Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Spiritual maturity as a Christian is a difficult and often dark journey. In 1 John 2:12-13 three groups are mentioned that might shed a little light on that journey I think. The reason John wrote his three general  epistles is because false teachers were distorting the meaning of the knowledge of God and he wanted to correct that. But in this particular passage why he used these three groups is not completely clear.

John is certainly reflecting on people he's known and ministered to over the years with a fondness that approached a familial sort of relationship, but the reason for doing so isn't crystal clear in the text itself. It is obvious that he is referring to their differing stages of spiritual growth as the references makes no sense if intended to be understood with a biological meaning to his words. 

This is not to say he was making a hard and fast judgment as to their present spiritual condition either. He was probably reflecting on where they were spiritually when he was with them personally years before. You'll notice, he calls no one by name, which is typical of this book since it is neither addressed to anyone specifically nor is the author himself named in it. This is the reason it is listed among what's called the General Epistles by the way. Scholars have concurred that John the Apostle is indeed the author however, and the readers probably knew that for sure. as they would have been well acquainted with this old man of the faith, now in his nineties, and his much earlier writings of the Gospel of John and the Revelation.

It is, however, the three interesting categories of children, young men and fathers that captures my attention at the moment. While what I'm about to say was perhaps not in the mind of the author as I will say it, I DO THINK the gist of what I'll say had a place in his thinking generally speaking. He was categorizing spiritual growth in a manner that says a great deal to us it seems to me. Let me explain.

If you think about it, children, especially infants, could be characterized as having a basic interest and focus in "getting" things. Whether it's a toy, food, attention or even a dry diaper, children are rather self-centered when it comes to living and are really interested in what they "get" at the moment. John hints at this with his reminder to them that they have "received" the forgiveness of their sins.

There's nothing wrong with children being excited about getting things and it is, in fact, rather cute most of the time. The same is true of all spiritual children. The forgiveness of sins and other things received, like the Holy Spirit, a new birth, and even heaven when we die, and who isn't excited about all the good stuff God gives us as His children! So all of us do like "getting" when we are spiritual children, and that's natural. But if it remains our primary concern and interest, something may be amiss. 

There was another group mentioned here that is important and that was a group called "young men." My point has no gender significance, and I doubt John had that emphasis in mind anyway. The thing that he IS interested in and can be seen as characterizing with this a group is "doing." Young people can "do" more than perhaps any other group. John even mentions this fact when he points out that they have "overcome the wicked one." That's quite a spiritual "doing" for sure.

In the Christian life there is a time and place where "doing" is properly emphasized. It often takes the form of quiet times. scripture memory, local church attendance, and a host of other spiritual activities that are accomplished, and that's wonderful and even necessary. But, as with children, to stick there and never going beyond that would be as damaging as remaining children.

So there is a final group seen called "fathers."

Staying in context, John was perhaps thinking of mature or spiritual grown-ups who have gone on from being children or even young people, to being adults. What characterizes a spiritual adult or father as John calls them? It is "being." John may be subtly pointing this out when he says, as John Gill interprets and amplifies the verse,  "You have known the One who HAS BEEN AND IS BEING from the beginning, who existed from all eternity, as a divine person, namely Jesus Christ.  Who is Himself, the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father and is the same yesterday, today, and for ever." He was always "being" the one needed.

There it is! A true father is one who is always "being." Being what? Being whatever is needed at the moment. That's just what a father is and it is what spiritual maturity or growth looks like. Spiritual maturity is not so much "getting" or "doing." Those are good and proper and part of spiritual growth, to be sure. But growing up spiritually or coming to spiritual maturity is far different. It will reveal itself in something you are "being" and not what you "do" at all.

My final thought on this is very important I believe. It is that your own spiritual maturity will likely not be observable to yourself at all. In fact, a spiritually maturing Christian will more likely disagree with that kind of assessment of themselves entirely. But those relating to that person will tell the story. And the story is not one of accumulating, achieving or accomplishing, but one of "becoming a person who is being_____."   The blank will/can be filled in with things like love, acceptance, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, goodness, faith,  meekness, strength, wisdom, transparency and such. [The Fruit of the Spirit.]

Those are the things that people draw out of a spiritually mature person without that person being aware of what's happening often times. The spiritually mature person has eyes only for the source of all that is needed in their own life, which is their Lord who is Himself "being" all that to them. Then they become a resource of "being" the same to others. But they are even surprised when told that's what they are by others. It takes a spiritually mature person to "be" what is needed and yet to be UNAWARE of just how they are really being that to other people. It's just "being who they've become" as far as they're concerned.  Doing what comes supernaturally natural.

"Getting/doing/being." All significant in their own time and way. But the journey is leading to "BEING." Moving from being children to young people to fathers. May God grant to His Church a baptism of maturity___ in the Kingdom sense of that word.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


In the midst of the "Christian" world with its performance oriented modus operandi,this finale is the icing on the cake. Thank you!

