One of the best ways to grow in wisdom in life is to sit down and talk (and listen) to someone who is more mature in the faith; someone who has lived many years and now stands as an example of godliness. These people have learned some great lessons along the way. It is unfortunate that the younger we are the more we seem to marginalize those who are older. Older people may not be able to do some of the active things that young people can do. They may not be up on current trends or understand much of modern technology. But mature saints have navigated the minefields of life and have learned some important lessons along the way. We would be wise to listen to what they have to teach us so we can avoid some of the painful mistakes of life.
This morning we have the chance to listen to the elderly apostle Paul pass on some nuggets of truth to his protégé Timothy. Paul walks the delicate balance between being saved solely by God’s grace and the resultant change in life from someone who truly has faith. These pieces of advice are golden. Listen carefully.
Pursue Righteous Living
22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.
Paul tells us what to run FROM and what to run TOWARD. First, we are to run away from anything that stimulates youthful lusts.
Unfortunately, when we hear the word “lusts” we think this is only about sex. Sexually immoral behavior is part of the command but it is not the whole idea. There are all kinds of different “youthful” lusts that can plague people who remain immature in thinking.—even if they are well along in their years.
- The lust for pleasure. This includes uncontrolled sexual obsession but it doesn’t stop with sex. There may be an obsession with drinking, drugs, eating, and the toys that give us a sense of temporary excitement. We often see this characterized most graphically on a college campus. But you can find it also in a hunting lodge, or even a gathering of friends. There is an impulsiveness in these things that most often manifest during youth. These are the things that often get people in big trouble.
- The Lust for power. This often takes the form of a maddening drive to be number 1. It might show up as an obsession with winning an argument (no matter what you have to do to win). It leads to a sense of arrogance, superiority and even abusive behaviors. There is a sense of envy and even resentment to those in authority. You sometimes get the feeling that these people treat you as if you are irrelevant and totally misinformed because you don’t agree with them. In its worst form it views all people as a means to an end. You use who you need to use to get where you want to get.
- The Lust for the material. There are those who evaluate life by how much stuff you have compared to others. It means getting the newest car, the biggest house, the finest tools, the most fashionable clothes, and the most elaborate vacations. You may want the coolest tech items or the newest game systems. It is all about stuff. As a result debt tends to grow exponentially and you end up living your life trying to ward off creditors while you continue to buy buy buy.
Paul’s advice to Timothy is simple: Run! Run from these things. If we turned this into some positive guidelines for life you might get something like this:
- Make sex an expression of a committed relationship and not the “basis” of the relationship. In order for this to happen sex must take a back seat to building the relationship. Save sex for marriage.
- Refuse to surrender control of your life to any substance or drug. Guard against being controlled by a video game, chat room or anything else that grabs hold. Paul tells us in Ephesians to be filled (controlled) by the Holy Spirit. When we give in to excesses we are surrendering parts of our lives. We put ourselves in positions where we will make mistakes that we will have to live with for a lifetime.
- Determine what you truly need before you get what you want. If you can’t do this . . .cut up your credit card! Here at the church we have seen many people come in to get help for paying utility and other kind of bills because they spent their money on cable television that includes all the movie channels. They own an expensive smartphone, or a car that was way outside of their budget. They can’t pay bills because they spent their money at the tavern, on lottery tickets, at the casino, or on things they just don’t need. What we want needs to serve our values rather than determine our values.
- Work hard and pursue a servant mentality. Jesus told us to wield power the same way that he did. Instead of flaunting your power and becoming arrogant, use your position to help others. Remind yourself over and over that you are but a sinner saved by grace.
Whenever you see yourself falling into any of these lustful traps . . . get help and remove yourself from the temptation. You may need to hang out with different friends (if they pull you into this lustful way of life). You may need to cut up credit cards. You may need to clean out cupboards, or have a yard sale. The idea is to get free of bondage to these things in your life. The sooner the better.
It is also a good idea to find people who will hold you accountable. These people should be other believers that you ask to be brutally honest with you. And when you ask people to tell you what they see in your life you have to determine to listen and listen attentively to what they are saying. This is not easy to do but some good accountability partners are more valuable than anything else money can buy.
