We’ve all heard of the Baby-Boom generation
- some of you here today were probably born
in the ten years after World War 2 finished.
Studies in human culture have identified this group
as one of the most influential social groups in our history.
In 1965, Baby boomers were aged 20 and under,
and formed the vanguard of the radical social changes that accompanied that decade.
Baby boomers were the first hippies,
the first to make smoking marijuana socially acceptable,
the first to be sent to Vietnam against their will.
These days, baby boomers are between 45 and 55 years old.
They have mellowed somewhat,
they are not as radical as they used to be,
and are more worried about funding their retirement
than they are about changing the system.
I’m part of another generation.
According to sociologists, I form the vanguard of Generation X, whoever they are.
Generation X people are currently aged between about 24 and 32 I think.
This generation is a bit different, sociologists reckon.
They are more cynical, less idealistic and more pragmatic than the baby boomers,
or so they believe.
Baby boomers grew up in the golden 50s, where economic prosperity reigned.
Generation Xers grew up in the 1970s, when the world economy wasn’t so great.
In many ways, the younger generation is who it is because of the previous generation.
The baby boomers were the first to abandon the church,
generation Xers never had a church to abandon.
The baby boomers questioned the assumptions our society lives by,
the generation Xers have no interest in what the rest of society might think.
The baby boomers were simultaneously rebellious and visionary, but now live in self-imposed comfort.
The generation Xers have seen this, and have responded with cynicism - rebellious, but with no grand vision.
Now the fact is that I have just been making some very sweeping generalisations.
I certainly don’t fit the description of generation Xers,
and anyone here who is a baby-boomer would naturally feel uncomfortable with the description given to them.
There are major differences between these two generations, but then that is just normal.
I heard the story about the discovery of an ancient Roman letter, thousands of years old,
where the writer laments about how young people don’t seem to respect their elders any more.
Even today, friends of mine tell me how surprised they are at the behaviour of young people - and we’re not exactly near life’s finish line yet are we?
When the apostle John wrote the letter of 1 John,
he wrote to a group of different churches.
It was circular letter.
But these churches were made up of people from all ages of life
and the verses we read from chapter two reflect this.
John seemingly writes to three different sorts of people.
He writes to children, to Fathers, and to young men.
He has written this in a poetic structure,
and talks to each of these groups twice.
Let me just summarise what he is saying.
To children he writes because their sins have been forgiven on account of the name of Jesus. And he writes to them because they have known the Father.
To Fathers he writes because they have known him who is from the beginning - they know Jesus.
To Young men he writes because they have overcome the evil one, because they are strong and because the word of God lives in them.
Before we look in detail into these verses,
I just need to quickly spend some time talking about how to interpret them.
One of the most common interpretations is that John is talking here about Spiritual ages within the church congregations.
When you interpret it this way, then the “children” he is referring to represent those within the church who have just become Christians.
The “young men” are Christians who are enthusiastic about their faith, but still lack maturity,
while the “Fathers” are mature Christians.
This is a popular understanding, but it is most likely incorrect.
Apparently if you look at the original language, the best interpretation is to understand it as talking about age.
So when he talks to Fathers, he is talking to older members of the congregation.
When he talks to Young men, he is talking to younger members of the congregation.
The only exception to this rule is when he talks to children.
So let’s move onto my first point.
The message to Children. (2.12, 13b)
Let me read to you verse 12 and verse 13b again for you.
12 I write to you dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
13b I write to you dear children, because you have known the Father.
Throughout this letter, John constantly refers to his readers as Children.
In 2.1, he says “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.”.
In 2.28, he says “And now, dear children, continue in him...”.
In 5.21, the final verse of 1 John, he says “dear Children, keep yourselves from idols”.
So when John says “I write to you dear children”, he is not writing to babies.
He is not writing to the recently converted.
He is writing to the whole church.
I’ve touched on the reasons why he uses this term a few months ago, but I’ll quickly discuss it again.
John sees himself as a spiritual father to those he writes to.
He is like a father writing to his beloved children.
And like a father, he writes to them to teach them, to admonish them, to remind them of what is important,
and to do it in such a way as to show how much he loves them.
A father is not someone who merely orders his kids around,
but he is not someone who lavishes love and praise and nothing else.
So John is writing to everyone in the church.
Why is he writing?
We need to understand at this point that John is focusing upon the most important facets of our faith.
He writes to everyone in the church because their sins have been forgiven on account of the name of Jesus.
We’ve been looking at this throughout the year in our study of 1 John.
At the end of chapter one, John says that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin,
and that God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.
In the beginning of chapter two, John goes on to explain this further by showing that Jesus died as a sin sacrifice.
All children of God, all those who call themselves Christians, have had their sins forgiven. John is not writing so that they may have their sins forgiven.
He is not writing so that they will have their sins forgiven.
