There is a cool progression between 1, 2, and 3 John.
In 1 John, he addresses little children (as well as young men and fathers), encouraging them in the faith.
In 2 John, he is speaking to the “elect lady and her children” and rejoices in the fact that some of her children walk in the truth.
In 3 John, there is no “some.” He simply finds joy in the fact that “my children” walk in the truth.
There is a building sense of ownership here, not in terms of possession, but rather of responsibility.
In the beginning, John speaks of children in the vague and general sense, routing them on in a scholarly fashion. Then, we see him draw nearer to them. They are you children, still holding some sentimental value but ultimately someone else’s problem. Then, finally they are wholly and fully his. Their well-being is his “greatest joy.”
It reminds me of Jesus’ final intimate encounter with Peter (John 21:15-19). Three times Jesus asks if Peter loves Him as He asks him to lead His church. Twice, Jesus uses the word agápē, an all-encompassing love, God’s love. Twice, Peter uses the word phileō, a friend or brother kind of love. Jesus changes His word to phileō, meeting Peter where he is at, and Peter responds in kind. Then, Jesus lets Peter know he will one day die for His church, just as Christ died. And indeed, Peter did die that way.
Peter’s love for Jesus ascends through time. He begins with acquaintance, then familiarity, then friendship, then deep affection, and finally love to the point of death. And his love for Jesus reflects his love for the church. John 15:13 tells us that if we love Jesus, we will love one another. 1 John 4:20 goes on to say that if we say we love Jesus but hate one another, then we are liars. We are commanded by our ever-loving father to love our fellow human being with the same love He has for us. They are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. They are ours.
God once asked Esau, “where is your brother?” (Genesis 4:1-16) Esau answered, “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question is yes. Let us keep them well.