(I John 2:12-14)
The preceding passage, on the surface, seems to be nothing more than a
simple acknowledgment to whom this letter has been addressed. The Apostle
John cites three distinct groups within the Church and makes ostensibly
elementary comments about each one. However, there is far more
significance than quite possibly meets the eye behind these relatively
simple words. It is worth our while to explore this gold mine in which
are hidden treasures beneath our very feet. Those content with receiving
only those things which can be easily obtained through little effort or
who prefer to be spoon-fed will miss much, for a man’s hunger drives him
For those who are seekers indeed, grab your picks and shovels, switch
on the light of truth atop your hard hats, and let us be encouraged to
dig towards a deeper level than previously attained or even considered.
The first group John refers to is children, as those who know that God is
their Father and that their sins are forgiven in Christ, their Savior.
These are relatively new converts who are not expected to have a great
deal of understanding beyond this. There is no hint of rebuke, for this
is accepted as normal for this initial stage of their spiritual walk.
When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason
as a child (I Cor. 13:1a) and, for everyone who partakes only of milk is
not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe, but solid
food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained
to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:13-14). The prevalent line of thinking
for this level of maturity is, "What has God done for me?"
In having a good foundation laid into their spiritual lives they are given a steady diet of the elementary teaching about the Christ, while being exhorted to press onto maturity. It is worth noting what these elementary teachings
are considered to be. They are described as a foundation of repentance
from dead works and of faith towards God, of instruction about washings,
and of laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal
judgment (Heb. 6:1b-2).
Certainly, it is both appropriate and necessary to have these fundamental
truths instilled in the lives of newborn babes. But, when the general
assembly consistently receives this baby food week after week, month
after month, and year after year, it is no wonder that our churches as a
whole continue to be so relatively immature, lacking in spiritual depth.
Rather, we are exhorted to leave the elementary teaching about the Christ
and to press on to maturity (Heb. 6:1a).
Whether church leaders are incapable due to their own spiritual lack or unwilling for less than honorable motives in keeping the sheep dependent upon them, the resulting condition of spiritual retardation remains the same, requiring radical changes to correct the spiritual malnutrition in our midst. If left unchecked, we can expect this pattern to be perpetuated to our own hurt
and shame, for as it says, like people, like priest (Hos. 4:9a).
We now come to the group referred to as, young men. John writes to them
that, you have overcome the evil one, and that, you are strong, and the
word of God abides in you. The prevalent line of thinking here is, "What
I can do for God?" John knows that through Christ they have obtained
victory over sin and death, that they are of an age where they enjoy both
spiritual and physical vitality, and that they are at peak mental
capacity for absorbing the word of God. They are chomping at the bit to
utilize their gifting and feel a sense of destiny that they have a
mission to fulfill. Much is revealed in the passage which says, The glory
of young men is in their strength... (Prov. 20:29a).
This group is a mixed bag, consisting of both blessings and curses. How can this be? You have heard it said that a person’s strength can also be their
weakness and herein lies the great dilemma for young men and the Church.
Many will ask, "What dilemma could possibly be created by young men
desiring to serve the Lord?" Well, these young men are filled to the brim
with knowledge, good knowledge mind you, about the Lord and His Church,
but there is yet a large chasm between knowledge and wisdom. And the
honor of old men is their gray hair. You see, wisdom is derived by the
practical application of knowledge over time, lots of time. As one older
Chinese Christian worker expressed it, "After about ten years you begin
to know a little something of the Lord and His ways." There is another
saying which all too often applies to young men in the Church and their
zeal to be active early on in "the ministry," which is, "knowing just
enough karate to get your teeth kicked in."
