A Pure Heart
Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2:22)
This verse presents five characteristics of a pure heart, which itself is a fifth characteristic of an honorable vessel for the Lord. This verse is almost identical to the apostle’s admonition in his previous letter to Timothy: “Flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11).
The first attribute of a pure heart is negative, expressed here in the command to flee youthful lusts. Flee is from phuegō, from which “fugitive” is derived. The Greek verb is here a present imperative of command, indicating that fleeing is not optional but is to be persistent. That meaning is reflected in the term “fugitive,” which refers to a person who is continually on the run in order to escape capture. The faithful Christian is continually on the run, as it were, from the sinful passions that started when we were young.
Timothy was some thirty years younger than Paul when this letter was written. He therefore was relatively youthful and was still tempted by many sinful lusts that are characteristic of young people. These lusts involve much more than sinful sexual desire. They also include pride, craving for wealth and power, inordinate ambition, jealousy, envy, an argumentative and self-assertive spirit, and many other sinful lusts.
Timothy was timid and apparently sometimes embarrassed by his close association with the apostle Paul and the uncompromising gospel he proclaimed. He probably was fearful of persecution and may not have boldly confronted all those who compromised and misinterpreted God’s revealed truth. He seems to have been especially intimidated by older men in the church who resented his leadership (1 Tim. 4:12). Losing the battle to youthful lusts would not help him resolve the problem of leadership or effectively correct wrong doctrine and immoral practices but would aggravate the conflict. For his own sake and the sake of the church, he was to flee such temptations and inclinations.
The next four attributes of a pure heart are positive and comprehensive: righteousness, faith, love and peace. To pursue those virtues is the other side of fleeing youthful lusts. As with flee, the Greek verb translated pursue is an imperative. Paul is not making a suggestion.
A believer who does not run from sin and toward righteousness will be overtaken by sin. “When [an] unclean spirit goes out of a man,” Jesus said, “it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first” (Luke 11:24–26). The only way not to “be overcome by evil” is to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). Understanding that truth, the psalmist wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word” (Ps. 119:9). In whatever age the faithful live, the only infallible and effective guide to righteousness is God’s divine Word. Living a pure life does not involve following an esoteric system of ritual, having a mystical experience, achieving a special level of human wisdom, or making a decision to do so. But by faithfully pursuing and obeying the truth of Scripture, even the most unsophisticated child of God is able to successfully pursue the Lord’s righteousness.
The godly believer also will pursue … faith. In this context, pistis (faith) is better rendered “faithfulness,” as it is of God in Romans 3:3 and of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. The supreme purpose of a believer with a pure heart is to please and glorify God by pursuing integrity, loyalty, and trustworthiness. It was for lack of such “weightier provisions of the law—“justice and mercy and faithfulness”—that Jesus excoriated the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23:23). The truly faithful Christian will be loyal to God, to God’s Word, to God’s work, and to God’s people.
He also will pursue … love, the first and foremost fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Of the several words in Greek that are translated love, agapē is the noblest, because it is the word of choice, not of feelings or sentiment, as fine as those sometimes may be. It is the love of the mind and the will, not of emotion or affection even of the highest sort. It is the love of conscious determination, not impulse. It is the love that focuses on the welfare of the one loved, not on self-gratification or self-fulfillment. Agapē love is not based on the attractiveness or worthiness of those who are loved, but on their needs, even when they are most unattractive and unworthy. It is selfless and self-giving.
Agapē love is used countless times of God Himself. It is that love which God the Father has for His own Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:26) and for those who belong to the Son by faith (John 14:21). It is the love which our gracious Lord has for even fallen, sinful mankind (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). Agapē love is so characteristic of God that John twice tells us that He is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
The godly believer also will pursue … peace. Eirēnē (peace) is the word from which we get “serene” and “serenity.” In this context it does not refer to absence of warfare but to harmonious relationships, between men and God and between men and other men, especially between Christians. “If possible, so far as it depends on you,” Paul commands, “be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).
Although the church at Ephesus was one of the most mature and faithful congregations mentioned in the New Testament, at the time Paul wrote his letters to Timothy it was experiencing serious internal conflict. Paul’s prediction to the elders of the church as they met on the beach near Miletus was already being fulfilled. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you,” he warned, “not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30). Confronting all of that and maintaining peace requires a delicate balance.
Those who call on the Lord is a description of genuine Christians, referring specifically to their calling on the Lord for salvation—for His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness. To call on the Lord is the equivalent of placing saving faith in Him. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him,” Paul assures believers in Rome. Quoting Joel 2:32, he then adds, “For ‘Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved’ ” (Rom. 10:12–13). The apostle opens his first letter to the church at Corinth with these words: “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1:1–2, emphasis added).
But not everyone who calls on the Lord for salvation continues to faithfully serve and obey Him. From a pure heart therefore further identifies the godly believers who qualify as honorable vessels. The term pure comes from the same root word as “cleanses” in verse 21 and takes us back to where Paul’s thought began—to the truth that a clean vessel is a useful one. They continue to call on the Lord for guidance, strength, and wisdom in living for Him. The Christian with a pure heart diligently pursues the righteousness, faith, love, and peace mentioned in the first half of this verse. He is the “vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” mentioned in the previous verse.
22 Paul uses another ministry metaphor: whoever would be used by God must be “the Lord’s servant” (v. 24). The intensity of the apostle’s pleading with Timothy does not let up. Paul urges his foremost disciple to “flee” (pheugō, GK 5771) and “pursue” (diōkō, GK 1503; see comments at 1 Ti 6:11). Negatively, he must flee the “evil desires of youth” (lit., “youthful desires/passions,” neōterikas epithymias, GK 3754, 2123; cf. 3 Macc 4:8; Ignatius, Magn. 3.1], there being no equivalent for “evil” in the original; cf. Josephus, Ant. 16.11.8), in possible contrast with the earlier-mentioned Hymenaeus and Philetus (v. 17; cf. also 1 Ti 4:12). What Timothy must pursue is “righteousness” (moral uprightness), “faith” (trust in God), “love” (a charitable disposition toward others), and “peace” (harmony rather than argumentativeness) (see comments at 1 Ti 1:14).
Likely, the scope of the “youthful desires” Timothy must flee is considerably broader than sexual “lusts” (cf. NASB, “youthful lusts”). If the positive traits mentioned are any indication, Timothy is to shun all unrighteousness (i.e., any form of immorality, including sexual sins, 3:6, and the desire to get rich, 1 Ti 6:9), lack of faith (including self-reliance in conduct or teaching), lovelessness (and the selfishness that is characteristic of the false teachers), and restlessness (often characteristic of youth). Of course, it is not only the young who must flee “youthful desires” (cf. Quinn and Wacker, 696–97). In one word, Timothy is to train himself in “godliness” (eusebeia, 1 Ti 4:7–8). The quest for holiness need not be a lonely enterprise, as though believers ought to retreat to their closets and devote themselves to meditative exercises. Rather, holiness should be pursued in community: “along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (a partial allusion to Joel 2:32; cf. v. 19 above).
