I John: My Little Children
Easter 3B I John 3:1-7
Grace to you and peace from God, Our Father, and from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today we are continuing a five-part series of sermons from the epistle of John. We are going to have five consecutive sermons for five consecutive Sundays and all five sermons will be based on I John.
As you know, here in the Lutheran church, we follow a lectionary system. That is, the lectionary gives us the designated readings for every Sunday. Every Old Testament lesson, every epistle reading and every gospel lesson are designated for each Sunday. Every three years, there is rotation from Matthew to Mark to Luke. So every three years, we read through the gospel of Matthew, then through the gospel of Mark, and then through the gospel of Luke. We then start all over again and repeat the pattern.
Also, within this lectionary system, you might not realize that in the epistle lesson, very often, the epistle lessons are organized in such a way, that we read through a whole epistle on consecutive Sundays. For example, last summer we read the whole book of Romans on thirteen consecutive Sundays, and we had thirteen consecutive sermons on that book. Or two summers ago, we read the whole book of Galatians, and we had seven consecutive sermons on that epistle. Or three summers ago, we read the whole book of Ephesians, and we had eight consecutive sermons on that book. Not too long ago we read the whole book of Philippians. In other words, the epistles are organized in such a way that on consecutive Sundays, we are going to read a whole book.
And during this spring, we have begun to read I John. In five consecutive Sundays here in church, we will read the five primary texts in I John. You may not have realized it, but it began last Sunday. This sermon series began last Sunday. One of the themes in last Sunday’s epistle from John is light, that God is light and we as Christians are to walk in the light of the Lord.
Today we have a second sermon on in I John. The theme for the sermon today is one Greek word, “teknoi”, which means, “little children.” “MY little children.”
What is something that every person here in this room has in common? That every single person here in this room has in common and no one is excluded? What is the ONE experience that we know for sure we have ALL had?
Are all of us here in this room Lutherans? No. Are all of us Christians? Probably not. Are all of us American citizens? Maybe not. What is the ONE experience that we know for sure, that every single person in this room has had?
Yes, we are all human beings. Yes, we all breathe, drink water, and eat food to stay alive. Another thing that every single person here in this room has in common with each other is the fact that every person here in this room has experienced childhood. All of us have been or are children.
Not all of us are parents. Not all of us have been mothers or fathers or brothers or sisters.
But common to every person here is the fact that every person here in this room has been or is a child.
And so we all can answer the question, “What is it like to be a child?” Every person here in this room knows what it is like to be a child.
What is it like to be a child? Fun. Play. Amuse yourself. Every child in the world knows what it means to play. Every child in the world has played with a stick, a ball, or had a race. Every child in the world has known what it meant to “go and hide”. To go hide in the bushes, to hide in the trees, to hide in the dark, and then have the thrill of being found. Every American child has had some experience with a wagon, a tricycle, or a bicycle. With some kind of toy with wheels. Every American child has had an experience with a doll or a truck.
What is it to be a child? Ask the children of the world. It’s to have fun. It’s to play.
What is it to be a child? It’s to be creative, imaginative and explore the world around us. Every child has looked under a leaf. Every child has touched a blade of grass and fondled it and wondered about it. Every child is delighted to find a penny, a pin, a rock, a stone, something under the sofa. Every child has been frightened by thunder and lightening. Every child has looked at the clouds and wondered what they are made of. Every child has been fascinated by birds that are flying above their heads. What is it to be a child? Every child wonders about and explores the world around us.
What is it to be a child? We all know. We’ve all been children. Every child is basically helpless. Every child needs to be taken care of. Somebody has to meet their needs for food and water and warmth and clothing. Every child is vulnerable. A child cannot take care of him or herself. What is a child? A child is basically helpless. A child needs nurturing. A child is dependent.
What is it to be a child? It’s to be loved. Even in the poorest of poor nations, a child needs to be loved by a mother and a father. The same is true in the richest of nations. Children need to be loved by moms and/or dads. To experience the warmth and tenderness from a mother’s body. To nurse at a mother’s breast, be held and squeezed and hugged and to be delighted in. Every child in the world needs love by a mother or father, as much as the child needs food, water and clothing.
