There is a beautiful piece of poetry right in the middle of 1 John chapter 2 verses 12-14. It is the center of a sandwich of intense passsages. The first describes: saying you walk in the light but have persistent hatred or rejection towards your brother; the second describes not loving the things of the world that are passing away, the lusts, the pride, the things we yearn for that take our gaze from God. Much could be said about 1 John 2:9-11 and 2:15-17 and the way that John is writing a tender sincere love letter about the radical commitment of living wholly for Christ.
But I want to write about the poem and the words he uses, writing to little children, fathers and young men. For the sake of context, I am a young man and in the literal sense still a child of someone, but not a little child. yet, to God, the Christian is never old.
Here is the text:
12I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.
13 I write to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
Because you have overcome the wicked one.
I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father.
14 I have written to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I have written to you, young men,
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the wicked one.
The repetition is the greatest evidence of its poetry. The only verses in the poem that differ completely are in John’s address to little children, the basis to the beginning of every person’s existence. We all start as little children, some of us never leave this state.
And to them, John writes first, “I’m writing to you because your sins are forgiven for His name’s sake.” That in itself is interesting wording because it does not say for our or your names sake; it says for His name’s sake. In other words, for Christ’s sake! He (God) has a vested interested in our being forgiven.
In the second stanza John’s address to little children lets us know he is writing because we have known the Father. This is also perplexing, not in that the Father can be known; He wants to be known. I believe He is more easily known the more childlike our faith, the more desperately needy and trusting we are that he will provide for us as a Father to his kids. The only way we could know the Father is from a posture as adopted sons and daughters. We do not father God, the only brotherhood we have is perhaps with Christ who became our advocate, intercessor and propitiation. He is both our replacement yet all of creation is by and for and through Him. All of it so we could be reconciled as children to have access to the Father, so we could know the Father.
After little children, John addresses the father in 2 stanzas giving them the same rationale in both, as to why he is writing to them. The fathers have known Him who is from the beginning. That past tense phrasing of known indicates that their is a history of intimate knowledge. The fathers in this verse presumably have children either genetically or spiritually. They are responsible for someones development and growth and care. They are a father like the Father and their knowledge of God and Christ has historical value. It has a currency of knowledge based in reality and repetition of understanding the character of God.
And finally he addresses young men, the last, the often forgotten, the historically most dispensable in war and tragedy, whether slave or free. You could argue among slaves, young men were valued higher for their strength and ability to work but work is a curse, a byproduct of sin. Men are exploited to keep up with the curse. Young men especially because they are past the point of provision in the sense of relying on someone else to work for them, yet are not viewed as valuable caretakers or providers to a spouse or children or presumably a parent. They are floating in the middle which has placed them last and which John sees and addresses with the most words.
John writes first “because you have overcome the wicked one.” Have they? Have we? Have you ever met a young single Christian man that has overcome the wicked one? I have been a young single Christian man for lets say 16 years if we go by the age of adulthood we kind of agree upon as Western society or we could say 21 years if we are going by most agreed upon Jewish standards. Suffice it to say whatever the timetable, the majority of young single Christian men I have met have very little figured out. I’ve met a few superstars, maybe John did to. The disciples aside from Peter and Thomas and Judas all seemed like superstars. To be fair though Peter was married so he might have had kids. Who knows?
My point is overcoming the wicked one hardly feels like a consistent reality. There is too much self doubt. There is too much telling young men they are expendable, replaceable, comparable. Vocational rejection, Relational rejection, Competition, dizzying disappointment and unclear even more dizzying expectations. This is getting all the more complex not less. Yet in John’s eyes young men have overcome.
In the second stanza he makes an even more audacious claim. “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.” John lets us know why he believes young men have and can overcome. Because of strength and because the word of God abides in you. God in Christ by His Spirit willingly abides in you and me in the midst of our sinful predilections. God stepped in and seemingly has stayed. So John writes and he writes a letter with poetry.
He writes so our relationship would remain, so our love would be strengthened so we’d not lose heart.
I write to you and to myself to not lose heart.