The children of god
The favour in which they stand
John now turns to those who are God’s children indeed, and in his first statement, irrespective of their spiritual age or experience, addresses them affectionately as “my little children,” or better, “my dear children.” The Greek word here is again the one that emphasises not age but family relationship. “I write unto you, my dear children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake” (2:12). He differentiates now between those who only make an outward profession of public worship, bible reading, prayer, etc., and those whose sins are forgiven. It is only possible for us to know our sins are forgiven if we are born of God by the Holy Ghost and indwelt by the Lord Jesus Christ. If we know our sins are forgiven, then we are God’s children indeed; this is the first great blessing in God’s family, and John reassures us of it here in verse 12.
There need be no doubt on the part of any regarding the question of forgiveness of sins. God has pledged Himself: “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1. 9. ) If we fulfil our part and confess our sins, then He will forgive us for His Name’s sake. How necessary it is for us to be sure of this blessed fact. God cannot lie. If He promises to forgive us upon our confessing our sins, He will certainly do so. His Name is His memorial. “Thy name, 0 Lord, endureth for ever; thy memorial, 0 Lord, throughout all generations” (Psalm 135. 13). “The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake” (I Sam. 12. 22). See also Psalm 106.8; Jer. 14.21; Ezek. 20 9 & 44.
The Lord has never dishonoured His Name by making a promise He did not keep. Thus He can neither withhold judgment upon sin, nor withhold mercy and forgiveness from the repentant sinner. It is the latter which is in view here. We are forgiven ‘for His Name’s sake.” The Lord finds no pleasure in us if day by day we contiIlue to ask His forgiveness for the same sins. Do you not think it will please Him much more if, after confessing our sins to Him, we rise up and praise Him for forgiving us ? ‘Oh blessed truth for all the children of God I “Your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” Hallelujah!
Their progress towards maturity
In the following section (2:13-27) John makes three stages of growth in the family of God. There are fathers, there are young men and there are children, and the experience common to all is the forgiveness of sins. This is the starting point, and all receive God’s favour of forgiveness; but John reminds us that some have gone on and matured beyond that first experience; they have grown in knowledge and understanding of God. It is essential that there should be growth, both physical and mental, in any human family, and in just the same way in God’s family it is essential that there should be growth and development—that children develop into young men, and that the young men eventually become fathers. John addresses each of these spiritual age-groups in the family of God, and he addresses each twice. Why should he repeat himself thus? Surely again it is for emphasis, firstly to impress on us that there are such stages of growth and therefore of responsibility amongst the Lord’s people, and secondly to indicate the marks of these stages.
“I write unto you, Fathers, because ye know him which is from the beginning” (2:13). “I have written unto you, Fathers, because ye know him which is from the beginning” (2:14). “Knowing Him” is the characteristic of the fathers, and distinguishes them from the young men and children. At first glance John may appear to say the same thing to the children when he says in verse 13, “Ye know the Father”, but it is really quite different. “Him who is from the beginning” is a reference to Christ, the Son, which is made clear by chapter 1 verse 1, whereas the children’s knowledge is of the Father.
It is easier to know the Father than to know the Son, as all who have Christian experience will affirm. The Son has so plainly revealed the Father that the first word of the babe in Christ is, “Abba, Father”; but “no man knoweth the Son save the Father” (Matt. 11:27) and the Father alone can reveal Him to us. Paul means this in Gal. 1:15, 16 when he says, “It was the good pleasure of God … to reveal his Son in me.” Paul’s was a deep inward revelation of the Son—of Him who is from the beginning. There seemed to be no end to that revelation, as is implied in his words to the Philippians, written much later in his life: “… that I may know him” (Phil. 3:10). All God’s dealings with His people are to this end, that we may know Christ. That Son is so great, so unspeakably far beyond our comprehension, that it takes a life-time to know Him, and even then, what we know is but a fragment of the whole, and we have to say, “Of his fullness have we received.” Knowing the Son and apprehending Him is the portion of the Fathers; in other words, it belongs to those that are mature in Christian experience.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:14, 15 that there are not many Fathers. “For though you have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many Fathers.” Paul is addressing believers there, and he is sorrowing over the fact that so few have grown spiritually. There are plenty who will say, “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that”; plenty who are school-masters or tutors to warn and scold and watch and criticise. This, in its place, is good and helpful, and we should be thankful for all who are sufficiently interested to help us in any way, but these tutors do not help us as much as they might. Oh, for those with a Father‘s heart, those who will yearn over us and pray for us, those who will lead us by loving example as well as by word. Paul describes himself as a father when writing to the Thessalonians, “As a Father with his own children, exhorting you, and encouraging you, and testifying, to the end that you should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11). Oh for those who will take time to encourage as well as to correct! Paul was much more than a schoolmaster; he was a father, with a father‘s yearning over his children. He had a long and rich experience of the Lord, and his greatest desire was that this experience should be shared and deepened by all God’s children.
