“How can a young man keep his heart clean? By guarding it according to Your word.”
I wonder if Paul had these words in mind when instructing Timothy. I love how, throughout these two letters, we get a sense of Paul's passion to see the next generation continue the work he has started.
Paul doesn't want Timothy to be distracted. And what's interesting is that the warnings cited aren't the usual ones you might expect from an older man to a younger man. Lust? No. Hot-headedness? Again, no. Timothy is a godly man who (it seems) has resisted the usual temptations – so the enemy has had to get a little creative.
Ultimately, Satan will use anything he can – good, bad or neutral – in a battle to distract our eyes from Jesus. So let's not get distracted by:
- False piety. I've not heard of anyone recently forbidding marriage, but I think we do live in a culture where ‘wellness' – with its juice cleanses and mindfulness apps – sets itself up as a discrete belief system. I'm not saying that kale smoothies are incompatible with godly living, but let's not get distracted!
- It's the same argument with food. I happily eat meat and dairy products; some of my friends don't. Most of all, we all love Jesus and want to serve him. We love food, but it's not the biggest thing in our lives. Let's not turn our food habits into a religion of sorts.
- Foolish myths. There are too many to list. But we do not have to be swayed. Terry Virgo, who founded the Newfrontiers family of churches to which we belong, often preached from Numbers 10:29, which states: “come with us and we will do you good.” We have an eldership and leadership team who love Jesus, love the word of God and passionately pursue his Spirit, as well as being humble enough to submit to one another and be challenged and sharpened. I can't vouch for what's on Youtube, or the God Channel, or the many corners of the internet, but I know and trust those who lead us.
(Let's also not get distracted by three alliterative points!)
There's so much that can distract us from the joy of knowing God. As I'm typing this, I'm aware of how much of my thought life is taken up with problems at work, plans for the Foodbank supper week and so on. Neither of these things are bad, per se, but it's easy to lose perspective. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Let's follow Timothy's example, through:
- Character: love, faith and purity (v.12ff)
- Devotion: to God's word, preaching and teaching
- Diligence and perseverance: in making the most of the gifts that God has given us.
Finally, it's important not to discount ourselves, or let anyone disqualify us. God had called Timothy, had gifted him through the laying on of hands: he was in the right place, at the right time, doing God's work. He was young – but all that mattered to God was that he was willing to serve. People can discount themselves from being used by God for all kinds of reasons. Too old? No such thing. Terrible past? The apostle Paul murdered Christians for fun. Struggle with a physical or mental health condition? God can use you for his glory – his power made perfect in your weakness. The only person who can discount you from God's service is you. Satan will try to pick you off, make you ineffective, distract you, make you think you're disqualified. But God is bigger, and God has bigger plans for your life.