That You May Know
Abiding in the truth leaves an epitaph of assurance.
by JEN WILKIN
IT IS PROBABLY NOT SURPRISING that the older I get, the more committed I am to obeying the Bible’s command to show honor to my elders. The more silver hair I sprout, the more I want to celebrate those already crowned with silver hair. In that spirit, allow me to introduce you to the elder statesman of New Testament authors, whose three brief letters to the early church give us the gift not just of wisdom, but of seasoned wisdom.
He is the last living member of a band of brothers, the likes of which had never been seen nor would be seen again. All the others are gone now — those who witnessed what he witnessed. Of the Twelve, he is the only one left. John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, is an old man. The eyes that beheld Jesus face-to-face are growing dim. The ears that heard Messiah teach and sing and pray now strain to catch conversation. The hands that touched the risen Lord are now gnarled and wrinkled. Knowing his time is short, John takes up his pen to record words of assurance to the next generation of the church.
Over 50 years have passed since the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. A younger John had been known for his thunderous temper, once offering to call down judgment on an unrepentant town. A younger John had been known to seek the place of honor, standing behind his mother as she inquired where her boys, the sons of Zebedee, would be seated when Christ came into His kingdom. But now John is old, and the wisdom of years crowns him. Now he knows what he did not know in his youth: that Christ came not to condemn the world but to save it, that the place of honor is the place of suffering.
Age does many things for those who receive the gift of long life. To say the least, it yields clarity. I myself am on the far side of midlife, just old enough to know what I do not yet know, just beginning to sense the brevity of the time left to me.
I am just beginning to think about legacy: What will be my epitaph? For what will I be known?
No doubt, John was thinking about legacy as he penned his letters to a group of churches in Asia Minor. What did they most need to know that he, an octogenarian eyewitness, was uniquely qualified to tell them? These young churches faced the threat of complacency, division, and doctrinal drift. Of forgetfulness. Fifty years after Calvary, not many were still living who knew firsthand the truth of the claim that Jesus came in the flesh and was raised. But John endured. “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
“That you may know.” The word know occurs 34 times in the three brief letters of John. The aged apostle is indeed concerned with an epitaph, but unlike a younger version of himself, he is no longer asking, “For what will I be known?” Instead, he desires that his children in the faith may know the assurance of their salvation. He leaves them with three evidences: their lived righteousness, their love for others, and their commitment to truth. Five decades into following Christ, these three things are clear to him. These three assurances abide.
As the inspired Word of God, his epitaph calls to the church of our day with as much clarity as it did to the church of his day. Complacency, division, and doctrinal drift are no strangers to us. Forgetfulness abounds. We, too, need the wisdom of this old man, the wisdom of age, the wisdom of the Ancient of Days. Seasoned wisdom, wisdom for every season. Two thousand years removed from Calvary, we need the assurance of John’s testimony like the desert needs rain. We need to know that we know. We need his call to abide.
And we need his example. He shows us that, by grace, we can grow from being sons of thunder into gentle fathers in the faith. He shows us that we can learn to be, like Christ became for us, the lowest and the last. John left a testimony of eternal weight. What will your epitaph be?
JEN WILKIN is an author and Bible teacher from Dallas, Texas. She has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts.