John’s concern for young and old (1 John 2.12-14)?
In these verses John starts by using the present tense “I am writing” to declare his purpose in addressing the three age groups of young people, parents (who are presumably older) and young adults (2.12/13). He then changes to the past tense as he further elaborates his aim in having formerly written to young adults, parents and youth (2.13/14). Finally he gives some fundamental teaching to us all, starting with the words “if anyone . . .” (2.15).
In addressing the younger generation John uses two separate words. In verse 12 he calls them “children”, a word which embraces all our pre-adult childhood, while in verse 13 the word also includes unmarried young adults. Young people may lack the wisdom and experience of more mature Christians, but they often have the advantage of confident strength and dynamic. John notes that their Christian life is marked by a victorious struggle against evil. As young Christians they have the challenging experience of passing through the difficult and some times rebellious teen-age years of puberty, so the reality of sin and guilt may cloud their consciences. What good news therefore that their sins have been removed through the name of Jesus! Of course this fundamental truth of the Gospel rejoices all our hearts, but for young people it may have special importance. Those of us who have been believers for many years should have frequently heard the good news of our sins being forgiven and cleansed, but for younger Christians this message may come with fresh and exciting relevance. This glorious message of sins wiped clean often inspires a new life-changing experience which opens the door to a life of commitment to loving and serving the Lord.
No wonder John starts this passage with the assertion that he is writing to young people because their sins have been removed through Jesus.
As he remembers his previous letters’ purpose, he declares that he wrote to young people “because you have known the Father” (2.13). In his writings John frequently asserts that Jesus came to reveal the Father and open the door to knowledge of the Father. Just as the Holy Spirit has come in order to make Jesus real to us, so likewise Jesus brings us into the very presence of the all-glorious Father. In our sinful weakness we could not possibly have the right to approach the burning purity of Almighty God, the heavenly Father. It doesn’t surprise us that non-Christians find it impossible to reach into any sort of experience of relationship with God. They some times say that their prayers only seem to bounce back without any sense of being heard or received by God. God appears so unknowable and remote!
But through the cross and resurrection of Jesus our sinful nature is covered and washed clean. Jesus takes our sin upon his shoulders as he dies in our place on the cross. In exchange for our sins he graciously covers us with his righteousness, so in him and in his sinless holiness we can approach the throne of God. It is sad when Christians some times fail to get beyond faith in Jesus and experience of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sees that the goal of his life and work is that we might know the Father through him. What glory and sheer privilege! So John writes to young Christians because they have (as a new experience?) come to know the Father.
Being personally now in my mid-80s, I rejoice that John still considers it worthwhile to write also for older people like me! But we may notice that his brief reason for writing to “the fathers” (doubtless used in these verses as a general term for older people of both genders) remains the same both in 2.13 and 2.14 – “because you have known him who is from the beginning”.
The Greek verb tense means that these older Christians have had a life-changing experience of coming to know the Lord and that this relationship is still present and alive. The same tense is also used of the youth who have come to know and still know the Father (2.13). In our new birth we come into such a knowledge of the Lord that we form a living relationship of love with him. And this relationship must continue and grow right through the following years. It is some times said that babies are beautiful, but twenty year old babies are a tragedy. So likewise we rejoice when someone first comes to faith, but it is a spiritual catastrophe if they do not continue in faith and grow in their knowledge of the Lord.
We may wonder why John, for older people, merely repeats the same somewhat basic assertion that they “have known him who is from the beginning”, whereas with the young people he talks of knowing the Father. Unlike younger people, of course John himself writes as an older person and may perhaps be very aware that other older people could also have actually known Jesus when he was incarnate on earth. Jesus himself often declared that he had come from above and that he was with the Father from the beginning. John is therefore just using the sort of words that Jesus used of himself.
What more could anyone want than to have known Jesus personally and walked with him through all the activities of each day? We may imagine the enormous privilege of having sat at his feet when he shared his teaching and to have witnessed his miracles as they happened – just to think of it sends a tingle down the spine! No wonder John doesn’t add anything more to his spine-tingling words “because you have known him who is from the beginning”!
Next week our blog will look at what John has to say to young adults and then to us all – so we can look forward to the next instalment!
Happy Birthday, Martin – 85 on 12 June!