When I think of childhood, I think, of course, of my childhood in Jackson Minnesota. I think of exploring the woods out there by the river. I was afraid of the imaginary Indians and the imaginary bears that I thought were living in those woods. How I loved to explore the river and the forest. I think of the great number of forts that we built. The forts that we built in the woods, the living room, the bedroom, the attic, the garage, the workshop and any other place where it was possible, we built a fort.
When I look at childhood, I often wonder what has happened to “the little child” that I knew so well, the little child that lived inside. I wonder what happened to the little boy inside, the little girl inside. When I look at all the Pee-Wee boys on my son’s baseball team, those fifteen little boys who are seven to eight years old; they are all so polite, energetic, fresh, vital, open, happy and kind. And then ten years later, by the time they are seventeen and have become young men, I ask a question, “What happened to the little boy inside?” I wonder, “What happened?” They all seemed to perfect back then. Is it the hormones inside of them? Is it the evil world that changes them? Is it me? Is it them? What happens to all those nice little five, six and seven year olds who grow up to become potentially so malicious and unkind? What happens to them? What happened to me? What happens to little children? What happens to happy little children who grow up to become men and women who often seem to have lost that childish innocence, happiness and exuberance? What happens to so many, many little children?
What is it to be a child? What happens to the child in all of us?
Common to every person here in this room is the experience of being a child. All of us know what it means to be little children. And it is with this image of little children that we approach the epistle for today.
In the epistle John writes, “See the great love the Father has given us, that he has called us God’s little children.”
Eight times in this letter, John uses the phrase – “little children”. It is the Greek word – “teknoi” – little children. “Little children do not sin.” “Little children, your sins are forgiven.” “Little children, it is the last hour.” “Little children, let no one deceive you.” “Little children, love with deeds and truth.” “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Eight times the author addresses his reader with his pet phrase, “Little children. My little children.”
The Apostle John was an older person when he called the followers of Christ “little children” or “my little loved ones.” To call the adult followers of Christ, “my little children” or “my little loved ones,” suggests that the author John was an older person when he wrote those words. In fact most scholars say that the author of this letter had grown older and was now an old man. Old Grandpa John, I sometimes call him.
We know about John. The most loved disciple. The favorite disciple of Jesus. John, the disciple whom Jesus had entrusted with his mother Mary. John, the leader of the Christian congregation in the city of Ephesus. Some of you have been to Ephesus, and you have seen the places of the Apostle John, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Apostle John was the primary leader on the early church there in Ephesus. The years had flown by and he had become an old, old man. We and artists imagine that his hair was long and white and he had a thinning white beard. We imagine that his eyes were old and wise. His skin was old and wrinkled. We imagine that his heart was old and wise and was filled with great, great love. He had become the master, the beloved old teacher, the wisest of men. He was the last living disciple of Jesus. And people would sit around him, sit at his feet and listen to him teach. The wise old man would say, “My little children, do not sin.” “My little children, your sins are forgiven.” “My little children, do not love in words, but love in deeds and in truth.” “See the great love that God the Father has for you, my little children, that he has called you his children.”
The favorite phrase of this old, old, old teacher was, “My little children.”
Jesus also said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not. For of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Little children. Teknoi. How we love the little children.
The Bible teaches, Jesus teaches, the old Grandpa John teaches that by calling us “little children” God reveals his love for us. “My little children.” “My little loved ones.” By naming us his children, this shows that God loves us. God loves us immensely and knows our vulnerability, our helplessness, our childishness, our foolishness, and is patient with us because we are his little children. God knows that we are not older, mature, grown-up adults. God knows that we are little children. See the great love that the Father has for us by calling us his children.
Every mother or father realizes what it means to love their little children. We have this deep abiding love for our children. Sometimes our love for them is just too overwhelming. We parents have deep feelings of joy and happiness and elation with them. We have a great love them. There is no greater love than that of a parent for a child.
And such is God’s love for us. It’s for all the little children of the universe. We are “his” children, and that personal pronoun “his” makes all the difference in the world.