It is certainly true in my experience that,"It takes a spiritually mature person to "be" what is needed and yet to be UNAWARE of just how they are really being that to other people".

Your words remind me of a fellow whom I regarded as quite ancient. Funny thing, I was about to say he was "an old fellow",but forty years ago he was the same age as I am now. Charlie, was an amazingly humble man,a farmer, whose understanding of Scriptures caused him to see them as far more than a text book for a theology of rules and regulations, and who epitomized what you have just written about,the maturity of BEING what he professed.

It took me far to long to learn that his life spoke more loudly than most whom I've known.

By God's grace,I am still on that journey.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I believe you have captured the essence of real maturity when you said, "By God's grace, I am still on that journey."

It is both a grace thing and it is a journey. There is no reaching the end of it this side of eternity.

Thanks, as always, Aussie J.

Bob Cleveland said...

I wrote a blog post some years ago, titled "I Want To BE What The World Needs To See". That says it, to me.

I want to DO what I AM.

Rex Ray said...

In Tool Design, we were taught never take anything for granted. Much information agrees in the following link that John the Apostle was thrown into boiling oil.

I believe the thinking that John would not die until Jesus returned caused the tradition that boiling oil did not kill John.

This thinking disagrees with Jesus saying to the “sons of thunder”—James and John, “You will indeed drink My cup…” (Matthew 20:23 Mark 10:39)

Do not the bold die first? I can imagine John shaking his fist in the King’s face and calling fire from heaven in revenge for the King killing his brother.

Paul, you said, “Scholars have concurred that John the Apostle is indeed the author…”

What scholars? The ones that helped to ‘takeover’ the SBC? The ones that try to prove the Bible Inerrant? The ones that wrote the BF&M 2000?

At the time of John the Apostle, there was John the Elder, sometimes know as John the Presbyter.

I believe for John the Apostle to identify himself “John the Elder” in Second and Third John would be like Obama identifying himself ‘fund raiser’. :)

Paul Burleson said...


You could be correct in your thinking.

Paul Burleson said...


Then you could be incorrect also.

Most scholars I've read would never think of John as being a "bold person."

Since John's name isn't in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd John, {The author only refers to himself as "The elder one" in 2nd and 3rd John] it wouldn't do to argue either way for a name of an author.

Eusebias, who died in AD 265, was the first one to seriously make any reference to John the Elder as being distinct from John the Apostle. But that may be because he had an agenda of getting an agreement as to the Book of Revelation being written by someone other than John the Apostle.

The ONLY internal argument against John the Apostle is that the author John names himself in Revelation and that was contrary to John's nature as a reserved person some say.

None of those is sufficient for a conclusive or hard and fast answer as to who the author of the three epistles of John might be. Most early scholars I read [Gill etc] say John the Apostle.

Rex Ray said...

Only the NLT and the Living has “John the elder”, so you’re right about the absence of ‘John’ being the author’s name.

James and John were first cousins of Jesus, and with Peter and Andrew were the first Apostles. John was known as the one that Jesus loved and was probably one reason Jesus gave his mother to him for care.

John was bold enough not to flee at Calvary, and Jesus rebuked him and his brother for wanting him to destroy a town with fire from Heaven.

It was an honor to die for Christ. So much so, Peter demanded to be crucified upside down.

Was the prophecy of drinking the cup of Jesus fulfilled when James was be-headed?

Why would Jesus break the same prophecy by not allowing John to die from boiling oil?

If John the Apostle died from the oil, he would not be alive when Revelation and the three John’s were written.

Paul Burleson said...


I don't have an answer to any "why" question, unless the "why" is given in the passage being looked at or somewhere else in scripture.

It's one of the questions we'll have answered someday I guess. ;)

Your logical statement at the close I can and do agree with logically however.

Rex Ray said...

Another way to distinguish who wrote the three ‘Johns” is to see what went on in the church’s of Diotrephes’, Antioch, Galatians, Corinthians, Rome, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

John Crossan in his book, “The Birth of Christianity” page 467: “James was the authoritative leader of the Jerusalem “MOTHER-CHURCH”, which was operating two major missions, one to the Jews and one to the pagans. He was a Christian Jew who believed that Jesus was the Messiah but [James] also followed the full Jewish Law.”

Page 466: “James presumed that Christian Jews would observe the Law while Christian pagans would not…before James’s intervention, they [Peter and Barnabas] ate with pagans like pagans.”

Paul, I think Crossan is referring to Galatians 2:11-14 and Acts 15:1 which was the ‘Christian pagan church of Antioch’. This church received the conclusion letter from the First Church Counsel. Antioch was waiting the Counsel’s answer on how to be saved, but the letter actually told them how to be accepted by Christian Jews. (The devil loves confusion.)

According to ‘Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Wheaton College’, during the time that Paul and Mary, mother of Jesus, was alive, this Antioch church received their first Bishop. WHERE DID HE COME FROM? Probably from the Mother-Church that tried to teach all of ‘Paul’s churches’ what the ‘Mother-Church’ believed as recorded in (Acts 21:20 Holman and verse 24 Living.)

