I Write To You
1 John 2:12-14
Key Verse 2:12
“I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
Let’s read verses 12-14 together: (12) “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (13) I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. (14) I write to you, fathers, because you have known 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.”
This whole passage from verse 1 through verses 12 through 14 which we will looking at today have this interesting expression in common: “I write to you.” Other versions may have a slightly different variation of this expression such as “I am writing to you” in addition to “I write to you”. They may even have a slightly different arrangement of these 3 verses as well. You will find that verse 14 in some versions does not begin with the “fathers” but with the “children” of verse 13. But I don’t think we should occupy ourselves with these slight differences. However, it is important for us to consider the significance of the repeated expression of “I write to you” or “I am writing to you”. Besides the fact that John has a specific reason for writing to them, so much so that he mentions it repeatedly throughout the letter, and especially here in this section, the very fact that he says it often becomes very significant to us.
The central design of the letter perhaps is found in 5:13 where John says: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” His intention in writing us who believe in the name of the Son of God is that we may know without a doubt that we have eternal life. We can know that we have eternal life because he has written to us from across the ages all that is relevant and pertinent and essential and critical and unchangeable regarding eternal life. That is what makes the expression “I write to you” so significant. To start with, if you were to receive a letter from the president of the United States, you would be greatly honored; how much more then if you were to receive one from the ambassador of the King himself writing on behalf of the King. It is the Word of God for all time. It is the permanent record of the immutable Truth. No lie across the ages can ever corrupt its message. This is the one record which Satan can never withstand when confronted with these three words: “It is written.”
One more thing before we get into the passage itself. When we look at the passage in verses 12-14, we see that John addresses three separate ranks of people. There are first the children in verse 12. Then there are the fathers and the young men and the children again in verse 13. Finally there are the fathers and the young men in verse 14. As I said earlier, in some versions, the verse 14 includes the children first, then fathers and the young men last. The question is who are these children, fathers and young men? And the answer is not very clear. Most seems to agree that the children in verse 12 are the entire church, that is, all the believers including the fathers (and mothers of course) and the young men (and young women of course) as well. And I agree with that, because of how he addresses the children in the beginning regarding the forgiveness of sins. After that it seems that many agree that the fathers are the pillars of faith in the church, those who are wise and mature and have grown inwardly over time through the trials and hardship of life. Finally, many agree that the young men are the growing young men of faith who have weathered many trials and temptations and have proven themselves able and trustworthy in their service to the Lord. We agree with them. But still, whoever the fathers and young men and children may be, we also agree that the teaching is good for all of us whether we are children, fathers or young men, regardless of our Christian maturity.
Read verse 12. “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” Two things stand out here. First is the reason he is writing them, and that is because their sins are forgiven. And second, they were forgiven because of his name’s sake. These are great truths worth thinking about.
Who are these “children”? We believe that John is addressing here the whole church. Why? Because the forgiveness of sins has been offered to the whole community of believers. Those who believe in the name of our Lord Jesus have been given the forgiveness of sins. They were forgiven the moment they confessed their sins and received Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives. They were forgiven the moment they became children of God, brothers and sisters to one another, and part of God’s family. As forgiven sinners they are now heirs to the kingdom of the son of God and citizens of heaven. John calls them “dear children” because to him they were all his dear children regardless of their age group, whether they were humanly young or old, spiritually mature or immature. They were forgiven.
Now John addresses them because they were the forgiven ones of God. He reminds them of the grace of forgiveness in their lives. What assurance and joy this must have been to them to stand on the ground of such abundant grace! Most people don’t really think much of forgiveness of their sins even though it is the most important thing in our human lives. The ancients understood the urgency of sins’ forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins is the greatest blessing God bestows and so it heads the list of benefits for which the Psalmist blessed the Lord with all his soul (103:2,3). He said: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Every human being needs forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness of sins, our soul rots within us and our spirit shrivel up and we waste away. But most people go on in life as if the last thing on their mind is to receive God’s forgiveness. Yet God did not consider the forgiveness of our sins something trivial. He sacrificed his Son so that we may be forgiven if we ask for it. And we ask for it, God in Christ Jesus gives it freely to us.