“That I may know Him” was Paul’s cry; a cry for real experimental knowledge of the Lord, his Master; a cry to truly know Him as He is to be known. It is impossible to know a person just by learning about him. In order to know him we must move with him, live with him, work with him; we must be with him under various conditions and in various circumstances. This kind of knowledge takes time, and it was this personal knowledge of his Lord which Paul longed for; this was his ambition—to know Him. How am I to know the Lord? How are you to know the Lord? Only by living with Him and being in touch with Him constantly; only by giving time to be in His presence.
The Lord Jesus, we are told, is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever”. How are we to prove this? How are we to know this unchangeable One and to assure ourselves that what is said about Him is true? Only by living in His presence. There are so many different and varied incidents and experiences in our daily lives; why does the Lord lead us into them? Only to give us the opportunity to prove Him in them and to have a personal experience of Him there. Indeed we might learn from experience very much more than we do, for every experience furnishes us with opportunity to prove that He is faithful, so that in that measure we can say, “I know Him”.
A tutor in Christ may not always give his pupils a true picture of the Lord, for all too often he is only passing on to them second-hand information, or at best the letter of the law; but a father is one who has companied with Him and spent much time in His presence. Such a one is best able to lead the children into a like knowledge of Him. May God make more of us fathers.
“I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one” (2:13). “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one” (2:14).
What has John to say about the young men? The double statement here is that they have overcome the evil one. Is this true of all young men? Alas, by no means; but it should mark those who are energetically pressing on to know the Lord. This is now developed further in verses 15-17.
John is speaking to those who are young and in vigour and have spiritual energy for the conflict. It is such who should overcome the evil one. Where is the evil one to be overcome? In the world. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (2:15). John is certainly not referring to the world of nature, where plants and flowers and trees are so beautiful, nor, of course, to the world to come, but to the world of sense that has been evolved and set up solely for the amusement of man and for the decoying of youth into the ways of sin. From the days of Cain, man has been building and inventing things to absorb the attention, gratify the senses and divert the thoughts from God. Youth demands an outlet for its energies and Satan knows this, so turns his own attention and energy to providing one in ways that lure from God. Of such a world of sense it is said that “The whole world lieth in the evil one” (5:19). This world certainly has no love for God, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (2:16). Let us look at these clauses in turn.
“The lust of the flesh” can be summed up in the one word, indulgence. Whether it is eating or drinking, whether it is rest or amusement, it is that which indulges the body and the natural senses and desires. Why is there no stamina or strength of purpose in so many people today? It is because of indulgence in one way or another. Instead of disciplining our bodies and bringing them under control and into training, we are soft and feeble and indulgent. We give in to our desires; and what is the result? We are without strength. We have not the power to overcome, and our strength is undermined. But as in physical things, so in the Christian life, there is need of exercise if there is to be strength. If there is only a hearing of the Word and no exercise of heart and limb in respect of it, then the flesh remains in the ascendancy and the evil one is not overcome.
“The lust of the eyes.” Naturally we love to look upon that which is beautiful and satisfying. How much we think of our outward appearance, and how little of the inward adorning of a Christ-like character. How we are governed by the beautiful, and are thrilled and captivated by what we see. We satisfy our desires and feed our passions through our eyes. What a need there is for control in this direction today, when every novel, every cinema poster and every advertisement is made to lure and tempt and bring low. We need to control and direct our eyes and to look deep into the things of God, learning to appreciate and value God’s standard of beauty. I for of our blessed Lord Himself it is said that, to natural human eyes, He had no beauty that we should desire Him; and yet to the eyes of the spiritual man is He not the altogether lovely One? We must discern between that which is beautiful to God, and that which is purely of this world and will only draw us from Him.
“The vainglory of life” What is this? It is simply a desire for position, fame, honour, promotion, in this life. Do we not all desire this in some form or another? Does not every parent desire the best in education and position for his children? It is not wrong to do so, of course, and yet how easily it becomes a snare set by the evil one to trap us. How often, when money has been sacrificed by parents in order to educate a child, do those parents withstand the giving of that child to the Lord’s service, counting such work a waste after so much has been spent on education. And how easily does material gain and success dull our own spiritual appetite, weakening and disqualifying us in this battle with the evil one.