22 Following the illustrative centerpiece of the passage, and in light of the call to conversion just sounded, the second set of three imperatives resumes direct instruction to Timothy. In rough parallel with the first half of the section, the three imperatives in this latter half will be supported with a sub-section of rationale (vv. 24–26).
As with the shift back to Timothy in 1 Tim 6:11 (see discussion), the transition here is made by insertion of a traditional teaching device, containing the first two of the imperatives, “flee/pursue.” The function of the pair is to contrast behavior to be shunned with behavior to be embraced. Timothy is to flee from “the evil desires of youth.”
While this forms a contrast with the “good works” referred to in v. 21, it is not entirely clear what range of behavior or attitudes is covered by “the evil desires of youth.” “Desires” may refer to neutral or even positive needs and longings in some contexts (cf. the verb in 1 Tim 3:1), but one development of the term that is prominent in the NT is its reference to negative or neutral desires which if not controlled become excessive and possibly harmful or evil impulses (see on 1 Tim 6:9). That is surely the case here, but the adjective “youthful” does not limit the scope of the content much. Although Timothy’s relative youthfulness is mentioned in 1 Tim 4:12, the reference here is almost certainly not to his own tendencies but to those evident in the church, and especially among the troublemakers. In general, the thought must be of those attitudes or impulses characteristic of youth, and the items to be pursued present a fitting opposite. The present context might imply a tendency to engage in arguments as a part of this “youthful” profile, or, on the basis of another development of the term and cognates, “cravings for innovation.” In any case, sexual lust does not seem to be the focus, and the plurality of the whole construction suggests a broad pattern of behavior, rather than a particular weakness. Various kinds of behavior characterized by impetuous or rash acts without thought to consequences could easily be in view; context suggests it would be those related to argument and abrupt innovation that are uppermost in mind.
The second imperative verb impels Timothy positively to “pursue” the alternative life of faith. This life is characterized by a list of four virtues (cf. 3:10–11; 1 Tim 4:12; 6:11). The first three of these, “righteousness, faith, love,” also occur in the list of 1 Tim 6:11 (see discussion and notes). “Uprightness” (dikaiosynē) was one of the cardinal virtues in Hellenistic thought. Its presentation here in a list of virtues is Greek in style, but its orientation in these letters is specifically grounded in the Christ-event (cf. Titus 2:12). Here it presents a contrast with its antonym adikia in v. 19.
The next two items, “faith” and “love,” occur together nine times in the lists of Christian qualities in the letters to coworkers. Again, while the list-form and some of the items included in the lists correspond to Greek ethical teaching, these two qualities are central to the understanding of authentic Christian existence expressed throughout Paul.139 Together they sum up the Christian life in terms of the “vertical” or mystical faith relationship with God and the “horizontal” or relational outworking of that faith in other-oriented service (see on 1 Tim 1:5).
The singular occurrence of the fourth element, “peace” (see on 1 Tim 1:2), in an ethical discourse seems to be conditioned by two factors in the immediate context. First, it is an attitude of quiet composure that would have a neutralizing effect upon the combative quarreling of the false teachers (vv. 14, 23–24). Second, it corresponds to the disposition of patience and kind concern (see below) that is intended to lead the opponent to repentance.
It becomes clear in the prepositional phrase that finishes the verse that the qualities listed are meant to typify authentic faith, and that “pursuit” of them is then to be understood as a standard. Believers are then depicted with two terms. First, the phrase “those who call upon the Lord,” which was adopted from the OT, is a frequent designation in the early church for God’s people. Here it resumes the theme initiated at 2:19; the phrase specifically describes Christians as those marked out by their confession of Christ as Lord (“Lord” = Jesus Christ). This identification of authentic believers is strengthened and more sharply focused in the phrase “out of a pure heart,” which views Christian existence from the perspective of the inward cleansing (“heart” = thoughts, emotions, consciousness, volition) associated with conversion (see on 1 Tim 1:5).
2:22 / These two imperatives (flee and pursue), which are identical to those in 1 Timothy 6:11, are closely related to verses 19–21, which emphasize “turning away from wickedness” and “cleansing himself of these things.” But the negative imperative in this case is somewhat surprising in the context. Why here is Timothy told to flee the evil desires of youth?
The answer lies basically in the meaning of the word evil desires (epithymiai; cf. 1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Tim. 4:3) in these letters. Rather than “lusts,” it simply means desires, especially evil desires. Thus Paul is not so much speaking of sensual passions as he is those kinds of headstrong passions of youth, who sometimes love novelties, foolish discussions, and arguments that all too often lead to quarrels.
Instead of engaging in the pastimes of the false teachers, Timothy is to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. For these first three items see the discussion on 1 Timothy 6:11. Just as the final items on that list were especially relevant to the context, so here Timothy must also pursue … peace, as do all those who call upon the name of the Lord out of a pure heart (not, as gnb, “call out to the Lord for help”; cf. 1 Cor. 1:2). This last phrase is another idiom for God’s people in the ot (cf. 2:10; Titus 2:14); they are those who call upon the Lord, that is, worship Yahweh, the God of Israel, and none other. Along with the modifier out of a pure heart (cf. 1 Tim. 1:5; the same root as the verb “cleanse oneself” in v. 21), this designation sets off the true people of God (who pursue righteousness, etc.) from the false teachers, who do not truly know God (cf. Titus 1:16) but are ensnared by Satan. Perhaps, too, as with verse 19, it is a word of encouragement to Timothy by reminding him that not all “have bowed the knee to Baal.”
2:22. So flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a clean heart.
Paul makes direct application of the previous metaphor to Timothy, instructing him what to flee from and what to run to. The one who seeks to cleanse himself from what is dishonourable (2:21) will first of all ‘flee from youthful passions’. ‘Youthful passions’ may mean either the sensual desires associated with youth, or the youthful infatuation with what is novel and innovative, or possibly even the angry passions and hotheadedness that often characterize youth (cf. 2:23–26)—or perhaps some combination of the three. In contrast, Timothy is to ‘pursue’ proper Christian virtues. The command to pursue ‘righteousness’, ‘faith’ and ‘love’ is almost identical to Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 6:11 (see discussion there). Here, however, Paul adds ‘peace’ to the list. This perfectly fits the context, which emphasizes the minister’s duty to be gentle and avoid quarrels, and to seek the peace and purity of the church. Paul concludes this verse by indicating that these instructions are not for Timothy alone—all ‘who call on the Lord from a clean heart’ will pursue these virtues. This final phrase also indicates that righteousness comes only from a transformed heart. God’s work in regeneration must precede any effort towards sanctification.
As in 1 Timothy, Timothy’s responsibility in regard to the false teachers means first of all a concern for his own personal spiritual health and godliness. Then it means combating the false teachers in a godly way. This is important for two reasons. First, personal holiness in life is essential for purity in doctrine. Secondly, a godly response to our enemies is impossible without proper training in personal holiness.
22. Flee youthful desires. This is an inference from what goes before; for, after mentioning useless questions, and having been led by this circumstance to censure Hymenæus and Philetus, whose ambition and vain curiosity had led them away from the right faith, he again exhorts Timothy to keep at a distance from so dangerous a plague. And for this purpose he advises him to avoid “youthful desires.” By this term he does not mean either a propensity to uncleanness, or any of those licentious courses or sinful lusts in which young men frequently indulge, but any impetuous passions to which the excessive warmth of that age is prone. If some debate has arisen, young men more quickly grow warm, are more easily irritated, more frequently blunder through want of experience, and rush forward with greater confidence and rashness, than men of riper age. With good reason, therefore, does Paul advise Timothy, being a young man, to be strictly on his guard against the vices of youth, which otherwise might easily drive him to useless disputes.
But follow righteousness. He recommends the opposite feelings, that they may restrain his mind from breaking out into any youthful excesses; as if he had said, “These are the things to which thou oughtest to give thy whole attention, and thy whole exertions.” And first he mentions righteousness, that is, the right way of living; and afterwards he adds faith, and love, in which it principally consists. Peace is closely connected with the present subject; for they who delight in the questions which he forbids must be contentious and fond of debating.
With all that call on the Lord. Here, by a figure of speech, in which a part is taken for the whole, “calling on God” is taken generally for worship, if it be not thought preferable to refer it to profession. But this is the chief part of the worship of God, and for that reason “calling on God” often signifies the whole of religion or the worship of God. But when he bids him seek “peace with all that call upon the Lord,” it is doubtful whether, on the one hand, he holds out all believers as an example, as if he had said, that he ought to pursue this in common with all the true worshippers of God, or, on the other hand, he enjoins Timothy to cultivate peace with them. The latter meaning appears to be more suitable.
22. This direct advice to Timothy is closely linked with the general principles stated in verses 20 and 21. There is an implied contrast with the pursuit of good works, as the sequence flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness The rsv translates the latter expression as ‘aim at righteousness’, i.e. set right actions as a goal for living. It need not be supposed that Timothy was beyond the age to need such advice, for as compared with Paul he was still at a stage when adverse influences might lead him astray. One suggestion is that the apostle is here thinking of such passions as impatience, love of dispute and novelties, ambition (Spicq). This is supported by the contrasted virtues to be pursued, righteousness, faith, love and peace, the first three of which have already been urged on Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:11. To live at peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart is an indispensable requisite of the Christian minister, as indeed of every Christian, although all too often ignored. The secret is to be found in the concluding words out of a pure heart (cf. 1 Tim. 1:5), for peace and purity are never far apart.
Ver. 22. Flee youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace.—
Flee the passions of youth:—Timothy was no longer a young man, but he was still in the strength of his manhood, when he might easily suffer from desires and passions which are comparatively venial in a youth. The juvenilia desideria, the immoderate hilarity, the irregular longings of the flesh and mind, the rashness of judgment, the self-indulgence, the love of admiration, which are weakness and failure of youth, not its beauty nor its charm. (H. R. Reynolds, D.D.)
The Christian young man:—To the word “lust” a specific meaning is now popularly attached, which we do not find in the original; the term there used being much more extensive, and, with the addition of the epithet, “youthful,” much more expressive. It signifies the inclination of the mind; and thus it includes what is evil in the spark as well as in the flame, in the blossom as well as in the fruit, in the deep, though still fountain, as well as in the rolling, turbid, and impetuous stream. And with good reason; for however small and obscure the beginning, the end may be most momentous, most irreparable. Hear it plainly stated: “Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Watch over inclination, lest it become desire; watch over desire, lest it become appetite; watch over appetite, lest it become passion; watch over passion, lest it become, in the evil and extreme sense, “lust.” And this applies equally to voluptuousness, ambition, covetousness, revenge, and all the characteristic vices of youth.
- And this is to be done by avoiding, as far as it be possible, the companionship of the ungodly. On this subject, indeed, the wise man, teaching from experience, is earnest even beyond his wont; counselling with an emphatic iteration: “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men; avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.” It is against the first step that young men should be exhorted especially to guard; to beware of the first act, against which conscience enters and records its solemn protest.
- While, however, you “flee youthful lusts” by avoiding companionship with the wicked, flee them also by cultivating companionship with the heart; and weigh well those associations, habits, and pursuits, which give a direction to the mind. Beware lest inclination assume the reins of action; beware lest interest or convenience usurp that supremacy over the purposes and the practices, which ought to be exercised only by conscience and by principle. Test all things by one standard; try all men by one rule; and let that be the Word of God. Whenever, therefore, in a judgment administered upon such principles, and directed to such an end, the bent of the mind and the will are found to be in any particular instance opposed to the great purpose, for which all who bear, by their own consent, the name of Christian, must for that very reason profess to live, it is clear that the course of life must be altered, the stream of thought and desire must be turned, the current must be made to flow in an opposite direction. And if this only be done as soon as the necessity is discerned, it will be done effectually, and it will be done comparatively without an effort.
III. Not only, however, are we exhorted in the text to “flee youthful lusts,” but to cultivate those Christian graces and dispositions, which can never appear to greater advantage than when they are associated with the natural transparency and ingenuousness of youth. 1. Follow, then, after righteousness. Give God what is His due; and you will never withhold from man what is his. 2. Follow not only after righteousness, but, as the apostle exhorts his son Timothy, after “faith.” Account, that as practical righteousness, the rendering of everything that is due to man, so faith is the expectation of all that is needful from God. 3. Next, you are exhorted to follow “charity” or love. Love is the essence of righteousness, for it is “the fulfilling of the law”; it is also the evidence of faith, for “faith worketh by love.” 4. Lastly, in the words of the apostle, “follow after peace.” This, indeed, is the subject of one of the most earnest petitions that ever fell from human lips: “Now the God of peace Himself give you peace always by all means.” Nor can the apostles of the Lord and Saviour better express the fervour of their love for the brethren than by the prayer that “grace, mercy, and peace may be multiplied to them through Jesus Christ.” Yes, peace is indeed an object worthy to be followed by man, a blessing worthy to be multiplied by God. Follow after peace, then, and ye will find it, in all its varieties of excellency and of loveliness. Peace of conscience; for your sins, however multiplied and aggravated, shall be made as though they had never been. Peace of mind; for “great peace have they that love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” Peace with man in life, for “the work of righteousness is peace”; and peace—the “peace that passeth understanding”—in death, for “mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.” Now we have looked upon four objects of moral excellency and social usefulness, which the young Christian is to follow—righteousness, faith, charity, peace. Let us contrast these with four “youthful lusts,” desires, inclinations, or tendencies, call them which you will, from which he is to flee. The love of self, as opposed to righteousness; the pride of philosophical unbelief—unbelief that calls itself philosophical—as opposed to faith; covetousness, or the desire of accumulation, as opposed to charity; and the turbulence of mirth, revelry, and excess, as opposed to peace. (T. Dale, M.A.)