Look at verse 12 again. “On account of his name.” Our sins are forgiven but not on account of our name but on account of his name. God did not do this for our sake, because we deserved forgiveness. It was his grace alone that accomplished this great thing in our lives and provided forgiveness for us. it was for his sake that God forgave our sins. It was for the honor and glory of our Lord Jesus that we have been given the privilege to ask for forgiveness and to receive it freely. It was for his name’s sake, on account of his name, to the praise and honor of his glory. John wants us all, wants all the dear children to remember forever that we have been forgiven on account of his name. This is the grace on which we all stand as a man, as a woman, as a church, as a Christian community for his name’s sake. What is the evidence of a forgiven soul? We sincerely love the Lord because in him we have found forgiveness. (Eph 6:24) We mourn for our sins (Matt. 5:4) because we know that our sins displease God. And we forgive others their sins against us without a spirit of vengeance because we ourselves have been forgiven (Matt. 6:14)
Whatever John tells them in the following verses it all hinges on what he had just said to them here— that it all rests on the blood of Christ who forgives us our sins. We are all forgiven in him regardless of whether we are fathers, children or young men.
Read verse 13. “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.” If fathers and young men and children here are three levels of maturing Christians, we can understand that very well. Everything grows by orderly progress and natural growth. No one just simply matures overnight. And that goes for the children of God too. They are born, they grow, they mature, and they bear fruit in season. Jesus tells us this truth in his parable in Mark 4.28 “All by itself the soil produces grain— first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” In verse 13 John mentions the children, the fathers and the young men not according to their physical ages, nor by the length of time they had been believers in the Christ Jesus, but he grades them according to the progress they had made in their spiritual lives. John himself had once been a suckling baby in Christ at one time. But in the grace of Jesus and by the work of the Holy Spirit in his life he had matured into a young man in Christ to finally become one of the fathers of faith in the church and a pillar in the Christian assembly of God.
He tells the fathers, “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” They have known him from the beginning. They have known his patience his kindness his mercy his love his forbearance his goodness. They should continue to be devoted servants to him in their lives. Most of all they should be good examples of devoted servants to the younger generation. They have a responsibility! In knowing him who is from the beginning, comes a tremendous responsibility to be examples and guides to others. They should be a source of inspiration and a shelter for those who are growing up in the Lord. That is what these fathers should be because they have known him who is from the beginning.
Being fathers and mothers of the church are the most sacred of duties the Lord gives us. With the knowledge of him, once we have tasted his goodness and mercy we have a holy responsibility to be shepherd of the church especially in examples of perseverance and faith and love, in hope and in sacrifice. In examples of perseverance, because trouble always comes to a church. Examples of faith, because doubts are the weapon of the Satan to discourage the church. Examples of love, because our Lord armed always himself with love even when fighting his own enemies. We should be examples of hope because hope is all that’s left for us when everything else is stripped from us Christians. And examples of sacrifice because sacrifice is the evidence of all these virtues working together to honor Christ our eternal King.
John reminds them that they have known him who is from the beginning. In other words, they have known both Christ and God who are from the beginning. This kind of knowledge is not a theoretical one but a spiritual one, a knowledge deeply rooted in the truth and more firmly secure than the knowledge of those who are young and still maturing in their faith. (Colossians 1.23) It is a knowledge acquired through years of experience and suffering. Yet John still writes to them because they too need to be written to because even the most mature Christians needs the word of God spoken to him and her; and even the most godly Christian needs to be nourished in the word of God as long as he or she are in the flesh. Our Lord Jesus studied the Scriptures and held on to it even though he himself was the very incarnate word of life. Paul who wrote the greatest epistles in the New Testament studied the word of God regularly in order to feed his soul. John was eager to write them these words because the word of admonishment keeps the heart rooted in God’s word. I wrote you because you have known him who is from the beginning. You have known God. He is the word made flesh. He is the sacrifice for sin. He is the Risen Son. He is the keeper of promises. He is trustworthy. He is the Word of Life.
Look at verse 13c, the last part. “I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.” These are truly the youngest of the believers in the Christian community. He writes them because they know the Father. What’s so special about knowing the father? There was a time when very few knew God, and even fewer who knew God as father. The people of Israel came to know God through the law he gave them. Moses who communicates the law to them alone spoke directly to God and knew God intimately. All the others only knew God as the holy and righteous God. People such as David and the prophets knew God more intimately as God manifested himself more and more through history. They came to know him as their shepherd, and a handful knew him as father. But it was God’s promise that “they will all know me, from the last of them to the greatest.” (Jer 31:34) And the promise was fulfilled when Christ came. Without Christ it would have been impossible to know God. Christ revealed many things to us about God especially that God is the father of our Lord Jesus, and consequently our Father as well. And especially that God is our Father who loves us. It is this particular privilege, wisdom and comfort to know God as Father. In Christ we are adopted into his family and given a spirit by which we call him “Abba, father.” (Rom 8:15) To know him as father is to know that we are loved and secure in his grace.
