How old are you? Ever thought about that from a spiritual perspective? As we move further into 1 John 2 he outlines different ways to understand our spiritual age. There is the expression, ‘Age is inevitable, maturity is optional.’ The clear implication is that in both natural and spiritual life we don’t simply mature through the passage of time, there is something we need to do – we need to intentionally pursue maturity. It is a bit like exercise. I was at the gym one time and wanted to use a piece of equipment. I asked the young lady about to use it how long she would be. She told me she would be a while, she was, in fact she was over half an hour. However she reaped almost no benefit from the equipment because she spent almost the entire time standing and talking with someone and about 2 minutes using the equipment. I see a lot of this in those who struggle with exercise, they embrace the concept but engage very little in the practice and lament the lack of results.
So, back to spiritual growth. What does John have to teach us. In chapter 2 John uses four different terms that speak to our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Two terms speak of children and the others of fathers (mothers as well) and young men (young women as well). With the references to children a key distinction is lost in the translation from Greek to English and easily leads to a lack of clarity, or to us missing the point of what John is teaching. So, let’s look at the text as in most translations the distinction is lost and John does make a distinction many times in this short book.
1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2 (NKJV)
John is here continuing his opening exhortation. He started his letter by saying he wanted us to have fellowship and now he also shows us that out of fellowship we can walk in victory over sin. However before touching on that he refers to his readers, and by extension us, as ‘little children.’ This reference is not one of maturity, it is an expression of affection. The word and meaning are below.
τεκνίον teknion noun Little child.
Word Studies: The word teknion is used nine times in the New Testament, seven of those occurrences in 1 John. It is a late and somewhat rare usage, and the term is actually a nursery term meaning “little child.” It does not occur in the Septuagint or early Christian literature outside the New Testament.
Its usage in the New Testament occurs in the vocative plural. It is used as a special endearing term by both Jesus and the apostles as they address their spiritual children (Oepke, “pais,” Kittel, 5:637).
The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Sigma-Omega.
So the phrase ‘little children’ could for the sake of clarity be translated as ‘dear children’ since it is a term of affection rather than an identifier of maturity. In using it John is affectionately addressing believers of all ages and stages of maturity. For example my son is almost 23 and a lot of people refer to him as Mike, I still use his full name Michael because of the meaning it carries for me. When my children were both young I had terms of affection I used that changed over time but always expressed my heart because of my relationship to them.
This affectionate term or variants is used in the following verses in 1 John. 2:1, 12, 28, 3:7, 10, 18, 4:4, 5:2, 21. The other term is used in 2:13 and 18.
παιδίον paidion noun Infant, little or young child.
In the New Testament paidion is used in a number of ways…An interesting usage of this family aspect is seen in 1 John 2:13 where paidion is used to address the youngest believers in the family of God. In that usage it is to be distinguished from teknia (see 4891), the term John used to address all his readers (1 John 2:1,12,28). Here paidion seems to emphasize the fact that a child is a learner, one who needs guidance, while teknia stresses the fact that the child was born into the family.
Paidion can also be used to address believers who are deficient in spiritual understanding. In 1 Corinthians 14:20 Paul exhorted the Christians at Corinth not to be childish in understanding. Instead they were to grow up and exhibit mature spiritual intellects. They needed to become spiritual adults, that is, mature.
The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Pi-Rho.
So John has a term of affection he uses to refer to all believers and a term that speaks to our level of maturity. It is helpful to read 1 John in this light. In my next post I will delve further into this and more of what John has to share with us. For now the question remains. How old are we?