LET NO MAN DESPISE THY YOUTH
T. Pierce Brown
My grandson is leaving for the Marines. Before he left, I thought it advisable to give him some advice, for about 58 years ago I left for the Air Force and remembered some things I faced. The advice I gave him is not new, nor does it apply only to those who get in the armed forces, although it may need more attention there than in other places. For all young people everywhere, the advice Paul gave Timothy as recorded in 1 Timothy4:12is worth heeding. “Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” The ASV more aptly says “in manner of life” instead of “in conversation,” and “in love” instead of “in charity.” It also says, “Be thou an example to them that believe” instead of “of the believers.” Since I am in a motel room now as I travel over the country telling people about the ONE NATION UNDER GOD program, and neglected to bring my Greek text with me, I do not know which of those two expressions more accurately expresses what Paul had in mind. Both are important. A young Christian should be an example “to them that believe,” but he also should be an example “of the believer” to all men.
Each of these areas Paul mentions needs emphasis in this generation, as in all others. Let us look briefly at each of them. It is important for each of us to be an example in word. Jesus showed how important it is when he said, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew12:37).
When I first joined the Air Force I heard words that I had never heard before, some of which made me blush. Although I never did appreciate hearing them, I am sure that repeated exposure to them caused me to lose some tendency to blush. What Alexander Pope said about vice applies here, “Vice is a monster of frightful mien as to be hated needs but to be seen; yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” It is easy to become hardened to the use of vile words, cursing, lying, dirty language of one sort or another, but young people especially need to be warned that they must not become hardened enough to use such language. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying” (Ephesians4:29).
The next admonition has to do with the manner of life. It was a slight shock to me that I was the object of ridicule because there were things that most of my companions engaged in that I did not. Fornication, drinking, gambling and such things were foreign to me. I had never heard the word “homosexual,” and would not have known one if I met him in the middle of the road — which I did on one occasion. I still do not know how to warn anyone about that properly, except to give God’s condemnation upon it, for it seems so far from anything that has any normal appeal or rationality that it is hard to talk about it in any normal way. It feels almost as sensible to say to a young man, “Be careful and do not pierce your lips and hang a coffee cup in them, or pull out your fingernails with a pair of pliers.” However, since it must have an appeal to someone for some reason, I try to warn young people about the kind of persons to whom it appeals by pointing to such passages as Romans 1:24-26. There were those who did not want to have God in their knowledge, so God gave them up to a reprobate mind to do the things that are not fitting.
If we are not very careful in our warnings of all the things not to do, we may teach in such a negative fashion that our young people get the impression that the Christian life is primarily a life of not doing things. When we admonish them to let their manner of life be an example of and to the believers, we need to fill their minds with many good things they can do. We can encourage them to be sure to attend all the services of the church when they are away from home and participate in all the good activities that may be provided for them. It is impossible to attend a wonderful activity of fellowship and fun with Christians and simultaneously be engaged in a drunken party with a group of fellow service man (or any other group set on doing evil). I mention service men because of my grandson’s imminent departure, and my memory of the things with which I was associated in the Air Force.
Young people should be an example in love. I do not know exactly what aspect of love Paul had in mind at this point, but since he used the word “agape” he was not simply talking about an emotional response to some person or situation. If I had been giving advice to a young person, I might have thought it more significant to advise concerning “eros” or sexual attraction. It is important, but Paul was dealing with something more fundamental. When one understands and has “agape” in the way Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13, his “eros” will usually take care of itself.
To put it another way, “agape” is not an emotion, but a choice of will to sacrifice of yourself and what you have for the welfare or happiness of another. When one is the proper example to or of the believer in this, he has first loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and loved his neighbor as himself. He first seeks to please God. Then he seeks the welfare and happiness of all others. There is no better advice or example than this.
For a person to be an example in faith, he must show his personal trust in God and Jesus. He must not be like the young man who went away from home and his mother warned him in a letter that some of his companions might ridicule him for being a Christian. He wrote back, “Don’t worry about it, mother. They have not found out about it yet.” You cannot be an example if no one finds out about it.
I discovered another thing that surprised me, and I wanted to pass it on to my grandson and other young people. Although you may expect ridicule when you stand up for anything, if you really show that you mean it, without being dogmatic, arrogant, or trying to force it on anyone else, the pressure or ridicule will largely disappear and be replaced by respect. When my buddies found I did not drink, after they had gone through their elaborate hoax of trying to get me to drink what I thought was a cold drink that had been secretly thoroughly spiked with rum, they no longer overtly ridiculed me, but actually came to me with their questions and problems.
If one compromises and plays around with temptation and sin, and like Balaam says in effect, “Let us try it again on this other mountain” (Numbers 23:14), he will continue to get temptation, ridicule and disrespect.
We are to be an example to the believers in purity. If there is any admonition that needs to be heeded, it is this one: “Sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:8). Pure speech, free from dirty jokes, vile language, cursing and all the things one commonly hears this day, is unusual. Pure lives, free from fornication, gambling, ungodly activities of all sorts are greatly to be desired. Perhaps as basic as any of these is purity of motive. Although I have never heard anyone talk much about that, I think it important, for if a person will examine his motives, insofar as he is can know them, he may discover some interesting things about himself and prevent many dangerous situations from arising. Probably Jesus had these in mind when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
There is without doubt much other advice, warnings, admonitions that would be appropriate for young men to have, but if a person will be sure to take heed to the inspired and inspiring words of Paul to Timothy, he will be far ahead of the average. My grandson heard the words. Whether he got the message remains to be seen, but others of you who read this, whether young or old, would do well to try to practice the principles indicated.