Children, Adults and Elders

Title: Children, Adults and Elders

Text: 1 John 2:12-14

Time: August 21st, 2011


John the Apostle is an elder statesman in the Christian church at the time of his writing the Letter of 1st John, so he’s writing as a grandfather might to the family. In today’s passage he addresses three specific segments of the Christian church – children, adults and older people. Or in other words, he addresses the whole church because everyone in the church is probably a child, an adult or an older person. You must remember that back in ancient times it was unusual for the average person to live a long life because there were so many sicknesses, diseases or injuries that could kill prematurely. Today we’ve grown spoiled by modern medicine, doctors and hospitals, but we need to remember that in ancient times they didn’t have these things. What was known as a doctor back then was really someone who knew less than the average person today about treating illnesses. What we stock in our home medicine cabinets is more than the best “doctors” knew or had in ancient times. So that means most people died prematurely in ancient days. The Apostle John, or any older person, was the exception in ancient times. They were looked up to for their wisdom. John especially was respected because he was an original disciple of Jesus and was one of the founding members and a leader in the early church. So this unique status gives John the right to address the whole church in general, and speak directly to certain segments of the church specifically. 1 John 2:12-14, “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 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 evil one. I wrote to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. I write to you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” If we break this passage down we see the three audiences – children, men and fathers. Or, put differently, children, adults and elders. I take this to mean, John is addressing the whole Christian church, because the category “children” would include the youngest members of the church, the category “young men” would represent the typical adult population – still young compared to our adult and middle aged population due to the factors I mentioned before – and I understand the category “fathers” to represent the older members of the church. I can’t imagine John writing a letter to the Christian church and purposefully leaving out any segment. That wouldn’t make sense. So for our purposes today, I’ll be assuming that the Apostle is writing to all the members of the Christian church using these three categories, and that each one of us here today fits into one of the three categories. He has something to say to each of us today whatever category we are in – or whatever category we put ourselves in! Now another possibility is that John is using these three classifications to describe Christian spiritual maturity level, not biological age, and so he’d be addressing different levels of Christians not strictly related to physical age. But I’ll put that question aside for the moment and come back to it later. Let’s assume for now that he’s talking about natural life stages of Christians within the church. Ok, let’s see what he has to say.


First, there’s John’s wisdom to children. 1 John 2:12, 13, “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.  . . . I write to you, dear children because you have known the Father.” Now why does the Apostle John say these things to the children, to the youngest members of the Christian church? Here at New Life Chapel we talk about children and children’s ministry often because we all understand that we need to do more and do better in that department, even with our limited resources of material and manpower, we acknowledge that we need to organize something for the children on Sunday morning. But then the question is, “What should the Christian church do for children on Sunday?” If you look in the Bible, first in the Old Testament, then in the New Testament, it doesn’t say a whole lot about children’s ministry. The basic message of the Bible generally and specifically is that it is primarily the parent’s job to teach and train their children in the Bible and Christianity. Unfortunately, today, in our so-called educated and sophisticated modern society, most adults are Bible illiterates, so asking adults to teach their children what they themselves don’t know is hard. So where does Christian education start? In the home, with parents teaching their own children first the Bible stories, then the basic Bible teachings about doctrine and morality. The church needs to be an extension of what parents teach their children in the home. So then, our church or any church, would want to teach at a minimum all the major Bible stories, starting with the youngest children and the easiest stories, to the oldest children and the harder stories. By the time the child has grown into young adulthood he or she should know all the major stories of the Bible, because that provides the foundation for learning doctrine and morality. And the children of the church should also know the major Christian teachings, for example, the basic gospel message. This is a little of what the Apostle John communicates to the children here. He reminds them that they have been forgiven and they have known the Father. Now obviously, here, he’s talking to children who are old enough to understand and accept the Gospel, because he tells them they are forgiven of their sins. You’d never want to tell just anyone that their sins are forgiven unless, of course, they’ve been to Jesus and the cross for forgiveness. So here, he’s talking to kids who have reached the so-called age of accountability and who understand and accept the gospel message of salvation by faith. How old must a child be before he or she can understand the gospel message enough to be saved? That depends on the child. Some kids can understand the gospel pretty young, but it’s usually around the ages 10, 11 or 12 that a child can really grasp the basic parts of the saving gospel and make a decision about it. Why does John mention forgiveness? Maybe because he wants children to not have to fear the wrath and punishment of God the Father for their sins. Maybe because he wants them to understand that salvation is by grace through faith, not obedience to the law or religious ritual. Children especially need to know they are loved and accepted by God through faith, not by their performance or works. Adults need to know this too, but especially children need to feel that God is a God of love, not just wrath. We need to teach children about sin and punishment, but we must also teach them about grace and forgiveness through the cross of Christ. Children can know God as Father through faith, even at an early age.