There is a second part to Paul’s advice. Not only are we to run away FROM lustful passions we are to run AFTER Godly characteristics. We are to pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace.
- Righteous Living is that which gives God and men the honor they deserve. It is the desire to live God’s way.
- Faithfulness is loyalty and trust in God. It is living with the faith that we profess to have.
- Love is seeking the highest good for the people around you. It is seeing them as unique, special, and valuable individuals.
- Peace is maintaining a good and harmonious relationship with God and with others. It is putting away rancor, bitterness, resentment and all the other things that keep us from drawing close to one another.
The last thing in the list of things we should pursue is a companionship with other believers. This is not just companionship with church-goers, it is a companionship with others who are pursuing the same things that you are. By working with other believers we encourage and cheer each other on. We are also there to pick each other up when the opportunity comes about.
If we try to live lives isolated from other believers we will either struggle, starve, or be drawn away from the Lord by non-Christian (or non-practicing Christian) friends. Paul reminds Timothy that God created us to be part of Christian community. This is why worship, Bible Study, Sunday School, youth group, and other groups in the church are so important.
It would be wise to take some time and look at your friends. It is good to have some non-Christian friends. However, we do need to beware of the influence these friends are having on US. WE are supposed to be influencing THEM for the Kingdom of God! If you are unbalanced in your friendships, make changes and do it quickly before you start watering down your faith to get along.
It is also good to ask what kind of friend you are. Are you a friend that draws people to Christ or one that leads others away from Him? Are people spurred on in their pursuit of righteousness, faithfulness, love and peace because of you, or does your relationship encourage the lusts of pleasure, power, and stuff?
Relate to Others With Compassion
23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
There are three preliminary things we need to see here. First, the advice that Paul is giving to Timothy is just the opposite of that which comes out of the world in which we live.
We are told either directly or indirectly,
- Don’t take anything from anybody. Don’t get pushed around!
- Demand your rights!
- Use your position to intimidate.
- Exploit the weaknesses of your opponents.
- Focus on winning. To that end, don’t let up.
As a result, we live in a combative society where everyone seems to be looking for some offense to pounce on. Paul has learned through the years that the tactics of the world only alienate people. Pushing others only causes them to push back or walk away.
The second thing to notice before we look at the specific advice, Paul is giving us an evangelistic outlook. Paul challenged Timothy (and us) to see the bigger picture. He wants us to realize that winning a particular battle is useless if you lose the war! Our job is not to exalt ourselves or even make sure we get “our fair share”. Our job is to lead people to eternal life in Christ. We do that by relating to other people the way that Jesus related to them.
Third, the principles that Paul gives us are principles that can apply in any relationship. It applies to antagonists, co-workers, dealing with your children, and even in the marriage relationship. If we learn these principles, we will get along better with most people (except those who really want to fight).
Let’s look at the principles: Quarreling doesn’t accomplish anything positive. Paul gives a blanket statement: don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. There are of course some things we need to stand up for and refuse to compromise (like the key elements of the faith; our freedom as citizens, and so forth.) But . . . these “take a stand issues” are much fewer and most likely much different than we think.
We tend to fight over interpretations and preferences. We will break fellowship over a person’s view of how the end times is going to happen. We divide over the amount of water in baptism, the frequency of communion, style of music, worship attire, politics, moral issues, and a whole bunch of other things that are good to discuss but not divide or argue about.
When we are contentious over secondary issues we cause people to turn away from discussing primary and eternal issues. In other words, if you are going to argue about politics, or social issues, or even sports, then people are going to avoid talking with you about something important that might be even more contentious. In fact, most people are going to avoid you completely. In other words, if you draw a line in the sand over secondary issues, you will never get the opportunity to discuss eternal issues. We need to learn to pick the things we are going to “fight over” very carefully.
Think about marriage. If you are going to fight over every little thing in the marriage the big things will never be addressed. If you overlook some of the little things and address the really important issues, then you will have a healthy marriage. We must make sure that little things do not come before big things.
