Chapter 2:12-17: Pastoral Advice to Elders
“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. I write to you fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children. Because you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the power of God abides in you. And you have overcome the wicked one.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life –is not of the Father but of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:12-17)
John has said much in just a few verses, and it is clear by reading them that the apostle has no grey areas, spiritually speaking. This has been said before, but the idea has been the major point brought forth in this letter: Either follow the LORD, or don’t. Either stand on the authority of Scripture that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, or don’t.
There is such a concept as right and wrong, such as saying you’re a believer, yet do and say things that are contrary to your confession, or that issues are black and white, such as claiming to be walking in the light of God and yet prefer at times to be content dwelling in spiritual darkness in the vain hopes that what you’re doing or saying will be hidden from God. That’s just wishful thinking on your part and is not based in the reality that we will be accountable before Jesus Christ for everything we do and say (2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Chronicles 16:9).
I’m really amazed at the sheer arrogance we possess as fallen human beings to think that we’re smarter than God and have total control over our lives. Our Lord Jesus said it best to His own countrymen that they were of their father the devil (John 8:44). I have no doubt that’s what He would say to a lot of people who wear the title of “Christian,” yet they do things like bless abortion clinics, approve of lifestyles that are forbidden in Scripture, compromise with officials in the world to “get along,” embrace political beliefs that are contrary to what is expected of a servant of God, and teach doctrines that are in blatant opposition to the truths of Scripture.
I can say with certainty that a lot of buildings we call “churches” have long abandoned the standards of the Scriptures and the clear teaching of Jesus Christ, and are now half-empty places of weekly gatherings with no evidence whatsoever of God’s presence. They are of no use to God except to paint the word “Ichabod” across the door, for surely God’s glory has departed from them (1 Samuel 4:21).
Now, if you don’t like what I’m presenting and are somehow “offended” by my alleged lack of “tolerance,” I will say in the most pastoral tone I can present to you: I don’t care one bit about what you think of me or what I present in terms of the certainty of God’s Word. What you think about me has no bearing upon the quality of my life, nor do I care if I get your social feathers in a wad. The hard truth to those of you who think that they’re members of the “thought police” is that I won’t have to answer to you for my words and actions come Judgment Day. I’d strongly suggest that you focus your attention on who is really offended here, and that is the Lord God Almighty.
As I read the words of Holy Scripture, I find that NONE of God’s prophets or preachers ever apologized to anyone for telling the truth about the sorry state of man’s current condition. In this letter to the church, I don’t read of any words John uses to apologize for his bluntness. I figure I’m in good company. Now, calm down, grab a cup of coffee, and continue reading.
John tells us not to have two conflicting opinions dwelling with us. Either walk with God or don’t. This is the adaptation of truth for the new generation of believers with whom John has come into contact and is now mentoring.
Starting in verse 12, John tells his readers that those who are new in the faith are assured by the work of Christ that their sins had been forgiven. Here is something to take into consideration in the light of that era in history. Many of these people who had come to faith in Christ had been involved in pagan rituals that may have involved sexual deviancy, giving alms to idols and consulted mediums that supposedly “talked with the gods” and their words determined your destiny, or, if you were a member of the military, the medium would give the outcome of a battle.
With this background in mind, it’s a probability that these new converts felt guilt and remorse over what they had done, and John’s pastoral role as a comforter gave them reassurance that when they gave their lives to Christ, their sins were forgiven once and for all. This shows us that there are no sins so dark in our lives that cannot be forgiven by the act of sacrifice done on our behalf through the work of Christ on the cross. This is a confirmation of the teaching given earlier in Chapter 1, verses 9 and 10.
John now turns his attention to the elders of the churches. This office was established by the direction of the apostle Paul when he established the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38; 1 Timothy 3:1-8) and taught this to Timothy, who was his successor and who carried on the task of pastoring the Ephesian church after Paul’s execution around A.D. 67. By the time John wrote this letter, it is probable that Timothy had died, and now it was John’s responsibility to carry on with guiding not just the Ephesian church, but other churches in the area of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), where he probably settled after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Verse 13 is a reminder from the apostle that the elders are to be certain of the knowledge concerning the doctrines of the faith that were entrusted to them. He also commends the younger men in the church in that they have overcome the wiles of the devil, and to encourage the “children” in the faith who have come to the knowledge of the Father.
We who are removed from the apostolic era by two thousand years often forget that the teachings of Jesus Christ and His ministry of redemption for fallen man was a radical way of thought to generations of Gentiles who had been reared in the idea of numerous gods and goddesses controlling the affairs of the world. In the preaching of the gospel, they were introduced to the idea that there was one God who desired to have a personal relationship with His creation, and that He provided this by having His Son die for the sins of men in order to be forgiven and given the opportunity to live with God in heaven for eternity.
The gods of Greece and Egypt demanded worship, but there was no sign or desire to interact with humanity except for occasions where they wanted someone to fight a creature or engage in physical pleasure and create half-god and half-human offspring, like the Greek god Zeus having intercourse with a woman on Earth to produce someone like Hercules. These gods and goddesses were really nothing more than glorified humans with varied powers that were often used for mischief and self-pleasure. They were impersonal in all aspects, and the worship of them was done out of fear or duty. The apostle Paul addresses these points in his sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-34).
