Little Children - 1 John 3:1-7
Updated: Apr 28
Little children. A peculiar image for sure. But one that the author of this letter seems to love. In chapters 2-3, it appears five times. Five whole times. At first, I skipped over this as maybe just an odd translation of the Greek. So, of course being in seminary, I had to look it up. The Greek word employed here is τεκνία, which is the diminutive form of τέκνον, which means child. Pretty simple word here...not too many different ways to translate it. And it only occurs 3 other times in Scripture...once in chapter 4 and once in chapter 5 of this book and once in the Gospel of John. So, no. I think this translation is pretty accurate. As I ponder this word choice, I am reminded of my grandmother, or “Granny” as we called her growing up. She liked to call me Kurt-le in German but then immediately would laugh as, for any who know German, the suffix ‘le’ denotes a small or little thing. And pretty much my whole life I have not been a “small” kid. But if I stop at the surface level of the irony of me being a tall person, or in the case of our text today, it being a “mistranslation,” we miss an opportunity to explore this text in a new depth and light. Granny called me that name because it was a form of endearment. It was one of the many ways she showed her love to me. It was her special way of referring to me as her grandchild, but also a way of marking me as a special ‘Kurt’ in the world. But it also helped me to remember to remain humble. You see, by calling me “small Kurt,” she was consistently reminding me that I always had more to learn in this world. I never could know it all and if I ever did think I knew it all, all it would take is to hear “small Kurt” once again to remind me that I didn’t and I had more to learn. As I reflect back on this now, even though I wasn’t always conscious of it at the time, I think that guided how I interacted with her for she has such knowledge to share with me from her long and storied life.
This Scripture today is doing the same thing for us. We are met immediately in chapter 2
with these words. Chapter one is a little bit of a prolog of sorts that is broader in scope. But
chapter 2 begins in earnest direct straight at the audience, or us. And this author wastes no time in calling us little children. Why is this so important then for understanding today’s text?
We are called little children in the same way my grandmother called me Kurt-le. It is a
term of endearment and yet also a conviction from God. We are loved by God in the same way new parents love that screaming newborn baby. A love fiercer than we ever can imagine. A love that is unbreakable, unfathomable, and indefinite. A love that is hard to describe but so wonderful to experience. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” A love that reminds us of humility. That God is God, and we are not. And this is good news because I don’t think anyone here would actually want to be the parent of almost 8 billion people.1 Especially once we are convicted in verse 4 that: “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” 8 million children’s sins. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty daunting and terrifying. But God says yes anyway. Why can God say yes? Jesus Christ. As we journeyed through a few weeks ago in Holy Week, Jesus was crucified, died and
was raised on the third day again. This is the fulfillment of what verse 5 offers to us. God was revealed in Jesus of Nazareth to take away our sins. To cover up our lawlessness. To give us strength when we fail to believe. To rescue us from failure. To save us from the time of trial. To re-ignite the flame in our hearts when it is extinguished.
And how does God do that? We are promised here here that “in God there is no sin. No one
who abides in God sins.” In God there is no sin. God sees no sin because Jesus’ death on the cross effectively puts an invisibility blanket over our sins. They are completely covered so that as the prophet Jeremiah exclaims to us: God “will remember their/[our] sins no more!” This is because we abide in God. We can take refuge and rest in God. And we are promised that when we do so, we do not sin. We do not turn away from God because we are with God. We are experiencing God’s holy, redemptive, and awesome presence and the place that God is always preparing for us. And how do we abide in God? We needn’t look far but rather just to the beginning of the next verse, 7. “Little children...” I invite you to picture a time when you saw a little child playing. And now fast forward a few minutes or hours to when that child was sound asleep resting in the lap of a sibling, parent, or friend. People around were laughing, joking, having the time of their life and this little child was so asleep that nothing and no one could wake them. Imaging yourself as the one on whose lap that child was sleeping. As you look down at this child, I doubt the first thing that goes through your head is all of the times they have messed up or failed. Rather, it is probably love. The deep love you have for this child and how they bring so much joy into the world, specifically your world. I like to think that is the way that God views us when we come and abide in God. God sees us with love first, holds us close and remembers how wonderful of a little child we are. To fully cement this, we are presented with one more piece to this puzzle. I don’t know about you but when I go to explain something to a little child, I usually don’t start with calculus and thermodynamics. I usually start a little smaller than that. Thankfully God operates the same way. In verses 23 and 24, which come after our text for today, we find an explanation for how we abide in God. We are taught that “we should believe in the name of [God’s] Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as [Christ] has commanded us. All who obey [God’s] commandments abide in [God], and [God] abides in them.” If we want any more assurance that we are abiding in God and therefore not sinning, we are simply to do the first thing we teach our children: love. Love God and love others. That is the most effective and simplest way we can assure ourselves that we are abiding in God.
So, maybe being called a little child is indeed what we really need. For that is what we
are. Little children of God. Peter, Mary, Paul, Julie, Dan, Debbie, Jane, George, Derek you are a
little child of God. And thanks be to God for that!
April 25, 2021