“…thousands of Jews…who have believed and they are zealous for the law.” “…that you yourself obey the Jewish laws and ARE IN LINE WITH OUR THINKING in these matters.”

The bishop’s name was “Ignatius” who wrote: “We ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.”

Rex Ray said...

‘GALATIAN pagan CHURCH’ Galatians:
“…you are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.” (1:7 NLT)
“…so-called Christians…sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.” (2:4 NLT)
“…friends of James…who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.” (2:12 NLT)
“Oh foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you…?” (3:1 NLT) “…Why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (3:3 NLT)
“Some people even say that I myself am preaching that circumcision and Jewish laws are necessary to the plan of salvation. Well, if I preached that, I WOULD BE PERSECUTED NO MORE…” (5:11 Living)


‘CORINTHIAN pagan CHURCH’ (2 Corinthians chapters 3, 5, 10, and11 Living)
“…false teachers of yours…bring long letters of recommendation…”…We do not tell them that they must obey every law of God or die…trying to be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, ends in death…” “…those preachers of yours who brag about how well they look and preach, but don’t have true and honest hearts.” “Don’t bother abut his [Paul’s] letters…He sounds big but its all noise…you never heard a worse preacher!” “I wouldn’t dare say that I am as wonderful as these other men who tell you how good they are…”WE WILL NOT BOAST OF AUTHORITY WE DO NOT HAVE.” “You seem so gullible: you believe whatever anyone tells you…a different way to be saved.” “I will…cut out the ground from under the feet of those who boast that they are doing God’s work…God never sent those men at all; they are phonies who have fooled you into thinking they are Christ’s apostles.” “They brag that they are Hebrews…Israelites, God’s chosen people…descendants of Abraham…”

Rex Ray said...

“By his death he ended the angry resentment between us, [Jews & Gentiles] caused by the Jewish laws which favored the Jews and excluded the Gentiles, for HE DIED TO ANNUL THAT WHOLE SYSTEM OF JEWISH LAWS.” (Ephesians 2:15 Living)

“I Paul, the servant of Christ, am here in jail because of you—FOR PREACHING THAT YOU GENTILES ARE A PART OF GOD’S HOUSE.” (Ephesians 3:1 Living)

‘ROMANS pagan CHURCH’ (Paul’s final instructions—Romans 16:17 NLT)
“Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught.”

“Watch out for those wicked men—dangerous dogs, I call them—who say you must be circumcised to be saved.” (3:2 Living)
“…with tears in my eyes, there are many who walk along the Christian road who are really enemies of the cross of Christ.” (3:18 Living)

“I am saying this because I am afraid that someone may fool you with smooth talk.” (2:4 Living)
“Don’t let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink…” (2:16 Living)
Were they being criticized for not obeying the First Church Counsel’s three food rules to be accepted by Christian Jews?


“SOME of the TRAVELING TEACHERS… [How many were there?] returned…telling…you are living according to the truth. [Keeping Jewish Laws?] (verse 3)

“…you are faithful to God when you care for the TRAVELING TEACHERS…They have told the church here…” (verse 5) [I suppose “here” is the Mother-Church that everybody is reporting to.]

“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. (verse 9 English Standard)

“I wrote a letter to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be in charge, will not recognize our authority.” (verse 9 International Standard)

Rex Ray said...

Paul, you may remember J. M. Carroll’s picture that once hung on the wall of Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Forth Worth. He had one of the greatest libraries on church history that was given to the Seminary. His book, Trail of Blood, was history of Baptist Churches from the time of Christ, their founder, to the present day. The book was based on his sermons and written by J. W. Porter after Carroll’s death in 1931.

I believe the ‘Conservative Resurgence’ took his picture down because he wrote:,%20Tracts%20&%20Preaching/Printed%20Books/trail_of_blood_jm_carroll.htm
“A close study of the book of Acts and Epistles will see that Paul had a mighty task even in his day in keeping some of the churches straight. These great churches necessarily had many preachers or elders. Some of the bishops or pastors began to assume authority not given them in the New Testament. They began to claim authority over other and smaller churches. They, with their many elders, began to lord it over God's heritage (3 John 9).”
Paul, Carroll did not believe John the Apostle wrote the three Johns. In 3 John 9, Carroll believed the ‘bad guy’ was the elder of a large church and not Diotrephes, leader of a small church! Carroll continues to criticize the elder believing and acting as if he had authority over another Christian:

“Here was the beginning of an error which has grown and multiplied into many other seriously hurtful errors. Here was the beginning of different orders in the ministry running up finally to what is practiced now by others as well as Catholics. Here began what resulted in an entire change from the original democratic policy and government of the early churches. This irregularity began in a small way, even before the close of the second century. This was possibly the first serious departure from the New Testament church order.”