I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 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. 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.
The forgiveness of sins, knowing the Father, knowing Him who has been from the beginning (Christ – see 1:1), overcoming the evil one, being strong, the abiding word of God – these are all elements of verses 12 – 14.
As John moves toward his conclusion in Chapter 5 he writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (5:13). John writes to affirm that his recipients have eternal life, he writes to say “Amen” to the life of Christ in them. In 2:12 – 14 John writes because sins are forgiven, because the Father and Christ are known, because the word of God abides, because the evil one is overcome.
It is tempting to read more into this passage than may be there, for example there are two different tenses, “I am writing” and “I have written”; we can be tempted to make much of them. We can also be tempted to speculative extrapolation of little children, fathers, and young men, developing hard and fast thinking about these roles and experiences which perhaps the author did not intend; after all, once we are familiar with John’s writings we realize he repeats himself to make his point, he gives us multiple camera angles. Do we notice that John is writing to a people? Do we notice that he is writing to a multi-generational people? Do we understand that John is writing to a family of believers? The fathers and young men and children are in relationship with one another, in koinonia; John writes that they may also have koinonia with himself (1:3), a koinonia with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
The segregation of generations in Christian ministry is counter-Biblical; the Scriptures not only describe but prescribe inter-generational relationships, the older women teaching the younger women, the older men teaching the younger men – there can be no teaching in this context outside of relationships, relationships desperately needed in our generationally-fragmented culture. Do we see youth ministry that includes developing relationships with older Christians? Do we see “senior” ministry that focuses on pouring a lifetime of experience and wisdom into the lives of younger people? We treat seniors as if their lives were over, no longer challenging them with missions, outreach, evangelism, or pouring their lives into younger people – is this a Christian form of functional euthanasia?
While it is good and proper to know the joy of forgiveness, to remain centered on the forgiveness of sins throughout one’s life is to remain a child – alas that is where many of us remain, the idea of overcoming the evil one is a forlorn hope to many, the experience and knowledge of the indwelling Christ something that many never hear taught – and so only a portion of the Gospel is known in many churches – the new birth and justification.
Overcoming, of which we will hear more of in John’s letter, is linked to the word of God abiding in the Christian. This abiding is not a mere knowledge of data akin to being able to answer a game show question – the Pharisees could do that. Peter describes the word of God as living and enduring in 1 Peter 1:23. God’s word is not inanimate, it is living and when it lives in us it animates us, it is the source of our life, the word of God is to us what an air hose is to a deep-sea diver – without it we will die. The strength of the young men in our passage is not a natural strength, though we may naturally associate strength with young men, it is God’s strength in them (see 4:4), a strength generated by God’s word – but more on this later in the letter.
Then we have the fathers portrayed as knowing Christ and the children pictured as knowing the Father. Paul’s desire was that I may know Him and as we grow and are seasoned by the Holy Spirit and the word of God we see that knowing Him, loving Him, worshipping Him, is what we were created for, what we were redeemed for; we see that it is our destiny and our hearts yearn for the unfolding of that destiny. We know Him in the forgiveness of sins, we know Him in overcoming the evil one, but there is also a place where we simply know Him in that place that perhaps the Psalmist referred to when he wrote the words, the secret place of the Most High…under the shadow of His wings. The children receive the spirit of adoption and cry out Abba Father! The fathers come to a place of knowing.
A reminder that we probably should not adopt rigid images of the children, fathers, and young men – life in Christ is permeable and we are joined to His Body where every joint supplies the entire body. Throughout the letter John terms his readers children and little children and these terms throughout the letter encompass all of his readers – but in this passage, reading in context, we can consider the interplay of the terms children, fathers, and young men with profit.