1 John: part 4
Assurance of fellowship
III. A Pause for Encouragement
The author divides his readers into three groups, whom he names dear children, fathers and young men, and addresses each group twice. He is indicating not their physical ages, as some have thought, but stages in their spiritual development, for God’s family, like every human family, has members of differing maturity. In view of John’s use of the title dear children elsewhere in this letter to embrace all his readers, many (including the Greek fathers, Calvin and Luther) have thought that here the phrase has the same inclusive reference to all church members who are subsequently divided into two groups only, namely fathers and young men, the mature and the immature, corresponding to the familiar Pauline ‘babes in Christ’ and ‘mature in Christ’ (e.g. 1 Cor. 3:1; Col. 1:28, RSV). Certainly the order (children, fathers, young men) may also suggest this. But the distinctive content of the message addressed to the three groups favours the view of some ancient Latin commentators such as Augustine that they represent three different stages of spiritual pilgrimage. The dear children are those newborn in Christ. The young men are more developed Christians, strong and victorious in spiritual warfare; while the fathers possess the depth and stability of ripe Christian experience. Since the description of each group is similar on both occasions when it is addressed, it will be simplest to take the corresponding pairs together. The repetition of the three groups and of the messages addressed to them, which if not the same are similar, is no doubt intended for emphasis.
Their sins have been forgiven on account of his name (12), that is, they have been and remain forgiven (perfect tense, apheōntai) because of the name of Christ, our atoning sacrifice and advocate (1–2), whose name represents both his person and his saving work (cf. Acts 4:12
Further, they have known the Father (13c), literally, ‘have come to know’ (another perfect tense) God as their Father.
You are strong, he says, and your strength is due to the fact that the word of God lives in you (14b). They have grasped the Christian revelation.
IV. Evident by a Biblical lifestyle
What is the world? John here mentions it for the first time, but he refers to it many times later. His teaching about it in the letter, supplemented by our Lord’s recorded teaching on this subject in the Fourth Gospel, is summarized in an Additional note (pp. 105–107). Suffice it to say here that sometimes John simply means ‘the universe’ (John 1:10) or ‘life on earth’ (John 3:17; 1 John 4:17), but usually he is referring to ‘the life of human society as organized under the power of evil’ (Dodd), ‘the order of finite being regarded as apart from God’ (Westcott)
But since everything in the world … comes … from the world, we may not love any of it. John selects for special mention the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does. These appear to him ‘the essential marks of the pagan way of life’ (Dodd).
The second seems to indicate temptations which assault us not from within, but from without through our eyes. This is ‘the tendency to be captivated by the outward show of things, without enquiring into their real values’ (Dodd)
Dodd’s summary is ‘base desires, false values, egoism’.