1 JOHN – SERIES : NR 6
Scripture: 1 John 2: 12 – 17
Theme: The church and the world
This entire paragraph is an interjection. An unexpected interjection. It looks as if it has been grasped out of the air and has nothing to do with what has gone before.
But yet, it does have something to do with what has gone before, because it is still dealing with the two things which the Apostle John has been doing all along – namely – ON THE ONE HAND to expose the wandering spirits/Gnostics/antichrists/idolators who were pestering the church and ON THE OTHER HAND to reassure the churches, to whom he is writing, of the firm ground upon which they are building – the firm ground of the doctrine of the Apostles.
We should understand very clearly what it is the Gnostics were teaching the churches. Gnosis means knowledge. They said that they were enlightened and had the full knowledge of God. They wanted to detach the Christians from the authority and teaching of the Apostles and become part of them.
The leader of the Gnostics was Cerinthius – and the Apostle is actually writing his letter directly against this man who taught that Jesus was merely an ordinary man and not born from a virgin and was not the eternal Word – he is not eternal. The anointing to be Christ descended upon him at his birth and left him again at his death on the cross. Christ only came to show us how the Christ-spark is really in all people and must only be discovered. He is not God, only a man. There is therefore also no Trinity. The Holy Spirit is also not a person, only a godly spark that clings to everything in the universe.
You see how this antichrist, Cerinthius, denied and renounced all the core truths of the Gospel. Something we again hear these days from some theologians. It is as if ancient Gnosticism is revived and the same heresy is today brought into the church.
One can imagine how this false doctrine confused the churches and drove them into divisions. And particularly: the doubt it brought about.
It is the same doubt that church members experience when they hear on the radio or even from the pulpit – or what theological students experience when they hear from the mouth of their lecturer that Adam and Eve were mythological figures, that the Fall did not take place, that snakes and donkeys cannot speak, that virgins cannot become pregnant, that the dead cannot be resurrected, that deliverance from sin is unnecessary, that Jesus is not the Son of God, and only a good example people should try to follow, etcetera.
Incidentally: When you hear these kinds of things, you are better informed, because you know it is the ancient heresy of Cerinthius and His Gnostic followers. It is not something new. It is not something to be in awe of. It is an ancient heresy that has been rejected by the true church of Christ throughout the ages.
In essence, it is therefore the heresy of the Gnosticism with which people are still bombarded today and which cuts straight against the clear, explicit doctrine of the Scriptures.
Many Christians hear these things and fall into despair and doubt. It was exactly the same in 90 AD with the churches to whom the Apostle is writing this letter.
The Apostle is exposing the false doctrine, but he is also comforting the Christians in the churches. He is reassuring them. And in this paragraph – verses 12-14 – he does it in the kindest pastoral way.
He takes the different groups in the church and he addresses them each separately. First the children, then the fathers, and then the young people. And then again: The children, the fathers, the young people. Therefore basically two groups: The young and the elder in the church.
And what he is saying to them in effect is: “Do not concern yourselves with the propaganda that Cerinthius and His followers are telling you. That which you heard from us since the beginning, that is the truth. And you know the truth and you are living in it. That is all that is needed. Forget the rest. Be assured that you are the children of God through the work of atonement by Christ and trust God’s unwavering promises for it!
Come let us focus for a while on the exact words!
Verse 12 > “I write to you, dear children because your sins have been forgiven on account of His Name.”
Verse 13 > “I write to you, fathers because you have known Him who is from the beginning.“
Verse 14 > “ I write to you, young men because you have overcome the evil one.”
And now look carefully. It is not for nothing that he then repeats it and go through the list again. If we look carefully, we will see that it is not just a repeat. It is a complete message of absolute assurance that is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from Cerinthius‘ chattering, and which gives true real, complete assurance! It is pure GOSPEL – a good news message.
A > TO THE CHILDREN > Part one: “Your sins have been forgiven on account of His Name” therefore (part two) “you have known the Father”.
In other words: You HAVE the true knowledge. Forget Cerinthius and His wandering spirits and their so-called higher knowledge. You already have the true knowledge. Stop looking for something more!
If your sins are forgiven by what JESUS has done on the cross, then you KNOW the Father! It is an attribute of a true Christian. God has brought you to live out of your sin-death. And therefore you could come to repentance and begin to trust Jesus as your Saviour. In Him, your sins (all of it) have been forgiven. And therefore you KNOW the Father.
It was true of the children and it is the ABC of being a Christian. The only requirement that lets me know God, is the forgiveness of sin in the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross! There is no further qualification necessary. No higher grade. Yes, Christians differ in a multitude of ways, but whether you are reformed, or Baptist or Pentecostal or Presbyterian or Methodist or whatever else: If your sins are forgiven in the Name of Jesus Christ, you know God and your life and your tongue shall begin to speak of it and everyone shall know about it.
B > THE FATHERS (OLDER PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH) > “You have known Him – who is from the beginning” and he repeats it exactly in the second part. He repeats it because it is so vitally important to make sure that what they have heard from the beginning, is the truth. And that Jesus was from all eternity. They could calmly forget the propaganda of Cerinthius who says that Jesus is not the eternal Son of God and that the message they have heard from the beginning is not the truth. FORGET IT says the Apostle, John. Christ IS the one who was there from the beginning. And the Gospel message that you have heard from the start, IS the correct message.
C > YOUNG MEN > “You have overcome the evil one because you are strong and the Word of God lives in you”.
Young people, the attack is on you today”, says the Apostle. “The propaganda of Cerinthius is the work of evil. But you young people are already sufficiently informed and you are already filled with the Truth of God’s Word. Do not allow anyone to confuse and disrupt you. The Word that you know, makes that you already have victory over the antichrist.”
What an incredibly important word this is!! Just the Scriptures alone in our hearts is the sufficient power to completely overcome the enemy and get rid of all doubt. There it is, clearly written in verse 14c. That God’s Word is sufficient! Filled by the Scriptures, young people can overcome even the antichrists’ propaganda at universities. Everywhere evil raises its head, the victory is there when one is filled with the Word.
There are the three fundamental truths we learn from verses 12-14:
1 > Whoever’s sins are truly forgiven in Jesus Christ, know God as Father.
2 > The knowing of Jesus means to know HIM who is from all eternity – the eternal Son of God.
3 > If the Word dwells in you, you are strong and have overcome evil.
In closing, verses 15-17 > READ IT AGAIN
It sounds as if this paragraph was grabbed out of thin air. How does it connect with verses 12-14 above? The Apostle John is still speaking to the young and older members of the church as in the preceding verses.
Briefly: What he is saying, is as follows:
“Children, young people, fathers – BECAUSE you are already so firmly anchored in Christ and the Truth – BECAUSE your sins are forgiven and you know God and the Word is in you and you overcame the evil one – DO NOT follow Cerinthius and His fellows by loving the world and anything in the world, because you are already delivered from it in Christ and those things will pass away, but whoever obeys the Lord shall live forever.”
The Gnostics used to be part of the church, but have separated themselves from the church because in their hearts they were never truly part of the Lord’s church. The Apostle already said that.
But why did they sever themselves from the church and leave? Why did they degenerate into false doctrine and heresy? It is because the things of the world laid siege on their hearts and beguiled them. Everything that the Apostle is saying in verses 15-16, applies to the Gnostics. But to the members of the churches to whom he is writing, he is saying: Do not follow them! Do not go the same route, because you ARE grounded in Christ and the Word of God! Because the world – as an anti-Christian system – is completely in opposition against the love of the Father. If you love the world, the Father’s love is not in you.
Once more we see how the Holy Spirit leads the Apostle not to allow any middle course/grey areas. It is either THIS or it is THAT. If your heart loves the world, the Father’s love is not in you, and you are divorced from the true church of Christ! Here he is referring of course first to Cerinthius and His followers. They were very spiritual but utterly lost.
I think that verses 15-17 are the clearest and also the most important in the entire NT. If God’s love fills you and His will motivates you, then worldly values and norms will give way/disappear in your life. READ IT AGAIN!
But what exactly does the Apostle mean with the notion “world”?
Actually, in the NT the word is used in different ways. In John’s writings, it is a central idea and is used in many ways. I will list THREE:
1 > WORLD as the cosmos, the universe, the creation. THIS all Christians must be thankful for because it is a good gift from God.
2 > WORLD as the human race – all people. This world’s Christians must love and take the Gospel message with great urgency.
3 > WORLD as humanity in rebellion and revolt and opposition against God – the world system with its values, pleasures, and aspirations which is in exact opposition against God’s Word. In this world, Christians should hate and reject, and live in an opposite set of values. Naturally, it is of this “WORLD” John is speaking here.
There are two good reasons why a Christian believer must not love this third meaning of the world.
FIRST REASON: Love for the world system and love for the Father is irreconcilable, they exclude each other. Therefore it is impossible to love both. It is simply not possible to love the Father and also to love that which He hates.
The thing which is a priority to the world system is that which is in revolt against the living God, and it is precisely the things that the lost and forlorn people’s fallen sinful nature so desire. Everything the eyes see and desire and all his focus on possession and vainglory. That comes from the world system and not from the Father.
The world’s values, norms, priorities, entertainment, focus, lifestyle comes forth from the desires that dominate the fallen human nature (flesh) which is standing in direct opposition to the will of God, everything upon which the senses and lusts can take possession of. And also the bliss in what the eyes see and desire and boast of in what is owned. In short: Everything revolves around the ego because worldly values are all about King Man – from beginning to end.
SECOND REASON: Verse 17 > Everything, everything, everything in the world’s system is temporal. Nothing is lasting. It is all of a passing nature and on the way to destruction. The world, with all its desires, passes away. How foolish to sit on a train while the train is speeding towards a cliff. If you do not jump off in time, you will be destroyed along with the train. It is foolish to hang your coat on the peg of the world system.
But is that the full story? Is there nothing lasting? Indeed, our hearts thirst for permanence, for lasting hope.
Yes, says the Holy Spirit by the apostolic pen, there IS indeed something lasting. The man/woman who does the will of God lives forever and ever and ever, and such a person shall never be lost. O, what a glorious hope! What an assurance! It simply makes everything worth it.
It is the indwelling of God, the Holy Spirit, who opens a Christ-believer’s eyes to all these things and he/she desires to strain away from everything that might keep him/her from loving and serving the Lord. The straining away is the result of a Divine miracle and a Divine work that took place in the heart. And it sets such a person on the road to victory.
Translated by Marthie Wilson