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Monday, December 15, 2008

Youthful Passions

In community group, we have been studying the book of 2 Timothy, which is a letter from Paul to Timothy. Paul is at the end of his life and ministry, and he is passing on the torch to Timothy, a young man who has been mentored by Paul and who has faithfully ministered alongside Paul. Like a loving father, Paul is exhorting Timothy to walk faithfully so as not to waste his life, his gifting, and his calling. This past week, 2 Timothy 2:22 really stood out to me. 2 Timothy 2:22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. I like how the Message translates this as well: “Run away from infantile indulgence. Run after mature righteousness—faith, love, peace—joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God.” I have been thinking about what “youthful passions” are. The ESV Study Bible notes say that the word “passions” here is the word epithymia in Greek. It refers to sinful desires in general, not just sexual desire. Paul gives one example of youthful passion as being involved with “foolish, ignorant controversies” that “breed quarrels”. What I find significant about this, is that Paul’s words are getting at our hearts, not just at our actions. We can see this by reading more of the context of this passage:

2 Timothy 2:22-26 “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

Paul links the fleeing to youthful passions to the pursuit of righteousness, faith, love, and peace. This makes sense because youthful passions have nothing to do with righteousness, faith, love and peace. When we quarrel, we are not concerned about the understanding, growth, or repentance of the hearer. In fact, earlier in verse 14, Paul tells us that quarreling about words ruins the hearers. We can imagine why. Quarreling usually has more to do with the pride of wanting to be right or wanting to look clever than it does with loving a person or loving God’s truth and holiness. When we quarrel, our hearts are not pursuing righteousness, faith, love or peace.

Our youthful passions exalt, comfort, and indulge ourselves instead of esteeming God’s holiness, trusting and obeying God’s direction for us, sacrificially loving those around us or uniting us in reconciliation in the body of Christ. Youthful passions have more to do with zealously loving ourselves rather than loving God or others. They have to do with loving our comfort, our pleasure, our autonomy, our independence, our will, our fame, our reputation, and our image. They have to do with entitlements that we feel that we have over people and even over God. In fact, we can have the appearance of godliness, but then when we do not receive the things to which we feel entitled (comfort, pleasure, autonomy, license to sin, independence, glory, praise, etc.), we feel entitled to give up. We feel entitled to be abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, slanderous, manipulative, malicious, unkind, and generally unloving, etc. We can even feel entitled to throw God and people away when they no longer meet our youthful passions or selfish desire. Instead of lovingly submitting to God and to those to whom He has entrusted us, we give God and the body of Christ the finger.

We all have youthful passions—desires in our flesh that are inconsistent with and sidetrack us from loving God and loving people. There are two aspects of Paul’s admonition to Timothy to flee youthful passions that ought to be particularly encouraging to us if we are truly God’s people (some are not, as we see in the following chapter of 2 Timothy where Paul talks about those who have the “appearance of godliness” but who also demonstrate that they do not love God or people by “denying its power”). Keep in mind that Paul is telling Timothy, yes Timothy, to flee youthful passions. Timothy is a godly man with sincere faith whom Paul loves as a son (see 2 Timothy chapter 1) and in whom Paul has deliberately invested and entrusted his ministry of spreading the gospel. Much more than that, Timothy is a man whom God Himself has called and gifted to lead. Still, Paul saw fit to exhort Timothy to flee youthful passions. This assumes that Timothy had youthful passions from which to flee. The fact that we have youthful passions from which to flee does not put us beyond hope! Another encouraging aspect of Paul’s admonition to Timothy is that he gives us a clue as to how we can flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace—that is “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” or how the Message puts it, “joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God.” Sincere, transparent, Christian community is a tool for us to flee our youthful passions. This involves confessing our sins and temptations to one another, submitting to one another (heeding godly counsel from the Body of Christ), praying for one another, encouraging one another, and serving one another.

James 5: 16-17 "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

Hebrews 3: 12 "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

Ephesians 5: 3 "But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
'Awake, O sleeper,and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.'
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

God does not leave us alone to deal with our youthful passions! Rather, he gives us grace through His Spirit, through His Word, and through the body of Christ. The way to benefit from these is through humility and submission before God and before my brothers and sisters in Christ. Within the Body of Christ, we are to grow in our understanding of God’s love and grace for us so that we can have that same scandalous and sacrificial love and grace for others. There is no room in this for youthful passions! We can see this especially in 1 Corinthians 13:

The Message translation of 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. 11When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. 12We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”

ESV translation of 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

We simply can’t love God or people like this and still hold onto our youthful passions!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for not leaving us alone in our youthful passions. Thank you that there is hope in you. Thank you for giving us your example, your Spirit, your Word and the Body of Christ. Please give us hearts that are soft. Help us to humbly submit to you and to the Body of Christ so that we can flee our youthful passions. Help us to listen!!! We do not want to waste our lives, and even more so, we do not want to wake up one day to find that we never belonged to you!! By your grace, keep us from being hard hearted and from having the appearance of godliness while denying its power!!! Thank you for your redemption. Thank you for your faithfulness. Help us to love in increasing measure, not like the world does, but as you do and as you direct us to by your Word. In Jesus Name, Amen!

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