In the early Church young people and new converts did not "serve the
Lord." They did not go into "full-time ministry." The idea would have
been foreign to them. Well, then, what did they do in the church? They
learned Christ from men who intimately knew Him. They did not simply hear
teaching on "church life." They witnessed it first hand. They lived it
experientially. They learned to be spiritually normal. They learned to
function as a simple brother in the Lord within a local church and the
surrounding community. They were taught that there had to be Divine
"inreach" before there could be authentic outreach. And, it was out from
this collective experience wrought over a good, long incubation period
that God selected a relatively small number to be sent out as itinerant
Now, someone will always bring up the alleged example of Timothy as being
an exception to the rule, and of course, it is not surprising as to just
how many consider themselves to be one of those "exceptions." Well, if
they can show similar preparation for ministry as Timothy then they might
have a case. Let’s see now, he was saved as a result of Paul’s first
missionary journey through his region. After living as a simple brother
in the local church for five years while gaining a reputation in the
local church for being an excellent young man in Christ, Paul asked this
young man, who at the time was probably in his early to mid-twenties, to
accompany him. That’s all!
No great prophetic word was spoken over him as
to how great a man he would be and how great a ministry he would have on
behalf of the Kingdom. So, for the next several years he primarily served
as a baggage handler, laundry man, tentmaker’s apprentice, and messenger
boy. Oh, yes, he also spent a good deal of time with men of apostolic
stature. He observed a great deal, asked a great deal of questions, and
as a result, learned what few men in all of church history have been
You simply can’t pay for a first rate spiritual education like
that, even if you can find it. Oh, and one more thing; God did not go to
these great lengths to produce a pastor-elder at the local level. Timothy
could have remained local and have been sufficiently prepared right where
he was. No, he was uniquely prepared to be a church planter, an apostolic
worker. If the "exceptions" out there claim to have comparable spiritual
credentials as Timothy, they may want to consider having the Lord examine
their hearts to see if they lack, among other things, the integrity
required of men called to such a work.
And finally, we come to the group referred to as fathers. The key phrase
here is, you know Him who has been from the beginning. The children and
the young men also know the Father, but not the Father who has been from
the beginning. This simple phrase denotes a level of spiritual depth in
the Lord lacking in different degrees by the two previous groups. The
honor of old men is their gray hair (Prov. 20:29b), so when the time came
for Moses to select elders, he chose wise and discerning and experienced
men (Deut. 1:13a).
It could be said that fathers may be defined as those
who through much time and personal experience have acquired a deep
understanding of who Christ is and the Father’s eternal purposes. John
may have expressed it best in this way, What was from the beginning, what
we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our
hands handles, concerning the Word of Life-and the life was manifest, and
we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which
was with the Father and was manifested to us-what we have seen and heard
we proclaim to you also, that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed
our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (I John
Spiritual fathers are more, so very much more, than just teachers, for
they minister not merely a gift, but a life. For if you were to have
countless teachers in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in
Christ I became your father through the gospel (I Cor. 4:15). And how
does a spiritual father minister? Paul eloquently elaborates on this
point to the Thessalonians, where he writes, we proved to be gentle among
you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus
a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only
the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very
dear to us (I Thes. 2:7-8).
Proceeding in our spiritual walk, we start out as children. From there we
move on to becoming young men, ultimately attaining to and functioning as
fathers. This should be the normal path and process toward spiritual
maturity for every man in Christ. The Scriptures teach that all in Christ
have at least one gift and that these gifts are irrevocable once given.
But spiritual fatherhood transcends gifting and calling and, by His
grace, can be apprehended by those who earnestly pursue this highest form
of all ministry.
To "hit the mark" we must first know where to aim. To
pursue something of great worth we must first come to recognize and
appreciate its eternal worth. If we can be faithful to this call, the
next generation may yet say to us, "Thank you for thinking beyond
yourselves, for allowing the Lord to invest in you in such a way that you
now have much to deposit in us," and thereby, serving the purpose of God
in your generation, as well as theirs.
For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel,
which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their
children; that the generation to come might know, even the children yet
to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that
they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God,
but keep His commandments (Ps. 78:5-7).