Saturday, August 16, 2008

Children, Fathers, & Young Men - 1 John 2:12-14

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
1John 2:12-14

As we return once again to our study of 1st John we come to verses 12-14 of chapter 2 where John is once again addressing his readers as little children. But in this passage he adds two more titles and he also calls them fathers and young men. Some have suggested that this is a reference to physical age, or that it is possibly a reference to the three stages of Christian maturity, but the sequence doesn't allow for that as it puts fathers as the middle term. So then what is it that John is communicating here? John Walvoord writes:
[T]hought of as “children,” the readers had experienced the forgiveness that their heavenly Father grants to His own. As “fathers,” they had an experience that touches eternity past, since they have known Him who is from the beginning. In the light of 1 John 2:3-6, this implies they have truly experienced fellowship with God. As “young men,” the readers had engaged in spiritual warfare and had overcome the evil one, Satan.
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:890). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
So if this is correct, and I see no reason to believe otherwise, then what John is writing here applies to each and everyone of us regardless of where we are in our walk with Christ.The first thing that he writes is that Christians are those who have had their sins forgiven, but notice that he writes that our sins are not forgiven for our sake but for His name's sake. This is reminiscent of what God said through the prophet Ezekiel when speaking of the New Covenant, He said :
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.
Ezekiel 36:22-23
What we see here is that God says He is going to act, to redeem Israel, not for their sake but for the sake of His holiness and to vindicate His great name and His holiness before their eyes and the eyes all nations. John is telling us the same thing here when he says that our sins are forgiven for His name's sake. God forgives our sins in order to glorify Himself and make His name great, not ours.

Next John says that a Christian is one who has come to know Him who is from the beginning; in other words, a Christian is one who knows God. This does not mean that we know about God; this is referring to an intimate and personal relationship with God. As we saw in the quote above from Dr. Walvoord, a true Christian is one who has truly experienced fellowship with God. The Greek word that is translated know here is ginó̄skō, which means to know in a complete sense. This is the same Greek word that is used in Matthew chapter 1, where we read:
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him: he took his wife, but knew (ginó̄skō) her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Matthew 1:24-25
So what we see here is that another mark of a true Christian is that they intimately know God. This is a knowledge that can only come from spending time with Him in His word and in prayer.

John then writes that true Christians are also those who have overcome the evil one. How have they overcome the evil one? In verse 14 he says that it is because they are strong and the word of God abides in them. When Jesus was tempted by the devil He fought back with the word of God (Matthew 4:1-11), Paul tells us that the word of God is our sword (Ephesians 6:17), and in the Psalms we are told that we can overcome sin by hiding Gods word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11).

So what does it mean that they have overcome the evil one? Does it mean that they have become sinless? No, John has already addressed this several times (1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:10, 1 John 2:1). What this means is that the pattern of their life is moving in the direction of holiness; we overcome the evil one as we day-by-day resist him and submit our will to the will of Christ. The apostle Paul addressed this very thing in his letter to the Philippians when he wrote:
Not that I have already obtained this [resurrection from the dead - verse 11] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14
So according to Paul this is a process; we are to forget what is behind us and move forward toward the goal and as we do this as a pattern of our life we overcome the evil one.

Now John repeats these same statements - almost word-for-word - in the next verse and a half. Scholars disagree on why he might have done this, but my opinion is that he repeated this for emphasis; this is important and John wants us to get it.

What then can we take away from these few verses? That in Christ our sins are forgiven. That our sins are not forgiven for anything that we did, but that we are forgiven for the sake of God's holy name. That as we grow in the word we are able to overcome the evil one and move in the direction of holiness in our lives. And finally, that we can know our heavenly Father in an intimate way as we spend time with Him in prayer and the reading of His word.

This is a wonderful passage; take some time today, reread these verses and meditate on the truths that they present and the blessings that we have in Christ.
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