In 1 John 2:12-14, the Apostle John gives a significant description of three different levels of spiritual maturity. Throughout the letter, he consistently calls his readers “dear children.” However, here he takes a noticeable departure from his, standard address, adding “fathers” and “young men” to his typical “dear children.” When you look at the book as a whole, it seems at first glance that this passage doesn’t fit where it is placed. Yet, this reference to “dear children,” “fathers,” and “young men” is found twice in verses 12-14. In the Hebrew culture and Greek language, repetition was used to show emphasis; the writer was saying, “This is very important, don’t miss this.” So we will take a closer look at this message to see what John had to say to his contemporaries as well as to us, the recipients and readers of today.

In verse 12, John starts by saying, “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” He continues, “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” He ends the progression with, “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.” By using chronological age terminology, John distinguishes differences in levels of maturity among believers. Not only does John address the categories again, but he also places the levels out of chronological order. Once again, the “fathers” are placed between the “dear children” and the “young men.” Why would he do that? As we continue to look at the passage, I believe it will become clear that God has something special to communicate to us about the father role in particular.

We can summarize the definitions as they apply to spiritual maturity this way: “children” have come to a saving knowledge of Christ; “young men” are strong in the Word of God and have successfully fought the spiritual battle; and “fathers” know God intimately and have experienced a deep and fuller relationship with the “I AM”-the God of eternity (see Exodus 3:14-15). Now let’s look at the reason that I believe the Spirit of God inspired John to communicate the levels out of their expected chronological order.

God is revealing here a key element of being a spiritual father. If we miss it, we miss the main point. This critical point is that you are not a spiritual father just because of your mature characteristics and deep relationship with the “I AM. John placed the child and father together so that we would see the essential nature of reproduction in reaching and expressing maturity. You are a spiritual father because you have also been used to reproduce spiritual children. Until a spiritually mature man reproduces and disciples Christlike maturity in others, he has no spiritual children and cannot be considered a spiritual father. A spiritual father reproduces spiritual children who have a passionate and intimate relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The spiritual growth process of these children and young men must continue so that they also become spiritual fathers who reproduce spiritual children.

We must mature children who have experienced salvation, to young men who know the Word of God and can wage the spiritual battle, to fathers who have walked intimately with God over a significant period of time and have been used to reproduce the next generation of spiritual fathers. If men are not reproducing spiritually, they have stopped short of experiencing and practicing full spiritual maturity.

Practical Case Study of Developing Spiritual Father and Son Relationship

In the middle 1980s I began to have a spiritual passion for pursuing God and reproducing that pursuit in others; this is commonly called discipling and mentoring. I have been involved in the process of discipleship since that time.

A few years into this emerging calling I was the leader of Christian a fellowship that is located in the community where we live. Some younger men who work at construction complex in the same area told the younger men who attend the Christian fellowship to stay away from the “weird and dangerous guy who sits under the tree and reads his Bible.” Well, that probably was a huge factor in one of those young men called Robert, not being about to stay away from me. Young men love danger and love challenger!

Robert accepted Christ into his life and we started meeting daily over lunch and sometime supper. We spent many hours sitting under that tree digging deeper into the Word and God’s plan for Robert’s life. We both asked a lot of questions and we explored the answers together. This was an incredible time of pouring the life of Christ into Robert and seeing amazing changes in his life, in his values and perspectives and in his goals as a man. I remember him having a strong desire to see his seven siblings experience this new relationship that he had with Jesus Christ. God honored this desire through the ensuing years. Interestingly, the construction workers thought I was even more of a “Bible thumper” after my time spent with Robert.

Not long after this, Robert moved to other city to pursue a new job opportunity. There he met his wife and started a family. Each time Robert visited, he would connect with me again; it was amazing how our relationship would pick up exactly where it left off. After five years Robert returned to me again, and he and I started to meet regularly. His brother and a number of young men from varied backgrounds and denominations joined us once a week to meet and study the Bible and pray together. We continued to meet as a group for ten years.

Almost on a weekly basis, their lives and experiences brought up issues that they were facing as young men. We would go to different books of the Bible to specifically address their questions and apply the truth of God’s Word to help shape their lives. They were remarkably open, freely exposing areas to the group that had not been exposed to other men in their lives.

I remember them asking, what is Salvation? “Who is Jesus Christ?” and Where is heaven? We went to the Gospel of John to answer this vital question. They asked what it looked like to live the Christian life, and we looked deeper into the life of Daniel and David in the Old Testament. In this safe masculine environment, struggles with sex, pornography, marriage, children, money, work, anger, significance, commitment, obedience and most every other issue that men face came to the surface.

One day as our meeting was ending, Robert emphatically said, “You can say things to me that no one else could without making me angry.” To further understand, I asked him, “Why is that?” He quickly responded, “I think it is because I know that you love me.” This relationship was in the context of a safe environment that allowed openness, honesty and growth. It was the power of God’s Spirit and the truth of his Word that brought about transformation.

Robert and I have been in relationship for over thirty years now. I was involved in his life when he married his lovely bride. I was there to see him raise his two sons, who are now committed followers of Christ. I will be there when grandchildren enter his life.

In the year 2000s my schedule became so busy that we could no longer meet weekly. But we have continued in regular contact, and I have the opportunity to encourage and affirm Robert. I recently heard Robert share his perspective on our many years together:

Pastor Ed is my earthly spiritual connection with my Father-God. Through the years Pastor Ed has become an integral part of my spiritual foundation as a man, and no other man on earth is as close to me as Ed. I’ve seen our sons grow up together; I remember the times that Pastor Ed served as a spiritual grandfather to my kids, mostly through the stories and lessons of life he imparted to them. I believe the strength of our relationship as men has been a tremendous witness to my kids as they’ve become adults. I can clearly see that God used my relationship with Ed as a model of hope and encouragement for me to build into the lives of men God has placed in my life. The most important “life lesson” I’ve learned from Pastor Ed was that our spiritual walk is a process like Job and David in the Bible, we have to go through the “school of hard knocks” to get to where God wants us to go and be. Our challenge as men is to stay in the battle. Our challenge as Christian is to fight the good fight of faith. Our challenge as Church is to rise up spiritual fathers and Mothers to serve the next generation for Christ Jesus. This I called discipleship making and mentorship. Everyone of us needs to complete the course and pass the test. We must run the race set before us to the end by crossing the finishing line.

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