He is writing to them because their sins have been forgiven.
So that is verse 12. What about verse 13b?
There John is saying that he is writing because they have known the Father.
Obviously John is not referring to himself here, he is referring to their heavenly Father.
He is writing because they have come to know him.
The idea here is not knowing God in some abstract, intellectual manner, the same way someone may know nuclear physics.
Knowing here is relational.
By knowing God, they have come into a relationship with him.
They know who God is, they know what God expects of them.
They worship God as their father.
We need to understand at this point that this is the natural flip side of forgiveness.
John writes to the church because they have been forgiven, which naturally means that they have come to know the Father.
Knowing God the Father means you have been forgiven.
Being forgiven means you know God the Father.
When you look at a coin, what do you see?
On one side it shows you how much that coin is worth.
It shows you what you have got.
On the other side it shows the head of the ruler - in our case, Queen Elizabeth.
What we have here in 1 John is similar to this.
On one side of the coin, we have an estimation of what has been given to us - in this case, forgiveness.
On the other side of the coin, we have the king or ruler who has given this to us - in this case, our Father in heaven.
There are two sides, but one coin.
You cannot have one without the other.
If you have one, it means you have the other.
You cannot have forgiveness without knowing the Father.
You cannot know the Father without being forgiven.
There are three points of application here we need to look at.
The first concerns the gospel.
What John is talking about here can be summarised as the gospel.
When you have heard and responded to the gospel,
you have forgiveness of sins and you have come into a relationship with God the father.
A few pieces of good advice have come my way over the years regarding the importance of the gospel.
The first one goes like this:
The main thing is that the main thing remain the main thing.
Obviously it is important to examine certain areas of the Christian faith,
but if the main thing, the gospel, is ignored, then we do so at our peril.
Another piece of advice is similar:
The things that go without saying need to be said.
We always need to hear the gospel, regardless of how mature we are as Christians,
or whatever phase of life we are in.
And that is what John is saying here.
He is writing to the whole church
- to old and young, mature and immature, rich and poor, men and women
- that the most important thing is that their sins have been forgiven,
and that they have known their father in heaven.
The second point of application concerns knowing the Father.
We’ve already seen that knowing the Father means you have forgiveness.
What it also means is that those who don’t know the Father do not have forgiveness.
The Christian faith we believe in is an exclusive faith
- it means that we see our religion as the only true faith.
I’m not saying that being Presbyterian is the only true faith - God forbid!
- but what I am saying is that Christianity, as defined by the Bible, claims exclusive rights to the truth.
That is one of the implications we see from these verses.
Forgiveness cannot exist outside of knowing God the Father.
Jesus himself said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except by me”.
This means that we reject other faiths as being true.
Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism - none of these religions leads us to God.
In this day and age, such a belief is considered narrow-minded, out of step with society’s attitudes and, at worst, racist.
But if we follow what the Bible says at this point, then we can find no other solution.
If we are to be forgiven, then we must know the Father.
The third point of application is about forgiveness.
What John is saying to us here is that Christians are forgiven people.
Christians are people who have had their sins forgiven.
They are not people who have sins unforgiven.
If you are a Christian then there is no sin you have committed that has not been forgiven.
It is not as though we live our lives frightened by the prospect of God not forgiving some of our sins.
Now this gives us great hope and joy.
For a start, it means we have assurance of being with God in heaven.
In Charles Wesley’s hymn “And can it be”, the final verse ends with “Bold I approach the Eternal Throne and claim the crown through Christ my own.”
We can boldly go to the throne room of God, knowing that there is nothing between us and God that needs to be forgiven.
The message to Fathers. (2.13a, 14a)
So that is the message to children - that is, the entire church.
We now move onto our second point, which is the message to fathers.
As I’ve already pointed out, “Fathers” here refers not to those with spiritual maturity, but simply the older people in the congregation.
We need to remember that in the 1st century, maturity was a little bit different to what it is today.
With a high infant mortality rate and a lack of modern medicine, the average life-span of an ordinary Roman citizen was a lot lower than it is today.
If you lived to 30, chances are you could be considered “old”.
We also need to remember that John was not being sexist at this point.
He is not excluding older women here.
He only uses “Fathers” because that was the best word to use.
We have similar problems in our language
- we have no neutral word for the words “him” or “her”.
Same problem - John uses a male term but he is referring to everyone.
So what is John saying here to these “Fathers”.
In both verses 13 and 14 he says the same thing:
I write to you Fathers because you have known him who is from the beginning.
There are a number of questions that need to be asked at this point. They are in your outlines:
1) Who is this person they know?
2) What does it mean that the person they know is from the beginning?
3) What does it mean to “know” this person?
4) Why is this fact so important for the Fathers to hold onto?
Let me start at no. 1 - who is this person they know?