Admonitions to the young:—
- Consider what you ought to avoid—“Flee youthful lusts.” The objects of abhorrence are distinctly specified in this short but impressive caution. No palliating epithets are employed to divest them of their disgusting qualities. They are not pleaded for by being called, as too many in modern times represent them “mere juvenile indiscretions,”—“youthful follies,” which maturer age will correct; but they are marked by a term, which at once describes and condemns them. Lust, in the language of Scripture, has an extensive latitude of meaning; it is applied to evil desire in general—the desire of what is in itself unlawful and forbidden, or the intemperate desire of what is in itself lawful and allowed. This explanation accords with the assertion of the apostle John in his first Epistle, in which he gives an accurate classification of evil desires: “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world.” The passions and appetites of our nature are powerful principles of action. Were they always subjected to the government of enlightened reason, they would become sources of innocent gratification; indulgence would leave no stain, and remembrance would awaken no remorse. But from their fatal predominance over the convictions of the understanding, and the remonstrances of conscience, what streams of sin and misery have inundated the world! To these, as their immediate sources, may be traced innumerable diseases which ruin the body, by causing its premature debility, and securing its inevitable destruction. But their direst evil is that they “war against the soul,” impair the mind, and pollute the heart. In order to render the impression more vivid, let us consider to what evil desires the young are peculiarly exposed; what are the unhallowed passions that require their utmost vigilance and opposition. 1. I would first exhort you, my young friends, to guard against the seductions of sensuality; against what are emphatically termed “fleshy lusts.” On no subject are the sacred writers more frequent, or more alarming in their denunciations than on this. Aware of the wide-spreading nature of the contagion, they continually remind us of its evil, and direct us to the means of counteracting and expelling it. 2. Beware of intemperance. By intemperance, I mean particularly the excessive indulgence of those appetites of our nature on which our existence depends. It is sometimes said that such indulgence, so basely irrational, places a man on a level with the brutes that perish. But it is insulting to brutes to make the comparison. The laws of animal instinct teach them moderation, and the dictates of universal conscience as well as the “grace of God,” should teach men, that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, they should live soberly in this present evil world.” Intemperance is the baneful source of most destructive evils; it is the powerful stimulus to the commission of crimes, which men would shudder to perpetrate in the cool moments of sobriety. 3. Amongst the evil principles which the apostle warns us to avoid, may be included also high-mindedness, for immediately after the exhortation in the text, he says, “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” And to enforce this impressive caution he predicts the approach of “perilous times,” when all the symptoms of unhallowed self-exaltation should be manifest in the prevailing characters of men. I have adopted a term of extensive application, because it includes the various modifications of pride, haughtiness, conceit, vanity, and ambition. It is worthy of your attentive regard that the admonition in the text is levelled at the very seat and principle of iniquity. The tyranny of the passions is enthroned on the heart; and it is from that interior dominion they must be expelled. The axe is therefore laid at the root of the tree, that all its branches and fruit may be destroyed. The apostle does not merely say, Flee evil habits, impure connections, and all the scenes of temptation, but he says what virtually includes all this, by denouncing their pernicious origin: “Flee youthful lusts”; let not the desire be indulged; “the thought of foolishness is sin.” As the venerable Elisha purified the waters of Jericho, by sprinkling salt on the fountain whence they flowed, so the apostle directs us to cleanse the springs of action; persuaded that they will send forth wholesome streams when healed from the contamination of sin.
- Our next general inquiry respects the opposite principles and tempers which ought to form the objects of your constant and unremitting pursuit. What should you follow? He was persuaded that in order to “abhor that which is evil,” we must “cleave to that which is good.” Let us attend to his wise and salutary directions. 1. Follow righteousness. This term frequently occurs in the sacred writings, with various, though connected acceptations. In its most important reference it is applied to that perfect “obedience even unto death,” by which our exalted Lord “magnified the law and made it honourable.” The Scriptures which so clearly reveal this righteousness as the exclusive basis of acceptance with God, announce the method of obtaining its blessings. “Not to him that worketh, but to him that believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” This righteousness, the possession of which justifies a sinner in the sight of God, will infallibly secure as its invariable consequence, an inherent rectitude of principle—that personal righteousness, “without which no man can see the Lord.” In conformity with this statement, I would earnestly exhort you, my young friends, to cultivate all the fruits of righteousness. Aim at the entire agreement of your spirit and actions with the unerring rule of righteousness, laid down in the sacred Word. There you behold its nature clearly defined, and its wide extent unfolded. It is not a variable, shifting principle, adapted to the changes of custom, and the fluctuations of caprice. Its nature and obligations are not dependent on views of expediency, which may happen to agree with its dictates to-day, and suggest an opposite rule of conduct to-morrow. Righteousness is the conformity of the heart and life to the immutable laws of equity which God has established; an equity, unbending in its decisions, and unalterable in its claims. 2. If you “follow righteousness,” your character will be adorned by fidelity. This I conceive is what the apostle meant by “faith”; and the word has precisely this rendering, in the Epistle to Titus, in which servants are exhorted to “show all good fidelity.” Fidelity is an important part of righteousness; it is one of the essential expressions of it, and all pretensions to rectitude without it are but as “tinkling cymbals and as sounding brass.” 3. With “righteousness and fidelity,” the apostle connects charity and peace. The principles and duties of justice are intimately blended with those of benevolence. The latter derive all their value and stability from the former, and give them in return “an ornament of grace—a crown of glory.” Charity, or love, is of essential importance to Christian character. It is often referred to as a decisive test of real religion. It is well described by the apostle Paul as the “bond of perfectness.” It unites and combines all the other graces, “fitly framing them together,” giving them beauty, proportion, and effect. The apostle Paul has presented a full-length portraiture of Charity. Are you surprised that peace should spring from that charity which “endureth all things”? This is its rational and invariable result. The peace which flows from believing, and which consists in reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ, will be connected with a pacific temper and disposition. These are the objects of pursuit exhibited to your attention, in the exhortation of the text. You are commanded to follow them, wherever they may lead you; to aim at attaining them, whatever they may cost you; and with unremitting diligence to persevere in the path which they have prescribed. With peculiar propriety has the apostle connected this wise direction with the preceding caution. Every disposition marked out as the object of pursuit, immediately tends to the subversion of those unhallowed desires which you are warned to avoid. You cannot indulge in one “youthful lust” but you violate the claims of “righteousness, faith, charity, and peace.” Let these holy principles exist, and you will be effectually armed against the enemies of your souls.
