“I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.” I John 2:14b
After reviewing foundational truth about their position in Christ as “little children… fathers… and young men” (2:12-13b), the apostle John repeats the same three stages of spiritual development to assure them that he is aware of their spiritual growth (2:13c-14).
“By repeating the three categories under which he here addressed his audience, John suggested not only that they possessed spiritual attainments worthy of being called children, fathers, and young men, but also that they possessed these attainments in ample measure.” 1
This is not what we would expect if John was writing to provide tests for eternal life as some suggest. Clearly, John does not doubt his readers’ salvation experience or their subsequent spiritual growth. He is writing “because” he is assured of their salvation and their deepening fellowship with God (2:12-14). His concern is that their enemies (“antichrists”) may jeopardize their fellowship with God by questioning the genuineness of their salvation experience (2:25-27; 5:9-13) and their subsequent fellowship with the Lord.
In the first series of three we learned about the minimal experience for each stage of spiritual development (2:12-13b). In the second series of three we are given a description of a more advanced spiritual experience for each stage (2:13c-14). 2
“I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father.” (I John 2:13c). As spiritually “little children” (teknion or “little born ones”), John’s readers had experienced the complete forgiveness of their sins at the moment of faith in Christ (2:12; cf. 5:13a). But now he uses a different word for “little children” (paidia) which means “taught ones” 3 and can refer to “one who is open to instruction.” 4 While it is true that all believers in Jesus have experienced the forgiveness of their sins as part of their salvation experience (cf. Acts 10:43; Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14), we learn in this second series of three that John’s readers now “have known the Father.” Forgiveness led them to know the Father more intimately. 5
Unlike newborn infants who scarcely recognize their fathers, these believers have come to know their divine Parent more intimately through spending time with Him. 6 They have grown from merely appreciating God had forgiven all their sins at the moment of faith in Christ (2:12) to knowing God as their Father in a more intimate way through shared time and experience with Him (2:13c). Not all believers advance beyond appreciating the forgiveness of their sins to knowing God more intimately as a result of spending time with Him and obeying Him (I John 2:3-4; John 2:23-25; 14:21). John’s readers had, however, and he encourages them with his awareness of their spiritual growth.
Next John writes, “I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning.” (I John 2:14a). Notice that John’s second description of his readers’ spiritual experience as “fathers” is the same (2:13a, 2:14a). This suggests that nothing can be added to knowing the Eternal One (“Him who is from the beginning”) more intimately. The fact that he repeats this same description implies that they had grown much closer to Christ over time. Their intimate knowledge of God was “fully sufficient.” 7 “They have persevered over the long haul. Circumstances did not dictate their actions.” 8 They kept their eyes on the Eternal One, and grew better not bitter.
John then adds to his readers’ experience as “young men” in his second description of them: “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.” (I John 2:14b). Before repeating what he said the first time about them using the Greek perfect tense (“you have overcome the wicked one”), he adds using the present tense, “you are strong, and the word of God abides in you.” John encourages his readers by telling them they “are strong.” They are ready for spiritual battle. How did they become spiritually “strong”? The phrase “the word of God abides in you” explains how this took place. The word “abides” (menō) is one of John’s favorite descriptive terms for fellowship with God. It means “to remain, stay, dwell, continue.” 9 The reason these believers had become strong spiritually and ready for battle was because God’s Word had made its home in their hearts.
The night before His crucifixion, Christ spoke to His disciples about bearing much fruit to prove they are His “disciples” and glorify God the Father (John 15:8). Christ taught them, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). Answered prayer was based on abiding in Jesus through obedience (cf. I John 3:24) and His words abiding in them.
How can we let Jesus’ words abide in us? I will share a method I learned a couple of years ago called the SWORD Drill. 10 During your Scripture reading, select a verse(s) to focus on as you step through the SWORD Drill. Using this guided process will help you let Christ’s words abide in you so you can experience His Word in a way that changes your heart and renews your mind.
S is for Scripture. Which verse or verses stood out to you in your Bible reading? Write it/them below.
W is for Wait. Take a few minutes to wait on the Holy Spirit. Put aside any thoughts and worries of the day. Meditate on the Scripture. Read the verse(s) above aloud, slowly and attentively. Then pause to let it sink in. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you.
O is for Observe. What did you notice about the verse(s) from above? Was there something that the Holy Spirit spoke to you? Write your observation below.
R is for Request. Ask God to show you where and how the Scripture and observation apply to your life. Write the application below.
D is for Dedicate Yourself. Looking at how the Scripture applies to you, what is one thing that needs to change? Remember, this is not necessarily about something you need to do (or stop doing). Perhaps the change is in the way you see God, yourself, or others.
