Two weeks ago we were looking at that part of John’s first letter where he referred to three false claims which certain people were making about sin. The first false claim that some people were making was that sin doesn’t matter. I can have a relationship with God and keeping on sinning, because sin doesn’t matter. The second false claim that some people were making was that I am not a sinner. I have no sin. There is no sin in me. And the third false claim that some people were making was that I have not sinned. While we’re all sinners in theory, nevertheless I have not sinned. Other people may sin, but not me. And John responded to each of those three false claims one by one.
And then in last week’s passage, John referred three times to people who claimed to be believers. He referred to those who say that they know God. He referred to those who say they live in God. That is, they claim to live in fellowship with God. And he referred to those who say they are in the light. That is, they claim to be in the light of the new age to come. Those who said such things were claiming that they were believers. But how can anyone who makes such a claim know whether or not they really know God and live in him and are in the light? How can they know? How can they be sure? And John explained that the way to know whether or not you know God and live in God and live in the light is whether or not you want to obey God and whether or not you love God’s people. The person who claims to know God, but who does not do what he commands, is a liar, says John. And the person who claims to live in fellowship with God must walk as Jesus did. That is to say: they must walk in obedience to God, just as the Lord Jesus obeyed his Heavenly Father. And the person who claims to be in the light, but who hates his Christian brother or sister is still in the darkness. That person is stumbling around in the dark; and, before they know it, they’ll stumble and fall to their eternal destruction. And so, that’s how we know that we really believe and are not deceiving ourselves and other people. Do we want to obey God? Do we love God’s people?
Those who do want to obey God and who love his people should give thanks to God, because he’s the one who transformed us and made us like that. And those who don’t want to obey God and who don’t love God’s people must turn from their sin in repentance and they must turn to the Saviour, trusting in him and in him alone in order to receive forgiveness from God and the free gift of eternal life.
I don’t think I said this last week, but John probably had certain people in mind when he said those things about people who were deceiving themselves about their relationship to God. It seems from what John says in this letter that there were certain people in the early church who claimed to be believers. In fact, they claimed to be teachers. But they were not true believers, and they were not true teachers, because they didn’t believe the true gospel which had come from the apostles; and they didn’t live obedient lives. And so, John wanted to warn his readers not to be taken in and deceived by those people who claimed to be believers and teachers, but who were not.
Today’s passage is much more positive. At least, it’s much more positive in the first half. In the first half of today’s passage, John wants to encourage his readers by reminding them of the great privileges which they enjoy as true believers. That’s in the first half of today’s passage. In the second half of today’s passage, he goes on to exhort his readers not to love the world or anything in the world. So, today’s passage is in two parts: there’s encouragement followed by exhortation.
Verses 12 to 14
And so, let’s turn now to the first half which is verses 12 to 14. And in these verses, John addresses children, fathers and young men. Do you see that? He mentions children in verse 12. And then in verse 13 he mentions fathers and then young men. And then he addresses all three again. So, he mentions children at the end of verse 13. Then he mentions fathers at the beginning of verse 14. And then he mentions young men again in the second half of verse 14. So, it’s children, fathers, young men and children, fathers, young men.
Some of the commentators suggest that John is addressing believers at different stages in their Christian life. So, the children are those who are new to the faith. Fathers are those who are mature in the faith. And the young men are somewhere in between: they’re not new believers, but they’re not yet mature believers. And while that’s a common interpretation, we should note that elsewhere in this letter, John addresses all of his readers as ‘children’. For instance, look at verse 1 of chapter 2 where he writes: ‘My dear children, I write this to you….’ Then there’s verse 18 of chapter 2, where he writes: ‘Dear children, this is the last hour….’ Look now at verse 28 of chapter 2 where he writes: ‘And now, dear children….’ Now look at verse 18 of chapter 3: ‘Dear children, let us not love with words…..’ And there are other references.
When John is addressing all of his readers, he addresses all of them as his ‘children’. That tells us something about his affection for them: he loves them as if they were his own children. But the fact that he elsewhere refers to all of his readers as his children suggests that when he addresses the children in verses 12 and 13 he’s addressing all of his readers. So, not just some of them, but all of them.
And after addressing all of them, he then divides his readers into one of two groups: fathers and young men. And when he refers to fathers and young men, he’s not referring to their spiritual maturity, but to their physical maturity. He’s addressing older men in the church and younger men in the church. Or, we might say, older people and younger people. The Apostle Paul does something similar in 1 Timothy when he advises Timothy on how to treat older men and women and younger men and women.
So, having clarified who he’s addressing, let’s think about what he said to his dear children. In verse 12, he tells them that he’s writing to them because their sins have been forgiven on account of his name. That is, their sins have been forgiven on account of Christ’s name. And, of course, this is true of every believer, isn’t it? Through faith in the Lord Jesus, we receive forgiveness from God. God pardons us for all that we have done wrong, and he continues to forgive us. He promises to remember our sins no more. He promises to remove them from us. He promises to cover them up and blot them all. All of these expressions from the Bible reassure the believer that God will not count our sins against us. He’ll not hold them against us. Someone else can’t forget what we did to them. They hold a grudge. They won’t forgive us. No matter what we do, they will not forget what we did and what we did always comes between us. But God is not like that, because he promises to forgive us for all that we have done wrong. ‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sins are covered’, says the psalmist. ‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.’
And the reason God is able to forgive us like that is because of Christ who took the blame for us and who bore the punishment we deserve and who paid for all our sins when he gave up his life on the cross. As John has already said, the blood of Jesus, or the death of Jesus, purifies us from all sin. The guilt of our sin is washed away because he died for us. And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In other words, he offered himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice which turned God’s wrath and curse away from us and on to him. And because he suffered the punishment we deserve, God is able to pardon us.
‘[Dear] children’, says John. And he’s addressing every believer. Your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
Jump down to the end of verse 13 now where he says to his dear children: ‘I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.’ That is, you have come to know him. Whenever we believe in the Lord Jesus, it’s as if he takes us by the hand and he leads us to the Father in heaven and he introduces us to him. But it’s even better than that, isn’t it? Because the Lord Jesus doesn’t introduce us to God by saying this is ‘My Father’; he introduces us by saying to us that this is ‘Your Father’ now. Through faith in Christ, God becomes our Father in heaven. And our Father in heaven promises to love us with a never-ending love and to care for us and to watch over us always. And so, dear children, your sins have been forgiven on account of Christ’s name; and you have come to know the Father.
And having addressed every believer, he then addresses fathers. That is, he’s addressing the older members of the church. And to encourage them he reminds them that they have known or they have come to know ‘him who is from the beginning’. He’s referring to the Lord Jesus, isn’t he? We know that because back in verse 1 of chapter 1 he referred to the Lord Jesus as the Word of life who was from the beginning. And so, he who is from the beginning is the Lord Jesus. He’s from the beginning, because he’s the Eternal Son of God who was before all things. And when the time was right, the Eternal Son of God came to earth as one of us and the apostles heard him and saw him and touched him and they have testified to all that he said and did so that we too may know him. We haven’t heard him with our own ears or seen him with our own eyes or touched him with our own hands. But we know him, because the apostles have testified to all he said and did. They wrote it down for us to read. And so, we know him. We know what he’s like. We know what he’s done for us. We know we can trust in him. We know that we can expect him to come again. We have come to know him.
This is such a privilege that John mentions it twice: at the beginning of verse 13 and at the beginning of verse 14. And John may be emphasising this because some of the false teachers in those days were claiming that they had secret knowledge of God. They claimed to know things which ordinary Christians did not know. God had revealed secret things, secret knowledge to them. But don’t worry about their so-called secret knowledge, John may be saying. Don’t worry about that, because you have come to know the main thing, the most important thing. You have come to know the Saviour.
And then John addresses the younger people in the church. And he encourages them by reminding them in verse 13 that they have overcome the evil one, who is the Devil. I’ve said before that the Devil uses two weapons against the church. One is persecution and the other is false teaching. He tries to destroy our faith by persecution or by leading us astray with false doctrine. And, given the background to this letter, and to what we know about certain people in the church at that time who did not believe what the apostles taught, then when John says they have overcome the evil one, he means they haven’t been taken in by false doctrines. The devil hasn’t been able to lead them astray. They have continued to hold on to the true gospel and to believe what the apostles taught.
So, they have overcome the evil one by standing firm in the faith. And then he also encourages them at the end of verse 14 by saying that they are strong. In what sense are they strong? He’s not referring to physical strength, but to being strong in the faith. And they are strong in the faith because the word of God lives in them. It abides in them. It remains in them. And so, they are strong in the faith and have overcome the evil one.
This is one of the reasons we always read and study the Bible on Sundays. And this is why everyone is encouraged to read and study the Bible on other occasions, whether it’s on your own or with your family or with other believers. The way to become strong in the faith and to resist the devil is by knowing God’s word so that it, in a sense, becomes part of us. We all need to know what God has revealed about himself and about our salvation and about how Christ is coming again and about how we’re to live while we wait for his coming. If we don’t know the Bible, then we’ll be deceived by false teaching and led astray from the true faith. And so, the way to reinforce our faith, the way to build a barricade around our faith, the way to stand firm in the faith is by knowing and believing God’s word.
John was writing to encourage his readers. And he encouraged them by reminding them that their sins have been forgiven because of Christ; and they have come to know the Father; and they have come to know Jesus Christ the Saviour; and they have become strong and have overcome the evil one because the word of God lives in them. And if you’re a believer, then you can be encouraged too, because your sins have been forgiven; and you know the Father; and you know the Saviour; and you have God’s word to make you strong.
Verses 15 to 17
That’s the first part of today’s passage. That’s the encouragement for believers. Now comes the exhortation in verse 15: Do not love the world or anything in the world.
