A young man asked me once how far he could go with his girlfriend and not sin. I asked him if he thought he would marry this girl one day and he shrugged. I said that if his future wife was ‘out there’ somewhere, what did he hope other guys would be doing with her? How far would he want them to go with his future bride? He got the point. Young men are to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness,” not just in the dating or courtship stage, but at all times before marriage. Hey guys, this is almost impossible without help. Seek out an older Christian brother to hold you accountable. Young husbands, you may have come into the marriage with a track record of giving into your lusts, and now you realize that doesn’t disappear magically when you say, “I do.” You need help to resist giving in to them, and what better partner to help you than your own spouse? Many times it is the younger wife who is the stronger spiritually, especially when it comes to these matters. Make yourself vulnerable in asking for her help.
A younger man is almost always ruled by his desires. It might be a desire for sexual pleasure that finds its empty fulfillment in sinful substitutes for the marriage bed. Or it might be a desire for entertainment pleasure, which can find its fake fulfillment in social media or Netflix or video game binges. It might be a lust for power or for success, which can lead to sacrificing everything on the altar of climbing the economic ladder. The truth is, you don’t break the commands of God; you break yourself against them. The longer and the harder you throw yourself into any pursuit other than God, the more you hurt yourself, and those around you. But when you submit yourself to the Lord and allow him to teach you self-control, there is no end to what he can do in and through your life. Again, we cannot do this alone. We need the help of Christian brothers and sisters, one of many reasons planting ourselves in a healthy church and really getting to know that gospel community is critical and necessary for our lives.
In the 1960s and 70s, psychologists at Stanford conducted the now-famous “Marshmallow Test.” They handed a child a marshmallow (or a cookie, whichever they liked best) and told him or her, “If you wait 15 minutes without eating this, I’ll give you two marshmallows.” Then the researcher left the room. Some of the kids gobbled up the first marshmallow or cookie; others waited. The way in which the second group waited is hilarious. Many kids paced the room. Some would pat the marshmallow or just stare at it. Others turned around so they couldn’t see it at all. Nonetheless, they chose delayed gratification. When these researchers tracked the kids’ progress over the years, they found that the second group far exceeded the first in life skills: they had higher SAT scores, were in better physical shape, even had a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) thirty years later and were more likely to be happy in life. The only difference between the two groups in this study was self-control.
An interviewer asked Sir Edmund Hilary, the first man who conquered Mount Everest, about his passions for climbing mountains. He said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” Younger people, God calls you first to conquer yourselves. And believe me, we older men are with you in the battle and have not yet arrived!
Conquering yourself will look a lot like taking up your cross daily and following Christ.
As many in the faith mourn the passing of Tim Keller and thank God for his ministry that has touched countless numbers, I am reminded of Paul’s strong encouragement for pastors and church leaders in Titus 2. Tim Keller modeled these things for us.
First, he is to teach what accords with sound doctrine. In short, he teaches the Bible. That is the first and most important responsibility of a minister of the Gospel, and nothing can replace it or cover up for the lack of it.
He is also to be a model of good works. Good leaders should never show off, but good leaders will always show up. And stand out. And that’s because we all need people to follow. Even people to imitate. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” It was Jeff who inspired me to do triathlons, at least a few, back when I was a younger man in my 50’s. I had heard Jeff talk about triathlons a lot, but then I started training with him, and learning from him, and that changed everything. It was Shawn who inspired me to start memorizing books of the Bible. I had heard Shawn and others talk about memorizing chapters and books in the Bible. But then I heard him recite a couple of chapters of Philippians and, several months later, I followed his example. John Calvin said, “Example draws where precept fails.” Do you get that? We can tell others how they are to live, but how much better to show them.
This is why parents who develop good strong relationships with their children are going to be the most palpable persuaders of sound doctrine that results in godly living in their children’s lives. In a recent survey of 9300 millennials who were raised in church-going homes, the most powerful predictor in children of Christian belief and practice as an adult, of satisfaction in life, of civic and community involvement, and many other positive results, was the presence of a strong relationship with their parents as they grew up. It’s just a fact that children grow up to be like their parents, for good or ill. The pastor’s job, then, is to teach the parents how to be godly role models for their children.
