“I write you young men because ye have overcome the evil one…I have written you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” – I John 2:12-14
This time I ask you youthful reader, to take your Bible and read the text in this entirety. You will notice, if you observe, that John seems to write to three different classes, three different age-levels in the church, to wit: little children, fathers and young men! And, if you are not careful, you will jump at the erroneous conclusion that I selected that part of the text in which John is writing primarily to covenant youth. John then has a word for three sections in his audience on Sunday morning, computed according to ages: Sunday School, Men’s Society and the Young People’s Society, if you will!
However, a careful analysis of the text will soon show that such is not the case in our text. Not even in our text can one with any stretch of the imagination read a “generation gap.” The virtues ascribed here to the three different addresses are not the exclusive characteristic of any age-level in the church. We must look for the proper interpretation and the meaning of the message of John in another direction.
In the first place observe that the order in which John addresses his readers and congregations here is not a natural order. If it were the natural order one would expect either to read: Little children, young men, fathers. That would be from the youngest to the eldest in the church. Or, on the other hand, one might expect to read from the eldest to the youngest: fathers, young men, children. But we read: little children, fathers, young men! This is not the natural order at all.
What does this indicate? It means that this refers not to their natural characteristic, but to their spiritual place and relationship to the kingdom of God, to the Father and to the Son. This is abundantly evident from what is said about each group. The text does not speak of the natural strength of the young men, bit of the fact that “the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.” Likewise, the Fathers are old and decrepit, weak and senile, but they are such who have a profound saving knowledge of the Christ of God “who was from the beginning.” And the little children are such who “have their sins forgiven them.”
This lifts the entire picture out of the natural into the spiritual, and it raises the interesting question: who does John have in mind when he speaks of the “young man”? Fact is, he “writes” them thus! Thus he “writes” and “has written” to the “fathers” and to the “little children” respectively. Well, in what capacity does he write them?
I believe that we do well to begin with the basic form of address here. This basic form is that the entire congregation, old and young, are here denominated: little children! Throughout this letter John addresses the entire congregation as such. Just take your Bible and notice the following passages from I John: Chapters 2:1; 2:8; 3:1; 3:10, 11; 3:18 and 4:4. Seven times all told! And this is interchanged with “beloved” and “beloved children.” This points up that in the term “little children” John is not addressing the little children in the Sunday School, the primary grades, but that he is addressing the new born babes in Christ, who were born not of flesh, nor of blood, nor by the will of man, but who were born by the Holy Spirit in second birth! Now, the conclusion is at hand: the groups called “Fathers” too are the entire congregation, in every age level, just as are the “young men.”
That the entire congregation is called “little children” is evident from what we read of them: Their sins are forgiven for the sake of the Father’s forgiveness. In this forgiveness the “little children” know the Father even as did the prodigal son, when he arose and went to his “father,” and said: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against thee. Every “little child” of God, born from above knows this forgiveness. Fact is, that this is the characteristic earmark of such little children. It is the ticket of those who have entered into the kingdom of God. And, we may safely say, that the “fathers” are they who look at the deeper background of this work of saving forgiveness in the blood of the Lamb. They know that it is in Him who was from the beginning. They see the cornerstone, the Rock on which all is built! And this makes for a certain maturity in faith, giving them rock-bottom assurance and certainty. And the “young men” are the believers in their being militant in the battle. Their sins are forgiven them, they know in whom they have believed, and now they fight the battle of faith, going on from strength to strength against all the wiles of the Devil.
John writes with a sense of urgency!
I write you, I write you, I write you!
I have written you, I have written you, I have written you!!
It is still written. To write something eternalizes a thing and sets it up as the word of the ages!
This makes this word up-to-date, now not up-to-date for the world of unbelievers. It is not relevant to their unbelieving hearts. It was not written for them. They are not addressable in the sense that John addresses the children of God here, those who stand in the new RELATIONSHIP to GOD!
No, John does not have three groups here. Here is no “generation gap,” but here is the tie that binds all the hearts of the congregation in Christian love! Protestant Reformed Covenant Young People, do you have your sins forgiven you? Do you know Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God? Do you fight the battle of faith with this Word of God, and these spiritual realities in your heart?
John then says to you: I write you, I have written you, young men!
Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 4 June July 1970