These things that John here describes are generally the temptations of youth, but what is the weapon that enables young men to overcome the evil one? It is the word of God, the sword of the Spirit. “The word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome…” (2:14). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). How was it that Eve failed when tempted by Satan? It was because the word of God did not dwell in her richly. God had spoken clearly, but she had forgotten. When Satan said, “Hath God said?” Eve professed to repeat God’s words, but she repeated them wrongly; the Word of God did not dwell in her, and she was trapped and overcome by her enemy. Again, what was it that enabled the Lord Jesus to overcome the devil when tempted in the wilderness? It was the word of God dwelling in Him richly. His answers were straight and to the point: “It is written … It is written … It is written,” and they exposed Satan’s deceit and overthrew him.
Take time each day to let some portion of the word of God dwell in your heart. It is that which will make you strong, and will deliver you from the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life”.
“I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father” (2:13). “Little children … ye have an anointing from the Holy One” (2:18-20). “The anointing which ye received of him abideth in you” (2:27). John now addresses those who are spiritual babes, for the Greek word he uses in 2:13 and 18 is different from that used elsewhere. It means young children and has reference to their spiritual age. He is speaking to those who are still young in the faith, having but lately entered the family circle.
The first thing he says to them is, “Ye know the Father” (2:13). We are all babes or children at the beginning, and what is true in the earthly family has its parallel in the heavenly family to which we belong by the life we have through Christ. The first word that a baby learns to utter is ‘Daddy’ or ‘Father‘, a sweet and expressive word.
John goes on to show that the source of all divine intelligence is open to these babes in Christ. “Ye have an anointing from the Holy One” (2:20). “The anointing which ye received of him abideth in you” (2:27). This is the Father‘s provision for His youngest children. From the very first day of their Christian life they are provided for in a wonderful way. They have need, and their need is twofold: firstly, because they are but babes, of special attention, and secondly, because they are encompassed by foes, of protection.
In the whole passage from verses 18-29 John is addressing particularly these spiritual babes, and his first words might well strike dismay into their hearts. “It is the last hour” (2:18); that is to say, it is a period which witnesses God’s final dealings with the world. Many scriptures refer to this, sometimes speaking of “the last days” and sometimes of “the last hour,” and they all remind us that there are special and peculiar dangers at that time—dangers surely calculated to provide the worst possible environment for little children. John refers to them here when he writes of many antichrists or seducers. He says, “Even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour” (2:18). Yet for such babes, in such a day and amid such perils, full provision is made.
It is of course those who are of tender age and experience who are most likely to be deceived. It is not always easy to detect those who are seducers or deceivers or antichrists. So John comes to our help. “This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son” (2:22). All these who deny the deity of Christ also of course deny the Father, for there is no real meaning in the word Father unless there is a Son, so that to deny the one is to deny the other. Antichrist will however profess to believe in the Christ, but will then set himself up to impersonate Him. The fulfilment in Christ Jesus of the promises made to the Jews and of the heavenly and eternal blessings presented in the revelation of the Father by the Son—these the antichrist will most certainly not accept. He is antichrist because he denies the very foundation of Christianity; he is a liar or deceiver because he denies that Jesus is the Christ. Of course in one sense all Jews have done this, but they are not antichrists, for the distinguishing mark of the antichrist from which the children are to be guarded, is seen in this phrase, “they went out from us” (2:19). They came out from, or were found among, the believers themselves. This may easily shake the faith of babes. Has not Judas been a puzzle, if not a stumbling block to many? (Compare Luke 22:21 with John 6:70.) He went out from among the disciples, and that is just what antichrists will do according to John.
Anti-Christian thoughts may so possess the mind and hearts of men, that though they may be in the assembly or under the immediate influence of Christ Himself, they are not saved. No doubt our Lord chose Judas to show that everyone would have the utmost opportunity, but that the very best influences would always result in some men hardening their hearts, and that eventually those who do so will go out.
Anything or anyone who disturbs the unity and fellowship of God’s people, anyone who causes division amongst believers, is found to be working against Christ; and although we have to be careful how we apply the term antichrist, we are no doubt to learn from this passage that babes have been given the Spirit to enable them to discern such things and not to be stumbled by them. To divide or to destroy the unity of the body is to strike at Christ, because the church is His body. Hence, while we should be careful that we do not label all those whom we do not agree with or understand as antichrists, we must realise that the church is a body, and must not allow Satan to disrupt its essential life and fellowship by finding a place within.
