I am writing to you, little children, that your sins would be forgiven you through his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you have known it from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. 14 I wrote to you, children, because you have known the Father. I wrote to you, fathers, because you have known it from the beginning. I wrote to you, young men, because you are mighty and the word of God remains in you and you have overcome evil.
Let me say first that the juxtaposition of tenses in the verbs here denotes a stylistic issue and nothing more. The entire set of verses is a poem, with a structure made clear for the reader. Verses 12 and 13 parallel 14. The little children, fathers, and young men are essentially the same people, with the differences one of maturity rather than necessarily one of age.
The little children have begun their walk and follow God, they have been forgiven, but not much more can be said.
The young men have overcome temptation to stray from the faith, their walk is maturing and deepening and they have gotten past the difficult part of the faith.
The fathers are those who have had children, and at this point they have been in the faith since the time of Christ or shortly thereafter (note the “from the beginning” connections in 1:1-3).
John’s poem introduces a progression of faith, a movement forward in the Christian walk, and he wants to see each person move from a child to being a father. Being John, his few words convey a deep meaning, namely that as one grows, the passion of faith cannot be left behind since maturity assumes commitment and being a father assumes having children of one’s own.
Where are you in your faith?
Are you a little child, clinging to the open stages of faith, knowing God, being forgiven, but not moving from milk to solid food?
Are you a young man, overcoming temptation and knowing the word?
Are you a father, settled into the faith and having “children” of your own?