19. Young Men

Meditations in 1 John : 19 : Young Men

1 John  2:13,14    I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one…..I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

So we have thought a little about children and then about fathers, and so now we come to the third group in these strange verses in John’s letter, young men. Before we get to the two verses themselves, what do we know about young men? Let’s put aside some of the features of modern Western males and just consider them worldwide. What do we tend to see? We see young people pushing boundaries. They have life and vitality and are bursting to be themselves, unique individuals not in the mould of their parents. They dare things others would not dare. They dream dreams that have not yet been tempered by life. They have enormous optimism and self-confidence, and these days they often travel the globe in search of adventure. They are also often compassionate and caring and get angry over lacks of justice. The want to change the world!

So let’s look at what John says; “I write to you, young men.”  He could have written to girls, to husbands, to wives and so on, i.e. anyone else, but he chooses young men in the church (it is a letter to believers probably read out in church congregations).  Imagine them sitting among the larger crowd as a local leader reads out John’s letter. It’s a letter for adults and then, suddenly, no it’s not, it’s for us! What is he saying about us? “We have overcome the evil one”.

So what does that mean and why does he say it to young men? Hasn’t every believer actually overcome the evil one (Satan) when we turned to Christ and God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.”? (Col 1:13) Yes, but perhaps sometimes the battle to overcome doubts, fears etc., is greater in some to come through to Christ than it is in others.   Young people, and especially young men are a classic example. We said the young man naturally has self confidence and so much more that they are easy prey for Satan to play on all those things and keep them from coming to Christ. But these young men in the church have overcome his wiles and his temptations and have come through to a place of surrender to Christ, despite all else they naturally feel.

It is interesting to observe different people in different groups or professions or whatever else it may be, battle through the ways of the world and the wiles of the enemy to come to faith and what is especially interesting is that so often those who have come out of certain backgrounds are particularly strong in their faith once they have broken through. Oh yes, they were still sinners who needed the Holy Spirit to bring conviction, but nevertheless there are certain people who once they have come through appear to be more all-out for God. Perhaps this is the reason that John now says to these young men, “I write to you because you are strong.”  For a young man to break free from his culture and his friends and all his natural instincts, and surrender his life to Christ, it does require a certain sort of determination. This is the human aspect of the human plus divine parts of the equation that bring about salvation.

The apostle Paul might be an example of this. He had been a young man who was all-out for God in a religious way and had everything going for him religiously, but then he had his encounter with Jesus and was then as equally all out for God as a committed Christian – and was he committed!  Read 2 Cor 11:23-27 to see this!

These young men are commendable, and if we have them in our midst we need to commend and encourage them. “You are strong.” Yes of course they are; they had to be to have overcome the world and to now stand for Christ. “The word of God lives in you.” Yes it does; yes he does!  The word of God and the Spirit of Jesus living in them makes them strong. I’m sure John, if he had been with them, would have balanced it with, be careful not to get over confident: “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” (1 Cor 10:12,13) but we don’t have to dot every I and cross every T; we can just be encouraging and John is being that for these young men. Do we do that for our young men or do we worry about their vulnerability all the time? Encourage them, bless them!

18. Fathers

Meditations in 1 John : 18 : Fathers

1 John  2:13    I write to you, fathers,  because you have known him who is from the beginning.

In these three verses John addresses three groups and he addresses them each twice. We have seen already how he has addressed ‘children’ and he gave two reasons for writing:   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name,” and “because you have known the Father,” two aspects of the same thing, our salvation. We’ve been forgiven on the basis of what Jesus did on the Cross and now we have ongoing fellowship with the Father. We’ll see later his two words to ‘young men’ are also different, but when it comes to ‘fathers’ the words are identical (v.13a,14a).

Now what is it about ‘fathers’ that makes them different, and does John mean natural fathers or spiritual fathers? Well perhaps the answers to those two questions come in the latter half of the verse: “because you have known him who is from the beginning.” May we suggest there are levels of ‘knowing God’.  There is knowing about God which is about gaining information about him. Then there is knowing God, as a little child knows its father – you have encountered him and experienced Him and almost now take Him for granted; He’s there a part of your life and it is good that He is there, and you are aware of His love and His provision in basic ways.

But then there is a knowing that comes with maturity, that understands much more of who He is and reveres Him for who He is. We come to realise that ‘daddy’ (see Mk 14:36, Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6 – Abba is really ‘daddy) is Almighty God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the One who has always existed. This is the knowing of the father, the mature man or woman who has entered into a relationship with God at new birth and has come to realise the wonder of who and what He is in a much deeper way over the years.

