John’s purpose, he has told us in the opening verses of this epistle, is to bring his readers into fellowship with God through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. He revealed several tests by which you may know that you have fellowship with God. Now in this passage we are looking at today, John shows us what fellowship produces; maturity, or spiritual growth. This is the real objective of our faith; not just salvation, but spiritual maturity, or what we often call the process of sanctification. That is the process of maturing, of becoming conformed into the image of Christ. Just like in the physical realm there is a process of maturation as a baby is born, becomes a young man, and then goes on to become a father, so John is saying that there is a spiritual growth cycle as well, as we are born again, we become overcomers, and then we become reproducers.
Many people in the church have what you might call an arrested development. They have been born again, but there has not been much maturity since their conversion. But the goal of the gospel, John says in verse 4, is that our joy may be made complete. This perfection, or completion of our sanctification is where we really experience the joy of our salvation, the fellowship with God, and the blessings of being one of His children. Our conversion is just the beginning of the new life in Christ. So let’s press on, Hebrews 6:1 tells us, to maturity.
Now John he is writing to little children. He is writing to fathers, and he is writing to young men. And let me just say at the outset that these are not intended to exclude women in any way, but it’s a metaphorical characterization which is intended to denote maturity. So it’s applicable to both sexes. I’m not going to try to be politically correct and make sure I include both sexes in my references. I’m just going to use the characterizations that John did, and leave it up to your selves to adjust accordingly. So what John is doing he is identifying three phases of spiritual growth. Now John has used, and will use the term little children to identify all believers. Little children in that context simply means those born of God. All of the church must be born of God, or they are not His church. But in this context, He uses the phrase to indicate a level of maturity, with young men being the next phase, and fathers after that.
So we’re going to look first at a word for everyone as defined by little children, then a word to the fathers, and finally a word to the young men. Now the word addressed to everyone is found in verse 12 and verse 13, for in the two verses he refers to the little children. In verse 12 we read, “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake,” and then at the end of verse 13 he says, “I write unto you, little children, because you have known the Father.” So he calls them little children.
In the original Greek, there are two different words that are used for little children, referred to in my text by the same English words. One of them is a word that comes from the Greek verb that
means to begat, or begotten. Basically, it is saying born ones. The other word in vs.13 is a word that suggests moral training, discipline, disciplinary guidance. So John starts by saying he is writing to little children “because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” That’s the beginning of the Christian life. You must be born again by the Spirit. By faith in what Christ did for us, we have our sins forgiven, and we are born again into the family of God. That’s fundamental. The new birth begins with forgiveness of sins, when we are made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Notice also the phrase “for HIs name’s sake.” When he says, “for His name’s sake,” he means all that Christ is and all that he has done for us. John is careful to put that in there to indicate that our salvation is not by our works, but by the substitution of Christ’s righteousness for ours. God sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ as applied on our behalf. That is how we are born again, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy.
Now John goes on to say to little children in verse 13, “I am writing to you because you have known the Father.” There is only one way to know the Father; it’s through a relationship with Jesus Christ. And through Him only can we come to the Father. Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” That is the progression; we have a relationship with Jesus Christ first as we receive Him and His sacrifice for our sins, and then we are considered righteous and holy so that we might come to the throne of God the Father, with Jesus as our Advocate or Intercessor.
Paul in Galatians chapter 4:6 says God has sent the Spirit of His Son within our hearts, and as a result we are able to say “Abba Father”; Abba is the Aramaic term in the emphatic form for father, “Abba” which he translates in the Greek as patēr or father. And it’s interesting that this is how we are told to address God – as Father. The world has called it’s gods by many names; Allah, Budda, Zeus, the Great Spirit. They have characterized their gods as vengeful, as arbitrary, or as some mystical, unknowable force. But Jesus has taught us to call God Father. A title which is rich with love and graciousness. A good father has good will towards his children. He has kind intentions towards their welfare. I’m not the best father by any stretch of the imagination, but there is not a place in the world my kids could be, where if they needed me, I would not do everything in my power to reach them. If I as a not so great father has such love for my children, we cannot imagine how much the Father loves His little children. There is no greater value then than to know God, and to be known by God as His child.
