Knowing Christ and Overcoming the Devil
A sermon 1 John 2:12-14 preached at Christ the King Church on 1~/1~/06
*Prayer: *Father in heaven, be with us now through your Spirit so that we might look rightly into your Word and see your Son, Jesus, in whose name we pray.
*Introduction: *A few years ago I resolved (I think it may have even been New Year’s Day) to read my Bible more often and more prayerfully, to refresh and advance my basic knowledge of Koine Greek, and to study the writings of the Church Fathers.
Well, I am proud to say (in a humble sort of way) that these resolutions have been kept.
Each morning I study my Greek grammar, I read my Bible, and then I open a book from a series called, /The Ancient Christian Writers, /where I read letters or sermons or theological works from some of the earliest Christian writers.
One of these writers is Maximus of Turin, a 4th century Christian leader.
This Monday I began to read his sermons, which I have found to be quite interesting.
His third sermon (or what is listed as his third sermon) especially caught my attention, for this sermon starts quite startlingly.
Listen to how it begins: “Beloved brethren, I think that it is sufficient reproof to you that on the previous Sunday, when I was about to depart, I dispensed no spiritual gifts to you from the sacred Scriptures but upbraided and accused you because of sin, dismissing you without any consoling preaching.”
We do not have the previous sermon he mentions in this sermon.
But it is interesting to note that in the sermon we do have (this third sermon) Maximus tells us how he scolded his congregation for their sin, and how he disciplined them by withholding Bible teaching, what he calls, “the sacraments of the heavenly Scripture.”
So, he preached to them, but he preached only hard words, words of rebuke and reproof.
He gave them no “consoling preaching.”
Now, the congregation to which the apostle John was writing had likewise been given little consolation thus far.
In fact, the recipients of his First Letter had heard some pretty hard words, not ‘hard’ so much in the sense that he was scolding them, but hard in the way he was challenging them.
What we have studied in 1:1-2:11 are not easy words.
They are not comforting, or consoling words.
They are hard words, challenging words.
If you recall, one of the main reasons John was writing this letter, was to test their faith, to test the authenticity of their confession of Christ.
If you really know God, he told them, well then you will *“walk in the light as He is in the light.”
*That is, you will *“keep His commandments”* and you will *“love your brother.”
*If you are a genuine Christian you will pass the theological, the moral, and the social tests of life.
You will affirm that Jesus, who is fully God, came in the flesh.
You will obey God’s Word.
And you will love all those you encounter, especially within the church.
So, you see, at this point in John’s letter (as you have listened to what I have had to say about it), you (like the original audience) might be taking inventory and asking yourself, “Am I truly a Christian?
Have I been forgiven of my sins?
Do I really know God? Do I really know Christ?
Has the Devil still got a vice-grip on my heart?”
Well, in the passage that is before us today, we thankfully and finally have some “consoling preaching”- words of comfort, words of encouragement, words of assurance.
Now, in vv.15-17, John will go back on the attack, he will give us perhaps his most “stringent demands” yet.
But, here in vv.12-14, we find, what F.F. Bruce rightly calls, “a threefold encouragement.”
*Who is Being Addressed?*
In much of his letter thus far, John has been challenging the confession Christian, who is a talker but not a walker.
He has been challenging the phony follower.
But now, he shifts his attention, and says to the true believer (and him~/her alone), “Now I’m talking to you.”
Look at his language.
Just look at how each sentence starts: *“I am writing to you, I am writing to you, I am writing to you….
I write to you, I write to you, I write to you.”*
John is now writing directly to the Christians, to those who walk their talk.
And look at what he calls them.
He gives them three names.
In typical Johnaine language, he calls them, *“little children” *and *“children,” *but also he calls them,* “fathers” *and* “young men.”*
Now, as you can imagine, with such imaginative labeling, there is much debate over the identity of these three groups.
All commentators agree that Christians are being addressed, but they divide over whether John is speaking literally or metaphorically.
In other words, is John here addressing different ages of people within the church, literally children, young men, and fathers?
Or is he addressing different stages of spiritual maturity?
It is my view, based on the content of the messages and the poetic style and structure itself, that these three groups represent three different stages of “spiritual pilgrimage.”
So, the threefold grouping relates, not to “years reckoned by the calendar,” but to spiritual maturity.
John Stott summarizes it this way: “The little children are those newborn in Christ.
The young men are more developed Christians, strong and victorious in spiritual warfare; while the fathers posses the depth and stability of ripe Christian experience.”
Our ESV translators have nicely divided our text into a little poem, which shows us the symmetrical structure and the deliberate repetition.
I have added a bulletin insert to better clarify this and also to clarify the message given to each group.
If you haven’t done so already, I invite you now to take that out and take a good look at it.
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Now, as you can see, while the repetition of the three groups and of the message addressed to them is not absolutely similar, they are nearly similar.
You can see that what is said to the *“fathers”* is exactly the same.
Then, what is said to the *“young men”* is also the same.
What is said in v.14 is just an addition to what is said in v.13.
The biggest difference is with the first group mentioned.
In v.12 they are called, *“little children”* (which is /teknia /in Greek), and in v.12 they are called *“children”* (/paidia /in Greek).
Some argue, based on this difference, that John is addressing two different groups, Christians in general when he says *“little children,”* and then immature or young Christians when he says *“children.” *
When I first read this text that was the position I held.
I changed my mind, however, when I discovered that (in John’s Gospel) Jesus used both terms (/teknia /and /paidia/) for His disciples; and also (and more obviously) because here John appears to set before us two sets of triplets (which I have tried to make plain with my color-coded insert).
So, I think the two terms are “probably synonymous.”
John is addressing young or new Christians with the words *“little children”* /and/ *“children.”*
*What is Being Said?*
Now as we look at what was said to each group, I will, for the sake of clarity, cluster or group-together the names.
So, look again at our text and notice first the message to the children.
Look at v.12 and at the end of v.13, at those red-colored verses.
*“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake….
I write to you, children, because you know the Father.”*
John calls the Christians here *“children”* both because he is much older than them (some think he is very nearly a hundred years old), and because it is a Gospel-term that emphasizes both the freshness and humility of their faith and their utter dependence they now have on their Lord.
So, to these newborns John gives the pure milk of the Gospel, from one side /the forgiveness of sins/ and from the other side /the fatherhood of God/.
Let me first say a few words about the fatherhood of God.
It is a wonderful blessing that our Lord in His kind providence has brought little Brandon, the 11 month-old boy adopted from Guatemala, to the Vonder family and to this church family.
Like all of you, I was overjoyed to see him here at church on Christmas day.
When I went back to the nursery to meet the young lad, I held him for a while, made a joke about his curly hair and how it resembled his father’s (John’s plentiful dome), and then returned him to Kim and asked her if Brandon was saying any words yet.
She replied, “No, not really.
He is just saying, ‘Da Da.’”
I said, “Well, you know that that will soon turn into Daddy.”
She smiled in agreement.
You see, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the little life of Brandon is a perfect example of what has happened to us spiritually.
Through faith in Christ, we are adopted into God’s family.
We were once distant from God.
But through Jesus we have been brought near and brought into a relationship with God.
And like most children, our first words of faith are, “Daddy, Abba, Father.”
Jesus taught His disciples to pray, saying, *“Our Father….”*
And Paul taught us in Romans 8:15 that we *“have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!
So, here John comforts these newborn babes in Christ reminding them of the unique fact of the Christian faith: that God is their father, which means, He will lovingly provide and protect and nourish and nurture.
I am sure no little child here this morning is thinking, “Oh, I wonder if my father will disown me.
I wonder if my father will stop loving me.”