There are several ways of describing the Christian life – a race, a battle, a journey – found in the Bible. The frequency and variety of the references is a reminder to us of the importance of progress. In this passage John illustrates spiritual growth by using different stages in life: children, young men and fathers.
John is not referring to the natural age of the members of the churches to which he was writing. We can easily understand why. A person of twenty-five who has been converted for ten years should be well ahead of a person of seventy-five who has been converted for six months. It is possible for a physical child to be a spiritual ‘young man’, for a physical young man to be a spiritual ‘father’, and for a physical older man to be a spiritual ‘child’ or a spiritual ‘young man’. We should not assess ourselves by our natural age, but by the years we have been on the spiritual journey.
The illustrations John uses suggest that there is an order of experiences through which we have to go on our spiritual journey. He indicates that a spiritual child does not leap to becoming a spiritual father and, in the jump, avoid the experiences expected of a spiritual ‘young man’. Instead the spiritual child has to develop into a spiritual ‘young man’ and then continue to develop into a spiritual older person.
Regarding those in the category of children John mentions two features: they are forgiven and they know the Father; concerning the category of young men, John mentions three features: in addition to forgiveness and knowledge of the Father, they also overcome the evil one; as far as fathers are concerned, they have four qualities: in addition to forgiveness, knowledge of the Father and victory over the devil, they know him who is from the beginning, a reference to Jesus Christ. It is important to notice this because while spiritual children cannot be expected to have reached the stages identified with young men and fathers, the young men should be expected to have also the experiences linked to the spiritual children, and fathers should be expected to have also the experiences linked to spiritual children and young men.
Tomorrow we will think about the stage of spiritual ‘children’.