Second, there’s John’s wisdom to adults. 1 John 2:13, 14, “I write to you young men, because you have overcome the evil one. . . . I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” As I mention before, in ancient times people generally didn’t live as long as we do today. So the category “young men” used by the Apostle John could today include young adult teens up into the 30s and 40s of middle-aged adult life. Again, we don’t know for sure how John classified things in his letter, but this guess is as good as any.  For example, think of Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was around 30 years old when he began his public ministry; he’s usually seen today as a young man. Likewise, his disciples today are all seen as basically young men, although they too were probably in their 20s, 30s or some maybe even in their 40s. After all, how old was Peter? We don’t know for sure. Now what John tells the adults in his letter is to encourage them in their victory over Satan, the Devil or evil one, and to remind them of the power of God’s Word within them. Now these adults John is addressing are Christian converts who have learned the basic Bible stories, doctrines and moral precepts. They’ve heard the Word of God preached to them many times, they’ve understood it, accepted it and are living out the truth with their lives. They need encouragement to continue on in what they already know. Whereas children need to learn the basic truths of the Bible and Christianity, and reach the point so that they can understand and believe, these adult believers that John is talking to already know the basic Bible truths, already believe the gospel and are walking in discipleship. They need encouragement to continue in that. He reminds them that in their struggle to resist temptation, in their fight to say “No” to the Devil, they have been successful. How have they overcome the temptations to live according to the world, the flesh and the Devil? How have they overcome the power of sin to dominate their lives? Because they are strong through the Word of God. They don’t just listen to God’s Word, for example, hearing the Word preached in church on Sunday, but they’ve gotten the Word of God inside of them. They’ve learned to put into practice what they hear and learn. Adults need to be reminded that it isn’t enough to hear God’s Word preached – although that is important. And it isn’t enough to just read God’s Word – although that too is important. Adults need to get the Word of God living in them, which is another way of saying, adults need to apply and walk in God’s Word daily in order to be strong enough to live the Christian faith in a hostile world filled with temptations to sin and the attacks of the Devil. What about you? Is God’s Word living in you today? Do you listen and learn from God’s Word? Are you growing in God’s Word? Some adults think that they can live on what they learned as kids about the Bible in Sunday School. That’s wrong. Adult parents need to know God’s Word in order to teach their children. That is their responsibility, not primarily the church’s responsibility to teach their children the Bible. Do you know it enough to teach it? If not, you better start learning it, if not for yourself, for your children’s sake. But if you are an adult and you have received the gospel of salvation and pray and study your Bible, John wants to encourage you and remind you that you are strong – not by your own strength – but by God’s Word that is in you. Do you want to get even stronger? Put more of God’s Word in you.


