We are continuing our study of 1 John. John's purpose, he has told us in the opening verses of this epistle, is to bring his readers into fellowship with God. He has told us that there are ways by which we may test our relationship to God. In chapter 1:5 through 2:2, John gives us the means of maintaining fellowship with God. Then in verses 3-11, he provides the marks of those who are in fellowship with God and how those marks reflect an intimate relationship with God.
Today we're looking at verses 12 through 14. Although 1 John is a circular letter which went out to other churches, John here personally addresses individual members of the family of God who are at different stages of growth in their fellowship. Then in verses 15 to 28, he outlines two great dangers that threaten the fellowship that we have with God and with each other.
John has just warned and admonished his readers saying:
But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:11 ESV
Hearing this, I recognize that in my life there are times that I don't love my brothers as I should. And I'm not always sure that I'm always walking in the light. In fact, at times, I know I'm not walking in the light. So, John writes this next section, verses 12-14, to remind his readers and us that even though we don't always walk in the light and don't always walk as He walked, we are not in danger of losing our salvation.
A different tone emerges in verses 12 to 14 when John once more addresses himself directly to his readers. He introduces his remarks with the words, I write to you. John begins this section by affirming the salvation of his readers. He reminds them of their position in Christ. He desires that they know whether they are walking in fellowship or not and seeks to encourage and motivate them to cultivate an intimate fellowship with God.
We see the power of encouragement in a letter written by a retired schoolteacher to Dear Abby. The Arizona Daily Sun, 01/10/99 ran the story. One day she had her students take out two sheets of paper and list the names of the other students in the room. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down by their names.
She took the papers home that weekend and compiled a list for each student of what the others had said about him or her. On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, everyone was smiling. Really? one whispered. I never knew that meant anything to anyone. I didn't know anyone liked me that much!
Years later, the teacher went to the funeral of one of her former students, who had been killed in Vietnam. Many who had been in that class years before were there. After the service, the young man's parents approached the teacher and said, We want to show you something. Mark was carrying this when he was killed. The father pulled out of a wallet the list of all the good things Mark's classmates had said about him. Thank you so much for doing that, Mark's mother said. As you can see, Mark treasured it.
A group of Mark's classmates overheard the exchange. One smiled sheepishly and said, I still have my list. It's in my top desk drawer at home. Another said, I have mine, too. It's in my diary. I put mine in our wedding album, said a third. I bet we all saved them, said a fourth. I carry mine with me at all times. At that point, the teacher sat down and cried. And, she used that assignment in every class for the rest of her teaching career.
I think this story shows us the power of encouragement. John used some strong words as he warned the flock about the false teachers who were trying to deceive them. He has just said (2:11) that if you don't love your brother, you're in the darkness you are not in fellowship! He is about to say that if you love the world, you don't have the Father's love in you (2:15). But before he says that, he inserts this short section (vss. 12-14) to encourage those who may have been troubled by what he had written.
In verses 12-14 John says six times, I am writing to you… I write to you. There are three present tense clauses and then three aorist clauses. Some of the best interpreters of the New Testament original text have puzzled over this ever since this book has come into their hands. Therefore, there are numerous explanations.
Some interpreters have understood this change to refer to two different writings, so that the present tense referred to what was currently being written in 1 John while the aorist referred to something written previously. Some interpreters have taken the previous work to be the Gospel of John. Others have suggested 2 John (which in this case would have to have been written before 1 John). Still others have posited a lost letter, and in at least one case, the source which was supposed to underlie 1 John was suggested. The reference to a previous writing (whatever it may have been) appears to be to many the most natural explanation of the switch in the verb from present to aorist tense. In 3 John 9, the aorist of grapho almost certainly refers to a previous, written communication.
The content of the three aorist clauses is virtually a repetition of the three present tense clauses. If John literally means that he wrote virtually the same things before to the same audience, why does he write them again and then repeat what he had written earlier as well?
Another suggestion is that the author does not intend the change in tenses to refer to a previous work, but in fact, he refers to the same work he is now writing—1 John itself. There is precedent for this because the author uses the aorist of grapho elsewhere (1 John 2:21, 26; 5:13) to refer to what he has been writing in 1 John.
I don't really see any of these views as satisfactory. John may have changed the tense of the verb as a stylistic variation intended to call attention to the repetitive structure of the text.
In our text John twice addresses his readers as children, fathers, and young men, and each time in that order. This is a very difficult text that has interpreters scratching their heads on many different levels.
