On Children, Fathers, and Young Men

On January 1, 2017, I was privileged to begin the new year at my church by preaching in our worship services.  Here is my sermon from I John 2:12-14.

On Children, Fathers, and Young Men (text)

Today begins a new year and with that, many of us will start New Year’s resolutions.  Whatever they may be, these resolutions generally become less and less important as the year progresses.

As a church family, in the past we’ve engaged “new year resolute discipling,” if you will.  You recognize these as things like intentional Bible reading such as Wisdom from the Word, and The Bible Speaks to Me, and most recently The New Testament:  As It Was Written.

We’ve also focused on intentional prayer, with our emphasis last fall on Pray As You go on Wednesday evenings.

And we equip, which is a very real Biblical practice.  We equip in spirit and skills.

We equip through our excellent ongoing, year-round Bible study groups, especially in our very traditional and time-tested Sunday School.

We’ve already started this year by studying our annual January Bible Study which this time around is in the book of Malachi.  Alvin Trusty is leading my Route 66 Class during Sunday School each Sunday this month in the Activity Center.

And as we like to do each year, we’ll emphasize January Bible Study by having a guest teacher/preacher on Sunday, January 22.  On that day, Dr. Alan Branch, professor at Midwestern Baptist Seminary and long-time friend of our church, will lead us into the world of Malachi like you’ve never heard it before.

We also equip in skills like personal evangelism, how to study the Bible, servant evangelism, how to work the mission field, how to become a church member, how to become a better teacher, and much more.

When we look back on the year, we see much that has been accomplished for the kingdom – together – no matter your age or the distance you’ve walked in your faith in Christ.

This morning, let’s hear from the self-described elder, John the Apostle, and the words of encouragement he spoke to children, fathers, and young men.

If you are able, would you stand for the reading of God’s Word from I John 2:12-14.

(12) I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.

(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 wicked one.  I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father.

(14) I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning.  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.

If I’ve learned anything at all form Pastor Ken it’s how to make a detour before teaching a lesson or preaching a sermon.  So here we go with a three part detour that I hope will set the stage for all of us as we look into the Apostle John’s encouragement for saints who are alive and living for Christ right now – saints of any age and saints of any distance walked in faith.

DETOUR A:  Who were the little children?  “Little children” was a phrase commonly used by spiritual elders in the Bible when they referred to young or new believers.

For example, Jesus used the phrase, little children, in John 21:5, “Children, have you any food?”

John also used it throughout his Gospel and three letters, such as in 2:1, 28; and 3:18.

Paul used it as a singular title for his sons of faith, like Timothy and Titus.

We also use the phrase today but with a little twist:  We say “kids” – and not just referring to our own young or grown children, but in many instances for those generally younger than us.  I said it just the other day to a young adult couple leaving church for home, “You kids be safe.”  Man, I feel old when I do that!

In John’s day, his little children were faced with difficult circumstances.  Their fellowship was challenged by a corrupt world system.  The government was oppressive.  Their own people – their own peers – taunted them and condemned their spiritual walk in what was known as The Way of Christ.  Their culture lacked love.

These little children were faced with false doctrine – lies and deceitful intention to drive them away from faith in Jesus.  John told his kids in verse 21 that he was not writing them because they believed the lies, but was writing them because they knew the truth.  Now THAT was encouraging to these new and young believers:  an apostle affirming for them that they knew the truth.

He reminded them that their sins were forgiven for the sake of Christ’s name.  And he reminded them that they knew the Heavenly Father, more affirmation from the elder himself.

DETOUR B takes us to the fathers:  Who were the fathers?  These were the older ones who had advanced in their knowledge of Christ.  They retained a clear memory of the grace given them when they were little children, so to speak.  These were men and women and mentors – elder adults.

We use the term “fathers” in a similar way today, as in “founding fathers,” which also includes “founding mothers.”  And, as in “fatherly advice,” or as in the term “father-figure” or “mother-figure.”  And even as in the title “mentor.”

The fathers John wrote were the older, mature, seasoned followers of Christ who took it upon themselves to be responsible for the spiritual welfare and growth of the little children we just mentioned.  These seasoned saints taught the truth of the Gospel.

As the elder over the elders, John assured them that they indeed knew Christ.  They knew Him as the eternal God and Father.  He assured them that what he had written before was the truth, and again, that they knew this truth.

They were fathers, mothers, mentors.  These knew the eternal Holy God.  As this letter was read aloud, it’s certain that many knew of whom John was talking – we can picture the glances at the father-figures sitting in the midst of those believers, glances that signaled the identity of respected fathers of faith.

And DETOUR C asks the question:  Who were the young men?  These were the ones who were following in their fathers’ footsteps.  These were both young men and young women.  They had learned from their elders – their mentors – how to have joy even when surrounded by a dark cloud of evilness.

We use a similar title today for whom John called “young men.”  You guys know what I’m talking about. I just said it!  Guys.  We say you guys when we really mean to say you guys and gals.  Some things never change.

John spent a little more time uplifting these young guys, and of course that was directed at both young men and young women who walked in the truth.