In Ephesians 6:10-18, the apostle Paul instructed Christians in the city of Ephesus to pray and put on the whole armor of God to withstand the attacks of Satan and his demonic armies. Each piece of armor refers to the way we think (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5). Paul describes the armor that Roman infantrymen wore in the order they would put it on. He begins with the inner armor the soldier would put on first: their “belt” (6:14a) to hold his breastplate and sheathe for his sword in place, his “breastplate” (6:14b), and his shoes (6:15). Then he puts on the outer armor “on top of all” 11 these other pieces of armor (6:16a): his “shield” (6:16b), his “helmet” (6:17a), and his “sword” (6:17b).
This list of armor only has one offensive weapon. The rest are defensive except the shoes, which are neutral. “The sword is the only weapon that can be used for offense. And the most common shield during the time of Paul was not small and circular, but large and rectangular. If you saw a Roman soldier coming at you, about all you would see would be this shield, some feet, and the top of a helmet. So, how is the enemy to overcome this soldier? Answer: he must knock the sword out of the soldier’s hand.” 12
The sword for the Christian is “the word of God” (Ephes. 6:17b). The Greek word for “sword” (machairan) here refers to a short and two-edged weapon, used to cut and stab in hand-to-hand combat. 13 “The word of God” refers to the spoken “word” (rhēma) 14 of God rather than to the written word.
For example, God’s Word abided in Jesus so He could speak the Word to the devil when he tempted Jesus to sin, and the devil was defeated (cf. Matt. 4:1-11). This is “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephes. 6:17b)in that the Holy Spirit gives us the Scripture to speak to the devil when he attacks us on the battlefield, so that the devil will flee from us (cf. Matt. 10:19-20; James 4:7). The Holy Spirit is our Teacher and He will guide us into all truth daily (John 16:13). Learn to rely on Him and listen to His voice.
The fact that this sword was “two-edged” is significant. One edge represents God speaking to you and the other edge represents you speaking God’s Word to the enemy when he tries to attack you.
“When our enemy the devil can take the Word of God out of the hand of a believer, he is well on his way to victory. Conversely, when God’s young men and women wield God’s Word, there is good reason to expect victory over the enemy.
“Here in 1 John 2:14 John tells us what makes the young men strong. It is the Word of God abiding in them. And when we actually go into battle against the world in 2:15-17, we will see the same temptations the devil put in front of Jesus, and we will be reminded that it was through God’s Word abiding in Jesus that He found victory against the temptations of this world.” 15
First John 2:12-14 reminds us that just because a person has been a Christian many years does not mean they are older spiritually. Spiritual growth begins with us as “little children” who experience the Father’s forgiveness the moment we believe in Christ for His gift of salvation (I John 2:12; cf. Acts 10:43; Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14), and then after that as we become aware of sin in our lives and honestly confess it to the Lord to restore or maintain our fellowship with Him in the light (I John 1:5-2:2). As we share the light with the Lord it leads us to know the Eternal One more intimately as “fathers” (I John 2:13a, 14a). When we get to know Christ more intimately, we become more acquainted with His Word and allow it to abide in our hearts and minds so we can speak its truth to the devil when he attacks us on the battlefield. Hence, as vigorous “young men,” we must allow God’s Word to abide in us to experience victory over the wicked one (I John 2:13b, 14b) as we face the world and its many temptations (2:15-17).
What spiritual developmental stage are you in at this time? Are you like a little child who has recently experienced the forgiveness of the Savior for the very first time? Has your experience of God’s forgiveness led you to know God more intimately as a result of spending time with Him? Or do you identify more with a father who has come to know the Eternal One intimately over the long haul no matter what your circumstance? And you are ready to mentor other believers to do the same? Or do you see yourself as a vigorous young man who experiences spiritual victory over the evil one by allowing God’s Word to abide in you and make you strong? Whatever stage you find yourself in, it is essential to know God is on your side and no one is greater than Him.
Prayer: Father God, thank You for Your forgiveness which gives us a fresh start in life the moment we believe in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to know You more intimately as we learn to spend time with You in the light by being open and honest with You about what You reveal to us. May Your Word abide in us so we have the strength to speak Your truth to the devil when he attacks us on the battlefield. Regardless of what spiritual developmental stage we are in, we need You every step of our Christian lives, Father. Thank You for never leaving us nor forsaking us. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3686.
2. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 45.
4. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 749.
5. Again John uses the perfect tense of the stative verb “to know” (egnōkeite) which means to know intensely or intimately. See David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 74; cf. K. L. McKay, “On the Perfect and Other Aspects in the New Testament Greek,” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 23, Fasc. 4 (Brill: 1981), pp. 289-329.
6. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3682.
7. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 592.
8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2938.
9. Bauer, pp. 630-631.
10. Adapted from Pure Desire Ministries at puredesire.org.
11. The majority of Greek manuscripts contain the Greek words epi pasin which mean “on top of all.” See Anderson, pg. 103.
13. Bauer, pg. 622.
14. Ibid., pg. 905.
15. Anderson, pp. 103-104.