Here's the question that necessarily arises: Are There Three Groups Addressed? (1) Little children, (2) Fathers, (3) Young men? Does it shock you that there's a divergence of opinion? Isn't there always when it comes to textual interpretation? There are some who say that these three designations are just different words for the whole family of God. John is using a literary scheme to encompass everyone in this particular church.
Others see verses 2:12-14 as addressing the whole group. There are the little children, and they are followed by two subgroups—fathers and young people. And some view the designation children, fathers and young men to relate to chronological age and not to spiritual maturity.
Still others see John as addressing three different groups among his readers in order to portray three different levels of maturity attained by them. This position sees some as mere infants in their knowledge of God, others as having already grown to spiritual adolescence and having proved their strength against the evil one, and yet others as quite senior and able to be described as those who know him who is from the beginning.
Some say that the reversed order argues against this interpretation because there is no progression (either ascending, from youngest to oldest, or descending, from oldest to youngest).
I see John as talking about stages of spiritual maturity in the family of God. And I don't believe that he's excluding the females just because he talks in the male gender.
When you think about spiritual life, you have to think about growth. We are to grow in our spiritual lives. And the goal of spiritual development is to become like Christ in our practice. When we think about maturity, we should think about Christ. That's the picture that John gives us in the following verse:
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV
Becoming like Christ in our conduct is the goal and the objective of the process of spiritual maturity. This is what I call practical sanctification, personal growth. In our study of 1:5-7 we talked about sanctification. I said that sanctification is synonymous with being in Christ. We are set apart; we are holy. This is our position. But I believe that there should be a "practical" or "experiential" aspect of sanctification to us. I believe that Yahweh has called us to live holy lives. And that is what I see John talking about when he says that we are to "walk as He walked."
The Bible talks about different maturity levels. Peter tells us that we are to desire the pure milk of the word as newborn babes desire their mother's milk.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation 1 Peter 2:2 ESV
I like the way the Complete Jewish Bible puts this:
and be like newborn babies, thirsty for the pure milk of the Word; so that by it, you may grow up into deliverance. 1 Peter 2:2 CJB
We are intended to move, to go on, to grow up in our spiritual lives:
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Yeshua the Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18 ESV
We are all to be growing in our Christian walk. There are degrees of faith depicted in the Bible: little faith, great faith, weak faith, strong faith, lacking faith, perfect faith, dead faith, full faith, growing faith, and increasing faith. But although we as believers may have varying degrees of faith, we are all to be growing in our faith. We are to mature.
I think it is very important for us to understand some things about Spiritual Growth/Practical Sanctification. First and foremost, spiritual growth has nothing to do with your standing before God in Christ. When you put your trust in Yeshua, you received His righteousness. That doesn't change. Wherever you are in your spiritual growth doesn't change your standing before God. That is fixed forever.
and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. Colossians 2:10 ESV
You have been filled in him. We could properly paraphrase this phrase as: "You have come to fullness of life." The emphasis in the Greek is upon the abiding results of our position in Christ. The believer permanently holds that position before God from the moment of his salvation.
If you are a believer in Yeshua, you are in Christ. And because you are in Christ, and because He is complete, you have been made complete. Get that? Because Christ is who He is, we have been made complete in Him. His fullness is imparted to us. The word "filled" means "entire, finished, made full, perfect." Essentially, it is the same word used in verse 9, where Paul says, "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." As all the fullness of the eternal God is Christ's, all the fullness of Christ is yours and mine. This is amazing grace indeed!
So spiritual growth has nothing to do with your standing before God. If you are a spiritual child, if you are a spiritual young man, or a spiritual father, wherever you are in the process of development, it does not have any impact in your standing before God in Christ.
Second, it is essential to understand that spiritual growth has nothing to do with God's love for you. God doesn't love you more or like you better if you're mature. Notice what Christ said to his immature disciples:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Yeshua knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1 ESV
He loved them to the end. The words "to the end" could be taken adverbially to mean "to the uttermost," but if "end" (telos) is taken temporally, the clause means that Yeshua loved them to the very end of His life. It seems clear here that telos has a double meaning. The obvious meaning is "utterly, completely." But the term also denotes "to the very end of life itself," that is, up to the point of death.
The Lord loves all of His own to perfection. And the disciples in that case were immature. They were doubters. They were proud. They were arguing about who among them would be the greatest in the Kingdom and they were utterly insensitive to Yeshua facing a cross.