III. With whom should you associate? “With them that call on the Lord with a pure heart.” Religion does not extirpate the social affections of our nature; but it directs their exercise, and consecrates them supremely to the glory of God. The fellowship of a Christian Church is designed to bring them under the guidance of those laws which Christ has revealed in His Word, and to regulate all our voluntary associations. The influence of pernicious example is peculiarly felt in the circle of intimate friendship. There your opinions and practices receive their strongest confirmation; and your character and habits, if at first opposed to the prevailing complexion of those with whom you associate, will be almost imperceptibly changed. Consider the infinite importance of being now “numbered with the saints,” “on the Lord’s side,” that you may not be “gathered with sinners” at the day of final separation and unalterable decision! (Jos. Fletcher, M.A.)
Purity:—Antony William Boehme, a German divine, once preached from Exodus 20:14: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” A chevalier, who was one of his hearers, felt himself so much insulted that he challenged Boehme to fight a duel, because he thought his sermon designed entirely to offend him. Boehme accepted the challenge, and appeared in his robes; but instead of a pistol he had the Bible in his hand, and spoke to him in the following manner: “I am sorry you were so much offended when I preached against that destructive vice; at the time I did not even think of you. Here I appear with the sword of the Spirit, and if your conscience condemns you, I beseech you, for your own salvation, to repent of your sins and lead a new life. If you will, then fire at me immediately, for I would willingly lose my life if that might be the means of saving your soul!” The chevalier was so struck with this language that he embraced him and solicited his friendship. A bold man was this preacher, and reminds you of another bold man in English history, Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, who presented to Henry VIII. for a new year’s gift a New Testament, doubled down at the leaf where is written, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). God’s truth must be told, and not be kept back. The Seventh Commandment concerns our own and our neighbour’s chastity: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” It forbids all acts of uncleanness, with all those fleshly lusts which produce those acts and war against the soul; and all those practices which cherish and excite those fleshly lusts, as looking in order to lust, which Christ tells us is forbidden in this commandment (Matt. 5:28). The eyes, like Jacob’s cattle, too firmly fixed on beautiful objects, make the affections bring forth spotted fruit, and it is as easy to quench the fire of Etna as the thought fixed by lust. Lusting is often the result of looking, as in David, who saw Bathsheba bathing, and in Joseph’s mistress, who set her eyes upon Joseph. Lust is quicksighted. How much better Job, who would not look, lest he should think upon a maid! He had learned to keep in his eyes from roving to wanton prospects. Samson’s eyes were the first offenders that betrayed him to unlawful desire of carnal pleasure; therefore are his eyes first pulled out, and he led a blind captive to Gaza, where before he had with carnal appetite gazed on his Delilah. Among the things which in our baptismal vow we promised to renounce are the sinful lusts of the flesh. The text enforces that promise upon us. Carnal pleasures are the sins of youth; ambition and the love of power the sins of middle age: covetousness and carking cares the crimes of old age. “Flee fornication,” &c. (1 Cor. 6:18, 19). He that commits this sin sinneth against his own body; and inasmuch as his body was created for God’s Holy Spirit to dwell in, it is a defilement of the temple of God. This sin of fornication is, therefore, the more hateful, because by committing it a man sins both against himself, against his fellow-creature, and against his God. By indulging in this sin he debases his noblest faculties; he defiles and destroys God’s handiwork; he makes vile that which God made holy. By the just judgment of God all these irregular and sinful connections are married to death. Neither prostitutes, whoremongers, nor unclean persons of any description can live out half their days Parents! beware of the example of Eli! He was a good man himself, but his children were extremely wicked—he restrained them not. Parents! see that your children do not associate with corrupt companions—“Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Indulged children, like Dinah (Gen. 34), often become a grief and shame to their families. Her pretence was to see the daughters of the land, to see how they dressed, and how they danced, and what was fashionable amongst them; she went to see—she went to be seen too; she went to gain an acquaintance with those Canaanites, and to learn their way. See what came from Dinah’s roving! The beginning of sin is as the letting forth of water—“Give the water no passage, neither an unprotected daughter liberty to gad abroad” (Ecclus). Carefully avoid all occasions of sin and approaches to it. Parents! let your household arrangements be such as never to endanger your children’s purity of character; never let the blush of shame be needlessly raised on their cheeks. Whatever sacrifice it may cost you in other ways, do not put them in jeopardy by crowding your family into too small a space, thus rendering it impossible that a sense of decency and modesty should be preserved. It is a false and fatal economy that would tempt you to do this. Much depends on you, landlords, masters, employers of labour. But whatever may be done by parents or by masters, to you, young men and young women, we must mainly look. The celebrated John Newton, as the commander of a slave-ship, had a number of women under his absolute command, and knowing the danger of his situation on that account, he resolved to abstain from flesh in his food, and to drink nothing stronger than water during the voyage, that by abstemiousness he might subdue every improper emotion. Upon his setting sail, the sight of a certain point of land was the signal for his beginning a rule which he was enabled to keep. (R. A. Taylor, M.A.)
Helps against lusts:—1. Get a sound knowledge of them. 2. Mortify thy carnal members. 3. Labour for a broken heart. 4. Be diligent in thy calling. 5. Abandon lewd companions. 6. And strive to taste deeply of the water of life; favour the best things. (J. Barlow, D.D.)
Youthful lusts:—And thy lusts of youth are principally these: pride, idleness, pleasure, wantonness. To avoid these see thou—1. Set a watch over all thy external senses. In presence, view not, touch not. In absence, talk not, think not on wanton affections. 2. Sleep little, eat little, work much, pray much; for take away the fuel and the fire will be quenched. 3. When wandering cogitations or suggestions reflect on thy fancy, divert them the contrary way. Forget not this. 4. Attend to good counsel, and follow it; and see before thou purpose anything what the best men advise thee. (Ibid.)
A choice between the higher and lower life:—Thou hast a double nature. Choose between the worse and the better that is within thee. Thou hast it in thy power to become the slave of passion, the slave of luxury, the slave of sensual pleasure, the slave of corruption. Thou hast it in thy power to become the free master of thyself, to become the everlasting benefactor of thy country, and the unfailing champion of thy God. (Dean Stanley.)