Jesus told us a parable in Luke 15 which we call the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But I think that Jesus told us this story not just to illustrate the way in which a sinner can come to God, but to show us the nature of the Father. You know the story, how a father had two sons, and one son when he reached a certain age, demanded his inheritance from his father. His father gave it to him, and the young man went off to a far away country and spent his inheritance in wild living. One day the money ran out, and in addition Jesus said a famine came upon that country. And soon the young man found himself working in pig pen feeding the hogs, and he was so hungry that he wanted to eat the pods he fed the pigs.
This young man had reached the bottom. Nothing could be more despicable to a Jew than pigs, and to have to feed them and even eat their feed was as low as you could get. But Jesus said, one day he came to his senses. And he remembered that in his father’s house even the lowest servant had more than enough to eat. So he said, ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
What a picture that is of the love of the Father for His children. Notice the father was in the habit of looking way off down the road, hoping and longing that one day his son would come home. And then one day, after perhaps years of waiting and hoping, the father sees someone walking down the road, and when he was still a long way off, the father said, “I think that’s my son.” And the old man hiked up his long robe, and began running to meet him, his hair streaming out behind him, tears of joy running down his face, and he throws his arms around his son and just starts kissing him repeatedly. That’s a picture of our Heavenly Father. He loves us and welcomes us home, and cleans us up and restores us to our place with Him. And when we come to the place of repentance, and come to receive through faith what Christ has accomplished for us, we can have that kind of reconciliation with our Heavenly Father. There is no greater treasure than to be called a child of God the Father. John says in the next chapter, 1John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God.”
Now back in our text, John switches from writing to little children who know the Father, to writing to the fathers. This is intended as an age distinction. But though I say that, it may not necessarily always equate to chronological age, but it relates to spiritual maturity. John is speaking of one who is spiritually mature, as a human father denotes a certain level of maturity. And so we read in verse 13, “I write unto you, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning.” And then again in verse 14, “I have written unto you, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning.” So twice he has said the same thing, “You have known Him that is from the beginning.”
I think that the emphasis of the phrase “from the beginning” is an indication of the maturation process that someone who is mature spiritually has with the Lord. They started out as a new born, being born again, and now they have reached an age where they have walked with God for many years. They have come to know God by experience. They have had their faith tested and proven again and again. And so as they come to the end of their process of sanctification, there is a settled knowledge of God that has been born out of experience. They have come to know the fellowship of walking with God, and to look forward to the future glorification with God. So I think the fact that it is twice repeated, with no difference in the phrases, speaks of a redundancy, a fail safe faith that has been tested and proven time and time again.
But I will add one more possible application to the word to fathers. And that is you cannot be a father simply by being a man. The only way you can be a father is if you reproduce. When you reproduce your faith that is a measure of maturity. It means that you have reached the point in your walk where your relationship with God is not just self centered. There is a time and place for that. Babies are naturally self centered. We expect that. But when a man becomes a father, he takes on responsibility for others. He loves others even more than he loves himself. And that is I believe what John is picturing here for us. A father is one who loves others, who takes on responsibility, and serves the family of God. That’s the level of maturity indicated by fathers, and that should be the goal of our sanctification.
A final word is given to the young men in verses 13 and 14, he says, “I write unto you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one.” And then in verse 14, repeating that and added two other things, he says, “I have written unto you, young men, because you are strong,” (that’s point one,) “and the word of God abides in you,” (point two,) “and you have overcome the wicked one.” So three points characterize being a young man.
The phrase young men, I believe, speaks to those Christians who are young in spiritual years, who are young in spiritual maturity, but who are actively pursuing sanctification, without which, said the Apostle Paul, no one will see the Lord. So they are overcoming trials and temptations and tests as they live out the Christian life. You know, when we are in our youth, critical decisions are being made. It is a critical time, because so many decisions you make in those years you make without experience, oftentimes without godly guidance, and many of them are decisions that have lasting consequences in your life.
For instance, a young man today generally finds himself deciding at a very young age which college to go to, then which career to pursue, then where he is going to live, and whom he is going to live with for the rest of his life in terms of taking a wife. And all those decisions are made when he is relatively young. It is such an important, critical time. But notice the things he says about the young people, he says they are strong. Now what do you suppose John is referring to here? Physical strength? Certainly young men are strong in comparison to children and old men. But I don’t think that is what is being referred to here. I would say that it is a commendation to be strong spiritually.