Not only must the pastor be a model for good works, but also he must have integrity, dignity, and sound speech in his teaching and preaching. Integrity means “incorruptness,” and it sits in contrast to the message of those who teach for shameful gain and will say whatever draws a crowd, or sells a book or CD. If integrity is your motive, dignity is your manner. Richard Baxter wrote, “Whatever you do, let the people see that you are in good earnest…you cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them.” There’s a balance here, I know, but teaching the Word must be serious business. I don’t mean dry and boring, but certainly we must be serious about the Word and how we present it. If our manner suggests that we only want to make people feel comfortable or light-hearted all the time, then we may very well be leading them down a comfortable path to destruction.
Finally, if integrity is your motive and dignity is your manner, then sound speech is your message. This does not refer to diction or enunciation but the validity of the message that we are presenting. Again, we who speak for God before His people must preach the Bible.
Is it enough to just do good works and ignore the Scriptures? No. Neither is it enough to teach the Bible and not live out its truths through good works. The church and the world must see both.
The story of Jacob and Joseph reuniting in Egypt after 22 years reminds me of the special love between a father and a son. No story moves me more on that theme than the story of John Paton, a 19th century missionary to New Hebrides in the South Seas. One of 11 children, John would write in his autobiography that the most memorable impression from his childhood was his father’s prayers for his children as he went to what John called his father’s Sanctuary Closet daily. He wrote, “my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, “He walked with God, why may not I?” John left home in his early 20’s for Glasgow, Scotland, to divinity school, where he would prepare for life as a missionary to the cannibals in the South Pacific. He records the story of his leaving for seminary in his autobiography:
“My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence – my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you and keep you from all evil!”
Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him – gazing after me. Waving my hat to him, I rounded the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return – his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.” (John G. Paton, D.D., Missionary to the New Hebrides)
May God grant us as parents and grandparents to love like John Paton’s parents loved him. And where we fail, or where we were failed by our parents, as none are perfect, may God give us grace to forget what lies behind and to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!
Years ago a seminary student in Chicago faced a forgiveness test. Although he preferred to work in some kind of ministry, the only job he could find was driving a bus on Chicago’s south side. One day a gang of teenagers got on board and refused to pay the fare. After a few days of this, the seminarian spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer made them pay, but then he got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang made him stop the bus so they could rob him and beat him severely. He pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. They were found guilty. But as soon as the jail sentence was given, the young Christian saw their spiritual need and felt pity for them. So he asked the judge if he could serve their sentences for them. The gang members and the judge were dumbfounded. “It’s because I forgive you,” he explained. His request was denied, of course, but he visited the young men in jail and led several of them to faith in Christ.
Forgiveness is not just a feeling but it is also a commitment of the will. We see that in Joseph with his brothers in several ways. He tells them to go back for their father and come back to Egypt to live. All of you, do not tarry, hurry back! Forgiveness does not look like, Well, I forgive you, but I never want to see you again. Joseph then told them he would give them a place to live and it would be near him. “I will provide for you,” he says. In effect he said, “I will make sure that by God’s provision you will live and not die.” There were 5 more years of famine. To send his brothers back with his “forgiveness” and an order to fend for themselves in Canaan would have been the end of them.
Forgiveness is not just a commitment of the will, but it is also a feeling! Because Joseph chose to forgive his brothers, God brought a warmth into his heart for them. We see that as he “kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” Derek Kidner wrote, “It was applied theology, God’s truth releasing the will for constructive effort and the emotions for healing affection.” After this, the Bible says, “his brothers talked with him.” What was that conversation about? We don’t know But I don’t think he was venting and rehearsing a list of all the ways they had hurt him. Oh, they had suffered for their actions against Joseph. Sin comes with consequences and is not without just punishment. But forgiveness looks beyond the sin to the sinner and the restored relationship that can now begin.
A couple married for 15 years began having more than their usual disagreements. They wanted to make their marriage work and agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop a slip of paper into a “Complaints” box. The boxes would provide a place to let the other know about daily irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts and approach: “leaving the jelly top off the jar,” “wet towels on the shower floor,” “dirty socks not in the hamper,” and more. After dinner, at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband read the slips his wife had written and reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. They were all the same; each one said, “I love you.”