Post Series on 1 John 2:7-14:
- How Jesus Made the Old Commandment New (1 John 2:7-8)
- Love as the Litmus Test of Genuine Faith (1 John 2:9-11)
- Envisioning the Beloved Society (1 John 2:12-14)
John summarizes all that he has said to this point in a poem in 1 John 2:12-14:
I am writing [grapho] to you, little children [teknia; cf. 1 John 2:1], 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 have written [egrapsa] to you, children [paidia], because you know the Father.
I have written to you, fathers, because you know him who is 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.
I have wrestled with this poem since I first preached on this passage in 2006, and, while I still have not grasped it completely, I have come to see some key issues within it.
First, following Calvin and many others, it is important to recognize that John is not addressing three classes of people (children, the young, and the old–the masculine “young men” and “fathers” include the other sex), because the words he uses for “[little] children” refer to the entire church. John addresses the church as teknia in 1 John 2:1, 2:28, 3:7, 3:18, 4:4, and 5:21; as paidia in 1 John 2:18.
So what does say John to the children? He reaffirms gospel truths: “your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (2:12) and “you know the Father” (2:13). To John, the doctrines of justification and of adoption are more than a systematic theology–they mark the core identity of every believer. Our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ name! We have been adopted into the family of God so that God has become our Father! No wonder John opens this section by addressing the church as “Beloved” (2:7), for that is what we are!
Second, John builds on this reality in his comments to the young. Not only does every believer know firsthand the precious realities of forgiveness and adoption, all young people have been made strong and have overcome the evil one, for the word of God now abides in them. Notice that Christians do not accomplish all of these feats in order to be saved–they are saved because Christ has accomplished all this on their behalf, so that what is true in Christ is true in them (2:8).
So, is John describing an aggressive, headstrong Christian who is always willing to pick a fight for Jesus? Hardly. If the word of God abides in these youths, then their lives are marked by love rather than aggression: “whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:5). Following in the footsteps of Jesus, our strength is seen in the degree to which love directs our actions.
Third, John further connects these gospel realities to lives marked by love in his simple comment to the old: “you know him who is from the beginning.” Who is from the beginning?–Jesus Christ: “That which was from the beginning…which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-4).
But consider what John means by knowing Jesus: knowing Jesus means obeying his commandments, and his commandments are summarized in a law of love: “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:4-5).
All we children of God–young and old–have been beloved by the Father in Jesus Christ by faith through the Holy Spirit. Our sins are forgiven, and we have been adopted by the Father as sons. And all we children of God–young and old–are to walk in a manner marked not by sin and darkness, but by love.
Those with genuine faith–young and old alike–will also exhibit genuine love.