But fathers, by definition, have brought children into the world. It may be physical children and it may be spiritual children, but whichever it is the father has moved into a place of responsibility. The father takes on a new heart for his children, a heart of concern, a heart that wants to provide for the children and protect the children and that is as much true for spiritual children as it is physical children. Having children brings about a new level of maturity because of all that goes with being a father. Yes, fathers get up in the middle of the night when the baby is crying and support their wives when they are having to feed the baby. Husbands take on a new level of responsibility for wife and child, a responsibility that care for, guards, protects and provides for them. All of this works to develop maturity which does not happen when there are no children. (I am aware that we live in days when some have chosen not to have children and these words are not meant to offend, but this is the reality of raising a family).

We might ask, why does John pick out these three groups and now, in this particular case, fathers, and why does he say the same thing to them twice. I would guess that if you were hearing this letter read out for the first time, and you were a father, you might suddenly prick up your ears and listen more intently, especially when you’ve been mentioned twice in a short space of time, and you might then consider how all that John is saying applies to you as a father.

John is passing on what he knows about Jesus and about the Christian faith. He is an old man and may not have much time left to him.  He is aware of the responsibility to pass on the truth. It was a responsibility that had been built intoIsraelfrom early on. Again and again when things happened, the Lord exhorted them not only to remember what happened, but to pass it on to their children and future generations. It started right back at the Exodus (Ex 10:2), and the Passover (Ex 12:26) and the Law (Deut 4:9,10, 6:6-9),  and Crossing the Jordon (Josh 4:6). Passing on the truth to future generations was inherently (and still is) the responsibility before God of fathers.

The closing verses of Psa 92 are pertinent here: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) Surely this must apply to spiritual fathers, those saints who grow old. They may feel limited physically but they can still testify to the truth that years of experience have proved to them: God is good; God can be trusted for He is an unchangeable foundation for us, One who is faithful and unchanging in His love and goodness and there is nothing bad in him! He is like this and always has been like this, right back to before the beginning of time! If we have reached old age, if we can say nothing else, we can say that! And it is true! Hallelujah!

47. Family Harmony

Ephesians Meditations No.47

Eph  6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

The context you may remember is of submission creating unity in the church, the body of Christ. Paul developed that concept through the picture of marriage and now extends it into the whole family. It is a subject – and through these verses especially – that often raises a number of questions. Paul starts off, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” He is looking at the parent-child relationship and so starts with the child who is the one who is most likely to have difficulty with the submission concept. This especially comes so in teenage years when the young person is seeking to find their own identity, and part of that process involves temporarily drawing away from the parent. It is also difficult when the child is a Christian and the parent is not and the parent makes demands that conflict with the faith of the young person. It may also be difficult when the parent is a Christian and the young person has not made a decision for Christ themselves.

In the call to children there are two things that deserve particular attention. The first is the word obey’. The role of the parent in God’s design is to be there to provide for and protect the child and, if we follow Old Testament teaching, to train up the child (Prov 22:6). Part of those things will be to issue instructions which may vary from the mundane (e.g. please will you pick up that toy off the floor), to the more serious, (e.g. I really don’t want you mixing with those teenagers who are taking drugs). If we ever had a question of the reality of sin (rebellion), observe any child! The wilful refusal to do that which is asked (or required) leads us into discipline issues, which are beyond what we have space for here.

The second thing to consider is Paul’s use of the words, ‘in the Lord’. Now he obviously includes these for a reason and that, we suggest, is similar to our thinking when it comes to the requirements of the State. The Law, or the instructions of the parent, should never go contrary to God’s laws, instructions etc. Thus a non-Christian (although tragically this doesn’t exclude some Christian men), who brings instruction to a child that involves them submitting to abuse, is wrong and should not be heeded. Wisdom suggests that as the child gets older instructions give way to discussion, i.e. bald commands give way to explanation. It is always wise to put in some form of explanation with every instruction (e.g. …otherwise your toy might get broken if you leave it there) but in teenage years talking and discussing (in a family forum?) are much better and are an acceptance and recognition of the child’s growing responsibility.

Then Paul gives a reason for ‘obeying’ parents, and it is because it goes with the original Old Testament instruction as the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Honouring is slightly different from ‘obeying’ in that obeying can be an expression of honouring. Honouring is more about having an attitude of respect, a recognition of the role that God has given to this older person. It isn’t about how well they have performed it! So important did God consider this that He made it a condition of blessing, originally in the Promised Land, but now in life generally. I wonder how many young people DON’T realise this (or older ‘children’ too!) that God’s blessing on their life can be curtailed because of a bad attitude towards their parent?  Even when the parent has not been good, godly ‘honouring’ should produce a concern for (and prayer for?) that parent.

