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.
The Second book of Timothy sees Paul the apostle in his second imprisonment in Rome where his situation seemed bleak with all his friends deserting him [2 Tim 4:16] and martyrdom obviously near. He writes another letter to Timothy, his beloved son, continuing on from the first letter in a bid to encourage the younger man to walk in the correct path as a leader and as a preacher. Much of the letter was written in a tone that’s almost as if he was never going to see Timothy again, and it reads not unlike the wishes of a dying man. Indeed, this was to be Paul’s final bow – 2 Timothy was likely Paul’s final epistle that was recorded in the Bible. In this letter, there are especially a lot of exhortations for a leader, and in the later parts of chapter 2 especially, Paul devotes himself to telling Timothy how to be a good workman for God without shame, prepared for every good work, fleeing youthful lusts and pursuing righteousness. In this study we will examine the crux of this passage of verses, specifically looking into what are the evil desires of youth that we should flee from and what are the things we should pursue.
Flee – The term used here, ‘flee’, has a really pessimistic and rather negative connotation to it, no? Flee means to avoid, to escape, to run away from, and there’s a sense of urgency in it. Out of the 36 Stratagems of one of the ancient Chinese War Manuals, the final one is to flee. There are situations in which the best option is to flee. At times, our safety is best ensured by avoiding or escaping certain things. And it says ‘flee’ – not walk away, not look at it and play with it for a while first before going away. No, if you see it, turn away and run on your heels immediately. Avoid any contact with it. Don’t play with it, don’t entertain it, just flee.
the evil desires of youth – Evil desires of youth, huh? Like it or not, there are undeniably some desires that come hand-in-hand with the breath of youthfulness, and many of these desires are evil in nature. They may not harm anybody physically, but often there is a lack of maturity due to their lack of life experiences. There’s also the general sense of risk and adventure, which can also be considered as recklessness, due to the fact that everything is new, and they can well afford to make a few mistakes thanks to their young age. When all these factors come together, it means that these desires can just as easily break themselves as it can affect the people around them emotionally and spiritually.
What are some examples of youthful desires? Evil ones, that is? Different sources had different answers, just as I’m sure if you ask a different person, you’ll get a different variety of answers – yet there are a few that are probably consistent through the masses. Things like arrogance, lust, ambition, willfulness, petulance, vigor, impetuosity, strife, violent tendencies etc. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless [Ecc 11:10]. The sinful desires which come along with youthfulness often causes us more trouble, more anxiety and wage war with our soul [1 Peter 2:11].
pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace – But you, man of God, flee from all these and pursue righteousness instead – pursue the opposite of those iniquities, like godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness [1 Tim 6:11]. Desire faith, and yearn for God’s love. Live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on us [Rom 12:18], making every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification [Rom 14:19, Heb 12:14].
along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart – and you can’t do it alone. It’s not wise to try and do it alone, because mankind was never meant to do anything alone. In the beginning of the world, God created man and, seeing that he was alone, God created woman to keep him company. There is great value in having good company – you can encourage each other, be empowered by one another, stir each other on, enjoy each other’s company, be a positive influence to each other, learn together, grow together. It’s a good cycle of influence. But similar, there is great danger in having poor company – you may bring each other down, stumble one another, hurt one another, be poorly influenced – much like how Eve caused Adam to stumble. Hence Paul’s specific direction – find company, but only those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Find good company, and pursue righteousness together. Basically, those with a pure heart will naturally have love, faith, peace and righteousness – The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heartand a good conscience and a sincere faith [1 Tim 1:5] and they will be pursuing these qualities too. Let your pursuit of these godly qualities be with them. Don’t do it alone. Don’t try to do it with people who do not call on the Lord out of a pure heart, lest you be dragged down by them.
Well, it is one thing to know to flee the evil desires of youth, but another thing to know how to flee them. Some lusts can be avoided by stopping our patronage, but there are many more of these that comes out from our hearts. Things like ideals, ambitions, pride, impulsiveness, recklessness – the list goes on. I think the key to this is to actively pursue righteousness. Stop our patronage of all things that we can avoid, and actively pursue righteousness with people who are also purely seeking righteousness. Eventually, when we see more of God, when we learn more about God, when we grow spiritually and become positively influenced by others, we will surely learn how to mentally and spiritually flee from the evil desires that come from our hearts.
One last note. Timothy was a youth at this point of writing, and the general consensus is that he was surely younger than 40 at the time of Paul’s second imprisonment. Some say he was in his twenties, but it doesn’t matter – he was still, all things considered, relatively young. Hence the emphasis on youth in his writing, for with youth also comes the sense of inferiority when compared to elders. Yet it is not the youths only who have a youthful heart – the same evil desires may reside in the heart of an eighty-year old. Do not ignore this teaching from Paul just because you think you’re past the stage of youth. Flee them as a 20 year old would.