I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven because of Jesus’ name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the One who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have had victory over the evil one.
I have written to you, children, because you have come to know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you have come to know
the One who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s word remains in you,
and you have had victory over the evil one.
This may seem to be both a simple verse to understand, and a complex one. But, here, John is writing a comprehensive letter to all believers, no matter their physical age, their status in the Church, or their position of authority in God's Kingdom. In the previous chapter and verses, he is reminding his readers to be on guard against the deceptive ideas of false teachers. Even at this early stage in the Church, the Enemy was infiltrating the Church with his messengers who brought lies and distortion of the Gospel message.
John is reminding his ancient readers, and us, that if we belong to God, then we know Him. He is writing to assure Christians down through the centuries to stay strong in their faith and acknowledge their spiritual journey, readying themselves to defend the Faith. And in writing to them, he addresses particular groups of believers: Little Children, Children, Fathers, and Young Men.
The first thing we need to understand is why he chose to address these groups in his letter. I believe that they represent the various ranks, if you will, within the Body of Christ. In order for the Body to be edified in the knowledge of God, it must be recognized by pastors and fellow Christians, alike, exactly where they stand in their spiritual relationship with the Father. And by addressing the groups individually, yet simultaneously, it is good for all to hear the foundation of our Faith.
Scholars usually agree that Little Children refers to a little child; an infant; a new convert; baby Christians. These are people who are novices in their faith. But notice that John reminds them of the primary, yet essential, truth of faith in Christ ... that their sins are forgiven for His name's sake. But what does that mean? We read "for His name's sake" throughout Scripture, but do we really grasp the full consequences of that phrase. It means that the act of forgiving our sins rests on God's reputation; on the revelation of His full character; the forgiveness of our sins reflects the glory of God and His Name. As little children in the faith, this must be what we stand on; and knowing that this act of forgiving our sins displays God's reputation, character, and glory are not to be taken lightly.
John then addresses the most advanced in the faith, or the fathers. This is understood to be those Christians advanced in years; the senior members; and presumably, the most spiritually mature believers. The historical theologian Matthew Henry refers to them as "the old disciples". Even though they might be the most spiritually mature, they are still in need of further advice and instruction. They still need to be addressed, preached to, and are never too old to learn. Although they have knowledge and experience in their faith, they, too, must be admonished to never give in to the lies and deception propagated by the devil and this world.
Next John addresses the young men in the Church, those spiritually maturing individuals who have the strength of their maturing faith, have good sense, and having the ability to discern between good and evil, have experienced victory over the evil one. This verse also tells us that they have been in battle with the devil. Keeping to the sense that John is addressing the Church to be on guard against false teachers and apostasy, I think he is telling these vigorous young Christians that the same strength they exerted in battling (and defeating) the evil one, must be exerted in overcoming the world and its influence within the Church through false teachings and distortion of the Gospel.
John then continues his letter by reiterating to each of these groups of Christians -- children, fathers, and young men -- that they know the Father and His Word remains in them. John is saying whether you a new Christian, still sipping on milk, or a mature Christian, able to chew on the meat of the Word, it is going to take everyone to defend against the attacks that are going to come against God's Church.
The devil is the god of this world, and the Body of Christ, who make up Jesus's Church, must be reminded who we are -- sinners who have been pardoned and released from spiritual debt through His name because we have confessed His name, believing in Him as Savior. We know our Father and have experienced His presence in our lives, and we have experienced victory over the enemy. Our knowledge of our Savior, whether we are young or old in our faith journey, must come to bear as the enemy mounts an attack against those who stand in his way of conquering this world.
John's letter may have been written to First Century Christians, but it is just as applicable to Twenty-First Century believers! Just as the Church was weak and vulnerable in John's Day, I believe we can describe it the same way today. False teachers, or messengers from satan, have invaded God's sanctuary and successfully pulled us off track. They have distorted God's Truth and are preaching blasphemy and profaning His Name. John was admonishing the believers of his day to strengthen and protect their love of God because the love of this world was being preached by representatives of the evil one. Is it no less true today?