Passions to be early checked:—There was once an old monk walking through the forest with a little scholar by his side. The old man suddenly stopped and pointed to four plants close at hand. The first was beginning to peep above the ground; the second had rooted itself pretty well into the earth; the third was a small shrub; whilst the fourth and last was a full-sized tree. Then the old monk said to his young companion: “Pull up the first.” The youth easily pulled it up with his fingers. “Now pull the second.” The youth obeyed, but not so easily. “And the third.” But the boy had to put forth all his strength, and to use both arms, before he succeeded in uprooting it. “And now,” said the master, “try your hand upon the fourth.” But lo! the trunk of the tall tree, grasped in the arms of the youth, scarcely shook its leaves, and the little fellow found it impossible to tear its roots from the earth. Then the wise old monk explained to his scholar the meaning of the four trials. “This, my son, is just what happens with our passions. When they are young and weak, one may, by a little watchfulness over self, and the help of a little self-denial, easily tear them up; but if we let them cast their roots deep down into our souls, then no human power can uproot them, the Almighty hand of the Creator alone can pluck them out. For this reason, watch well over the first movements of your soul, and study by acts of virtue to keep your passions well in check.”
The bloom of youthful purity:—There grows a bloom and beauty over the beauty of the plum and apricot, more exquisite than the fruit itself—a soft, delicate flush that overspreads its blushing cheek. Now, if you strike your hand over that, it is gone for ever, for it never grows but once. The flower that hangs in the morning impearled with dew, arrayed as a queenly woman never was arrayed with jewels; once shake it so that the beads roll off, and you may sprinkle water over it as you please, yet it can never be made again what it was when the dew fell silently on it from heaven. On a frosty morning you may see panes of glass covered with landscapes, mountains, lakes, and trees, blended in a beautiful fantastic picture. Now, lay your hand upon the glass, and by a scratch of your finger, or by the warmth of your palm, all the delicate tracery will be obliterated. So there is in youth a beauty and purity of character, which, when once touched and defiled, can never be restored—a fringe more delicate than frost-work, and which, when torn and broken, will never be reembroidered. He who has spotted and soiled his garments in youth, though he may seek to make them white again, can never wholly do it, even were he to wash them with his tears. When a young man leaves his father’s house with the blessing of a mother’s tears still wet upon his brow, if he once lose that early purity of character, it is a spot that he can never make whole again. Such is the consequence of crime. Its effects cannot be eradicated; it can only be forgiven.
Righteousness:—Let me exhort you to put on the righteousness of Christ Jesus, as by application, so in imitation. When thou art to deal with God, and to appeal in His court, see thou have this wedding garment: clothe thy nakedness with the mantle of Jesus; cover thy sinful person with no other robe; wear not linsey-woolsey; mix not thy pigeon feathers with this eagle’s plumes; blend not thy flash water with this fresh wine, lest thy nakedness appear, and death be found in the pot. But with him, who knew what he did (Phil. 3:8, 9), cast off thy rags, trample them under foot, and apparel thyself with the pure linen of Christ our Lord; for Solomon in all his royalty was not clothed like him, who hath put on Christ Jesus. (J. Barlow, D.D.)
Faith:—By faith the righteousness of Christ is unfolded, apprehended, put on. Knowledge, like the eye, may direct us unto the wedding garment. But faith, as the hand, must take hold of it, apparel ourselves with it. What if we be said to live by faith? so are we by our hands. Yet doth any man eat his fingers? No; it is by that which faith applieth; and the motion of the hand procureth and receiveth. (Ibid.)
Following peace:—For thy help take these directions:—1. Be at peace with God; for that will keep thy heart and mind in the acknowledgment and love of the truth (Phil. 4:7, 9). 2. Have peace with thyself. In all things be in subjection to the Spirit (James 3:14, 15). For if wars be in us, peace will not be without us (Gal. 6:16). 3. Depart with part of thine own rights; so did Abraham to Lot (Gen. 13:9). Christ paid tribute to preserve peace (Mat. 17, ult.). And for peace sake we should suffer wrong (1 Cor. 6:7). 4. Abandon self-love, and pray for peace. When men will have their own actions still go forward, without doubt, it is a work of the flesh (Gal. 6:13). For motives—1. Are we not the sons of God? and is not He the King of Peace? (1 Cor. 14:33). 2. Be we not subjects to Him who is the Prince of Peace? (Isa. 9:6). 3. Is not a Christian called to live in peace? (1 Cor 7:15). 4. And if we continue in peace, will not the God of love and peace be with us? (2 Cor. 13:11). (Ibid.)
Self-control inspired by the thought of God:—A heathen may herein teach multitudes of unconverted men and many professing Christians a lesson. We read of Cyrus, that when, after one of his victories, a captive of singular beauty, Panthea, the wife of Abradates, king of Susiana, was taken, he refused to see her, and entrusted her to the keeping of Araspes, giving him a very prudent admonition respecting his conduct, and was thus assured by him; “Fear nothing; I am sure of myself, and I will answer with my life that I shall do nothing contrary to my duty.” This young nobleman was notwithstanding overcome by her beauty, and in danger of basely violating his promise, had not Panthea given Cyrus intelligence of his baseness. Araspes, when cited to appear before his prince, was overwhelmed with shame and fear, and spoke of the control over his desires which he had when in Cyrus’ presence, and his weakness when left to himself (see “Rollin’s Ancient History,” bk. iv., ch. i., sec. iv). If the presence of a fellow-creature, however marked by purity and moderation, availed to curb the passions of a heathen, how much more should the recollection of a pure and holy God! And if love constrain not, the fear of His displeasure should lead us to beware of danger, and to guard our eyes and our hearts, lest we fall into temptation.
Avoiding danger:—Have you never heard the story of a lady who wanted a coachman? Two or three called to see her about the situation, and, in answer to her inquiries, the first applicant said, “Yes, madam, you could not have a better coachman than myself.” She replied, “How near do you think you could drive to danger without an accident?” “Madam, I could go within a yard of it, and yet you would be perfectly safe.” “Very well,” she said, “you will not suit me.” The second one had heard the question upon which the other had been rejected, and therefore he was ready with his answer, “Danger! madam, why I could drive within a hair’s breadth, and yet be perfectly safe.” “Then you will not suit me at all.” When number three came in, he was asked, “Are you a good driver?” “Well,” he replied, “I am careful and have never met with an accident.” “But how near do you think you could drive to danger?” “Madam,” he said, “that is a thing I never tried, I always drive as far away from danger as ever I can.” The lady at once replied, “You are the kind of coachman I want, and I will engage you at once.” Get such a coachman as that yourself, to guide your own heart, and lead your own character. Do not see how near you can go to sin, but see how far you can keep away from it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Abstinence:—A friend who, in the opinion of all who knew him, was very unlikely to take stimulants to excess, and who had very little sympathy with teetotalism, told me the other day that he had given up wine. When I asked him his reason he gave me this suggestive reply: “Because I was beginning to like it and count on it.” It was the wise repression of incipient rebellion before it had asserted itself by overt act. (A. Rowland, LL.B.)
