Elder John continues this intimate, personal letter to believers, and as I read today’s verses, I see him more like a grandfather sharing the wisdom of years with those he loves. You know the drill, a grandfather or grandmother gives you a word of warning or wisdom, and then says: “Now, I’m only telling you this, because I love you or because you already know better.” Listen to John’s words and see if you don’t catch the same vibe here:
I am writing to you, little children, since your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the one who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you have come to know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you have come to know the one who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one.1 John 2:12-14 CSB
In Jewish poetry, which we see in the psalms, repetition is common. Sometimes the same phrase is repeated verbatim, and sometimes it’s restated in a different way for emphasis. In either case, it’s a tool for memorization. The more something is repeated, the better able we are to remember it.
John does that here as he wants to emphasize why he’s writing to them. Remember, he’s said some hard things in the earlier part of this chapter, as he’s calling out liars and those who live in darkness while professing to live in the light. It could not have been easy for the recipients of this letter to take in his words: I know it’s not for some of us either.
That’s when his grandfatherly hat is put on and he tells them why he’s writing such hard things. He addresses three groups of people: children, young men, and fathers. Don’t’ be put off by the titles, as they are general terms to make sure everyone is covered (yes, even women). When thinking of believers in the faith, we know we have those who are new in their walk, and these would be the children or little children he addresses. Young men are probably the majority of believers, as they are those who are growing in their faith, having been believers for a while. Fathers are the mature believers, the elders in the church, and leaders.
Young believers have had their sins forgiven and know God the Father.
This goes back to his earlier word in chapter one: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
He is writing to them so that they will not sin, but if they do, they can find forgiveness in Christ. When a person is new to faith in Christ, the major focus of the new life is turning from the old. The more we are in God’s Word, prayer, and fellowship, the further we move from the old ways to the new, but it is not always an easy transition, so John is urging them to remember their sins are forgiven and they are secure in God through Christ.
Mature believers have an intimate relationship with the God of Creation.
I think it’s interesting that John starts with children, then goes to fathers, before coming back to young men, but this is the way of life. We begin and end life in much the same way—a simple trusting faith. Children love God out of the purity of the child-like faith that leads to trust. Mature believers love God out of a life of experience and study of who God is and how he works in the world. They’ve seen God in action, seen him hold true to his promises, and trust him explicitly.
John repeats the same phrase for fathers: “you have come to know the one who is from the beginning.” There is a depth there that children or young believers have yet to know. Those who are mature in their faith see the God of Creation as the God who works throughout the span of time. The older I get in my walk with Christ, the more I revel in the God of Creation, the amazing work of his hands, and his steadfastness throughout time. Great is Thy faithfulness is a theme for many who have walked hand-in-hand with the Master through life.
Young men or growing believers are in the midst of the battle.
John doesn’t want those who are living as Christ followers to stumble. These believers, who are past the milk stage of faith, are having to stand up against constant resistance in their work, marriages, and families. Satan wants them to hate their brother. He is working overtime to bring division and strife to those who are becoming the new leaders in the church and among their peers.
John knows the struggles of living for Christ, so he reminds them they have conquered the evil one and are strong because God’s word lives in them. He wants them to remain strong, so he presses in on them to remember the truth: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Walking as Jesus walked, in light and love for our brother, is for each person who knows Christ as Savior. From the newborn believer to the one who has walked with Christ for decades, all of us need to hear the message John shares. As we move forward through the letter, remember this exhortation from the elder, because you are strong by His…
Grace and Peace