STABLE IN A SINFUL WORLD
I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. 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, dear 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 lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2: 12-14)
I’m not quite sure what John’s reason was for singling groups of people out and for repeating what he had to say to them. Perhaps they needed encouragement because of the particular issues they faced at their time of life. We need to examine the circumstances of his readers since their lives were always in great peril as believers in Jesus who had to swim against the current of Jewish fanaticism and Roman antagonism because they refused to bow to Caesar as Lord.
In the overwhelming tide of idolatry in the Roman Empire of that day, there were pockets of people all over the empire who had renounced the worship of idols for the truth that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that He died for their sins. The worship of idol gods entailed the offering of sacrifices, temple prostitution and sexual promiscuity, all in the name of “worship”. The lives of their devotees were riddled with sinful practices while the children of God were called to live holy lives, separated from unclean things in the midst of the evil all around them.
John, then, reminded the “children”, most likely not literal children, but those who, through faith in Jesus, had been adopted into God’s family and were therefore no longer a part of sinful society and the world system, that their sins had been forgiven. For the believer, sin wasn’t just violating the customs and practices of society around them or the gods they worshipped. Sin was anything that fell short of God’s perfection and holiness. It was not their worship or their sacrifices that brought them forgiveness of sin, but the death of God’s Son who gave His life for them.
It was important that they keep this fact in mind in the face of the false beliefs of their neighbours and the hostility they faced for daring to put their faith in a Jewish rabbi who was crucified as a criminal and whom, they claimed, rose from the dead and was alive in them. In the face of the filth of the world around them, their sins had been forgiven.
Who were the “fathers” John addressed? Were they the literal fathers? Were they the “fathers” of the flock of God’s people? It doesn’t matter. John knew that they also needed encouragement. Their sins were forgiven – they knew that – but, more than that, they knew the Father. What does it mean to “know” God? Not intellectual knowledge or even casual acquaintance. This was about knowing the Father intimately like sons who spend time with, have fellowship with and live in submission and obedience to their fathers because they love them.
They were fathers because they were mature believers who were not troubled or thrown by the ungodly society around them. They had long since been weaned from the world and its allurements. Their faces were towards God. They enjoyed fellowship with Him, which meant more to them than fellowship with the world. Idols no longer held them in fear. They had tasted the goodness of God and the joy of living under His authority in His kingdom. They were comfortable and secure in the love of God and content to keep trusting Him in the face of severe trials and the constant threat of death.
And what of the young men John addressed? These were the ones who were of the age to serve in the military. Perhaps John saw them as the “soldiers” in the army of God who had learned to overcome the enemy and were called to stand guard over the people of God. Perhaps they had done time in the Roman army, protecting the borders of the empire and preserving peace and stability in its colonies. From their military experience, they knew what it meant to keep the enemy at bay.
However, they also knew that soldiers in the army of God were not to fight – Jesus had already overcome the enemy. It was their task to stand – to identify the enemy’s subtle tactics and unmask him by exposing his lies. Their weapons were not of the world but spiritual, faith as a shield and the sword of the Spirit – truth which would reveal his lies and leave him naked and defenceless.
They knew that the battle was not in their circumstances but in their minds. The devil tried to lure them back under his authority by sowing lies into their minds, but they would use the truth of God’s word to expose his lies and neutralise his power over them.
Unlike the idols of their day who were no more than an expression and extension of the worst of human nature, John’s readers knew that the forgiveness of their sins was real, that they had come to know the Father intimately and that they had the weapons and the knowledge and experience to overcome the enemy within.
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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