritual children who know that their sins are forgiven and that they know the Father. They are sure of their salvation – but they’re almost entirely dependent on others for spiritual care.
Now, I want to be careful not to condemn people young in their faith. Patients who have undergone organ transplants are placed in intensive care units. The care they receive is while they’re in “critical, but stable condition.” Under constant watch, they stay there until they’re strong enough to be transferred out of ICU. New believers are similar. They’ve undergone a spiritual “heart transplant” and are in spiritually critical, but stable condition. The care they need and get in the spiritual ICU is vital to their spiritual maturity.
The issue is not that spiritual children are immature. That’s their normal state. The real issue is when the time to grow up arrives – and they don’t want to grow up!
When a mother eagle builds her nest, she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she’s killed, making it soft and comfortable for her eggs – and the baby eaglets to come. The issue with the cozy nest is that it eventually makes the young eaglets reluctant to leave when they reach flying age. The comfort and warmth of the nest makes the baby eagles reluctant to leave. So, the mother eagle begins “stirring up the nest.” She starts pulling up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and branches to the surface. As the nest becomes more and more uncomfortable for the young eaglets, they are prompted to leave the comfort of the nest and learn to fly.
John says spiritual maturity is like that. Our spiritual maturity level should progress from “children” to “young men.” From dependent to independent. But unfortunately for the Church, a vast majority of God’s people want to remain paidia – “immature little folk.”
YOUNG MEN is the next level of spiritual maturity. John tells us: “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” Spiritual “young men” are adept at “spiritual warfare.” They can fight the devil and his temptations and come out winners. Why? Because they know the Word of God. It’s their primary defense.
Spiritually mature “young men” have begun to master the spiritual disciplines of prayer, personal Bible study, and fellowship. They discover the deep spiritual strength found in letting God develop character (the fruit of the Spirit) in their lives, along with learning to lead by serving, and sharing their faith in Jesus Christ. And those spiritual disciplines only develop through time and discipline and determination. Fewer believers are “young men” in their spiritual maturity level.
The third level of spiritual maturity is what John calls FATHERS. Men and women who are intimate with God. “I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.” Spiritual fathers know Jesus intimately. They are constantly maturing in their relationship with Him. They know how to “hear” God the Father. And that discipline is acquired through patience and suffering and obedience (in that order) while God’s Word is “sown” in their lives over time. Far fewer people in the Church have learned to live as spiritual fathers.
James spoke of this level of maturity when he said: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” James 5:7-11
Spiritual children are dependent (“I need your help”). Spiritual young men are independent (“I can do it alone – if I must”). Spiritual fathers have learned the value of being interdependent (“I am strong enough to do it myself – but I need you, too”).
John ends this passage by warning us about what will hinder our spiritual maturity. He does that by contrasting loving the world with loving God. There are three things, which, when “loved” by Christians are a sign that the love of God is not in us and thus, spiritually immature. We know we love the “world” more than we love God when we get “wrapped up” in pursuing and satisfying these things.
- “the lust of the flesh” – Life’s physical addictions (food, drugs, alcohol, sex, possessions) – anything physical that we can become addicted to. These things can be “good” in and of themselves. But if we take them to extremes…they become “loves” & “addictions.”
- “the lusts of the eyes” – Life’s mental addictions (unbridled quest for knowledge) – the desire and demand to know everything. We seek to probe into the occult, and the world of the future. But there are certain limits to these. There are limits within nature, and there are limits within revelation. There are certain extremes of knowledge of which God has said, we, as fallen men and women, are forbidden to enter into because they’re dangerous. This is the lust of the eyes.
- “the boastful pride of life” – Basically, this is the desire to envy other people or to get them to praise us for our accomplishments in life. The pride of life seeks to create a sense of envy, rivalry, and jealousy in the hearts of others and gives us pleasure in doing this to them. It’s the desire to outshine or to out rank someone else.
These are the three appeals of the “world” [cosmos]. They comprise a worldview that’s essentially anti-God. And when we make satisfying our appetites our goal in life, it leads to a distorted view of life, and it’s never truly satisfying.
John ends this passage by saying not to love these things because God doesn’t love them and because they’re not going to exist one day. “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:17
Love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive. And not only does loving the world exclude the love of God in our lives, it’s an utterly foolish choice – because the world is passing away. It’s only a temporary thing. But by contrast “the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
Martin Luther wrote, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But the things I have placed in God’s hands I still possess.”
So, John tells us in this passage what God’s will is. God’s will is that we “Love Him and love one another.” And we do that by letting His love help us discern between the love of God and the love of the world. That’s the path to spiritual fatherhood.
John says, in effect: “It’s not about how spiritually enlightened you are. It’s about how spiritually mature you will allow God to make you – what you allow God to do in you with what He’s given you.”
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!
Read more about Spiritual Maturity and How to Develop It in my book Every Man Jack available on Amazon (//www.amazon.com/Every-Man-Jack.../dp/1973680386), Westbow Press (www.westbowpress.com), and wherever books are sold.