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1 John 2:12-17
When Identity and Actions Are Incompatible
Last year I brought an USB router off ebay – it was really cheap. I made sure it was being sold by a seller based in Australia. It turned out that, somehow, sellers can pretend they are based in Australia even when they are not.
When the router came the plug was the style they use in America.
American plugs don’t fit into Australian electrical sockets.
I now know why the USB router was so cheap – it was incompatible.
Incompatible means that two things are so different they cannot go together.
Sometimes you can come up with ways to make them go together. In my case I brought a plug adapter and the USB router works fine.
But there are other times where, no matter what you do, you cannot get the two incompatible things to go together.
Our text today from 1 John 2:14-17 tells us about two situations which are incompatible.
1 John 2:12-17
12 I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.
14 I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know 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.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.
Up to this point in the letter John has been asking some very significant questions and getting the readers to think deeply about the state of their faith relationship.
And if we are honest it has been pretty intense.
Do I claim to be one sort of person and live a different way?
Am I deceiving myself?
Have I become a hypocrite?
These have been pretty intense discussions. It has been necessary … but it has been intense. Now because John is disciples with a strong pastoral heart John knows that intense discussions like this can only go on for so long. So here John takes a break to remind the readers who they are … to give them reassurance about their Christian identity.
So who are the “children”, the “fathers” and the “young men”?
And you are also thinking, “What about the mothers and the young women?”
Well, actually, those two questions are linked.
Starting with the children. John is not focussing on a specific age group.
The Finns, Leons, Arthurs, Lydias, Enus, Jirehs, Micahs, Gabbies, Abbys, Ambers and Theos.
John loves the children.
NEC loves the children as well.
But in this text children are not defined by age – rather it is a collective of a group of people.
1 John 2:1
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin
1 John 3:7
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.
The children are all the members of all the congregations that John is writing to. They are the ones whose sins have been forgiven. They are the ones who know the Father. The “children” are all of us who believe in Jesus … male or female.
“Children” is a collective word.
“Fathers” is also a collective word.
It is not a collective for a group of people – it is a collective for a spiritual stage of life. That stage when we have a mature faith that enables us to be able to speak spiritual direction into the lives of others. The “fathers” are those to whom we go for training in Christian living.
So this collective includes males and females.
But also realise that this collective does not necessarily refer to people who are older. There are some “fathers” who are quite young, yet it is to these people that some will go for spiritual direction and training. Equally true is the fact that there are some older people to whom very few would turn to as “father” – they just don’t have the maturity.
John is saying that within the readers such “fathers” exist – they are the ones who have known him who is from the beginning.
“Young men” is also a collective … it also refers to a stage of life.
It is that stage after you have first come to know Jesus and you are growing and developing as a Christian. It is often a time of enthusiasm and feeling that the Lord is really giving you strength and development.
The “young man” stage is a time of foundational learning and willing service.
“Yong men” is also a collective that includes males and females and, as before, it is not defined by age. These who identify with this collective have strength and they have overcome.
1 John 4:4
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
When you read these words … where John says the children have overcome … and then think back to the collectives of “children” “fathers” and “young men” … well that gives further support to the idea that John doesn’t have in mind here age groups or gender groups.
Indeed, you get a sense that John isn’t really making a sharp distinction between the groups. The characteristics that are applied to one group in our verses … are applied to the whole church in other places in 1 John.
So the purpose here is not for you to try and identify which group you are in.
“Children.” “Fathers.” “Young Men.” In fact there is a sense where we fit into different groups depending on the circumstances in our lives.
In some areas we have great “father-like” maturity and others do look to us for spiritual guidance in those areas.
In other areas we have “young men” maturity and we are still growing and we are still looking to others.
So don’t primarily look at these verses and say, “which one am I?” Rather look at these verses and let them give you assurance. You are part of the collective. You are part of the body.
John is writing so that you can be reassured about your identity.
Once we have been reassured John then goes on to make his point of application.
Many Bibles have a heading break between verse 14 and verse 15.
The heading is an indicator that there is a new topic, or a new focus.
But there shouldn’t be a break. Verses 12-17 are one unit.
Verses 12-14 reassure us of our identity.
Verses 15-17 then tells us why John has reminded us and reassured us.
John wants us to be assured that there is an incompatibility between our identity and the world.
“Do not love the world or anything in the world.”
That takes a bit of thought to apply properly.
Because there is the Scripture, written by John in John 3:16, which clearly says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.”
So does that mean we are not to love, even though God’s love for the world continues?
To apply this verse properly we need to understand what John means when he uses the word “world”. In this verse we are talking about the world as that place which lives in darkness and is under the judgement of God. In this world we find “the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Yes it is true that God sent his son to this world.
Which is just such an incredible act of grace and mercy.
But the purpose of such love is so that we can be “born of God and overcome the world” … John tells us that in 1 John 5:5.
In this world we are an overcomer.
Our identity as a believer means it is incompatible for you to love the world.
Not “love” in the sense that you will show the compassion of Jesus to those who are lost to the world. You indeed want to show that love just as God did.
The love we avoid is the love which is an infatuation with what the world is doing, and all that the world has to offer, and being enticed by that which is an enemy of God.
At this point our impulse may be to start listing all of the evils of the world.
Materialism. Social Media. Gambling. Alcohol. The full sexualization of society. Is that the evils of the world?
Should we avoid buying designer clothes, or play violent video games, or listen to rock music, or not show cleavage, or not let our pants go so low that everyone can see our underwear. Is that the evils of the world?
There was a time, and still some hold to it, when dancing was an evil of the world.
Start a list and off you go. That is the impulse. But that is not the primary point John is making.
John’s focus is not that which is outside. John’s gets each of us to focus … within.
“The lust of the flesh.”
“The lust of the eyes.”
“The pride of life.”
That is not the “out there stuff” … well it is because the world is against God and it will keep offering all the things that are against God.
But it is not the “out there stuff” that brings the incompatibility.
It is when a love … an infatuation for the stuff out there … drives a desire in here.
The lust of the flesh.
In 1 Peter 4:3-4 Peter gives us a sense of the lust of the flesh. Peter says:-
3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.
Lust of the flesh seeks to find fulfilment and purpose n that which can never give fulfillment or purpose.
The lust of the eyes.
It isn’t talking primarily about lust caused by sensuality … rather it is talking about being distracted or captivated by outward appearances without looking at the real value.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
The woman saw … and that led to the fall. Lust of the eyes.
The pride of life.
It is an attitude of arrogance which is based on the false confidence that comes because of my wealth, or my achievements, or my status in society. Effectively the pride of life causes us to turn towards God and say “I don’t need you and I am certainly not dependant on you.”
We can’t put our security in these things.
But the pride of life makes us put our security here – and it is a false security.
“The lust of the flesh.”
“The lust of the eyes.”
“The pride of life.”
None of this comes from God.
Indeed God is so determined that he wants nothing to do with such things that He has decreed that such things will pass away.
They are nothing.
They are less than mist.
They are … incompatible.
Today as you are reassured of your identity “children”, “fathers”, “young men” – know this.
The world wants to undo our faith. To make us question and doubt.
The world will do this by trying to make you fall in love.
When it does hold on to your identity.
Find security in your identity.
Move forward in your identity.
And, every time, you will see just how incompatible an “overcomer” and “the world” really are.