1 John 2:12-14

 |  April 17, 2017

This is a very unusual paragraph in the letter and should be carefully analyzed before preaching.

John uses three descriptive terms for the people to whom he writes: children, young men, and fathers. Notice he uses each of these terms twice. Your first thought when you read this is that John is dividing up the church into three groups of people according to their physical age. Thus, children, youth and adults are described. However, upon further reflection, another possibility comes to mind. John is dividing up the church according to their spiritual age. The new believers are the “little children,” those who have been Christians for some time he calls “young men,” and those who have been part of the church for a long time he calls “fathers.” But that does not appear to be what John is doing either. Several other times in this letter he addresses all the Christians with the title “little children.”

Actually, what John is doing is using a one-size-fits-all title, regardless of age, when he refers to the people to whom he writes as “little children.” Then he is making a metaphorical twofold division of that group: those who have been Christians for a long time are the “fathers,” and those who have been Christians for a shorter length of time are the “young men.” The inclusive group (“little children”) is listed first and is used by John to refer to all believers. John then distributes this inclusive group into two constituent groups.[1]See David Black, Using New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), pp. 80, 81; and Duane Watson, “1 John 2:12–14 as Distributio, Conduplutio, and Expolitio: A Rhetorical Understanding,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 35 (1989), pp. 97–110.

“Young men” refers to those who are younger in the faith; spiritual novices. “Fathers” refers to those who are more spiritually mature. Notice carefully that “young men” and “fathers” are never used by John for the entire audience. This does not mean that age plays no part, however. It would no doubt be true that there were people there, like John, who came to know the Lord during his earthly ministry or shortly thereafter and they would be well on up in years. Spiritually speaking, God’s people are at different levels of spiritual maturity. Jesus referred to lambs and sheep when talking to Peter by the seashore in John 21. Paul talks about the ‘weaker’ brother in his epistles. John’s use of “young men” and “fathers” would seem to fit this paradigm. Spiritual maturity is a process that often has little to do with physical age.

Notice also that John shifts verb tenses the second time he addresses these groups. He shifts from the present tense “I am writing” to the perfect tense “I have written.” Greek scholars have puzzled over this for a long time. This tense shift is a stylistic device of a good writer who desires to emphasize something. The two tenses don’t signal any significant change in meaning. On the other hand, the change is not merely stylistic either. The repetition highlights John’s intensity of focus which serves as an attention getting device and to emphasize what he is saying.[2]See Robert Yarbrough, 1–3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), p. 115. Yarbrough’s explanation for the shift makes good sense: “The first–person present form of graphō . . . is used to convey a relatively higher degree of feelings and urgency . . . . My translation ‘The reason I am writing’ attempts to express in English the gist of John’s direct, personal, and emphatic tone” (1–3 John, p. 121).

On the basis of the structure of the text, the following outline would work for preaching:

I. John Writes because Our Sins are Forgiven – (v. 12).

II. John Writes Because We Have Come to Know God – (v. 13).

III. John Writes Because We Have Overcome Satan Through the Word – (v. 14).

In these verses, John is preparing the church for what he wants to say in verses 15 through 17. Because of who and what they are, they must not yield to the temptation of loving the world; of putting anything in this world system ahead of God in life. John has confidence in his readers and he wants them to have confidence as well. These verses remind us of who we are in as Christians.


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