Students are not just the church of tomorrow. They can be the church of today—but not without being receiving the baton of the gospel first.
A GREAT HOUSE
Blowing on the gospel embers of young Timothy’s heart, the Apostle Paul fans into flame the grace-producing calling on the Ephesus disciple-maker. After laying down gospel thundering truths—the Word that is not bound (2:9), the Jesus who is not dead (2:8), the truth of the gospel that must be guarded (1:14), and the grace of God that strengthens (2:1)—Paul exhorts Timothy to “[cleanse] himself from what is dishonorable.”
“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:20-21).
No one wants to be the dishonorable vessel in God’s house, right? In essence Paul is saying, “Your leadership ceiling is capped by your character.” This logic is incontrovertible with the number of texts claiming that discipleship is both a sharing of our doctrine and our lives:
“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:2-3).
So how does Paul want us to cleanse ourselves? How do we move from the cardboard toilet paper roll in God’s house to the fine china?
THE TWO “YOOTS”
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
The church I pastor is full of twenty-somethings. We are 75% single! Although I’m on the wrong side of thirty now, I am still young in this wonderful vocation called “pastor” (Timothy was around 36 or so when Paul wrote this letter to him).
Youth carries a sidearm called “passion.” This is a good thing. It’s easier to redirect passion than to have to ignite it. Paul postulates a portrait of two youths for us: one pursues youthful passions and the other pursues Christ-likeness. He wants Timothy to flee the one and pursue the other—this is how he “cleanses himself.”
It is putting off the old self and putting on the new; it is mortification and vivification; it is Matt Chandler’s “what stirs your affections for Jesus and what robs you of your affections for Jesus?”
What are these “youthful passions” we must flee from?
1. Flee unrighteousness; pursue righteousness
Our generation, specifically those of us that grew up in the church, railed against some of the legalistic teachings where Christianity had less to do with enjoying and worshiping God and more to do with obeying all the rules—even some that were made up. What happens, typically, is the pendulum swings too far and all of a sudden we are on the other side where there are no rules. Any church or authority that tells me I can’t do something gets labeled “fundamentalist” and we just go to the next one or leave the church altogether.
So now alcohol use, sex outside of marriage, what we do, where we go, and what kind of entertainment we enjoy have little to no boundaries even though biblically some lines are drawn.
The disciple and disciple-maker pursues righteousness in both our teaching and our lives, whether its in season or out.
2. Flee skepticism; pursue faith
We are easily skeptical of authority, of church, of anything institutional although it is God who created these institutions. Whereas doubt is a natural effect of a pursuit of truth—of a sincere faith—skepticism is the youthful passion of someone who just doesn’t want to commit to anything or submit to anything other than their own desires.
Where biblical love “believes all things [and] hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7), youthful passion judges all things and scoffs at all things. Under the guise of pursuing truth the skeptic is skeptical; always blurred by the periphery and never fixing faithful eyes on Jesus—the Author and Perfector and object of our faith (Heb 12:2).
3. Flee lust; pursue love
Not necessarily sexual lust, but idealized relationships. We get on social media and see how great everyone’s marriage is, or boyfriend is, or church community is, and never hear about any of the problems. We think our relationships should look that way. Our kids should always be smiling and “super cute”; our spouse should always look “date night ready”; our small group should always be “so much fun!”
We lust after what we don’t have and covet everyone else’s experiences.
Youthful lust is transient, flakey, and surface-level; ready to move on when it takes some work, but the pursuit of biblical love is committed, raw, gritty, rock-solid, immovable. Lust takes, love gives. Lust is impatient and passive; love is patient and kind (1 Cor 13:4), long-suffering with one another as we all follow Jesus.
4. Flee debate; pursue peace
This becomes the natural outflow of the previous three. If we are relativistic on moral issues and never concerning ourselves with obedience, and if we aren’t pursuing a sincere faith but easily skeptical, then we have things we can debate.
Rules are in place to foster peace, but if there are no rules than you don’t have peace. If we aren’t unified in our humble, faithful pursuit of Jesus together, but always questioning one another’s motives, there is division, not peace.
The youthful passion of debate rages, especially in the church, but “he himself is our peace” (Eph 2:14), and he makes both those far from God and those near, one new peaceful people. Iron sharpening iron is one thing; humble communication and confrontation sharpens, it makes mature disciples. However, continual and perpetual divisive debate flowing out of a lustful, skeptical heart is just a dishonorable vessel in the church that should be stuck in the junk drawer somewhere never to be brought out.
Do you want to be the gold honorable vessel in God’s house? Remember then, again—the Word is not bound (2 Tim 2:9), Jesus is not dead (2:8), the truth of the Gospel must be guarded (1:14)—and the grace of God strengthens (2:1)! Flee youthful passions, and pursue your Christ.
Jim Essian planted The Paradox Church in 2011 and serves as Lead Pastor. The Paradox is an Acts 29 Network church in Downtown Fort Worth, TX. Jim played eight years of professional baseball in the Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Detroit Tigers organizations prior to planting a church. Jim and his wife, Heather, have two girls, Harper and Hollis.