In the past couple of days and weeks (maybe even months and years) I have had the opportunity to have very intimate conversations with fellow believers and those who do not know Jesus yet. In many of those conversations sins were confessed and past hurts were talked about. These times are always difficult to me. I know that they are a lot harder to those who confess! A couple of questions which need to be answered before we get into such conversations (and a lot of prayerful discerning during those times) are the following: How do we respond? What is my body language communicating? When to be silent? When to be stern? And so forth…
I am not a professional counselor and I do not adhere to one philosophy of how counseling should be done, but I do know that there need to be words of truth and love. As I was reading Colossians the other day, I realized that Paul is not shy to talk about sins and utter depravity to those he is writing to, but he also emphasizes grace to move on. As one of my friends confessed to me he sins, he asked me: “Is that messed up?” To which I said: “Yes!” … well I also said a whole lot more. My point here is that we do not need to minimize sin in order to feel better, but we also need to emphasize grace and God’s love through which we will conquer the evil one.
This leads us into today’s verses. In 1 John we do have a particularly difficult situation. We have a congregation which is broken by recent developments. Some of their former members have left the community and are still influencing it in a negative way. To this the apostle John writes (taken from the NET Bible):
I am writing to you, little children, that your sins have been forgiven because of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people, that you have conquered the evil one.
I have written to you, children, that you have known the Father.
I have written to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning.
I have written to you, young people, that you are strong, and the word of God resides in you, and you have conquered the evil one.
The question which raises itself is if the hoti-clause (in the NET translated as “that” as in “I am writing to you that…”) should be taken causally (“because”) or as a marker of content (“that”). The latter would indicate the affirmation to the readers that their sins are forgiven. Brown adopts the latter whereas I. Howard Marshall (The Epistles of John [NICNT, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978] 136–37) the former. He states, however that “Greek readers did not make the sharp distinction between the two uses of the conjunction which springs to the mind of the grammarian!”
The NET footnote here says:
“Grammatical considerations aside, these uses of ὅτι are more likely introducing content clauses here rather than causal clauses because such a meaning better fits the context. If the uses of ὅτιare understood as causal, it is difficult to see why the author immediately gives a warning in the section that follows about loving the world.”
This makes a lot of sense. John is writing to this community to tell them who they truly are and so encourage them to move on in victory.
It might well be that “children” refers to all Christians (see also 2:1, 28; 3:7; 18; 4:4; 5:21) and “fathers” as well as “young men” are subgroups. Kruse comments that “[i]t is more likely that when the author addresses the ‘children’ he is addressing all his readers…and that these readers fall into two, not three, different groups: those who may be described as ‘young men’ and those who may be described as ‘fathers’ (PNTC, 88).
Kruse states that in the NT only one other place believers are referred to as “father” (1 Tim 5:1). Yet in that passage it is more a comparative note (“as fathers”) rather than an explicit “category”. He then rightly asserts: “Here the designation ‘father’ is clearly applied to those of more advanced years than the young Timothy, but there is no indication that they are more mature in the faith than Timothy; if anything, the reverse is true (Timothy has a pastoral responsibility towards them)” (PNTC, 89). The “fathers” and “young men” in this and the following verse might only refer to age (advance in years) rather than maturity in faith.
Christ spoke in John 16:33 “I have conquered the world.” The victory over the evil one here then is in connection to Christ’s victory on the cross. Since the believers John is writing to have not been in compliance with Satan and followed the secessionist sect, they have overcome the world.
There is switch in the tense usage. In the first three instances John pens “I am writing” (Gr.: present tense) whereas in the latter three he states “I have written” (Gr.: aorist tense). Until now the author has used the present tense (1:4; 2:1, 7, 8, 12, 13 (2x)), but from now on he will use the aorist tense (2:14 (3x), 21, 26; 5:13; cf. Brown, 297). We have almost an evenly distribution of those tenses (7 present and 6 aorist). Culy (A Handbook of the Greek Text) observes that the switch to the aorist tense brings the discourse to a pause and almost summarizes that which has been said before (41).
Those who know the Father are those “who walk in the light, who keep God’s commands, and who practise love of fellow believers, for elsewhere in the letter he says that these are the marks of those who truly know God (1:5–7; 2:3, 4; 4:7)” (Kruse, PNTC, 92).
These words are meant as an encouragement to the disrupted community. It is good for us to keep in mind whose we are and that the victory has been won. Therefore, let us likewise give everything in obedience to him and march as those who conquer the world with truth and love.