John addresses this portion of the church assembly with these words “you know the Father”. These are the church people who know God their father. And it seems that the church are crowded mostly with them like a giant spiritual day care center. They are children today and they will be children when they pass away someday when it’s time to meet their Father maker. They never grow but remain children always. They are happy to be children even when they are old and grey and walking around with a walker. I think that we should not let that happen to us. We should pray to the Lord to help us grow out of the spiritual nursery into the next grade.
Look at verse 14 again. “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.” This is not a compliment to flatter the young men, but a sober statement of fact. In doing this he was giving honor first to the Holy Spirit because the state of achievement they were in was nothing less than the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in them. On another note this was a cry of joy to him that they had grown from a state of weakness to a state of strength and health. And finally he said this because these words are greatly encouraging words to young men who have known what it is to struggle with sin and to overcome. Now they have shown themselves to be strong. Who knows how often John had to rebuke these very young men for sins they had committed, or sins they were tempted to commit? It’s never easy to do that!
But sin is a vicious evil that cannot be tamed nor controlled nor can it be educated out of young men. Sin is a vicious evil that cannot be compromised with nor overlooked in the lives of Christian young men who are avowed to Christ and purchased by his blood for holiness. Sin must be rebuked and disciplined and chastised and severely castigated. Sin must often be severed from one’s life. Sin must be dealt with in severity as one deals with a disease when one discovers an illness. when a disease is discovered there is nothing more important than to eradicate that disease. It is dealt with severely. Now when a child is found to have an inclination for theft or for lying, or for deceit or for disrespect towards elders; or worst yet, if a child is found to have a weak and unhealthy conscience that does not respond properly to the prodding of guilt or shame, unless the child’s disease is dealt with, the child’s conscience will die, and soon after the child’s spirit will follow. So sin must be rebuked and repented, otherwise it remains a snare in young men’s lives. John had done so often in their lives as he had learned his Master Jesus do before him. How often had Jesus preached repentance and led others to repentance! And so these young men had repented and severely dealt with sin in their own lives. It wasn’t easy for John to have rebuked sin in their lives. But he had. And they had grown and become strong. Now he encouraged them saying that they were strong. It was his joy to do so.
Let’s read the last part of verse 14 again. “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.” Because you are strong. God created young men to be strong not weak. That’s the glory of young men. It’s in their strength. We’re not taking about muscles nor are we talking about violent outbursts of anger and pretenses of strength. We’re talking about the only strength that counts, the Biblical kind of strength— the strength of the inner man that makes a young man a tower of strength that not even the gates of hell can stand up against him (Matthew 16:18). I am talking about the strength that God intended for us in the beginning, the strength to walk with God and be God’s stewards and assistants and his ambassadors— but which we lost in the garden because the devil infected us with sin. Sin weakens men and makes them powerless (Rom 5:6) to live the life that God gave us to live for him. Young men that’s why you need Jesus because only Jesus can rescue you from sin’s harm. In Christ your sins are forgiven and you’re given a new life and made strong— Strong to withstand sin and to defeat it— to refuse it access to your heart and mind and soul where it can wreak havoc. Yet when it does find access, you have an advocate in heaven who defends you. The Holy Spirit convicts you. Your conscience acknowledges your failure. You repent and stand cleansed and renewed, invigorated, empowered by the grace of the Lord in whom you stand and through whom you live.
John declared to these young men, young men you are strong because Jesus defeated sin and you stand in him, and live through him. John didn’t say I wrote you this because you are weak and I want to help you become strong now. He said I wrote you because you are strong. This is your situation now. This is your reality now and always! This is what you need to hold to whatever your circumstances. And as you mature from young men into fathers and mothers of faith in the church, remember to encourage the young men the same way. “You are strong” Because Christ has defeated sin through his death and resurrection, and by believing this, they had become sharers in Christ victories, especially his victory over sin and death. They stood strong against the tide of sin and temptation that flooded them from every corner of the world. They were strong in Christ.
But there is something else about those young men that is precious and identifies them as special and makes them strong. John says the word of God lives in you. We have no doubt that word of God living in them is none other than Jesus Christ himself, the incarnate and Living word of God (John 1.1). At the same time John is surely talking about the word of God as in the written word of God. This is one of the most wondrous secrets of our Christian faith. Look again at verse 14. John said and the word of God lives in you. How does it live in them? There is no other way except through faith and meditating on it, that it can live in them or us. That’s how Christ himself can live in us, through his word. Jesus often said to his disciples “remain in me” and “I will remain in you”. He talked about this kind of relationship where he indwells our lives in our hearts. This indeed is what makes young men strong— the word of God living in them.