Third, there’s John’s wisdom to older people. 1 John 2:13, 14, “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. . . . I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” No, that isn’t a typographical error. John the Apostle really repeats himself world for word. On a word processor program like Microsoft Word, the automatic spell check will underline that sentence in red and ask you whether you want to delete the duplicate line. We won’t delete the line here today because it’s in God’s Word and it must be there for a reason. Like the old saying goes, “If you are reading and you run into the word ‘therefore,’ stop and figure out what it’s there for.” So let’s stop a moment and figure out why John might have repeated himself in this passage. To begin with, in the Bible, when someone repeats their self they usually do so for emphasis. For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Truly, truly” often in his teachings. He does so to underscore the importance of what he’s saying. It’s like when we say, “Really, really” in our language. “I saw this dog and it was really, really big.” So the Apostle John is repeating himself here probably to emphasize something special. What is so special to emphasize through repeating? It might be to remind the older Christians that they have known the faith for the longest, in fact, they have know it from the very beginning or close to the very beginning of the start of the Christian church. Now there probably wouldn’t have been many older Christians as old as John, if we figure he was in his 80s at this point, but he might be talking to Christians who grew up and converted to Christians in the early days of the church. There could have been some Christians who actually remembered seeing and hearing Jesus himself. If John could remember Jesus, if his memory hadn’t failed him, then there were probably others who had actually seen and heard Jesus personally, although their numbers were dwindling. But even if some of these older Christians hadn’t actually seen or heard Jesus up close, they had probably heard and seen some of the original disciples, like Peter. Or they had seen and heard the Apostle Paul. And so they were able to hear eyewitness testimony of Jesus firsthand. John the Apostle would then be calling these older Christians to remember back upon their Christian heritage and take comfort and encouragement in it. What a great privilege it must have been for these Christians to listen and learn from the greatest and most famous Christian teachers. How would you have liked to hear Peter or one of the original disciples preach and teach? That would be very inspiring. Or how would you have liked to talk to the Apostle Paul? Today Catholics are inspired by the Pope when he comes to visit, but just think how these earlier Christians could gain inspiration and encouragement thinking about their encounters with the living disciples, or best of all, maybe even Jesus Christ himself!


So John has encouragement to everyone in the church, no matter how old or young they are. Here, in the church, we must also find encouragement from God’s Word no matter who we are, no matter how old we are, not matter what situation or circumstance we find ourselves in today. Now Christian encouragement is different than the encouragement from the world. The world encourages you if you are carrying out the world’s agenda. For example, if you are materialistic and chasing after money and possessions like worldly people, you’ll find a lot of encouragement from the world. In fact, everywhere you turn you’ll find encouragement from the world to spend, spend, spend money. And even if you don’t have enough money, the world will still encourage you to spend money on credit, through debt. Or you may have sinful and selfish desires that the world will enthusiastically encourage you to act upon. In speaking of the world, I’m talking in biblical terms, with the world meaning, the earthly, fleshly, carnal system that encourages sin and selfishness. Christian encouragement is different in that it doesn’t encourage everyone to pursue whatever their hearts desire, because as Christians we know from the Bible that the heart can’t be trusted; it’s sinful and fallen and therefore we can’t just give blanket encouragements to others or even ourselves to “follow your heart,” or “pursue your dreams” or “go with your gut.” Christian encouragement encourages people to pursue God’s kingdom – “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” Matthew 6:33. Christian encouragement doesn’t just encourage people in whatever direction they find themselves traveling in life, because Christians know that often, maybe even most of the time, people are headed in the wrong direction because of the power of temptation and sin. So to simply encourage someone in whatever path they are following presently is wrong. We need to see if the direction a person is headed on now is correct. If it is, then we as fellow Christians, like the Apostle John, need to encourage one another. But if we see someone, Christian or non-Christian, following a sinful path, we shouldn’t encourage them, but instead we should discourage them from following the wrong way, and encourage them to get on the right path.  There is this television pastor of a huge church in Texas who really bothers me whenever I see him. People ask him why he doesn’t teach about sin and judgment, why he only teaches on positive subjects. His answer is that he wants to encourage people. Well, the best way to encourage a person headed on the wrong path of sin is to discourage them from continuing on it. If you encourage a person going the wrong way, he’ll just keep going the wrong way – and suffer the consequences someday. No. The Apostle John is giving us Christian encouragement, whether you are a child, an adult or an older person. I hope you’ve received encouragement in your Christian life today from God’s Word. Let’s pray.


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