These guys stood between the little children and the fathers as examples of how to establish fellowship and keep the brotherhood together.  As a side note, BROTHERHOOD is a term we also use today to generally refer to both men and women of faith.

We say it when we pledge to the Christian Flag:

I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands, one brotherhood uniting all Christians in service and in love.

This is a good time along our detour to remind us that all truth in Scripture regarding Biblical standards for Godly living are for both men and women.

Back to John writing to the guys…  They were also the ones learning true doctrines of faith, and who would be responsible for passing along and protecting those truths when they themselves became fathers and mothers and mentors in the faith.

John celebrated with these young guys their coming of age as they overcame the wicked one – not just overcoming evil in general or the evil culture around them, but overcoming the evil one himself, Satan, the father of lies.

These young guys knew what they were up against:  an evil one who tried to plant the very gates of hell into their young lives in order to establish his wicked empire in every soul he could assault.  But these guys knew the Truth – Jesus – and as Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:18, the gates of hell would not prevail against them.

John told these guys that they were strong, that the Word of God was alive in them, and that they were great, fierce overcomers.  Listen:  When you overcome Satan, you overcome everything he stands for; and you can only overcome him in the name of the great overcomer Himself:  Jesus.

Well, like many detours, it has taken us farther than the main route.  But there are three short and succinct points to ponder:

Number 1)  How will you be like little children in this new year?  We are all children, you know, and Jesus Himself would have us be this way.  So how will you be in 2017?

There was once two best friends who became teachers.  As the years went by, they found themselves in a small village school, one of them as a teacher, the other as the schoolmaster.  After many years, the day came when the teacher would teach her last lesson.  Her best friend, the schoolmaster, decided to surprise her, so she secretly arranged for the teacher’s students of past years, young and old, to be present in the last class.  The hour came when the elderly teacher walked into the room expecting to teach her handful of little children.  Instead, she was greeted by a room thronging with people.  They were tightly pressed against the walls, crammed into all the chairs and desks, and sitting on the floor.  The elderly schoolmaster came in a moment later.  Her friend, the teacher, was at a loss for words.  “I don’t know what to do,” she humbly proclaimed.  Her elderly friend, the schoolmaster, slowly lowered herself onto the floor, took a seat among the little children, looked up at her friend and said, “Teach us.”

This year, be teachable.

Number 2)  How will you be like a father this new year?  Or a mother, or a mentor – an elder to those who are coming up behind you?  We will all get old, you know.  What will 2017 be like as you begin to show your age in the faith?

This past week, Jody and I visited our daughter and son-in-law and grandkids.  One night, I rocked my seven month old grandson to sleep.  As his eyes began to close, his little hand found my little finger.  There, in the dark, he began to work his way up my fingers, his little fingers climbing my fingers like a ladder.  In a moment, he got to my thumb, and there, in his sleep, he grasped my thumb and held tightly.  The father in me sensed that he wanted something, so I gently closed my hand and held his little hand as he clung to my thumb.  I could feel his little body relax, then softly breath as he snuggled into the safety of a strong man.

Fathers, mothers, mentors:  There are many “little children” all around, reaching out to you.  All they want is an older person, a strong father-figure, a faithful follower, to hold their spiritual hand and not let go, in good times and in not so good times – in those times when they make a mistake or misspeak something, or blow it in a big way.

They want an elder to understand, to not judge, to hold them and love them, to walk with them, to pick them up when they can’t pick themselves up.  Just to uplift them in every moment of their walk of faith – because, you know, they’re just little children.

Be the father.  Be the Mother.  Be the mentor…  when all is well and when all is bleak.

This year, be the man.

Finally, number 3)  How will you be the young man or the young woman in 2017?  How will you overcome the evil one?

There was a young Man once who stood in the midst of a people of unspeakable wickedness.  An evil leader rallied a charge against Him.  Everyone followed the deceitful cause.  At the very moment when the young Man and the evil leader clashed, the young Man stretched out His arms, making Himself completely vulnerable to the wickedness around Him.  Nails were suddenly pounded through His hands and into rough-hewn logs to fasten Him unmovable.  In a happy fit of rage and seeming victory, the evil leader reached up and grabbed the foot of the young Man as if to keep Him in place with a death grip so painful that it instantly bruised the young Man’s heel.  Satan laughed.  And Jesus ended it all with three words:  Father, forgive them.

The death grip of the ruler of this age was no match for what was to come.  Three days later, the dead body of the young Man obeyed the command of the Heavenly Father to come back to life.  And not just any life.  This is life of eternity.  Jesus broke out of the grave with such force that it crushed the head of the wicked one, Satan himself.  There stood the real Victor.  Jesus.  King of kings and Lord of lords.  The Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end.

One young Man did for everyone what no man living could do:  He died for our sins, was buried dead, and came back to life to put an end to Satan and his wicked schemes.  And this Man offers eternal life to young men and women, to older ones, to little children, if all you would do is believe in Him.

This year, 2017 – no, this day, today – have you confessed, “Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, who has come into the world to save people from their sins?”

Be teachable.

Be the man.

Be His.