He loves us with a perfect love. He cannot love us more because we are more mature. He cannot love us less because we are less mature.
Third, spiritual growth has nothing to do with time. It is not measured by the calendar. There are people, sadly to say, who have been Christians for a very long time and are still very immature. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3 and said:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 ESV
By the time that Paul is writing to them, they should have matured spiritually beyond their infancy. But they hadn't. Because they were all caught up in jealousy and strife, they were immature. We see this same idea in Hebrews 5:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. Hebrews 5:12-13 ESV
Taking into account the considerable period of time that had elapsed since their conversion, Paul states that "they ought to be teachers." The word "ought" implies moral obligation. "Teachers" depicts every Christian who has entered deeply into his faith and who is able to impart truth to those less advanced along the road. The New Testament does not limit teaching to the pulpit.
We are all to be teachers; we are all to pass on spiritual truth. It is my opinion that way too little of this goes on today. Notice Paul's confidence in the Roman Christians:
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. Romans 15:14 ESV
The word "instruct" is the Greek word noutheteo. It is a very significant word. Jay Adams bases his type of counseling on this Greek verb. In his book, Competent to Counsel, he proposes confronting people with the disobedience in their life through Scripture. The verb suggests the idea of confronting believers with the error of their way of life on the basis of the Word of God. That confrontation should lead them and guide them into a correct way of living. The indispensable tool in admonishing others is the Word of God.
These Hebrew believers should be able to teach others, but the writer says, "You need someone to teach you again. This implies that spiritual laziness not only prevents progress in the Christian's life, but it also produces retrogression. If you're not moving forward, you are going to be going backward. The second law of thermodynamics is the law of increasing disorder. This law works in our Christian lives. You don't just stand still. If you're not growing, you're moving backward.
Just because you've been a Christian a long time doesn't mean you're not still a baby. Not all spiritual babies become spiritual young men. Not all become spiritual fathers. They should, but they don't.
Fourth, spiritual growth has nothing to do with activity. This includes even church activity or Christian ministry activity. Spiritual busyness doesn't equate to spiritual maturity. Full-time ministry doesn't equate to spiritual maturity.
Spiritual maturity is not absolute; it is relative. But when we consider spirituality or carnality, we are talking about something that is absolute. At any given moment in time, you're either in the Spirit or in the flesh. You can be characteristically mature in your faith while at a moment in time find yourself to be in the flesh. Likewise, you can be an infant in the faith while occasionally walking in the Spirit.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5:18 ESV
"But be filled with the Spirit. This is in the imperative mood and is, therefore, a command. Christians in Asia Minor were commanded to be filled with the Spirit. This tells me that not all Christians are filled with the Spirit, even though being filled with the spirit is not an option. It is a verb that is in the present tense, and so it literally means to "keep on being filled." This is also not a once-for-all experience. The verb is in the passive, indicating that you don't fill yourself. It is something that is done to you. You can put yourself in the position to be filled, but it must be the sovereign Lord, the Spirit, that does the filling.
The word "filled" is the Greek word pleroo. It is used of something which is filled with content. For example: "to fill" containers. In the passive, it is rendered as: "the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment" (John 12:3). Metaphorically, in the passive, it can mean "to be filled with unrighteousness" (Romans 1:29). To "be filled" can connote the idea "that a man is completely controlled by the powers which fill him." So, it has the idea of control, or as in our discussion of spiritual maturity, the concept of being controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Let's get technical here for a minute. According to Dr. Daniel B. Wallace in his book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp. 374-75, nowhere in the New Testament does pleroo indicate content when it is followed by "en" plus the dative. Although Wallace admits that in many circles, the Dative of Content is the predominate view, he contends that it seems best to translate en pneumati with an instrumental sense such as by the Spirit or by means of the Spirit.
In The Letter to the Ephesians (Pillar New Testament Commentary series), Peter T. O'Brien similarly argues that the Holy Spirit is not the content of the filling, but is rather the instrument of the filling. So the verse does not say, "Be filled with the Spirit," but "Be filled by the Spirit," O'Brien goes on to say that, "the content with which believers have been (or are being) filled is the fullness of (the triune) God or of Christ. No other text in Ephesians (or elsewhere in Paul) focuses specifically on the Holy Spirit as the content of this fullness. It is better, then, to understand 5:18 in terms of the Spirit's mediating the fullness of the triune God or of Christ to believers." This is what Paul means in the following:
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19 ESV
"Filled" here is also pleroo. This is a Trinitarian work. The Spirit is the agent of filling, filling us with Christ, that we may experience the fullness of God. So, Paul is commanding believers to be filled by the Spiritwith the fullness of Yahweh.
