There is a fundamental truth of Scripture which must ever be kept in mind, shall we rightly understand the Word of God and rightly divide it. I refer, of course, to the fact that there are a two-fold people in the world: the children of God and the children of the devil. This we read in I John 3:10, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. God has put enmity between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, when he preached and revealed the first gospel, the Protevangel, to him. Gen. 3:15.
In close connection with the foregoing there is still another matter of great and relevant importance for the proper understanding of the Word of God. It is the oft-repeated truth that he who has, shall receive more and have abundance, and he who has not, from him shall be taken what he thinketh to have. This is the truth singled out by Jesus in Matthew 13:11, 12, “And answering he said, unto you it hath been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unto them it hath not been given. For whosoever hath, to him it shall be given and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” See also Mark 4:25 and Luke 8:18. The importance of this tremendous principle is underscored in the last chapter of the book of Revelation, where we read in verse 11, “The one who is unrighteous let him be unrighteous still, the filthy one let him be filthy still, and the righteous let him be righteous still, and he that is holy let him be holy still.”
Our text speaks in line with this truth of God’s Word.
In our text, taken from I John 2:12-14, Paul assigns the ground for addressing the believers. He addresses them on the ground (because of) of what they are in Christ, and because of what they have experienced of God in Christ by a living faith. It has been alleged that unless one has a general promise to preach to all upon condition of faith, or unless one preaches a well-meant offer of the gospel to all who hear, that one then lacks the “concrete addressableness” in the preaching. The latter we, of course, deny. John does not have a well-meant offer to all here, but a very definite and particular message to a very definite and particular people, whom he designates as being “my beloved” or “my little children,” and he addresses them because they are who they are!
We do well to take careful notice of the text which reads in full as follows:
“I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you little children because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” Verses 12-14.
We do well to establish at the very outset that those addressed here by the apostle John are the children of God. They have received the right and authority from God to become the children of God (John 1:12); they have believed in Christ’s Name, and are born not of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh and by the call of blood, but they are born out of God. John 1:12, 13; John 3:3. By the Spirit of regeneration they have been brought forth as some firstfruits of God’s creation. Wherefore John exclaims in I John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God; therefore the world knoweth us not because it knew him not.”
Such are those who are here addressed.
John writes to them in our text and designates them as “little children,” “fathers” and “young men.”
The question is: what is meant by each of these?
It is our settled conviction that the triad here indicated by John in the text does not refer to the distinction in age from a purely natural point of view. Notice the order: little children, fathers and young men. Surely that is not the natural order of ascending scale. Then we would read: little children, young men, fathers, or conversely in descending scale: fathers, young men, little children. But now this order is broken; it is: little children, fathers, young men!
Hence, we do not have here the natural order!
Rather, it must be maintained that we have here the entire congregation from a threefold aspect of her relationship to God in Christ and all the riches of salvation. I write this advisedly. I do not hold that the apostle is viewing here three groups in the church. Such is really the view of none of the accredited Bible scholars. At best they posit two separate groups here in the church: fathers and young men, while “little children” refers then to the entire congregation, old or young! I do not believe that the distinction between “fathers” and “young men” can be one strictly of age level. It is rather one of relationship to God and to the world at whose head we find the “wicked one.”
But we are anticipating.
Let us notice then first of all, that the designation “little children” (teknia and neaniskoi) is a term which John uses throughout this entire epistle while addressing the entire congregation. And, it seems to me, that here we have the key to the proper understanding of the text. If “little children” must refer to people who are octogenarians (past eighty!), then fathers too can have a broader connotation, and the same holds true for the term “young men”! A superficial perusal of this epistle of John will bear out that “little children” refers to the entire congregation in their new relationship to Christ, as new-born babes in Christ. Thus in I John 2:1 we read, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not . . .” Again in chapter I John 2:18 we read, “Little children, it is the last hour . . .” And, again, in verse 28 of this same chapter we read, “And now, little children, abide in him . . .” Or read I John 3:7, “Little children, let no man deceive you . . .” In verse 18 of this same chapter we read, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue …” And in the last sentence of this epistle (I John 5:21), “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
In all of these instances John is addressing the entire congregation. The term indicates that the addressees are children of John in the limited sense that he is their spiritual father and adviser in the Lord. The deeper sense is that they are the children of God. It is the most endearing term of the apostle. It speaks of the great and tender love of God which moves the apostle thus to write.
Let it then be established that the term “little children” refers to the entire congregation and not simply to the little children in the congregation.
Of these “little children” John writes two things, which at once are the “ground” for his addressing them:
Concerning the first of these we would notice that the phrase “His name’s sake” evidently refers to Christ; the one who is our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He suffered and died. In his person and work he revealed the Father to us, declared him unto us. The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth became through Jesus Christ. John 1:17. And all that is revealed of the person and work of Christ—that is his Name. His is the name which is above every name. There is none other name given under heaven by which we must be saved. Heb. 1:1-4; Acts 3:6b. Into this “name” they are baptized. It is the “name” of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It is what God the Father determined to do, what God the Son did for us, and what God the Spirit of Christ does in us. Such is this name! It means to be taken up into the covenant of God, the New Testament in his blood. Thus we read in Hebrews 10:16, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Jer. 31:33 and Heb. 8:12).
Such is the name of Jesus, Jehovah saves: He saves his people from their sins. That is his great and glorious name, his honor which he gives to none other! I am the LORD!
In this name and for the sake of this name the “little children” have their sins forgiven them, and as such they are concretely addressable. And only in this capacity are they addressable. They are delivered from the house of bondage; they have the redemption in Christ’s blood of the Covenant, the forgiveness of sins. To stress this actuality of the possession of the forgiveness of sins, the covenant written in their hearts, John uses the perfect tense. It is theirs as an ever present possession, completed up till the present moment! Writes he: because your sins are forgiven you. Hence, they are consciously living in the favor of God as sons. They may remember their sins, but God is greater than their heart and knoweth all things. You stand in the new relationship, the covenant relationship. Your sins are remembered no more by the Lord, and he has written his law upon your hearts and in your mind.
I write you, little children!
I have written you, little children!
You need this warning, admonition, correction, little children, exactly because you are such little children. It fits with none other; it could not possibly be addressed to anyone else. Yours is the calling to daily repentance, and to flee from worldly lusts and pleasures; to work out your salvation with fear and holy trembling in an evil world!
Thus the entire congregation is addressed.
Such is the need of old and young in the church in the world, the militant church which must wage her spiritual warfare and battle for the name of God in the world. Such is the enmity in which she is placed in the world. She is in the world yet not of her. The world does not know her.
Here is no antinomian license. Here is the stressing of the need for walking in all good works. The little children have the law written in their hearts and upon their minds.
I write you little children.
I have written you, little children!
I do not tempt God in the church by separating what he hath in his good pleasure joined together, namely, that God confers the grace of obedience through admonition.
For in this having your sins forgiven you, ye know the Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his infinite forgiving love.
(to be continued)