Taken unawares:—We have read that “a debtor seeing a bailiff in quest of him ran three miles to a boundary, beyond which he was safe.” The bailiff, seeming calmly to submit to his failure, stretched out his hand and said, “Well, let us part good friends, at any rate.” The debtor, off his guard, accepted the offered hand, whereupon the bailiff, with a desperate effort, pulled him across the line, and clapping him on the shoulder, said, “You are my prisoner.” So men may be overcome by the evil one when they least expect an assault from him, and think themselves most safe. (Sunday School Teacher.)
Self-control:—Bishop Ryle, in his “Young Men Exhorted,” makes some pungent remarks on this duty of self-control. “Resolve at once,” he writes, “by God’s help, to shun everything that may prove an occasion of sin. It is an excellent saying of good old Bishop Hall: ‘He that would be safe from the acts of evil must wisely avoid the occasions.’ Never hold a candle to the devil. He that would be safe must not come near the brink of danger. He must look upon his heart as a magazine of gunpowder, and be cautious not to handle one spark of temptation more than he can help. Where is the use of your praying, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ unless you are yourselves careful not to run into it?” “Flee”:—Prayer is not enough. Many have prayed, and have not found it sufficient. Therefore the advice in the Bible is rational—Flee. The usual receipt for resisting sin is, Fight; but I venture to say the Bible and common sense recommend flight rather. There are many sins we must not even look at; to turn away and run is the only resource. The Bible says, “Flee youthful lusts,” and “Look not on the wine.” The brave thing, although it looks the cowardly, is to flee. But it is not into space we are to flee. We are to fly upward, to get into a higher mood, and breathe another atmosphere. (Prof. H. Drummond.)
Temptation’s deceits:—In the Fisheries Exhibition the nets were so beautifully hung and draped as to form graceful curtains. How many of Satan’s nets are made to appear charmingly attractive. (H. O. Mackey.)
The conquest of self:—The following epitaph was once placed over a soldier’s grave:—
“Here lies a soldier, whom all must applaud,
Who fought many battles at home and abroad;
But the hottest engagement he ever was in
Was the conquest of self in the battle of sin.”
The danger of success:—There is danger in success. St. Bernard astonished an immense congregation, intensely interested in his sermon, by suddenly exclaiming, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He felt that the devil was tempting him to be proud of his eloquence, as though he would win souls by his own enticing words. And when Lacordaire had enthralled thousands by one of his Lenten sermons in Notre Dame, the young monk who went to summon him to the refectory, found him kneeling before a crucifix, with the tears on his cheeks, and inquired, “Oh, father, why are you so sad?” This was the answer, “My son, I am afraid of success.” Be not high-minded, but fear. (Dean Hole.)
Undiscovered character:—Every man has in himself a continent of undiscovered character. Happy is he who acts the Columbus to his own soul. (Sir J. Stephen.) Peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.—This last “peace” must be joined with the words immediately following: “With them that call on the Lord,” &c. The “peace” here signifies absence of contention; it is well paraphrased by, “that spiritual concord which unites together all who call upon and who love their Lord.” (H. D. M. Spence, M.A.)
The Christian young man:—It will be manifest, at the very first glance, that when the apostle expresses with whom his son Timothy should, he implies with what kind of persons he should not associate; with those who do not “call upon the Lord,” and with those who do indeed appear to call upon the Lord, but not “out of a pure heart.” First, the unbeliever, whether he be such in appearance, or only in practice; and next, the hypocrite, the formalist, the inconsistent, and the insincere. 1. Our first character is that of the avowed and unblushing sceptic; that of the man who contemptuously characterises religion as the business of women, the trade of preachers, and the toy of men; one who mistakes adroitness in contending against truth in argument, for capability of disproving it, and who is as much delighted with himself, when he has hurled a sarcasm or a sneer against the gospel or the Church, as if he had invented an objection which must tend to the overthrow of them both. This class of persons may be ordinarily identified by one generic feature; namely, that they assume everything, and demonstrate nothing. Avoid, then, as far as possible, all intercourse, all communion, with persons such as these. If they interrogate you, answer; but when you have answered, do not argue. 2. I shall next describe the character of the man whose infidelity is practical; who is only not an atheist because he is nothing; who does not avow or advocate false principles simply because he has no principles at all; and who remains just as indifferent to all that concerns his moral responsibility or his religious duty, as if indeed he were the base degraded thing, to which he endeavours to assimilate himself; as if in truth he were “the beast, whose spirit goeth downward to the earth”—not the rational, immortal, intelligible, accountable man, whose spirit, when dismissed from and disencumbered of its earthly tabernacle, must “return to God that gave it.” The root of the evil is, that so far as the interests of the soul are concerned, persons of this class do not think at all. From such, then, as we have now described, such as “separate themselves” from the assemblies of Christian worship, being “sensual, having not the Spirit”; such as do not “call upon the Lord” in the house of prayer, and therefore cannot be presumed to call upon Him in the closet—you ought to separate yourselves as far as possible, on no other ground than the simple knowledge of the fact. They are far more likely to injure you than you are likely to profit them; for they have an ally, an accomplice, in your own sinful nature. 3. There is yet another class of characters, from whom in following out the spirit of the text, we are constrained to counsel separation. It is the inconsistent, the undecided, the manifestly insincere; those who “call on the Lord,” but not “out of a pure heart”; those who observe proprieties, but who disregard principles; who conform to the ritual without imbibing the spirit of the Church; who profess with their lips that they know God, but in works do deny Him—disguising their practices by their profession, and masking their private vices by their public prayers. Those who “call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” But then understand what this means—the heart of such persons is not innately pure; it is not pure from the first. No, nor is it inherently pure by any natural constitution or organisation peculiar to itself. Nor is it independently pure—without the aids of Divine and spiritual operation, or by influence of its own. Nor is it invariably pure—pure without any apprehension of or capability of change. Its purity is derived and imparted from above; purity in the comparative sense, for all human purity is comparative; and produced by the action of the Spirit of God upon the heart. It is first the purposed, attempted, desired separation from all iniquity—because we “name the name of Christ”; the ceasing to regard it with the heart, as well as admit it knowingly into the life. It is next the fixed, settled, honest purpose, to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”; and to postpone all considerations of present pleasure, interest, or inclination to the “one thing” which is supremely “needful,” even to “win Christ and be found in Him.” Purity, indeed, is but another name for what is elsewhere called “singleness of heart”; that which St. Paul exemplified when he declared, “One thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”; and what the Lord Himself delineated when He said, “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” I have already spoken to you about the prudence of avoiding companionship with the ungodly, but this example leads you one step beyond it—to the cultivation of fellowship with the pious. And for this reason: that every friendship, which is formed upon such principles and with such persons, is an additional barrier and defence against the encroachment or aggressions of the enemy. To form a new Christian connection or intimacy is like placing a new warrior within the citadel of the heart, a new sentinel upon the watch-tower, or, it may be, a new defender in the breach. (T. Dale, M.A.)
|“Flee … pursue”
|“Avoid … strive for”
|“Turn away … concentrate on”
These are both PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVES. Believers are to continue to exhibit God’s sanctification (cf. 1 Tim. 6:11).
