12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake.
13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.
14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning I have written 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 2:12-14 (NASB)
We have three figures from three generations: little children, fathers, and young men. He repeats admonitions to them twice, according to this chart:
|Generation||Reason for writing now||Reason for writing in the past|
|little children||sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake||you know Him who has been from the beginning|
|fathers||you know Him who has been from the beginning||you know Him has has been from the beginning|
|young men||you have overcome the evil one||you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.|
The community which grace produces is intended to cross generational divides. The community of believers in Christ includes all ages: young children, youth, and fathers. There is to be grace for the shortcomings and strengths of all the generations in Christ in the community of faith. We all have equal need of trust in the power of the blood of Jesus for each other.
At first he says he is writing them, secondly he says he has written to them. Was there another letter? It is unclear. We do know that he is writing to them, and he regards this linguistic interchange to be substantive. Words, and receiving words, is an important part of ministry. Notice the importance of knowing Him who has been from the beginning. It’s the only virtue the fathers seem to hang on. The young men stray into the territory of being strong, fighting and overcoming evil, perhaps being men of mission and deed. The young and the old are content to know Christ. There doesn’t seem to be any judgment of this, it is all celebrated, but it is an interesting observation. We start off life being content with knowing and playing, we grow up wanting to act and fight and perhaps prove our mettle, and as fathers we become content to know and to rest in that. The children have forgiveness which is associated closely with this knowledge. The fathers lean intensely on knowledge alone. All of this goes along with the importance and power of knowledge and belief, which is a major theme in the book of 1 John.
I really think it is important to realize that young men can embrace grace and understand the power of the blood of Jesus without having the call to strength and mission and overcoming evil stripped from them. These qualities are wonderful, they are celebrated. Grace does not mean there are no works, it means they are no longer a frightening qualifying factor. A huge part of understanding how to lead a church and a family in practical grace is understanding that young men desperately need a call to action and to challenge. In his incredibly strong emphasis on forgiveness and strong love and the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus, he does not strip young men of the strength of their youth. The young men are repeated to have overcome the evil one. This word “overcome” is the Greek word “nikao” (from the Gr “nike”), which means to conquer, to prevail, to get the victory, to triumph. A huge part of grace to the young men is gain this sense of triumph, and this is not contrary to the message of the gospel. We might surmise that the battle with the evil one lies particularly strong with the young men. Thus they are said to be strong, and they seem to be a peculiarly strong target for the devil. Teaching is thus especially important for young men because it is the word which abides in them that is their strenth in overcoming the evil one. However, through the blood of Jesus, it does not say that they are in the process of overcoming the evil one. It says they already have overcome the evil one.
There is an important lesson here in our view of Christian teaching and education. John recognizes strengths in these figures, and these strengths are the genesis or cause of his writing. It says he writes to them because of their authentic strengths and value, not simply to correct and direct them. We can give messages, not only as correction but as encouragement. We must read all of 1 John under this rubric: he writes because of true knowledge and service toward God, because he says clearly here that this is why he is writing to them.
Notice also that there really is an evil one. It is a distinct theme throughout the book: Satan exists. There is a single unified spirit of antichrist that works in the world, and you can look especially to young men as having overcome this world spirit. Amazing! In some quarters these would be the last people you would look at to find overcoming faith. John singles them out and says, they exhibit overcoming faith in particular.
Notice that the children are forgiven, not only for their own sakes, but for His name’s sake. We really ought not contest the power and scope of His forgiveness and the power of His blood, because He forgives for His own name’s sake. We can view forgiveness in particular from a very selfish perspective, and we can impose a very harsh condemnation upon ourselves in a twisted effort to self-justify. He forgives us surely for our own sakes, and for the sake of our relationships in community with others, but He also does all of this for His own name’s sake. Our conscience can be very assured that we are forgiven, and that this is the Father’s very strong will. He intends to honor Jesus’ blood on our behalf, it is in His interest.