The Spiritual Cultivation Of Our Young People
By David Robinson
Does the Bible really say a whole lot about young people? When we turn to Paul’s letters to Timothy, they are usually seen in light of church life or treated as manuals for training younger men in the ministry. However, when we read Paul addressing Timothy, it is noticeable that he does not use the words "fellow servant" or "pastor" but my "true" and "dear" son. Timothy, being a younger man, is being spiritually nurtured by his spiritual father so that he may faithfully serve God.
In First Timothy 1:18-19 Paul tells us his general reason for writing Timothy: "Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction…so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to the faith and a good conscience...."
While Timothy’s specific area of service may be the ministry, Paul does nurture Timothy in general ways that Christian parents of young men and women may emulate. In other words, Paul is not just instructing Timothy to be a good pastor; he is also training him to be a man of God. First Timothy 1:18-19 and the spiritual principles of Christian living in Paul’s letters become the prayer of every Christian parent for their teenager and young adult son or daughter. Do we not pray that they would fight the good fight, hold onto the faith (faithfulness) and have a clear conscience (purity) as they live in a world that seeks to pull them away from God and His love and goodness?
Beyond the specific commands for ministry that Paul lays out for Timothy, First and Second Timothy instruct parents of young men and young women broadly how they may nurture their children spiritually. We want to look at three nurturing principles in Second Timothy 1 – 3.
Pray for Your Children
"I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers" (2 Tim. 1:3). Paul’s opening words are profound as he directs parents to begin spiritually nurturing their children by praying for them. It is this simple act which is often overlooked by parents. We will worry and fret about the evils of the world; we will seek to control our teens by threats and parental commands to protect them from the world; and we will "give up" because they are "not like us." But Paul says, "Timothy, I constantly pray for you." Paul does not flout his apostleship or his spiritual training to say "I am qualified to nurture you." He begins with what all fathers and mothers are able to do regardless of their spiritual maturity – he prays.
Paul David Tripp in his book Age of Opportunity writes that parents must be aware of the battle that their young people face. He writes:
"Scripture says that life is war! As I have said many times to my children, ‘There is a war out there. It is being fought on the turf of your heart. It is fought for the control of your soul. Each situation you face today is a skirmish in the war. Be careful, be aware of the battle. Don’t forget that there is a scheming enemy out there who is out to deceive, divide and destroy. Go out knowing that to win you must fight. You must not relax, you must not forget.’ We cannot say this enough to our teenagers."
This battle can seem overwhelming as parents look at their young people’s lives and the world in which they live. Where do they begin? How do they guide their young people? Lectures? Sermons? Curfews? No, that is not the beginning. They quietly and humbly bend their knees before their Almighty Father and constantly pray that their teens may fight the good fight, and be found faithful and pure before God. And when we rise, we confess that our God is not only sovereign, but He is good, and we entrust our young people into His care. Our God alone is able to provide and protect, save and keep, love and prosper our teenagers. Do not neglect time spent quietly pleading with God.
Live a Passionate, Practical Christian Life
"Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God" (2 Tim. 1:8). How do we spiritually train our teenagers? Parents set the example with a passionate, practical, active and wholehearted Christian life which their teens watch and witness. Paul lived for Christ as he suffered for the Gospel message and he would say to Timothy what every Christian parent ought to say to their son or daughter: "join with me." Parents nurture their teens by walking with them on the Christian journey.
And when we read the verses that follow, we discover that Paul, the father, provides encouragement for Timothy to live for Jesus. It is not "just do what I do" because this is what we are commanded. Christianity is not drudgery nor is it weak and pathetic; rather it is a vibrant and passionate life. Paul is enthusiastic about living for Jesus. In verses 9-11 Paul writes that the reason we live for Jesus is out of thankfulness as He has saved us by destroying death and (imagine this!) bringing "life and immortality to light through the gospel." In verse 12 we read Paul spurring his son on in the midst of trouble as he writes: "That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day."
Do you hear Paul’s words? It is as if Paul is saying "Follow me, Timothy, because our God is not only a gracious God but a powerful God who will never let you go – He will guard your life. Whatever I go through, whatever suffering I encounter, my God is with me, therefore I am convinced that He will keep me. That is why I am never ashamed." Paul’s words and life would be contagious to Timothy as he does not have a father who fears the world and bemoans its evil. Rather, he has a father who stands and says: "Though the gates of hell are unleashed, God’s kingdom will advance."
When your young daughter or son looks at your life with Christ, is your Christian walk contagious? Do they see a strong and vibrant faith that is in love with your Savior? Do they see you stand for Jesus and make Him a priority? Are your teens able to say of you, "I join with my mom and dad in not being ashamed of Jesus"?
Prepare Your Teens for Life in This World
Paul’s counsel to his spiritual son Timothy is not "the world is evil; therefore avoid it." Rather, Paul writes to Timothy how he may spiritually be prepared to face the attack of the world. Paul is building spiritual filters in the ears and heart of Timothy so that he may be able to discern what is good and true and right. Too often, parenting is done out of fear, lest our children become too consumed with the world.
But seclusion from the world is impossible, so Paul writes: "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" (2:22). Do you hear Paul’s fatherly counsel? Negatively, flee from evil desires – Paul’s parental "don’t do that" or "don’t go there." But that is not the end of his message. Positively, he says "pursue" righteousness and love and peace.
Isolation from the world is impossible as well as unbiblical. Are you honestly and biblically preparing your teens to face the challenges? By the time Paul finishes chapter 3, he has explained in detail what the world looks like (3:1-5) and how Timothy may live as a spiritually vibrant young man when he takes up the Scriptures which "thoroughly equip" him "for every good work" (3:16-17).
We could continue to look at broad spiritual principles for godly living in Second Timothy. For example, we could examine how Paul stresses the importance of sound biblical teaching (1:13-14) and how he encourages Timothy to love the church and not desert her (1:15-18). Paul, the spiritual father, applies these general principles to Timothy’s specific calling with precision and prayer. As we read through First and Second Timothy, we read the general principles and then apply them to our teenagers’ lives to train, counsel, rebuke, and encourage. In reading and applying God’s Word, we find not only a rich treasure of practical life lessons but also tremendous encouragement as we are reminded again and again of the power of the Gospel and the sovereign grace of an awesome God who reigns forever and ever.
– Taken from the August 2006 issue of The Gospel Witness. Used by permission.