© “from youthful lusts” Every stage of life has its unique temptations (cf. Eccl. 3:1–8; 11:10; 12:1–8).
© “righteousness, faith, love and peace” These are all characteristics of the triune God which need to be developed and exhibited in His people (cf. 1 Tim. 1:5, 14). For “righteousness” see Special Topic at Titus 2:13.
© “who call on the Lord from a pure heart” This is a PRESENT ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, which implies continuing action. In Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21 and Rom. 10:9–13 this phrase seems to imply an initial response, but in this context it refers to the maturing believers. Our purposeful and continuing association with mature believers is one secret of a faithful, joyful, and peaceful Christian life.
22. The way to cleanse oneself is to become detached from that which is evil and attached to that which is good. Hence, Paul continues: But from the desires of youth flee away, and run after righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call upon the Lord out of pure hearts.
When Paul wrote these words, Timothy must have been 37–42 years of age (see on 1 Tim. 4:12). He was still rather young, especially in relation to the position of trust and responsibility which he occupied. So the apostle warns him against “the (or “those well-known,” note the article) desires of youth.” But just what does he mean?
The word desire that is used in the original, whether in a favorable or unfavorable sense, always indicates strong yearning. As the footnote indicates, it is used far more often in an unfavorable than in a favorable sense. In the present passage, it is definitely sinful desire that is meant (“From the desires of youth flee away”). Such sinful desires, as the footnote also proves, can be classified more or less after the manner of modern psychology (though here these yearnings would hardly be called sinful), as follows:
(1). Pleasure, etc., the inordinate craving for the satisfaction of the physical appetites: the “lust” for food and drink, pleasure-madness, uncontrolled sexual desire (Rom. 1:24; Rev. 18:14, etc.)
(2). Power, etc., the ungoverned passion to be Number 1, the lust to “shine” or be dominant. This results in envy, quarrelsomeness, etc. This sinful tendency is included prominently in such references as Gal. 5:16, 24; 2 Peter 2:10, 18; Jude 16, 18.
(3). Possessions, etc., uncontrolled yearning for material possessions and for the “glory” that goes with them (see 1 Tim. 6:9 in its context).
Objectively speaking, Christ triumphed over the first when in the first temptation he said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:1–4); over the second, when in the second temptation he refused to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple (Matt. 4:5–7); and over the third, when in the third temptation he refused to receive as a gift out of Satan’s hand “the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matt. 4:8–10). As a result of his triumph he in a far more glorious sense received from his heavenly Father the very things with which the devil had tempted him. (In Christ’s case, however, the temptations were entirely objective; there were no subjective, sinful tendencies.)
Since these inordinate desires often assert themselves more turbulently in youth than in old age—as he grows older a Christian rises above them through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, bringing him gradually to spiritual maturity—, they are here fittingly called “the desires of youth” (literally, “the youthful desires”).
Two extremes should be avoided. First, it is wrong to construe the reference to be, either exclusively or predominantly, to uncontrolled sexual desire. Secondly, it is not necessary to exclude this evil entirely from view. The term, as here used, must probably be taken in its most general sense, as indicating any sinful yearning to which the soul of a young or relatively young person is exposed. If, within this general connotation, any element of special emphasis must be found, it should be derived from the context. In the present case there was, perhaps, the tendency of the younger man to be somewhat impatient with those who stood in the way. Timothy’s high moral character, coupled with his youthful years, might induce him to act somewhat inconsiderately toward those who were opposing the truth. A person of natural reserve, timidity, and general amiability, such as Timothy, can at times act rather impulsively when at last, contrary to his natural tendency, he is aroused to action. But whether or not in Paul’s mind there was any special reference to this particular danger of youth cannot now be determined. The sinful desires of youth may best be regarded in the most general sense, and thus as the antonyms of the virtues now mentioned: “righteousness, faith, love, and peace.”
Grammatically it is also possible to interpret Paul’s words as meaning no more than this: “Timothy, continue to do exactly as you have always been doing. Keep on in your present course, fleeing away from the desires of youth and pursuing righteousness, faith, love, peace,” etc. But, though the tense used in the original permits this interpretation, it does not require it. It is, moreover, in line with Paul’s very practical bent of mind to assume that these crisp commands bear some reference to reality, and were warnings that were actually needed, yes needed even by Timothy because of certain character-weaknesses, however unpronounced they may have been. In our desire to do full justice to the beauty of Timothy’s character, let us not equip him with wings!
Paul’s youthful associate, then, must constantly flee away from the sinful propensities of youth, and must cultivate the habit of running after the virtues that are here enumerated. Note the alliteration—“run after righteousness” (here as in 1 Tim. 6:11)—and the chiastic sentence-structure, with the vices and the virtues (the last one, “peace,” expanded into a compound phrase) at either end of the sentence; and the opposite actions—“flee away from,” “run after”—next to each other in the middle.
Since most of the concepts here mentioned have occurred before, the reader is referred to the more detailed explanation in 1 Tim. 4:12 and 1 Tim. 6:11. Briefly, then, what Paul has in mind may be paraphrased as follows:
From the sinful tendencies of youth flee away, and run after (steadily pursue) the following: a. that state of heart and mind which is in harmony with God’s law (“righteousness”); b. humble and dynamic confidence in God (“faith”); c. deep personal affection for the brothers, including in your benevolent interest even the enemies (“love”); and d. undisturbed, perfect understanding (“peace”) with all Christians (those who in prayer and praise “call upon” the Lord Jesus Christ—cf. Joel 2:32; Rom. 10:12; 1 Cor. 1:2—out of pure hearts). The “pure hearts” (the original has the singular where English prefers the plural) are the inner personalities of those who “stand aloof from unrighteousness” (verse 19) and “have effectively cleansed themselves” (verse 21).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 92–95). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 2 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 583–584). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Towner, P. H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus (pp. 543–545). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 263–264). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Barcley, W. B. (2005). A Study Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy (pp. 260–261). Darlington, England; Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 231–232). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Guthrie, D. (1990). Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 14, pp. 169–170). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Second Timothy–Titus, Philemon (Vol. 1, pp. 219–227). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.
 Utley, R. J. (2000). Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey: I Timothy, Titus, II Timothy (Vol. Volume 9, pp. 156–157). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 271–274). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.