NKJV Notes by Pastor Mike Sasso
True Spiritual Growth
Remember the tortoise and the hare in Aesop's Fables? The hare boasted that he was the swiftest animal in the forest. When he challenged the others to a race, only the tortoise dared to try. To the hare, it seemed an unfair contest, since he would win easily. But off they started, with the tortoise soon trailing far behind. On the way, the hare decided there was time for a nap, but the tortoise kept plodding along. When the hare awoke, he couldn't see the tortoise anywhere, so he laughed and said, "He still hasn't caught up with me!" But as he ran toward the finish line, he saw the tortoise crossing it. Slowly and steadily, the tortoise had won!
Like that foolish hare, some believers are "fast movers" whose Christian lives are full of stops and starts. But they often complain that they're getting nowhere fast. The better testimony would be "I'm getting somewhere slowly." This is more realistic - for true learning, growing, and overcoming are gradual experiences.
A philosopher once said, "The essential thing in heaven and on earth should be long obedience in the same direction."
There are no shortcuts on the road to spiritual maturity. In the next few verses John gives us a picture of various stages of spiritual growth. May we each gain a consistent and steady spiritual walk as we continue in our persistent study of God’s Word together.
STUDY NOTES: verses 12-17
v. 12 I Write to You, Little Children, Because Your Sins are Forgiven You for His Name’s Sake – There is something fresh and exciting about the attitude of a brand new Christian. Though they are just “little children” spiritually speaking, it is a joy to be around them. Why? They may not have accomplished anything great for the kingdom of God yet. But one thing they know is that their sins are forgiven. And what a joy it is to truly know and comprehend that fact! A brand new Christian may not know all the theological truths of scripture yet. But what he does know produces that “first love” that we should be careful to never lose! (Rev. 2:4-5)
Also notice the phrase “for His name’s sake.” When a person is “born again” and first enters spiritual life, it is not because of any work or achievement of his own. It is “for His name’s sake.” In other words, a person begins new life because of and in the name of Jesus Christ! Compare this thought with the gospel of John 1:12-13.
v. 13 I Write to You, Fathers, Because You Have Known Him Who is From the Beginning – Now just as there are those who are spiritual “children” who are new and inexperienced in spiritual things, there are also spiritual “fathers.” The fathers John is writing to are those who have grown in their knowledge of God. The word “known” in this verse is the Greek word “ginosko” which means to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of, perceive, feel. This Greek word is so personal and intimate that it is often used to describe sexual intercourse (Matt. 1:25 KJV/NKJV). In the context of John’s letter this knowledge would involve both a deep knowledge of the Word of God as well as personal experience of walking with God.
I would like to point out two more things here before moving on. First, we would do well to recognize those who are “fathers” spiritually in our sphere of fellowship. These are the ones who have been proven through the time and tests of life. Know who they are and learn from them. Secondly, even the spiritual fathers need to stay in the Word and be instructed. John here is writing to the fathers. Don’t ever think you have outgrown your need for the comfort and correction of God’s Word.
I Write to You, Young Men, Because You Have Overcome the Wicked One – A person who may be considered a young man spiritually is one who has grown past spiritual infancy. This is a person who has been through a few trials and temptations and has overcome. This person is still in process. Yet, as verse 14 will reveal, the trials he has experienced have matured him and made him strong. It is also important to recognize that there is a “wicked one” to overcome. The spiritual young man has come to understand the truths concerning the devil and the importance of resisting his devices (2 Cor. 2:11 Eph. 6:11,12; 1 Pet. 5:8).
I Write to You, Little Children, Because You Have Known the Father – Again John addresses the spiritual children. He encourages them by reminding them that they have known the Father. We already discussed the knowledge and joy of the forgiveness of sin possessed by the little children. But we must also recognize that the characteristic of a true Christian, no matter how young or old, is that they know God. This is one of the major themes of John’s writings. See 1 John 5:10-13.
v. 14 I Have Written to You, Fathers, Because You Have Known Him Who is From the Beginning – Adding to what we have already learned about spiritual fathers, notice that there is a depth of doctrine in this verse. “Him who is from the beginning” refers to the doctrine of the eternal existence of God and even the deity of Jesus Christ. The little children in verse 13 may know the Father, but the extra bit of theology in this verse makes a big difference in the depth of a person’s knowledge of God. See John.1:1-3,14; Col. 1:16-19; 2:8-9, Heb. 1:2-3b. A “father” is one who has grown up doctrinally and theologically.
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 – John mentions young men again here. Only this time he points out the reason they “are strong” and how they have been able to overcome the wicked one. It is because the word of God abides in them! King David was in agreement with this when he wrote Psalm 119:9-11. You can never grow up spiritually and be “strong” apart from the knowledge of God’s word! (Joshua 1:8-9, John 8:31-32)
Now that John has specifically addressed Christians in their various stages of spiritual growth, he gives instructions that apply equally to all.
v. 15 Do Not Love the World – This command seems to contradict John 3:16 where we are told that “God so loved the world.” But the point John is trying to make here is that we are not to love the priorities of the world nor the value system of this world. God loves all the people of the world and expects us to do the same. But the world’s value system is contrary to God’s value system and should not be embraced.
