[From a Dad to Three Sons, 1/9/09]
The Apostle John wrote his first letter to children, young men, and fathers. (1 John 2:12-14)
The children knew the Father. This is the starting point. Basic child-like faith for forgiveness of sins.
Of fathers, or older and faithful men, John said they knew the Father “from the beginning.” The implication is that at this stage of their physical and spiritual lives, they really knew the Father.
Then the young men are called out as having “overcome the evil one,” by their strength, and by abiding in the Word of God. This reminds me of a favorite verse, Psalm 119:19. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word.”
There is much to conquer in the life of a young man before he can consider himself settled in the faith. This is essential since in later years a whole new set of problems arise, from declining health to disillusionment to the death of loved ones. These advanced issues require a seasoning and strengthening that can only occur after years of following God’s Word. Imagine if a young man does not manage to “overcome evil” while he is young?
In his formative years, a young man must tirelessly battle a foe who wants nothing more than to derail, demoralize, disqualify, defeat, diminish and/or destroy him. The individual evils need not be listed, for the young man knows full well what he’s up against.
How does the young man survive the onslaught? Only by applying God’s word in every instance. Remember, the Word is our only offensive weapon. But it must be allowed to cut both ways, to slice through Satan’s deceptions, and to pierce our own hearts.
The Apostle Paul gives the keys to success to his young disciple Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6-16. I’ve highlighted the words that indicate the seriousness of the cause.
6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 11 Prescribe and teach these things. 12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
This is serious business; overcoming the evil one. It requires a careful student of the Word who learns the great doctrines of the Bible and applies what he reads. It requires a dedicated athlete who trains himself daily to beat back the allures of sin. There is agony involved in this kind of training and if absent, the athlete falls short. It requires a loyal follower who values his relationship with God more than anything else. This kind of man shutters to think that his actions or words may impair or confuse the salvation message. It requires a faithful leader who can tolerate no misstep on his spiritual journey, who knows his followers depend on and emulate him. And it requires a courageous soldier who gives everything on the battlefield for the cause of Christ.
This passage in 1 Timothy has been on my mind since early manhood. The words have constituted my marching orders and are primarily responsible for the decisions I’ve made and the declarations I now make to you. You can downplay the Word of God if you like. You can shrug it off if you are so bold. You can do only a cursory review of your progress and pronounce yourself “good enough.” But until you lock into these objectives, you cannot become a real Man of God.
Some final warnings, one from Solomon, who learned the hard way, and two from Paul.
Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes, yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. Ecclesiastes 11:9
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:10-12
It’s time to give up childish things.