When a worried child expresses doubts about their own worth or their parents’ love, what does any responsible parent do? They comfort the child by repeating over and over again a message of reassurance and encouragement. The same seems to be the case in the first part of today’s reading. Speaking to a community whose confidence about their own relationship with God may have been shaken, John offers a repeated message of reassurance and encouragement. And while the “children,” “fathers,” and “young men” may be specific age groups, these designations may also be a way of addressing the entire community. Regardless of their spiritual progress, whether new to the faith or longtime Christians, the truth is the same.
First, they “have been forgiven on account of his name” (v. 12). The problem of sin has been dealt with once and for all. Second, because of the forgiveness they have in Christ, they “know him who is from the beginning” (vv. 13a, 14b). Despite any doubts, their relationship with God is genuine. Finally, because they have been strengthened by forgiveness and relationship with God, they “have overcome the evil one” (vv. 13b, 14c). The victory that belongs to Christ is theirs by virtue of their relationship with Him.
As a result, the last part of our reading spells out the practical implications: “Do not love the world or anything in the world” (v. 15). The warning about the “world” here refers to the domain of Satan: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (v. 16). Because we belong to God, our loyalty and love should be with Him, not with the sinful lusts and possessions of the world. Only the one who abides in God will “live forever” (v. 17).