Or the Things in the World – Notice again that John’s focus here is on the things, not the people. We are to love all people. But we are to beware of the snare of materialism. Loving things can be one of the biggest factors in preventing us from loving God and loving people.
If Anyone Loves the World, the Love of the Father is Not in Him – Someone has once called this section of scripture a description of “the love that God hates.” You cannot love the value system of this world and love God at the same time. They are diametrically opposed to each other.
v. 16 For All that is in the World — When I was a young Christian this verse used to bother me. Because I used to think, “I love the flowers and trees and mountains and sky and the stars… Is this opposed to the love of God?” As I continued to study God’s word I came to realize that John wasn’t talking about the ecosystem here. All of nature is God’s beautiful design and creation. Nature declares God’s glory (Ps. 19:1). John is about to clarify for us exactly what it is about this world that makes it contrary to the love of God. So pay close attention to the next few phrases.
The Lust of the Flesh - “Lust” is passionate desire or strong longing. Some lust can be good (see Gal. 5:17; James 4:5 NKJV). But here John points out the kind of lust that is evil, “lust of the flesh.” There are a great variety of lusts of the flesh. For some examples of lusts of the flesh, see Matt. 5:28; Rom. 13:14; 1 Cor. 10:6; Titus 3:3; 1 Pet. 2:11; 4:2,3. The lust of the flesh is any desire of the body that goes against God’s desire and plan for your life.
The Lust of the Eyes - The tenth commandment tells us not to covet. It is through the eyes that covetousness is activated (see Prov. 27:20). “The lust of the eyes” is any desire stirred up through our eyes that makes us unsatisfied with God’s blessings in our lives and causes us to crave for more. Ex. 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
And the Pride of Life — Pride is to glory in one’s self. This is an arrogant perspective of life which loses perspective of God’s grace and goodness. We must remember that all that we are and all that we have is a result of God’s gifting and goodness rather than our own. The danger of the self-esteem cult of today is that it can teach us to love and value ourselves rather than to love and value the God who made us. It’s been said that the center of pride and sin are both the same letter. It is the letter “i”.
Is Not of the Father but is of the World – All of the above mentioned lusts are the distinguishing marks of the world. The lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life are NOT of the Father. When these things are present in your life you must recognize that these are things of the world and NOT of the Father.
v. 17 And the World is Passing Away, and the Lust of it - We know that someday the earth as we know it will be destroyed and there will come a new heaven and earth (2 Pet. 2:10-13, Rev. 21:1). Therefore lusting for anything that is of this world is a lust for the temporary.
But He Who Does the Will of God Abides Forever – We must never forget that there are things that are temporary and there are things that are eternal. The things of this world are temporal. All who invest in this world will someday lose their investments. The things of God are eternal. Those who invest their lives in doing God’s Will will never be disappointed. They will “abide forever.” The famous missionary Jim Eliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim had the right perspective and it caused him to do the will of God. Jim has since died and gone to be with the Lord. Jim now abides forever.
Q. 1 Who are the little children John is writing to and what sets them apart from fathers or young men?
Q. 2 Who are the young men John is writing to? What are some of their strengths and weaknesses?
Q. 3 Can you name a few men and women from your fellowship who might be considered young men spiritually speaking? (Don’t get hung up on the reference to gender here)
Q. 4 What sets the fathers apart from the young men and little children? Who are some of the men or women in your fellowship that you would consider spiritual fathers?
Q. 5 What have we learned in this text about the advantage and importance of God’s word?
Q. 6 What does John mean when he tells us not to love the world or the things in the world?
Q. 7 What is the lust of the flesh? What are some specific examples of this? Since there are many types of fleshly lusts come up with at least 3 different types.
Q. 8 What is the lust of the eyes? What are some of the ways people get caught up in this type of lust today? Be specific and varied in your answers. (The reason we are pushing for detail in these questions is because each member of your small group must clearly understand some of the things that may be considered normal or acceptable by the world’s standards but are not acceptable to God.)
Q. 9 What is the Pride of life?
Q. 10 Read Prov. 16:18, Jer. 9:23-24, 1 Tim. 3:6 and explain how you see these concepts tying into our study on pride.
Q. 11 Ask a few volunteers to put verse 17 in their own words. Feel free to expand this to your own personal amplified version. Then enter into a time of prayer to allow God to deal with your hearts concerning the things you have been studying.
This text is certainly a challenge to every honest Christian. The battle with lust and pride will be with us as long as we live in a body of flesh. But remember the encouragement and exhortation in verses 12-14. You have come too far to give up now. And remember the promise of God that, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it” (Phil. 1:6).
Purposing to Abide Forever in God’s Will With You,,