Children, Fathers, and Young Men | The Voice 12.19: May 08, 2022

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The Voice

1 John 2:12-14: Children, Fathers, and Young Men

I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. 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 (1 John 2:12-14).

John’s first letter represents his encouragement of Christians to maintain their association with God and to walk in Christ’s ways so that his joy might be complete (1 John 1:4). He does so through indicating His relationship with Jesus (1 John 1:1-4), the message of God to be the light and not the darkness (1 John 1:5-7), sin and forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10), knowing Christ and following His commandments (1 John 2:1-6), and love for the brethren (1 John 2:7-11).

Then there is 1 John 2:12-14, a passage that has engendered some controversy. Some believe that the text is corrupted at this point on account of its redundancy and style. Concerning whom does John write? What is he trying to say? What are we supposed to gain from this interesting passage?

We have no good evidence to believe that the text is corrupted at this point. We would do well to set aside such speculations and try to make sense of the text as revealed and preserved.

John seems to be writing some form of poetry: a series of statements perhaps more easily memorized or remembered. The statements have parallelism: a, b, c, a, b, c. The purpose is also somewhat ambiguous. On the surface, it would seem to represent John’s statement of purpose for writing, and yet he has already presented one such statement in 1 John 1:4. Furthermore, no actual purpose is presented; John speaks more about the condition of the “children,” “young men,” and “fathers” more than he does about why he writes to them.

The “little children” are those who have their sins forgiven and who know the Father (1 John 2:12-13). While some may believe that John is writing to actual children, such is unlikely: they have no sins to forgive (Matthew 18:1-4), and he uses this phrase often to refer to believers (1 John 2:1, 5:23). In this passage, it would seem that John has believers who are young in the faith in mind– he expands the connection with children, making the connection between what Jesus says about children in the flesh with the state of younger believers (cf. Matthew 18:1-4 et al). Their faith may be young, but it has a strong purity, innocence and devotion.

The “fathers” are those who “know Him who is from the beginning” (1 John 2:13-14). While fathers according to the flesh might be in view, it is again likely that John refers to spiritual “fathers”, like Paul was for Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2), mentors and shepherds and guides in the faith. They help encourage and direct younger believers in their faith, seeking honor not for themselves, but for the One who saved them (cf. Matthew 23:9-10). Their time on God’s path has been longer and fraught with more dangers, and they have gained appreciation for God who has been from the beginning.

The “young men” are “strong,” “the word of God abides” in them, and they have “overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:13-14). Those in this category seem to be in the middle among the “little children” and the “fathers”: believers in full bloom of the faith, striving diligently to serve God, not yet at the point of having the experience and wisdom to be the “father,” yet having grown significantly from being the “little child.”

It would seem, therefore, that John uses these three categories to encourage all believers in Christ. All of us, men and women, married and single, parents and grandparents, are “little children,” “young men,” or “fathers.” It all depends on where we stand in our faith. John provides statements of encouragement for each category, indicating that each has their role: one is not better because he is a “father” and not a “young man,” but at a different place in the faith with different responsibilities. God has composed the church to have many different people to work together (Romans 12:3-8). All must grow and should aspire to being a “father” one day, but all provide value to the Body when they serve God with the faculties they have been given. Whether we are little children, young men, or fathers, let us stand firm for the faith and serve God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Voice 5.07: February 15, 2015

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The Voice

Individual Christians and the Local Church

The New Testament reveals that the most basic unit in Christianity is the individual Christian: a person who has believed in Jesus as Lord, has repented of sin, been baptized, and seeks to follow Jesus (Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10, 1 John 2:3-6). Individual Christians in the New Testament associate with fellow Christians in a given area so as to comprise a local church of God’s people (Acts 2:42-47, 9:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:18). What is the relationship between individual Christians and the local church?

We do well to first recognize that God intends for the individual Christian to be part of a local church. We do not find any examples in the New Testament of Christians faithfully serving God while not a part of a local congregation of believers. Through the preaching of the Gospel people came to a knowledge of the truth, they believed it, were baptized, and then began associating with other Christians in their local area as the local church (Romans 10:17, Acts 2:38-47). The connections among Christians are described in terms of a body, and the church is identified as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 1:22-23): to not be part of the body is to not be part of Christ! God is one in relational unity (John 17:20-23): as Christians we must reflect God’s unity both with Him and among ourselves. The concept of being “a Christian without the church” is foreign to the New Testament!

The local church consists of individual Christians. Throughout the New Testament the church is spoken of as the collective of the people of God, either in its singularity across time and place (the “universal” church, Ephesians 5:22-33), or in its expressions in specific areas and times (“local” churches, 1 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:2). The church is described in terms of a body with different members (Romans 12:3-8), a household with God as Father and Christians as adopted brothers and sisters (Romans 8:11-15, 1 Timothy 3:15), or as a temple with individual Christians making up its edifice (1 Peter 2:3-9). In all of these illustrations the church is made up of its constituent members; if there are no Christians, there is no church!

Since individual Christians make up the local church, they must shoulder and support its work. In Greek the church is called an ekklesia, an assembly: what is an assembly that never assembles? And what kind of assembly exists that does not feature the assembling of its constituent members? Such is why the Hebrew author encourages Christians to not forsake the assembling of one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). The local church can only do the works of benevolence, evangelism, and edification if its individual members provide the necessary support to do so; this support ought to involve not only time and effort but money as well (1 Corinthians 9:1-15, 16:1-3, Ephesians 4:11-16).

The work and responsibilities of individual Christians goes well beyond the work of the local church as a collective. Individual Christians must manifest the fruit of the Spirit while avoiding the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-23). Individual Christians are to reflect the light of God in Christ, seeking to do good to all people, especially those of the household of faith (Matthew 5:13-16, Galatians 2:10, 6:10). These efforts reflect upon the local church: just as each part of the human body has its own independent function yet also works with other parts of the body (e.g. the hand grasps but at the direction of the head and in concert with other parts of the body), so individual Christians serve the Lord in their individual lives independently, in concert with other believers, and at times to strengthen and encourage other believers (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). When individual Christians encourage one another they are building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). Thus it can be said that individual Christians are working in the local church and on behalf of the local church through their service to fellow Christians and to those in the world; this is the only way it can be said that “the church” is faithful, or righteous, or reflecting the will of its Lord, when its individual constituent members are doing so!

The New Testament does make distinctions between the local church and its individual constituent members in terms of responsibilities, roles, and some instances of collective function. Local churches are to be shepherded by qualified men; the individual members should be in subjection to them (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-4). Paul lays down the principle in 1 Timothy 5:16 that individual Christians should provide for widows in their extended families so that the church can support widows indeed; in so doing Paul places the primary responsibility for supporting people on individuals and expects the church to provide continual support only as a means of last resort. We can see that individual Christians are not relieved of the obligations to provide benevolence, to promote and support evangelism, or to be active in encouraging and edifying fellow Christians because the church has also been given those works to do; if anything, Christians are to be all the more diligent in such efforts!

A local church is made up of individual Christians. Individual Christians have responsibilities toward their fellow members of the body of Christ but are also expected to serve and work for the glory of God in Christ in their individual lives. Individuals may make up the church, but it cannot be said that whatever individuals can do the church can do; they are not synonymous. Let us serve the Lord Jesus as Christians, building up the local body of Christ while doing good to all!

Ethan R. Longhenry