Letters From an Old Man

Knowing the Father, 2:12—17

In the final years of the first century, Christians faced an insidious enemy: false teachers who invaded their churches preaching attractive Gnostic doctrines that sounded so good yet opposed the Gospel. It is no accident that throughout his letter, John advised his readers to “walk in the light” and to live by faith, obeying God’s commands. Like a good pastor who wants his congregation to spiritually healthy, John had given them some tests to determine if who they were listening to were genuine believers or false teachers.

This section of 1 John may be broken into two short segments. The first, verses 12—14, contrasts the position of the believer who walks in the light with the position of the false teachers who walk in the darkness. The second part, verses 14—17, he warns his readers not to fall into the seductive trap of worldliness as the false teachers had.

1. Children, fathers, young men, 2:12—14

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 people,
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 people,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

A/ All Readers, verse 12, 14a

John begins his thoughts to all the readers of his letter by saying, “I write to you.” That seems like a strange thing to write, since obviously John is writing to them! He means more than just that he is putting pen to paper; he means that he is writing words down that he wants them to remember; they are permanent. John could easily make the trip to visit them personally and tell them what he wants them to know, but writing them down serves the purpose of making his readers not only take notice of what he has written, but also to discuss it and learn it.

His initial thought is addressed to “dear children.” Teknia seems to be John’s pet name for believers in general, so this verse is for all believers—

Your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (verse 12)

Forgiveness from sins is not the whole plan of salvation, but it is the very entrance into the Christian life; it is the beginning step of “walking in the light.” Forgiveness of sins is one of the first things a believer experiences when they come to the Lord. Forgiveness of sins is not based on our asking for it or our desperate need for it. John indicates that our sins are forgiven “on account of his name,” that is, on account of Jesus’ name. In Hebrew thought, “The name” always stood for the character of an individual; so “on account of his name” is a way of saying that they were forgiven through the work and person of Christ. This is the best news a person could ever get! Everyone who believes in Jesus and repents receives remission of sin.

In verse 14, John goes further. Because their sins are forgiven, believers can now know the Father—

You know the Father.

John uses a different Greek word this time, but he is still addressing believers in general. As a result of God’s free forgiveness, all believers are able to “know the Father.” This is a privilege unbelievers can never experience; only believers may “know the Father.” Note that John does not say “know God.” Of course, the terms are synonymous, but by using the more personal “Father,” John is emphasizing the personal nature of the believer’s new relationship with God. No longer are we viewed by God as merely “followers,” because our sins have been forgiven through what Jesus did, God now views us as His children.

B/ Fathers, verse 13a, 14a

You know him who is from the beginning.

According to Jewish custom, this form of address would refer to those who had responsibility for authority. Sometimes, it was used to refer to leaders of Israel’s past, like the father’s of Israel, the patriarchs, and so on. Here, though, John likely has in view older and more mature members of the congregation. John appeals to these older men because the implication is that with age comes spiritual enlightenment—deeper knowledge of God and Jesus Christ through His Word.

We may take John’s words to “fathers” in two ways. All people like to be praised, and gaining spiritual knowledge and a closer walk with God are indeed desirable and even enviable traits in a Christian. But the implication that with maturity comes spiritual maturity may sound threatening to some. God cannot make a person grow. The Holy Spirit will not force anybody to learn the Word of God. These things are the responsibility of the believer. How many “fathers” are still spiritually immature in the Church of Jesus Christ today? How many so-called mature Christians are as ignorant of God and His Word today as the day of their new birth?

We grow grace as we learn and study and pray. Spiritual grown is not automatic; we make it happen. Mature believers are desperately needed within the Church today; to teach the younger believers, to care for their spiritual children. Mature believers are responsible to “hand the torch of the gospel light to the next generation, the young men of the church.” (Hendriksen)

C/ Young men, verse 13b, 14b

You have overcome the evil one. (verse 13b)

You are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one. (verse 14b)

The final group of believers addressed is “young men.” While some scholars think John is referring to the youth of the church, my sense is that John is actually thinking about young believers, that is, new converts or those who have not been in the Church for a lifetime. It is sad but true that the longer one is a Christian, the cooler their love grows for both God and His family; the exuberance they have for spiritual things dims. It seems as we grow in our faith we all too often become cynical about the Church, we become jaded about our spiritual leaders and the things of God become common place. But notice what characterizes exuberant Christians: they have overcome the evil one and they are strong. Their strength comes from a diet of the Word of God. Weak and anemic believers are those who starve theirs souls of the Word.

Those of us who have been Christians for years and years should take a lesson from young Christians. May we pray as David prayed—

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

2. The world and the will of God, 2:15—17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

As we read John’s warning not to love the world in verse 15, we are reminded of the words of James:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

John’s language is particularly strong in verse 15, “Do not love the world.” Those who aspire to the high standard of Christian living described by John so far in his letter must not “love” the world. The word he uses is the same word he used back in verse 10, where he writes about the person who loves his brother. That kind of love is the love that forms attachments, intimate fellowship, and loyal devotion. This is the kind of that should be reserved only for God and His Church. Christians have no business having those kinds of feelings for the things of the world. This is because the world is in darkness, but we are supposed to be people who walk in the light.

There is no contradiction between what John wrote here in verse 15—

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him

And what he wrote in his Gospel—

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Plummer comments:

[T]he world which the Father loves is the whole human race. The world which we are told not to love is all that is alienated from Him, all that prevents men from loving Him in return…The world which we are not to love is His rival.

This world is a system of life created, not by God, but by unregenerate man, therefore to give that world our affection is to commit spiritual adultery. This is something God will not tolerate in those who claim to love Him.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24)

Not only is God described as jealous, look carefully at Exodus 34:14—

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

“Jealous” is also one of His names. It is part of His character, although not sinful, that describes how protective He is of His relationship with you. Are we that protective of our relationship with Him?

From not loving the world, John moves onto the positive admonition to do the will of God. In verse 16, John again seems to echo what James wrote in his epistle; that which is created in the world does not come from God but from the devil.

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:15)

What are the so-called things of the world? John spells them out in a memorable triad: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.”

  1. The cravings of sinful man. This literally means “the desires of the flesh” and an outlook on life that is oriented towards self. In other words, these cravings serve only yourself and demonstrate a self-sufficient independence from God. That, according to John, is what a sinful man is like.
  2. The lust of his eyes. Some commentators suggest John has in mind specifically sexual lust, but the phrase probably carries with it the thought “everything that entices the eyes” (Bultmann). It has been rightly observed that the eyes are are the windows to man’s soul. When one is enticed by lust, their eyes become instruments that cause them to sin.
  3. Boasting of what he has and does. This last tendency of a sinful man is not easily translated, which accounts for the numerous differences of translation among various translations of Scripture. The key word in the Greek is alazoneia, and it is used only one other time in the NT, James 4:16. A variation of the word is used in Romans 1:13 and 2 Timothy 3:2 to describe a “pretentious hypocrite who glories in himself or in his possessions” (Barker). F.F. Bruce wrote,

If my reputation, my public image, matters more to me than the glory of God or the well-being of my followers, the pretentiousness of life has become the object of my idol-worship.

The reason why true believers should not live like the alazon is summed up in verse 17—

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

How utterly foolish it is to be fixated on temporal things that pass away. It is beyond stupidity for an eternal being, created in God’s own image, to obsess over things that rot and disintegrate with the passing of time. The world and all it’s trinkets have already begun to putrefy. The world is corpse waiting to be buried. But those of us who endeavor to do the will of God will live forever.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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