We cannot separate a young man’s strength from the indwelling of the word of God living in his heart. If he is delivered from the power of sin but in time becomes proud or lazy such that the word of God does not find its way to his heart in order to nourish and bless and guide and help him, that young man is on the way to much heartache and painful struggle. Because Christ who delivered him from sin wants to live in a heart prepared for cultivation by the word of God and not a heart that is barren and empty. That’s the trouble of so many Christians. They know that Christ delivers them from sin. But they are too lazy to cultivate their hearts with the word of God. They rather do something else rather than study Bible or read or meditate on the word of God. But Christ cannot live in such hearts that are empty of God’s word. Even if they think they are strong to resist some sin today, they can only get weaker and weaker until they have no strength left to even some day continue as a Christian. Jesus warned us against procrastination and laziness (Matt 25-28) He once said: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth.” (Luke 18.8)
But most young Christians are not listening to warnings. They don’t care to be strong inwardly with the word of God. They don’t know about the spiritual battle taking place for their souls, distracting them from the word of God and keeping them from taking the word of God into their hearts to live there within them. John knew that these young men had struggled and overcome. They were strong because the word of God lives within them. He knew that they had overcome their laziness and pride of heart and did everything within their ability to study and meditate on the word of life until that word lived in them. Now they were strong in the word and nothing could shake them.
Finally John repeats again what he had said to them at the beginning. I am writing you because you are strong, and because the word of God lives in you, and once again because you have overcome the evil one. Let me explain. John didn’t say you have overcome your flesh or your sinful desires, or you have overcome your evil nature or sins. This is remarkable in a letter that speaks of overcoming the evil one and overcoming the world (5.4) he says nothing of overcoming your sinful nature. Actually we are to put these to death not overcome them. (Colossians 3.5) We are to deny the sinful nature and all ungodly desires. We are to put away our worldly lusts and live righteous and holy lives in this world. (Titus 2.12) But nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to overcome the flesh or the sinful nature. You can’t overcome. Christ himself does in and through the cross! In the cross there is the power to crucify the sinful nature and to put it to death once for all— to rid yourself of it completely— to gain that freedom from the sinful nature that no human being can ever gain no matter how strong he is or how long he fights to try to overcome it. You cannot overcome the sinful nature.
But John tells the young men you have overcome the evil one. Let’s see. We shouldn’t understand this exactly as it is but try to see what it actually Implies. These young men had already gone through the many trials and temptations that usually accompany new converts. They had suffered misunderstandings from those from whom they separated when they came to Christ. Persecution from family and friends. Slander. But regardless, Satan had not been able to drag them back into his ways nor even bring them down into despair. But they continued following Jesus and Satan continued to tempt them and wound them and give them more grief than one can bear. but in all his mischief Satan was always defeated in his efforts to convince them to give up the fight. Usually God’s people are more aware of their defeats than they are of their frequent overcomings! That’s easy to understand. Think about it how we are so easily more aware of our illness than we are of our good health, so also a Christian’s fall is usually more evident to him than his victory. But anyway Satan never succeeds in the long run over a child of God. He wants to destroy God’s children and tries his best. But he can’t because Jesus intercedes for us. We need to keep Jesus words to Peter burning in our hearts especially in it times of severe trials: (Luke 22.31.32) “I have prayed for you…. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
You have overcome the evil one. Why? For many reasons. We have overcome by virtue of Christ in whom we take shelter. We have overcome the evil one because “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?… No one…. Who shall separate is from the love of Christ? ….. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.” (Rom 8:33-37) We have indeed overcome the evil one. We have overcome the evil one because the word of Christ dwells in us. Jesus our Lord overcame the evil one through the word of God. Likewise, we have a responsibility to put on the full armor of God and especially the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. That in itself is a conquest. The devil is clever. When he succeeds is felling a saint, he wants to drive despair into his heart until the saint is too distressed with himself and too discouraged to even pray. But we know the wiles of the devil. We know that God’s throne of mercy is always open and welcome for us anytime. That in itself is one of the greatest overcoming of the evil one. Praise God for his forgiveness of our sins. Praise God because he has made us his children and made us to know him and to overcome the evil one.