“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.” (1 John 2:12–14, ESV)
These verses are not that complicated though Scripture has a lot to say about the process of which they speak. In verse 12 we saw that regardless of our level of maturity if we have trusted Jesus for our salvation then we are a child of God. The second (in today’s verses) being that no matter where we are in life we are never to set aside the study of God’s Word and following after Him with our whole hearts. These are pretty basic, and they apply to all of us no matter how old we are, how long we have been a Christian, or how much we have grown since becoming one.
John addressed the most senior ones first with, “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.” Looking at the multi-generational aspect of his audience, John starts with those who had been around the longest. These are the parents of the church. The ones who had been there from the beginning, who had seen people come to Christ, and who had walked with God and seen Him do so many things during their lives. Knowing that this letter was written a minimum of thirty years and probably much closer to fifty years after Christ went to the cross there was a lot of time that had gone by. And recognizing that his readers might have even included Jews who had been aware of God before even their salvation, John pointed to their long settled knowledge that God is, has been, and always will be God.
There is nothing fancy in the Greek word translated “father.” It is simply the common word for “father” and with it comes the presumption that these individuals had been around for a while, and that they had a base of knowledge and experience that provided for a stable foundation in the face of anything that might have come to pass. Spiritually speaking, these would have been the long-term believers in the group. They are the ones who had seen and known God’s love and faithfulness for many years, and who had grown in their knowledge and understanding of Him. They are the ones who were charged with passing that knowledge on to the younger ones to follow. They were the ones who did not age out. There was (and is) no grandfather, or great-grandfather exit pass included. In this scheme of things the fathers were the patriarchs who passed things on to the younger. And having said this, the same thing can be said for mothers as well. We are not speaking of a gender specific role, but of a level of walking with God and a growth in knowledge and understanding which can then be passed on to others. In the fathers (and mothers) of that church and our churches today there is a rich heritage reflecting a firm foundation which can support and encourage those who are coming along behind.
It might seem a bit redundant, but John starts his next round of purpose in writing to the fathers in verse 14 with almost the exact same words. “I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.” This truth is immeasurably important. Many young people have gone astray because they have forsaken the wisdom and encouragement of those who are older and more mature or wise. At the same time, it also reminds those who fall into this category that they have a continued and important role in the life and health of any church. The spiritual maturity of the church is intended to depend on them passing what they have learned on to others.
John’s next subject is the group just behind—those referred to as “young men,” and it includes young women. He wrote in verses 13 and 14, “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. … 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.”
The young adults are the ones just getting out into the world. They are the ones taking steps on their own, and they are the ones who are putting into practice what they had been taught. This is true whether they do it by paying careful attention to those who had gone before them or if they learn from the school of hard knocks or by making mistakes and having to back up and try again. These are the ones without their own track record yet, and who are beginning to have their own victories and even failures. It has been said that these are the ones in the heat of the battle. They have the energy to tackle most roads and maybe even to do it at great speed, but maybe not yet with the wisdom on how to handle all of the corners and knowing when to switch from the accelerator to the brake. They are the ones who might plow through things to realize that they plowed over something important in the process. Young couples do this all of the time as they start out in marriage. Young employees do this as they learn how to navigate the work environment, and students do this when mom is no longer there to remind them to get to their homework or to go to bed.
These are the ones who are ready and willing to tackle anything. As such the most important thing for them to remember as believers in Christ is that they have tackled the most important thing there is. In Christ they have tackled the evil one. He is defeated, and they do not have to hand the reigns back to him. He is not their landlord. They do not live in a body he owns, and they do not have to pay him rent. They are new creations in Christ, and they belong to God as His beloved children. With all of that energy they can go out knowing that the enemy has no hold on them and they do not have to fear him.
But in going out they also have to be constantly aware that their base of knowledge and understanding and their level of wisdom still has a long way to go. They are subject to deception and being led astray. Their energy can be used to head down the wrong path or to take inappropriate detours. There is no force out there that is more powerful than God. They do have the power to make right and wise decisions. But in order to do this they need to be committed to seeking after God and hiding His word in their hearts. They need to be committed to making right choices before God, and He will enable them to walk victoriously. They walk with the strength that comes from God—a strength far beyond their own physical limitations, and in this they can and will overcome daily what has been eternally accomplished. They will overcome the evil one.
I have spoken about the young adults as if this were an age thing, but I want to stop to remind us that this can be just as true for those who are fairly young in their Christian walk. Maybe you haven’t studied God’s Word that deeply and feel uninformed about what He has to say. Maybe you haven’t experienced much of God’s faithfulness yet, but you are willing to step out and trust him. Maybe you are someone who is young spiritually and older physically and you have a mixed bag of exuberance in the faith and resistance because of life experience. John’s words apply equally as well.
The psalmist asked a question in Psalm 119 about victorious living for those who are young, and we will include those who are young in the faith here and even the old. We read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9, NASB95) This is a truth that John restates by telling his young readers that they have the word of God abiding in them to make them strong. And like the psalmist, as a result the young can say, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11, NASB95)
John only speaks to the children once in this pair of verses. He said in verse 13, “I write to you, children, because you know the Father.” There is not much growth here. These are the ones that are at the beginning of life or the beginning of their faith walk. Their foundation of truth is very limited, and what they do know may not extend much beyond them knowing that God loves them and that He has forgiven them of their sins because of His Son’s work on the cross. It is this group that John reminds has the most important thing there is. They have a faith in the Father. It is very simple, and not complicated by a lot of other things. It is them who can go forward in faith and grow knowing that they know God and that He is holding firmly on to them.
When we compare this to our own children it is very understandable. They do not have to understand everything though they might have a constant stream of questions at times. What they need to know is that their parents are there for them and that their parents will take care of them to love them, watch over them, and give them what they need. It is this unequivocal faith that makes them trust so fully. They know that which is most important—God is their Father. And as their Father they know He is there for them. Looking to a fuller circle, in the life of the church, there are many who are spiritual parents who are given to take under their wings the children in the faith and to nurture them so that they grow into young ones who one day will parent others. This is what families do.