It isn’t God the Father that John is talking about here.
Although “knowing the Father” is important for the whole church to hold onto, it makes no sense that John simply repeat himself here.
John is here referring to Christ.
Who is this person that the Fathers know?
It is Jesus, the Son of the Father, Messiah and sacrifice for our sins.
Now what about Question 2 - What does it mean that the person they know is from the beginning?
All this is is simply a roundabout way of John saying that it is Jesus.
John likes to talk like this in this letter - he doesn’t come right out and say “Jesus”, he says “him who is from the beginning”.
John does this because he is describing Jesus’ qualities:
He is eternal.
He was not part of the created world.
He is God.
Question 3 asks what does it mean to “know”?
We’ve already looked at this area today, but let me touch on it again.
“Knowing” here means more than just an intellectual understanding - it is talking about a relationship.
You don’t know Christ in the same way you know Julius Caesar or Adolf Hitler or some other historical figure.
You know Christ the same way you should know your father, or your mother,
or someone else very close to you.
Question 4 asks Why is this fact - knowing him who is from the beginning - so important for the Fathers to hold onto?
It is this question which is harder than the others.
But as I’ve said before, it focuses upon what is important.
To know Christ is one of the central pillars of our faith
- you can’t be a Christian without knowing Christ.
This is true - but why does John put this with the Fathers?
If knowing Christ is so important, why doesn’t he say it to everyone when he speaks to them as Children?
What is it about Fathers - older people within the church - that makes John write this?
This is probably the hardest question to answer, but let me try anyway.
Think back during your life and think about what you have achieved.
Some of you are proud of your children and your grandchildren.
You may be proud of what you achieved at work.
You may be proud of your standing within the community.
And let me say, these are great things to be proud of.
But also think back at decisions which, in hindsight, you shouldn’t have made.
Perhaps you sold your house at the wrong time, and lost money.
Perhaps you didn’t make up with an old friend, and lost that friendship.
Perhaps you should have married someone else, and not have to put up with years of unhappiness.
We all have high points in our lives, and we all have low points.
And we can sit here now and peer into our past and feel a mixture of pride and shame at our lives.
And the longer the life span, the greater the sense of pride or shame.
But what is John saying to older people here?
He is writing to us because we have known him who is from the beginning.
He writes to us because we know Christ.
It doesn’t matter how great our lives have been.
The sense of pride we may feel at our achievements, at our family, at our standing amongst others,
all these things are nothing when compared to knowing Christ.
We aren’t friends with God by having a good family or a good reputation.
- we are friends with God because we know Jesus.
But it also doesn’t matter how bad our lives have been.
The sense of shame or failure that we have when we consider our past, at the poor decisions we have made or the bad events we have experienced
- all these things are nothing when compared to knowing Christ.
So what I think John is saying here is that he is writing to the older people in the church,
not because of the great things they have done in their lives,
nor because they are such miserable sinners.
He is writing to them because they know Christ.
Let me say at this point that knowing Christ surpasses any achievement you have ever made.
It doesn’t matter how great your family is or how many great things you have done in your life,
the simple fact is that knowing Christ is more important than any of them.
If you have pride in your life’s achievements but you do not have Christ,
then your achievements mean nothing.
Let me also say that knowing Christ gives your life meaning and joy,
even in the midst of knowing your life’s failures and shortcomings.
Knowing Christ is what really matters.
If you have had a life or regret and failure but you do not have Christ,
then your life is truly tragic.
But if we are Christians then we know Christ.
We have a friendship with him.
If we are friends with Christ, if we know Christ, then our lives and our future are truly blessed.
The message to Young Men. (2.13b, 14b)
So that is the message to the Fathers. Now what about the young men?
Let me just read out to you the characteristics John uses here:
Young men have overcome the evil one.
Young men are strong.
Young men have the word of God living in them.
Notice how the language John uses seems to be exciting and enthusiastic
- overcoming, strong, living.
The picture we have here is of strength, of action, of sincere commitment
- everything you’d expect of a young Christian man or woman.
Being a school teacher, it is quite easy to write off a young person’s enthusiasm as simply immaturity,
as though it were a character fault.
John is writing to these young people because of their great enthusiasm in serving God.
He does not see their actions as being immature, but rather as strength.
We need to remember that this letter is being written in the context of false teachers within the church.
These false teachers were going around to various churches,
teaching a different Christ to that which John and the other Apostles had taught about.
So when John here praises the young men for overcoming the evil one,
he is, in fact, pointing at the false teachers and the one who acts behind them to deceive the church
- the devil.
In this context we can understand the young men’s good points together as one.
In the face of a satanic onslaught by these false teachers,
the young men remain strong in the faith,
they commit themselves to the word of God,
and they overcome the attack by the devil.
Some think young people can be too simplistic and black & white on issues.