Unequipped and uninstructed, it is easy for little children to be deceived, but if they have a good father who makes provision against this, then it is not so easy, and here John shows that the youngest in God’s family has a double safeguard. Firstly he has “an anointing from the Holy One.” That is to say, the Holy Spirit is with him to teach him. “As for you, the anointing which ye received from him abideth in you, and ye need not that anyone teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, ye abide in him” (2:27). It is the Holy Spirit who will say, “No”, or “Beware”, when there is danger, and He will be very faithful. The youngest child in Christ can testify to this. Then secondly, he possesses that which is from the beginning. “As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even life eternal” (2.24 and 25). In other words, they have in them the life which was manifested in the word of life, and He is the touchstone by which all new or questionable doctrines can be tested.
John is by no means suggesting that new believers, or little children, do not need the fellowship of other believers, or can be independent of them (as a casual reading of verses 20 and 27 might appear to suggest), nor that they can dispense with their spiritual teachers and elders.
What he is saying is that, while these babes abide in their appointed place in Christ, the Holy Spirit will safeguard them from deception. It is by the Spirit that spiritual intuition and intelligence is developed even in the youngest child of God.
“And now, my (dear) children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that everyone also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him” (2:28, 29). Thus John concludes this portion of his address to God’s children, returning again to the ‘family word‘ for them. There is no doubt about the place they have in his heart’s affection, because here (as in verse 12) he says, literally, “my dear children.” It is doubtless for this reason that he concludes this paragraph with the exhortation to abide in Christ: “Abide ye in him” (2:27, R.V. margin).
There is however another reason for this, and it is his expectation of the Lord’s return. When he thinks of that he is exercised on their behalf, as well as on his own. All God’s children should be exercised by the thought of His return and of what that will mean. This should govern our conduct, stimulating us to make sure that we are not hearers of the word only, but doers also. It will be the final and conclusive test of all the family members. “If ye know that he is righteous (and of course, there is no doubt of that) ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is begotten of him” (2:29). If we are all one family, begotten of the same life, begotten of God who is the fountain of life, then there will be a comparison between ourselves and Christ. John repeatedly presses this point and we must not object to the repetition. Begotten of God, means also begotten of Christ, because divine life comes to us from God through Him. Wherever that life has entered, wherever it exists, it will produce conformity of character to the Father and the Son, and we shall be righteous “even as He is righteous.” (3:7). We may find perversities or contradictions in human families, but not in the divine family. Divine life takes the ascendancy, and ensures conformity to Him who is its source. If by faith we take and hold our place in Him, this work of conformity will be done. And John is clearly most anxious that it shall be done, for a reason which he gives us in verse 28, namely, “that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”
When he says “we”, John is perhaps referring again to the apostles, or to any in a similar position of responsibility for the readiness of God’s people at Christ‘s return. If we are servants of the Lord and ministers of the gospel, how do we feel when people speak to us of believers as ‘your converts‘, and say, “You baptised them”? Such words will invariably make us wonder, “Are they strong in the Lord?” “Are they going on with Him?” For this reason we now watch those we are responsible for, so that we may not be ashamed when we have to give an account of them to God. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give an account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief” (Heb. 13:27).
The appearing of the Lord Jesus will be the full revelation of His character, and this thought should cause real self-examination by all of us who call ourselves by His name. It is not enough for us to quote 2 Corinthians 5:21: “Him he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” That is true, of course, but we must remember that righteousness in us does not reside in the flesh; that is to say, it does not belong to us naturally. We possess it only because God has done something in our spirits, so that now “he that doeth righteousness is righteous” (3:7), because “every one … that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him” (2:29). In other words, righteousness of life is the evidence that we are begotten of God, and there must be such evidence. The fact that in Christ we are righteous must lead us to do righteousness.
Perhaps we should add that the word “if” in verse 28, does not cast doubt upon the return of the Lord, but relates to the secrecy concerning its time. Both the Lord Himself, and subsequently the witnesses of His ascension, taught with emphasis the fact of His return (see Matthew 16:27; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 1:10), but made it clear that the time was something reserved to the knowledge of the Father alone. There is no doubt about the event. It is toward that that believers have looked ever since He was received up into Heaven and it is toward that, that we look today.
When He returns it will not be in human limitation as before, but in glory—the glory of the Father. John says in 2:28 and again in 3:2, “He shall be manifested.” He uses the Greek word ‘phaneroo’ which means ‘to unveil‘ or ‘to make apparent’. When the Lord was on earth, not all that was true of Him was seen. When John says, “We beheld his glory” (John 1:14), doubtless he refers to that which was the exclusive privilege of those who were with Him on the mount of transfiguration (or unveiling). When He comes the second time however “we shall see him even as he is” (3:2). All the covering will then be removed, and what before we saw only darkly, we shall see then face to face (1Cor. 13:12) for “He shall be manifested”.