When we go through trials and tests and temptations, it makes our faith stronger. And so that is what he is talking about. They are strong because they are overcoming tribulations. When wordsmiths in Japan made their famous blades, they were put into the fire dozens and dozens of times, beaten out again and again. Such refinement made the strongest steel, and the finest weapons. So the testing of our faith, James says, produces endurance.
And then they are strong in the Lord John says, because they have the word of God abiding in them. Psalms 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” The word abiding in us is the secret to our strength. Samson’s secret to his strength was not his hair, or his muscles, but the Spirit of God who worked within him. So it is with our young people; they are strong because they rely not on their own strength but on the word of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:10 says, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” And then it goes on to say put on the armor of God, and take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. That is the source of strength.
So the next thing John says is “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you.” The word of God abides in you. There is an old adage which says, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” Your spiritual strength and your spiritual maturity will come not from listening to Christian music, or from supernatural experiences, or from sentimental feelings about God, but it will come from abiding in the word of God. And abiding is more than just reading or hearing. To abide in the word is to keep the word, it is to hide the word of God in our hearts, it’s to memorize scripture so that we have it within our hearts. And very importantly, it is to study the full counsel of the word. Not take a little bit from here and a little bit from there and come up with your own self serving doctrine of self fulfillment. But study the full counsel of God, comparing scripture with scripture, and rightly dividing the word of truth.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days, He answered Satan and the tests of life by saying, “It is written, it is written, it is written.” Three times he appealed to the word of God and He defeated temptation. He was strong. The word of God abode in him, and as a result, he overcame the wicked one. Unfortunately, we have raised a generation of young men today that are strong in the weight room, or mighty in the bar room, but are woefully underdeveloped in the word of God.
Finally, John says twice that the young men have overcome the evil one. Now the evil one is obviously a reference to the devil or his demons. But the implication I think goes further than just the person of Satan. I think it includes the world forces, the course of this world that has been engineered by the devil to take young people captive. That’s why in the next section John says “do not love the world, nor the things in the world.” Because the world system is the system of the devil. Ephesians 2:2 says that the course of this world is according to the prince of the power of the air, (that is the devil).” The devil has so orchestrated the world so as to distract and deceive, and destroy those who are seduced into his trap.
So many things of the world seem good, or taste good, but lead to destruction. It’s like the lures that fishermen use to catch a fish. I went fishing once with this guy and he made a shrimp cocktail that had my mouth watering, and then he put it on a hook. It looked good, it tasted good, but when it went down it became a lure that hooked the fish. So it is with the world system. I’m not going to argue with you that a lot of it looks good. Some of it tastes good. But the devil has engineered the world system in such a way as to trap you into a life time of servitude to materialism, a life time of the pursuit of happiness, a life time of seeking for self fulfillment. And the end result is that you never really find it, but by the end of your life you have wasted your opportunity for knowing the source of all joy, which is to know God.
God however promises much to those young men and women who overcome the world and it’s temptations. It may mean you miss out on some of those tasty looking enticements here on earth, but on the other hand you don’t get hooked on the lie of the devil either. But the real rewards He promises us are spiritual, not physical.
There are seven churches in the book of Revelation that Jesus sent a message to. We have just finished studying those messages in our Wednesday evening Bible studies. And again and again Jesus concludes each message to each church with an admonition to be overcomers. And when he does so, He promises a reward to those who overcome. I want to just highlight those promises to the overcomers here in closing.
*To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
*He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’
*To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’
*He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS.
*He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
*He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.
*He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
This is our goal, ladies and gentlemen. To be overcomers. So that we might have uninterrupted fellowship with God. Whether or not we are still little children, or fathers, or young men, we are all called to be overcomers, even as Christ overcame the world and sat down with His Father on His throne. It starts with new birth, forgiveness of sins, with being born again by the Spirit of Christ, and it continues with fellowship as we walk in obedience and in the light of His word, and then we are strong and we mature as we abide in His word, with the result being we overcome the evil one and the world, and one day we will enter triumphantly into the presence of the Lord to rule and reign with Him forever. I pray you will be an overcomer and persevere until the end. Let us pray.