Maturity is a relative thing. It's not an absolute in that you are or you aren't, it's relative as you grow. And you cannot grow spiritually unless you grow in your understanding of God's truth. That's the only way to get there. Spiritual growth is directly related to an increase in your understanding of God's revelation.
The text that we are looking at today describes three stages or levels of spiritual development—three levels of growth in the Christian life. These have no relationship to one's physical age whatsoever, or to one's sex. It is possible for a man sixty years old to be six months old in the Lord. It is possible for a woman to be correctly portrayed as a father in the sense used here, that is, as a mature, developed, full-grown Christian. A young man of thirty can be a babe in Christ or he can be a father or a young man according to the terms John uses here.
With that as an introduction, let's look at the text:
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake. 1 John 2:12 ESV
Six times John uses the perfect tense in the explanatory ( because) clauses. It describes action completed in the past with ongoing results.
I am writing to you, little children. The author addresses his readers, as he does many times in this letter, as little children. This is from the Greek word teknia, which literally means offspring of any age. So, when it speaks of children, it doesn't mean little infants, or even adolescents. It's not speaking about age or experience, but is rather talking about, in a generic sense, how we are the offspring of God no matter what age we are. In other words, it's speaking of those who have been regenerated by the Spirit, those who have been partakers of the new nature through the new birth.
There are those today, even in religious circles, who believe in the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. I'm sure you've heard people state that God is everyone's Father and that we are everyone's brother and sister in humanity because we all own God as our Father. This belief is very popular, especially in the ecumenical movement and in syncretistic religion. From this faulty viewpoint, all roads lead to God. But the term teknia clearly reveals that John is addressing those who are the offspring of God. The inference is that there are those who are not the offspring of God.
Well, if God is to be your Father, then you must be His son; and if you are His son, then He must have given birth to you at some time. In other word, you must be born of God. That is simply what the doctrine of the new birth teaches. It's not about simply making a decision. It is something that comes from heaven itself. Christianity is not just deciding to follow Yeshua. There is a supernatural element whereby God's very life, by His Spirit, is breathed into us, and that's how you become a son or a daughter of God.
By little children here I believe that John is referring to all believers. What he says of little children applies to every believer.
Because your sins are forgiven. If their sins are forgiven, who are they? Believers! John is writing to believers. And if there is one thing that every believer knows, it is that his sins have been forgiven.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, Ephesians 1:7 ESV
He lavished His grace in a complete forgiveness that covered everything. Scripture is filled with these statements that salvation is the forgiveness of sins.
To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Acts 10:43 ESV
Peter here says that salvation is the forgiveness of sins.
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39 ESV
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. Psalms 32:1-2 ESV
It is foundational to your Christian walk that you know that your sins are forgiven. This forgiveness is the special joy of God's little children because God's forgiveness does not come by degrees. Even the youngest Christian is completely forgiven. They will never be more forgiven.
We are forgiven, for his name's sake. It is the tendency of many people who call themselves Christian to think that they have the forgiveness of sins because of their good works, or they have the forgiveness of sins because they are religious, or they have the forgiveness of sins because they have undergone some religious ritual, such as baptism, or confirmation, or church membership, or other such things. But the apostle says that the sins of the little children are forgiven for his name sake.
Now in the Scriptures, when the term name is used, it refers to a person in a deeper sense than we normally use it. It's not simply a moniker. It's something that expresses the nature and attributes of the individual. And that is why I like to say Yeshua instead of Jesus because Yeshua means: "Yahweh's Salvation, or Salvation from Yahweh."
To do something on account of the name of a person is the same as doing it on account of that person. So, it's on the ground of what Christ has done by his sacrificial death on the cross that we receive the benefits of it freely by grace, through the instrumentality of faith.
Do you know the story of Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son? When he was five years old, they received news that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle, so his nurse took him and fled. As she was fleeing, Mephibosheth fell and became lame. Sometime later in 2 Samuel we see David asking this question:
And David said, Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake? 2 Samuel 9:1 ESV
Word came to David that there was a man by the name of Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, still living in Saul's house. So, David called for Mephibosheth and said to him:
Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always. 2 Samuel 9:7 ESV
Mephibosheth had good cause to be afraid of David. There is wide precedent in Mesopotamian texts for the elimination of all rival claimants to the throne when a king comes to power. David, however, treats Mephibosheth, the only surviving male member of the royal family, as the rightful heir to Saul's estates.
