Prepare Our Hearts – May 5

A Weekday Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.

Tuesday May 5, 2020
1 John 2:12-14

I am writing to you, little children,
    because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
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.
I write to you, children,
    because you know the Father.
14 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 abides in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one.

Although John’s primary motivation to write this letter was to deal with the increasing influence of the gnostic heresy surrounding, and possibly creeping into, the church at Ephesus, his letter does not contain only dire warnings and reproofs. In light of the difficulties of their present circumstance, including severe persecution at the hands of Rome, John frequently offers positive affirmation to encourage and strengthen the reader. Research has shown consistently that the highest performing teams are ones where positive comments outweigh the negative. One study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Business School revealed the average ratio of positive-to-negative comments for high performing groups of people was nearly six positive comments to every one negative comment. Medium performing teams had about a two-to-one ratio, while low performing teams had three NEGATIVE comments for each positive one. Why is it that higher positivity generally leads to higher performance, at least in the business world? Is it that positive people are blissfully ignorant, blind to the incompetence and inadequacies of their peers? Do positive environments set a lower bar, creating expectations that anyone can meet? Do people just not care as much? In fact, the evidence suggests that because people in more positive environments already feel validated and appreciated, they are more willing to receive criticism and work to correct mistakes because they have learned to value and trust the opinions of those around them. Of course, this principle doesn’t just apply to business or work teams, but to home and church as well. I don’t have much more to add here except to say that I am regularly convicted to seek the Lord’s forgiveness in how I view and speak to those around me.

John, after offering warnings aimed at those who walk in darkness, now offers encouragement and hope. At first it would appear that he is identifying three different age groups (little children, fathers, and young men), but on closer inspection the terms “little children” and “children” are used in reference to all Christians, such as through the rest of the letter. This is a term of both endearment as well as a reminder that they have a new identity which is found in their Heavenly Father. He begins with the greatest words he could offer them, “your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” The phrase “your sins are forgiven” is written in the perfect tense, which signifies that they were not just forgiven once upon a time, but that their forgiveness is once and for all. Forgiveness for the Christian happens the moment they put their faith and trust in Jesus, and it is a permanent removal of the divine judgment and penalty of eternal death that sin carries with it.

Some people (and even churches) mistakenly think that conveying the idea that all of a Christian’s sins (past, present, and future) have already been forgiven, might give people a license to sin more by removing the powerful negative motivator of fear of eternal damnation, but John offers an even more powerful positive motivator: “his name’s sake.” Whose name? Jesus, the Son of God. Because ultimate mercy and forgiveness is not a result of anything that man does or even could do; forgiveness of sin is only available because of what Jesus did for us. Only Jesus has the authority and ability to forgive, which He proved once and for all on the cross. On the cross Jesus took our sin, our guilt, our shame, and offered us His perfect righteousness. As a result of Jesus’ work on the cross, believers have already received a new verdict (innocent), been given a new name (Children of God) and enjoy a new relationship (knowing God as Father). The believer has been set free from the bondage of sin and death for the sake of the name of Jesus.

Having addressed the body as a whole, John now offers unique words of encouragement to those who are more mature in their faith (fathers) as well as newer believers (young men). To the more mature, he writes “because you know him who is from the beginning.” As they have traversed the path of life, faithfully walking in the light of Jesus, they have grown closer and closer to Him who is from the beginning. They no longer ponder or speculate of what God “might” be like, they now know Him and have experienced Him in a personal way. They have received a precious foretaste of what lies ahead, an eternity of intimacy with Him, and their experience has caused them to desire Him and trust Him now more than ever. The wait is almost over, and that day will be more glorious than they could ever imagine.

To newer believers, John offers this final, most-positive, assurance: “you have overcome the evil one.” I don’t know about you, but I used to be jealous of those I knew who had more powerful testimonies than I do. Like them, I wished I could boldly stand up and say that Jesus saved me out of a life of drugs or violence or gross immorality. But as I have gotten to know many of these brothers and sisters in faith, I have discovered that they not only continue to face the challenges and consequences of their actions from before they came to faith, but, just like me, they continue to struggle with their prior sin and temptation even now. One of the most distressing realities of a new Christian is that all sin does not immediately disappear. But John does not berate the immature for their past failure, he instead provides positive reinforcement for the future battle. Although all Christians continue to reside in a world where temptation comes from all around, and even within, and even though they will fail often (and sometimes spectacularly so), they can take courage that they are stronger than they realize because the word of God abides in them. Ongoing struggle with sin is not a mark of defeat, but proof that the One who has overcome the evil one dwells within you even now. Although the conflict rages within the heart of every man, we can take heart, because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. And He must win the battle.

Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we praise You and thank You for these great words of hope and encouragement. You do not scare us into submission or compliance, but forgiven our sins by Your work on the cross. Free us from our fear and regret from the times that we have let You down, that we may live each moment of our lives through the power of Your Spirit for the sake of Your name. Forgive us for our harsh words and critical spirits that place unwarranted burdens on our brothers and sisters, for it is Your kindness that has led to our repentance. Instead of criticism, may we offer the truth and grace of Jesus today. In Your life-giving name we pray, Amen.