Be Kind. How different relationships would be if we would simply be kind to each other. Kindness starts by making room for others in our lives. We are kind when we don’t beat people up with their mistakes and give them the chance to share their opinions without feeling the need to tell them why they are wrong. We are kind when we make allowances for idiosyncrasies. Kindness is speaking to others in tones that are warm rather than hostile. It is looking for solutions rather than blame.
Explain don’t Berate. Work to teach the truth patiently and gently. A couple of times in these instructions we are told to teach and to gently instruct. In other words, we are to view discussions as opportunities to inform rather than as a battle to be won. We want to help people think through issues. We can’t do that if we are raising our voice, pointing our fingers or becoming sarcastic.
Contrary to what we sometimes think, raising our voice does not result in being heard better. It usually means the volume of the whole discussion will raise and people will begin talking over each other. So now neither person is listening to the other. The discussion at this point become a colossal waste of time. Lowering the voice is actually the way to productively and effectively discuss something. This is what Paul is pointing out. We must continue to discuss rather than argue.
The goal of every discussion should be to build a bridge to faith or growth in Christ. We get in trouble when we don’t keep the “main thing the main thing.” This is why gentleness is so important. Sometimes people need to grow in understanding. Sometimes they need to warm up to a new idea or mull it around for awhile. Gentleness understands this. The gentle teacher knows when someone has reached overload and it willing to back off.
Be Patient. We must be patient with each other and we must be patient in waiting on the Lord. We must constantly remind ourselves that God has called us to plant seeds. Some plants bloom quickly, others like the Oak tree may take decades. It is the same with people. We must give people time to think through the claims of Christ and the implications of the gospel. Impatient people sometimes push believing they have to “get a decision” when that is not what God has called them to do.
I remember back when I was 15-16 years old. I was the President of our state youth group and they asked me to speak one night at camp. I did. I have no idea what I rambled on and on about. What I do remember is that at the end of my talk I did what I believed I was supposed to do. I asked if anyone wanted to follow Jesus to come forward. (To be honest, I was not prepared for the possibility that someone might actually respond!)
One young man who I had been talking to all week made the first move. I was thrilled but had no idea what to do with him now that he had come forward. But that was not all. One by one others followed. Soon almost the whole camp was standing before me and I had no idea what to do next. I had them all kneel and asked them to pray a prayer after me.
By some accounts it was a wonderful evangelistic meeting. But here is the question: did any of those people really know what they were doing or were they simply responding to the stimuli of the moment? I don’t know. I am sure some young people walked away saying they “had an experience” and believed they were Christians. However, they were not yet followers of Christ because they hadn‘t been taught who this Jesus really is or why they should follow Him.
As I look back, I was guilty of being impatient. I was trying to do what only the Holy Spirit can do. Patience gives God room to work. It also gives other people a chance to think about truth. If we gently and patiently teach and explain the gospel to others and then wait for God to work, we will find that those who come to Christ will remain followers of Christ.
As Paul was reaching the end of his life he shared what he had learned over many years on how to deal with non-believers and antagonists. The wisdom of these words is profound. Our job is to open discussions and to present the truth of the gospel. It is not our job to convince others that we are right and they are wrong.
Think about what happens inside of you when someone aggressively says or implies that you are foolish because of what you believe”. You don’t stop and say, “Wow, you know, it is possible that I am wrong on this issue!” You defend yourself. Your goal at that point is not to gain understanding; it is to prove the other person wrong.
I encourage you to practice these principles at home with your family members. Guard against youthful passions taking over your life. Work together as family to pursue righteousness and live in such a way that others will be drawn to Christ.
Our calling is not about getting people to like us! It is about pointing people to the One who alone can bring them forgiveness and new life. We have a choice: we can follow the crowd, or we can lead the crowd (whether it is our family, our friends, our community, or our co-workers) to Jesus.
May God help us to consistently serve Him and may He give us hearts that will relate to each other in a way that spotlights the grace and mercy of God.