The message that John and the generations of believers in Christ gave to these cultures was the idea of personal and intimate communication with the LORD without fear of rejection or retaliation for a supposed offense or perceived injustice that would destroy the individual. The end result was personal peace and assurance that Jesus Christ would not only forgive and save them, but would also give them direction and guidance throughout life, as well as trusting Him to be faithful and true to His promises, thus building faith on the part of the new convert.
Even today, it is difficult for someone who has been reared in a different religion to put their full trust in Christ at the risk of family ostracism or threats of death, yet once done, the peace that passes all understanding overcomes all the difficulties that families and others may want to impose on the new believer. Like the believers of the first generation, we are to walk in their steps and gain maturity and increase our faith, growing in grace and the knowledge of His Word and direction.
Now John presents a word of counsel regarding how we are to behave in a world that is, for all practical purposes, godless and awash in religious behavior that shows no desire to change or surrender belief. He counsels us to not have anything to do with the pleasures and allurement of the world. We are not to get attached to possessions or people who live in direct contrast to the will of God. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot live a life that is devoted to God and yet have admiration or a desire to please the fickle behavior and attitude of those who give lip service to God, if any recognition at all.
There is to be no such thing in the life of a child of God as being pious on the day of worship and then carry on during the rest of the week mired in the things of the world system or the appeal to satisfy the flesh. What you’re doing is instigating a struggle as to who is in charge of your life – either your flesh, or Jesus Christ. Paul addressed this in Romans 6:8-14. As a person matures in the faith and is more apt to let Christ run his life, the desire to do the works of the flesh will diminish. This maturity can be quick in development or may take a period of time. Going at it alone is not taught in the Word. That is why we need each other (Hebrews 10:25) to help each other and to encourage the brethren in this walk we have with the LORD while in the world.
John plainly states in verse 15 that there is no way we can love both God and the world. It goes back to what the Lord Jesus taught in Luke 16:13. Throughout Scripture, the LORD calls for total devotion. There is no room for half-heartedness, and especially not in this day and age where the devil and his minions are doing their dead-level best to get carnality within the confines of the church and compromise the message of the gospel.
Everything we see happening to the followers of Jesus Christ, especially in countries where the faith is persecuted, is part of the end-time narrative, but so are the predictions made by Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12) and those of our LORD (Luke 18:8). We are living in the consequences of the established church’s decision to adapt to the demands of society and the diminishment of the preaching of the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Save for a dedicated remnant, most of what passes for Christianity these days is lip service and self-perceived opinions of how God should run things.
What are the results of living in the world?
According to verse 16, it boils down to two elements that make up the bulk of a fleshly attitude, and that is of lust and pride. It started with the attitude of Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-17) and his inevitable rebellion towards God that led to his expulsion from heaven, along with a third of the angels. This attitude of lust and pride was offered to the first couple, although disguised in a subtle way as to cause doubt in their minds about whether God was not giving them everything they needed (Genesis 3:5). The serpent appealed to the craving of what every person on earth then and now truly desires, and that is to be their own deity and control their own lives without God. This thinking is shown all throughout Scripture along with the dire consequences, either being the loss of power, influence, or life.
The devil hasn’t changed his strategy. He still instills doubt about God’s provision and direction for our lives. He looks for every opportunity to make us believe that we can go at it alone and that the world is our oyster if we just believe in our potential and confidence – or adopt an attitude that belief in Christ is tantamount to asking Him for the things of this world and to make us healthy and prosperous, without making Him Lord and Savior and following His direction.
I firmly believe that those who proclaim the “prosperity gospel” are doing nothing more than adapting Satan’s temptations for a gullible, non-discerning, biblically ignorant population. He offered health, wealth, and prosperity to our LORD, and failed (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). He’s hoping to lure an unsuspecting world into the same trap, hoping that someone doesn’t interfere with his plans by presenting the gospel.
To ignore the truths of salvation by thinking that the things of the world can satisfy will lead to the end of your life with horrid eternal consequences (Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 25:41). All of the money, mansions, jets, cars, and goods possessed by what one preacher refers to as “prosperity pimps” means nothing in terms of the loss of one’s soul (Matthew 16:26). The poorest man who has a relationship with Jesus Christ is wealthier than any billionaire living today. The early Christians loved not their own lives, but were totally sold out for Christ. So, what’s our problem?
John sums up this portion of Scripture by putting it plainly that this world is dying and will soon be as nothing. Everything that we see here will be burnt up according to the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:10-13). When we read the book of Revelation, we are a witness to the fact that this present world will grow more and more evil and that God will judge the world with terrible disasters, wars, demon invasions, asteroid strikes, immense heat, drought, hunger, and the end of society as we know it.
I wouldn’t sweat the temperature of the Earth going up a degree or two in light of what is fixing to come. When the day of the LORD comes, it will put an end to human pride and arrogance and evil behavior once and for all, and He will inaugurate the new heavens and the new earth, free from sin, death, the devil, and disease forever with Jesus Christ ruling from the New Jerusalem for all eternity. Those who trusted in themselves or who were sold out to the world, the flesh, and the devil will suffer in the Lake of Fire for all time, with no hope of ever getting out.
This is a good place to come to a conclusion. The next verses of Chapter 2 deal with the spirit of the Antichrist and those who follow his lead. In the meantime, if you’re not certain about where you stand with the LORD, I implore you to make your peace with Him through Jesus Christ today (2 Corinthians 6:2). I pray that these studies so far have strengthened your faith and produced a hunger for God’s Word.