Summary: When we grow with God we'll avoid embracing the world.
Going to the Next Level
Rev. Brian Bill
Years ago, a “Dear Abby” column ran a story by a retired schoolteacher. One day she had her students take out some paper and list the names of the other students in the room. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. She took the papers home and compiled a list for each student of what the others had said about him or her. She then gave each student his or her list.
Before long, everyone was smiling. “Really?” one whispered. “I didn’t know anyone liked me that much!” Years later, the teacher went to the funeral of one of her former students, who had been killed in Vietnam. Many who had been in her class years before were there. After the service, the young man’s parents approached the teacher and said, “We want to show you something. Mark was carrying this when he was killed.” The father pulled out of a wallet the list of all the good things Mark’s classmates had said about him. “Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”
A group of Mark’s classmates overheard the exchange. One smiled sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in my top desk drawer at home.” Another said, “I have mine, too. It’s in my diary.” “I put mine in our wedding album,” said a third. “I bet we all saved them,” said a fourth. At that point, the teacher sat down and cried. She used that assignment in every class for the rest of her teaching career (as quoted by Pastor Steven Cole).
This reminds me of what a poet once said: “Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” The Book of 1 John is filled with conviction as we’ve been corrected and urged to go deeper in our faith. We were challenged last week to live like Jesus lived and to love like Jesus loved. How’ve you been doing with that? I don’t know about you, but I could use some encouraging words from God’s Word today.
Please turn to 1 John 2:12-17 and follow along as I read: “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 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 evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
It’s always a good practice when studying a passage of Scripture to make some observations. Here are some things I wrote down.
• This passage seems to stand out from the rest of the book; almost like it could be part of a poem or creed or maybe even a song.
• The tenor of this text is filled with personal encouragement, not necessarily exhortation; it’s more comforting than commanding.
• These verses are repetitious with some of the phrases repeated verbatim. This shows that John is a good teacher.
• Six times we see the phrase, “I write to you…because.”
• John uses endearing family terms – dear children, young men and fathers.
• These different terms seem to represent different stages of spiritual maturity, though in another sense every believer has experienced all three at the same time. By the way, the word “stages” is better than “levels” because levels imply that someone’s better or higher than someone else. That’s actually what the Gnostics taught.
Some commentators believe that there are only two categories represented here because the phrase, “Dear children” is used throughout the book to refer to all believers. However, since the Greek word actually changes to refer to “young children” in verse 13, I believe there are three distinct groups mentioned.
I’m going to use three different sized chairs to represent three different stages of spiritual growth.
1. The spiritually young. Let’s look first at what I’m calling the spiritually young. Let’s pull verse 12 together with the last part of verse 13: “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name…I write to you, dear children because you have known the father.” In this beginning stage of the spiritual life, two big things stand out.
• Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a foundational truth and a defining characteristic of a child of God. Notice it says that our sins “have been forgiven,” not “might be or maybe.” And they’re forgiven “on account of his name.” Jesus died on the cross in our place, taking our punishment, so that our sins might be forgiven. I talked to someone this week about the importance of having our sins forgiven. As I presented the gospel as clearly as I could this individual said something that shocked me: “I’m not sure I want my sins forgiven.” That response baffled me all day. Why wouldn’t you want your sins forgiven?