Growing up in church, I heard message after message on the verse where Paul tells Timothy not to let the church look down on him because he is young. He tells Timothy, rather, to set an example of Godliness before the church. But no real explanation was made as to how he was to do this. In fact, the part about setting an example was treated as second rate to the part about not letting old people look down on the youth group cuz they do stuff that the old people may not completely agree with cuz it looks different from the way they do things and have done things for a really long time.
Then, on Sunday, when Pastor Darin was speaking on some stuff in 2 Timothy, I came across this little verse:
Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22 TNIV)
This is the stuff that I rarely, if ever, heard preached on in youth group. How to set an example of Godliness for those of older generations.
“Flee the evil desires of youth…”
The first thing Paul admonishes Timothy to do is to “flee the evil desires of youth.” The Bible is full of negative commandments such as these. The idea is that, before we can actually do things like justice and mercy, we must stop doing something else. You get the sense from reading Scripture that doing good and doing evil are mutually exclusive practices. Of course, Jesus told us as much, but sometimes we don’t think that way.
But what is it that Paul is telling Timothy to flee from when he uses the phrase “evil desires of youth?” Many would try to talk about sex and rock music and things of that sort but I think there is something deeper being called for. I believe that one of the strongest, and most destructive, desires of a young person is that of rebellion. I’m not speaking of fighting sinful systems or rebelling against the Antichrists. I am speaking of the kind of rebellion that breeds division.
Young people feel that “old” people don’t know anything. As a result, they tend to shut their ears when an old preacher talks or when a parent tries to give them advice. Many young people even deliberately do the exact opposite of what previous generations warn them against just because they feel that they can because they feel that they know the times better than those who came before.
While it is sometimes true that some people in previous generations are a little out of touch, this does not give young people the right to shirk their wisdom when it shows itself. And I think that this is probably the sort of thing that Paul was calling Timothy to flee from. As a young church leader, it is quite possible that he had the tendency to try to change things just because he thought he could. So he told him to flee these tendencies and pursue attitudes that are diametrically opposed to destructive rebellion.
“Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace”
Paul, as any good minister will do, does not stop with a negative “don’t do such and such” command. He goes on to tell Timothy what he is supposed to be doing in the place of that which he has been told to get rid of.
Righteousness, faith, love, and peace are all in direct opposition to destructive rebellion. You cannot live a holy life, believe “an old old story,” show affection for others, and pursue peace if your heart is controlled by an attitude that basically says that you know better than everyone else how things should be done. But what does it mean to pursue these things?
The Greek word rendered “pursue” in the TNIV, and most other translations, is διώκω (dioko), and carries the idea of chasing after something like a persecutor. This means that you do everything within your power, take every route possible and use every means at your disposal to get a hold of what it is that you are chasing. In this case, Timothy was to devote himself to the capturing of his justification, faith, love, and peace.
I said that Timothy was to devote himself to capturing “his justification” because this is exactly what Paul says the Christian is to do. But Timothy is also to run after faith. He is to pursue his belief in Christ as his salvation. He is to chase after agape love. He is to ardently look for peace. And he is to pursue these things “along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
This is true for us today as much as it was for Timothy. All of us have a little destructive rebellion in us. We all have moments when we think we know better than others how things should be done and, despite the advice of others, we go our own way. Paul tells us to flee this desire and pursue the very things that marked the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ.
May God give us all the grace to do so.