When a child is your own, you love them so deeply. You seem to love them in spite of their faults, in spite of their irritations, in spite of their problems. You love them. For example, I look around at the children here in this parish. All the little children and all the big children, and I can look at the children of the Labes’ and the children of the Osterloh’s and I can look at the moderate size children of the Keller’s, and I can look at the children medium size right there, and I can look at all these children here in the church today, and I think to myself, “I don’t love your children with the same intensity that you do, all those beautiful, older and younger and big and little children. I don’t love your children with the intensity that you do, in spite of their beautiful little personalities, in spite of all their little idiosyncrasies, and in spite of their little problems, and their little irritations. In spite of their little irritation, you seem to love them very much.” And I sometimes wonder, “Is there something wrong with me or something wrong with them that I don’t love your little children, your big children, in the way you do.” No, there is nothing wrong with me for not having such feelings. Obviously, the conclusion is that I am not their parent. They are not MY children. If there were MY children I would love them in spite of all their little idiosyncrasies, all their little quirks. But the quirks of your children which occasionally drive me up the wall, you love them deeply as human beings simply because they are your children.
And so it is with God our heavenly Father. We are God’s little children. We are his. We belong to him. And by calling us his little children, this reveals the patient and intense love that God has for us, because God loves his children just like a parent loves his or her own children in a way that another parent cannot love them.
Let’s come at it another way. Tell me, what is your most valuable room in your house? Let’s imagine that you live in a large palace of a hundred rooms. You live in this huge mansion of a hundred rooms. In one room are all the beautiful crown jewels of Russia and England. In another room are all the diamonds of South Africa. And in another room are all the paintings from the Louvre. In still another room is all the gold from Fort Knox. And in still another room are all the computers of America. And in still another room is a gorgeous, heated, indoor swimming pool with a sauna and Jacuzzi, and in still another room a pool table and a ping pong table. In all these rooms are the most beautiful and expensive things in the world. But there is one room, the family room off the kitchen where all the family gathers together. Your children, your grandchildren, your family. Now, tell me, if you were a loving parent, what would be your favorite room in the house? You know very well what the favorite room is. It’s your family room when children are. It’s your children and the grandchildren. Your children are by far the most valuable possession that you ever had because your children talk to you and love you and respond to you and you to them.
And likewise with God, who happens to own a palace of the universe. And in one room God has all the galaxies, in another room all the stars, and in another room all the moons, and still another room is the planet Earth. In all the rooms of God’s house, only one room has people. That room is the planet Earth. The Earth is God’s family room.
Now tell me, what room does the heavenly Father love more than any other room in the universe? Is it not the family room? Is it not his children? Are we his children not worth more than all the galaxies, all the stars, all the planets? Yes, of course. And the reason that God loves us more than anything else in creation is obvious. We children can talk to God and tell him that we love him, and show him that we are happy and sad. We can sit in the bathtub and talk to him at night. And he delights with us as we sit in the bathtub and talk to him, just as you and I delight as we listen to our little children as they sit in the bathtub babbling to themselves and to us.
The reason that we are the most valuable thing to God in the whole universe is that we are children and talk to him. Our heavenly Father watches us as we play and explore and enjoy his world as little children. God loves his little children more than all the galaxies of the universe, more than all the stars of the universe, more than all the moons of the universe. And I don’t blame God for feeling that way because children in the family room are the most fascinating part of my house as well.
See the great love the father has for us…..in that he calls us his little children. So John teaches. So Jesus teaches.
And then, a few verses later in chapter three, the old teacher John gives us a test by which we can recognize and determine who are the children of God. A test by which we can tell who are God’s children and who are not. God wants to make it very clear who are his children.
According to the Bible, not everybody who is born on this earth are God’s children. Not every human being. I mean, God loves the whole creation. God loves every single leaf. God loves every single blade of grass. God loves every single human being ever born. But not every human being is a child of God.
In the Bible, and in Jesus, and in the old wise teacher named John; they are consistently clear about this. You can be a human being and not be a child of God. You can be a human being and not be a child of God. So who are the children of God?
I John 3:10 is very clear about this. “By this we may see who are the children of the devil. The children of the devil are those who do not do what is right, and who do not love their brother or sister.”
So who are God’s children? Those who do what is right, and those who love their brothers and sisters of the world.
And this theme which is repeated again and again and again in John. Those who do what is right, and love their brothers and sisters are those who demonstrate they are children of God.
John continues: “If anyone sees his brother or sister in need and does not help him, that person is guilty of murder. And if anyone has the worlds good and sees his brothers and sisters in need, yet closes heart against him, how does God’s love live in him? Little children, let us not love in speech and in word, but let us love in deed and in truth. If anyone says that he loves his brother and sister, and loves God and hates his brother and sister, he is a liar. If he cannot love his brother and sister who he as seen, how can a person love God whom he has not seen? And this is a commandment that we have from Christ, little children, he who loves God should also love his brother and sister also.”
And so we find this theme repeated again and again and again in John. Who are my children? Who are my little loved ones? Those who do what is right. Those who love their brothers and sisters of the world. And by contrast, who are the children of the devil? The children of the darkness? Why, they are those who love the world. The old disciple teaches, “Do not love the things of this world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, it is not of the Father but of the world. The children of the devil, the children of the darkness are those people who love the things of the world. My little children. My little children, do not love them. My little children, do not love the things of the world. Instead do what is right. Love your brothers and sisters. Help those in need and so prove that you are my little children.”
Teknoi. Little children. How God loves his children. Amen.
I John 3:1-7, A Commentary
1 See what love the Father has given us, Perhaps the most seminal teaching of Jesus is that he called God “Father,” “my Father,” “your Father,” “our Father.” Repeatedly in the four gospels, we hear the sacred word for God’s identity as being “Father,” Father of Jesus and Father of ourselves. Rather than God as being the First Principle, the Logic behind the universe, the Invisible Cosmic Force that formed the universe, the Lord God simply becomes “our Father.”
that we should be called children of God; We are to be called “children of God.” Being a child is God is enormously better than being a microdot in a speck of time within an ever-expanding universe. We human beings get lost in being merely a speck of matter within a sea of cosmic ooze, but being a child of our Heavenly Father is either wishful thinking, or a revelation from Jesus of Nazareth about the Lord of the universe. The revelation is from Jesus Christ, who was and is the mind and heart of God.
and that is what we are. We are children of God precisely because we are born of God. We know who we are. We are children of the heavenly Father, just as we would say “We are Markquart children, children of Ede and Ed Markquart.”
The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. The world around us does not know our true identity because the world did not know God as “their heavenly Father” but God as the Cosmic Force behind the universe.
2 Beloved, Stop and focus on that word, “beloved.” Just as the Apostle John was called the “beloved” disciple or the “disciple whom Jesus loved, we also are called “beloved” or the children that the Father loves. The Lord God, our heavenly Father, calls us his loved ones, his loved children.
we are God's children now; We don’t have to wait until we die to become God’s children. We are God’s children NOW. That is our identity. That is where and to whom we belong.
what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we will be in the future in heaven has not been revealed. In the future life of heaven, will we be angels? Celestial beings? Heavenly creatures? The old apostle does not speculate. What the old apostle knows for sure is that NOW we are God’s children and the Lord God is our Father.
What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. In that time in the future in heaven, we will be like the Risen Christ. We will see him as he really is.
3 And all who have this hope in him Circle the word, “hope.” All the previous comments about in the future heaven is based on hope.
purify themselves, just as he is pure. John, whose line of reasoning is often circular, begins a new thought. John persistently is affirming that we to walk as children of the light, whose lives are pure and holy. We are to be pure just as the Lord God is pure.
4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. When we commit sin, John sees sin as lawlessness, disregarding the law of God to love the Lord with all one’s heart, mind and soul and our neighbor as ourselves. For John, sin is essentially lawlessness, that we live as if the law of Jesus did not exist.
5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. When the true identity of Jesus was revealed, it meant that our sins were taken away by his blood. In the forgiveness of Jesus, there is no sin. Jesus forgives all of our sins. We are sinless; we are spotless lambs; our sins are totally covered by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.
6 No one who abides in him sins; When we live in Christ as a branch lives in a vine, we do not live in sin. Yes, we as human beings still have our sinful nature and we still commit specific sins, but our sins are washed away by his forgiving presence.
no one who sins has either seen him or known him. When we continue to persistently and repeatedly engage in sinful practices, that means that we have not known Jesus Christ, that we are not “in him.” Just as a branch grows out of the vine, so we Christians grow out of Christ.
7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. We Christians are to do what is right and that is righteousness.
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