Terms of Engagement –1 John 2:13

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.
–1 John 2:13

As you read over these several verses of John’s letter, only a very inattentive mind could fail to see the poetic structure that the apostle uses. “I write to you,” he says, first to children, then to fathers, and then to young men before repeating the sequence. His reasons in each case are different, or they’re sort of different. He repeats his reasons to fathers. The reasons for young men are similar, but they do change. So what are we to make of this whole thing? Are there messages for children that do not apply to fathers? And what about the young men who are also fathers?

In 2:1, John addresses everything to “my little children,” so perhaps all of these audience designations refer to the same people. John simply refers to them as children, fathers, and young men, just as someone might refer to me as grandfather, father, and son.

While this claim is not terribly remarkable or helpful–after all, none of us were among the original audience John had in mind when he penned these words–I believe there is another blurring of distinctions with much more import for us. If the recipients are truly all the same, then might the reasons for writing not overlap as well?

Obviously knowing “the Father” and knowing “him who is from the beginning” are the same thing. Just as obviously, overcoming the evil one is something different . . . or is it? How does one come to know the Father? I would suggest that happens only by overcoming the evil one. And that very overcoming, we are assured in Romans, can only take place through grace and faith, a gift of God. In other words, you can’t overcome the evil one without knowing the Father. All of this, of course, hinges on the forgiveness of sins that we read about the first verse of this cadence, forgiveness through Christ’s name.

In “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” Martin Luther writes about Satan, “One little word will fell him.” That word, the powerful name of Jesus, is the key to all, the key to our relationship with the Father, the key to our freedom from our adversary, and our key to eternity. What better thing could John think to write about?