That’s true, but in this case, John sees it as a strong point.
It may be that when the false teachers arrived, those in the church who reacted most strongly against it were the young people.
These young people, strong in the faith and knowing the Word of God, resisted and overcame the evil one.
Now the fact is that every single point that John talks about here can be applied to the entire church,
not just young people
- just like John’s message to the older members of the church.
Of course all of us have to be strong in the faith,
we need to know the word of God
and we must overcome the devil.
The reason why John speaks of it here in regards to young people shows just how important the younger members of the church are.
Where will this church be in 20 years time?
Chances are a lot of us will be in glory won’t we?
Will this church still be functioning in 20 years?
It might, it might not.
The fact that it might not be functioning shouldn’t be of great concern,
after all, churches close all the time.
Besides, God is the one who grows the church,
and while some churches close, others start up.
But if we are to have a growing church in 20 years time
- whether it is this church or some other church in Newcastle
- we need to have a strong emphasis on youth ministry now.
We need young people to be strong in the faith,
know and understand the word of God,
and to be able to resist the evil one.
Young people need to be strong in the faith.
They need both an enthusiasm to love and serve God
as well as a genuine commitment to serving him.
This can happen two ways - modelling by older Christians (ie us!),
and modelling by other young Christians.
I remember as a young Christian being attracted by the real and genuine faith of my friends and youth group leaders.
Young people respond to honest and genuine commitment
- they can very easily see through hypocrisy and falseness.
One reason why so many young people today know very little about God
is because neither their parents nor their friends have shown a genuine faith in Christ.
Young people need to know the word of God.
They have to more than just know it, it has to live in their hearts.
Young people need to read their Bibles and strive hard at understanding it.
I’m at a point in my Christian life now where all the great doctrines of the Bible have been explored and understood.
When you’re a young Christian these great truths are fresh, new and exciting.
If a young person steeps themselves in the word of God now it will help them in the future.
We all should be reading the Bible and praying daily,
of course we don’t, but we know we should.
These daily times with God strengthen our faith,
but for a young Christian person it sets them up for a lifetime of love and understanding of God.
Young people need to overcome the evil one.
What does this mean?
You might think that it is a constant struggle, a struggle which we might lose.
Of course it’s not.
How do we overcome the evil one?
We do this through faith.
In effect, God does it for us in Christ.
A young person needs to understand that most basic of all parts of the Christian faith
- that it is by God’s gracious gift that we are saved,
and not by trusting in our works.
By doing this, by trusting in Christ, we overcome the evil one.
A friend of mine spent his youth and early adulthood as a committed Roman Catholic.
He was a regular churchgoer, and a regular confessor of his sins.
But in his mid 20s he discovered Christ.
He found forgiveness and peace in Christ.
But even today he finds it hard to shake off his Catholic past
- his understanding of God was shaped by his Catholic schooling,
and he finds the idea of grace and forgiveness still hard to cope with.
Had he understood grace and forgiveness when he was younger,
he may not have had so much difficulty now.
When a young person is given an understanding of Grace,
when they understand that we are saved not by works but by faith,
their entire understanding of their life and faith is built on a very solid foundation.
With this foundation in place, the young person can overcome the evil one
- not just now, but throughout their entire life.
Well let me conclude.
When God sees us he sees his children.
We are all one generation - to God these are no Baby Boomers or Generation Xers.
But God is concerned with our current lives
- he understands that there are differences between different age groups,
and, through the Apostle John, he speaks to us about these.
But there are also similarities.
It doesn’t matter how young or old we are, we are still saved the same way.
As Christians we are brought into the presence of God through the work of Christ
- an act of God’s grace.
As Christians our sins have been forgiven, and we know the Father.
But we all have differences in age and, as a result, different concerns.
As older people we should concentrate upon the fact that we know Christ
- that our achievements or failures mean nothing in comparison to knowing Christ.
As younger people we should take hold of God’s word,
being strong in our love of him and of each other,
and, through grace, overcome the works of Satan.
Let me pray.
Thank you, Lord, for your son. Thank you that through your gracious love for us, your Son offered himself as an atonement for our sin. We ask that you burn the cross into our minds, that we may never forget what Christ has done for us. Help those of us who are older to never put our trust in our achievements, or to despair over our failures. Instead, give us joy in knowing Christ.
We pray for all young Christian people everywhere, especially those in Newcastle. We pray that they may be filled with a desire to love you and love others. We pray that they may immerse themselves in your spirit-inspired word, that through their understanding of the scriptures they may realise how great is your love. We pray that they may, through faith in you, overcome the evil one and promote goodness and godliness in their lives. We ask that you multiply the amount of young people in our churches, that they may grow in number and in maturity. We know that the church of the future depends upon the strength of young Christians today. We entrust them to you, Lord, and pray in the knowledge that you will act for your glory.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.