So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet. 2 Samuel 9:13 ESV
This could be translated, "though" he was lame in both his feet. Mephibosheth was enabled by the grace of God to spend the rest of his life at Jerusalem, eating continually at the King's table. Apart from the fact that David loved Jonathn, Mephibosheth had no personal standing to receive a blessing. Only for Jonathan's sake did he receive favor. The whole thing is a picture of the goodness of God manifested on account of someone else. We, in our spiritual lameness, are enabled by God to enjoy fellowship with the King 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. 1 John 2:13 ESV
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I think John is using fathers here to refer to the spiritually mature. No one can become a father, in this sense, overnight. There must be years spent in fellowship together. The inevitable result of that kind of activity is resemblance, a mutual identity that grows out of such personal acquaintance over a long period of time. Thus, fathers are Christ-like.
The fathers, know him who is from the beginning. The verb, know, is in the perfect tense, giving it the meaning you have come to know Him and still know Him. The Greek verb means to know by experience. Who is the him? The pronouns in 1 John are ambiguous and can refer to God the Father or God the Son. In context, this one refers to Yeshua. It is a statement of pre-existence and, thereby, of His Deity. A reference to God the Father makes little sense here because none of John's readers (or even the opponents, for that matter) would have doubted the eternality of the Father.
This level of maturity comes when you don't just know the doctrine. You know the God who revealed the doctrine. But you're never going to know the God who wrote the Word until you know what He wrote. And as you go over it and over it and delve deeper and deeper into it, the character of God begins to develop and grow and expand. You literally live your life in awe of the wonder of who God is.
I am writing to you, young men. The word for young men (neaniskos) is found only here and in the next verse in 1 John. It is not found at all in the other Johannine letters or the Fourth Gospel.
Because you have overcome the evil one. The word ‘evil' (ponēros) is used substantively (the evil one), and only substantively, five times in 1 John (2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19). The references to the evil one elsewhere in 1 John all refer to the devil (3:12, 8, 10; 5:18, 19). As it is here, The evil one is used in John 17:5 as a reference to Satan.
Overcome (nikaō) occurs six times in 1 John, seventeen times in Revelation, and only five times in the rest of the New Testament. If you compare all the uses in 1 John, you see that the believer's victory over the evil one is only achieved because God himself abides in him, and his Son, Yeshua, protects him. As a result, the believer is able to overcome the evil one through his faith in God.
Overcome is a perfect active indicative which speaks of the culmination of a process. Believers are victors, yet because of the "already but not yet" tension of the transition period, they still battled with the evil one until AD 70.
To overcome the evil one is best understood in this context as rejecting all that the secessionists stand for in belief and behavior. The readers do this by remaining faithful to the message heard from the beginning.
Why John now repeated these statements almost verbatim has utterly baffled scholars for two thousand years. But he may simply have repeated himself for emphasis.
I write to you, children, because you know the Father, Back in verse 12 John used the wordteknia for children and here he uses the word paidia. Paidia is a word that means a little child, someone still under parental instruction. Paidia refers to a child who needs to be trained and instructed. That's why instructors were called paidagogoι (plural of paidagogos). They were responsible for the instruction of little ones. I think John uses paidia here to speak of those who are young in the faith, who are babes in Christ, and who have recently come to know Christ and have a lot of growing to do.
By addressing them as those who know the Father, the author is, in effect, affirming that even though they are young in the faith, they can walk in the light, they can keep God's commands, and they can love fellow believers. Even as children, they can fellowship with God.
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. 1 John 2:14 ESV
I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
Apart from the aorist tense form of the verb to write, John repeats exactly what he said in verse 13 about the fathers.
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. Here John expands upon what he said in verse 13 by adding two reasons why he writes to the young men.
First of all, he addresses how they had overcome the evil one. Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you. Second, he acknowledges that they were strong because the word of God was abiding in them. So, the characteristic of all spiritual young men is a knowledge of the Word of God. The Word of God abides in them. They know what the Bible teaches. They are equipped with spiritual knowledge. The children are ignorant, but the young men have a working knowledge of the Scriptures.
The key to growth,then, is spending time in fellowship with the Son of God and his Word. If you want to be a mature Christian, you have to abide in His Word. But no matter what level you are at in your Christian life, you can live in fellowship with God. And the longer you do that, the more you will grow.