Now, at first glance, this might puzzle us. After all, didn’t God make the world? And didn’t he make it good? Doesn’t he fill the world with good things for us to enjoy? Why shouldn’t we love the world, which God has made?
But we need to remember that the world we now live in is a fallen world which has been spoiled by sin. And there are things in the world which are not from God and which are therefore not good. And John goes on in verse 16 to explain for us what those things are which are in the world and which are not good. So, take a look at verse 16 now where he refers to three things: the cravings of sinful man; the lust of his eyes; and the boasting of what he has or does.
A better translation of the phrase ‘the cravings of sinful man’ is ‘the desire of the flesh’. And ‘flesh’ in the Bible refers to our fallen, sinful nature. Because of Adam’s sin in the beginning, all of us are born with a fallen, sinful nature so that we’re naturally inclined to sin against God. And so, the phrase ‘the desire of the flesh’ refers to those sinful desires and inclinations which we all have because we’re sinners.
Now, one of the commentators suggests — and I think he’s right — that the phrase ‘the desire of the flesh’ is a general term. It’s a broad category. But John gets more specific when he goes on to refer to ‘the lust of his eyes’ and to ‘the boasting of what he has and does’.
A better translation of the phrase ‘the lust of his eyes’ is ‘the desire of the eyes’. And John is referring to sinful desires which are activated by what we see. Now, there might be nothing wrong with what we see, because the world around us speaks to us of God’s glory and goodness. There’s an infinite variety of things around us in the world which God has made and they’re good. And God fills our lives with good things which we’re to receive with thanksgiving.
But a problem arises when our desire for those good things is sinful. What we see may lead to covetousness and to a sinful desire for things which are not rightfully ours. Think of the story of Achan from the book of Joshua. Do you remember his story? After the Lord brought down the walls of Jericho, Achan was among the Israelites who entered the city to fight against the inhabitants. And the Lord gave them victory over their enemies. And the Lord also gave strict instructions that the Israelites were not to take anything from the city. Everything was to be devoted to the Lord. That is, everything was to be destroyed. But Achan, when he was in the city, saw a beautiful robe and some silver and some gold. He saw these things. And there was nothing wrong with those things. The robe was beautiful and there’s nothing sinful about silver and gold. But Achan wanted those things for himself, even though the Lord had forbidden it. And so, his desire for those things was sinful. Achan looked and he wanted and he took those things which were forbidden to him.
That’s an example of what John means when he refers to ‘the desire of the eyes’. It’s the sinful desire in us which is activated by what we see.
And John goes on to refer to boasting of what we have and do. The emphasis here is not so much on what we do, but on what we have. It’s about being puffed up with pride because of what we possess and forgetting that everything we have has come to us from God and it’s due to his kindness to us. So, the problem is not so much what we possess, but it’s our sinful attitude towards what we possess. And instead of acknowledging that all that we have has come to us from God, we boast about what we did to get these things.
And so, when John exhorts us not to love the world, he’s thinking about how there are things in the world which are not from God and which are therefore not good. And he’s thinking about the desire of the flesh, which includes those sinful desires which are activated by what we see. And he’s thinking about our sinful boasting about what we possess. As John says in verse 16, these things are not from the Father. And since they’re not from the Father, then they’re not good and they’re not right. They come from us.
Having clarified what John means by loving the world, let’s go back to verse 15 where John says that if anyone loves the world — that is, if anyone loves the world with that sinful desire which we’ve been talking about — then the love of the Father is not in him. Think of Achan again. If he really loved God more than anything else, he wouldn’t have taken that beautiful robe and the silver and the gold. If he loved God more than those things, he wouldn’t have taken them, because God had forbidden it; and his desire to please God would have been greater than his desire for those things.
And then John adds that we should not love the world in this sinful way because the world and its desires pass away. The world around us is destined to perish. It’s all going to come to an end when the Lord Jesus comes again in glory and with power to create a new heavens and earth. And so, what we see around us is temporary. It will not last. But the man who does the will of God lives forever.
So, people spend a lifetime trying to get more and more stuff for themselves. Whatever they see, they want. They gather around them everything they want and can afford. If they can’t afford it, they may be tempted to steal it. And if they don’t steal it, they’re miserable because they can’t have what they want. But their whole life consists in what they have and what they want. And it’s all going to pass away. None of it will last.
But then, there’s the believer who loves the Lord and who wants to do his will here on earth. And the believer may not have very much in this world. But it doesn’t matter, because he knows, she knows, they will have eternal life and they will come into the presence of God and they will see him and will have fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore in the world to come.
Or that believer — who loves the Lord and who wants to do his will here on earth — might actually have many possessions in this world. God distributes his gifts to his people however he likes. So, that believer may have lots. But it doesn’t matter to him or to her, because they know that all of it will pass away. It’s all temporary. And what they really want, what they really desire, more than anything else, is to do God’s will in this life; and, afterwards, to see him.
How do we become like that? How do we become the kind of people who love God more than anything else? We turn to God and we ask him to make us like that, because he’s the one who is able to take away our love for other things and to give us a love for him.