There is another side to this submitting which might be simply summarised as ‘don’t make it difficult to be submitted to’: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Why does Paul say this to fathers? First, because fathers, as the ones who have the responsibility before the Lord for the family, should be the ones taking the ultimate action to bring about the training in righteousness of the child and, second, fathers tend to be more heavy handed in these things than the mother. It is thus something that, for both reasons above, the father needs to give particular thought to.

A final comment: in all of these things pertaining to family relationships, legalistic demanding of them does no good. Whatever else is required of such parental leading, the primary thing is love and acceptance. Let those two things temper all you do with your child, and increasingly as they grow older. If there is a genuine loving relationship, there is more likely to be obedience that flows out in response to that love. You will also need to cry to the Lord for wisdom on more than a few occasions! May it be so!

Sins of the Past

WALKING WITH GOD. No.36

1 Kings 15:26 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD , walking in the ways of his father and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit.”

There is a saying, ‘like father, like son’ with the implication that a son will follow his father. There may have been something of that thought behind the Lord’s words at Sinai, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex 20:5). The reality was that there could be three or even four generations alive at any one time, and if that was so it implied two things. The first, was that the father (who became a grandfather or even great-great grandfather) was the patriarch who was the authority over the family and who was thus responsible for the family before God. The second thing was, that the likelihood would have been that children followed their father’s example and so went the same wrong way as their father, and thus incurred the Lord’s anger. The balance was the verse that followed, “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (v.6). Where the example was the love for God and that was passed from generation to generation, every generation could guarantee to know God’s love. That was the simple promise.

Now our verse above applies to Nadab, Jeroboam’s son, but it also applied to a number of other subsequent kings of Israel. In fact most of them! It tells us that Nadab followed in the footsteps of his father, doing the same wrong things, specifically allowing or encouraging Israel to worship idols and not the Lord. Now when we did the meditation on Jeroboam being given the ten tribes of the north, we noted the potential that was there for him, to live out a life of blessing as he followed the Lord having been given a throne at God’s instigation. It was a completely new chapter opening up before him that invited him to walk the walk with God and be blessed. Instead he walked his own walk and received censure. Now when it comes to his son, he doesn’t HAVE to walk the same walk. Every son has the potential to walk a fresh walk with God. He doesn’t HAVE to go the same way his father went. This is another aspect of the whole thing about free will. Because we have free will we do not HAVE to walk the same walk as our parents. There is a very important lesson here for many of us.

Now the truth is that we do have the same genes as our parents but all that means is that in a variety of ways we will have a tendency to be like them, but please note it is purely a tendency. You don’t HAVE to be the same. We each have the ability, and especially when we walk with the Lord, to walk a new path. We can learn from the weaknesses or failures of our parents, and with God’s help we can ensure we don’t go the same way as they went. Where there are good things to follow, then of course we will want to imitate them, but the bad or negative things we want to reject.

One of the things about parents, is that because we were so close to them (geographically if not emotionally) they are there as an object lesson for us and we can never say, “Well I never knew.” We did; they were there, right in front of us. Their weaknesses or failures were obvious to see and we should have learnt from them, so that we don’t go the same way. Where they were a good example to us, we have an even bigger responsibility to follow their example because we can see the goodness of the way they walked. We can never say to God, “I didn’t see,” because that only shows our foolishness that was blind to the goodness before us which we obviously took for granted!

That is what lies behind the verse above. It is a terrible indictment, upon Jeroboam but also upon Nadab. It says that Jeroboam was foolish but Nadab was doubly so because he had had the opportunity to watch his father and ponder on what he was doing. A son is, if you like, on the sidelines watching his father, and because he is on the sidelines, he has the opportunity to think about what his father is doing and come to a right assessment about it.

So how about our own situations? When we look at the lives of our parents, are we able to be grateful for the goodness of their lives and do we follow the example of their goodness, or do we take it for granted and even reject it? Or is the opposite true? Do we look at the lives of our parents and feel sad for the sort of people that they were, perhaps struggling with the pain they inflicted on us. It happens. But if it did happen, have we learnt from it, so that we avoid going down the same path? It is sometimes said that someone who has been abused in childhood finds an abuser partner. It doesn’t have to be! If we are Christians the power of God is there so that we are released from our past history and can live out new lives with Him – but we have to believe it! What is the lesson that is coming out of this verse? You don’t have to be bound by your past. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!(2 Cor 5:17). Believe it!