“Flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)
Flee youthful lusts -- Been there, done that
Paul isn’t saying we can check sin off the list when we reach old age, or that we’ll be “out of the woods” when it comes to temptation. We’ll always have plenty of opportunities to sin, but perhaps in ways that are the opposite of the sins of youth. For instance, did you know apathy is an antonym of lust?
An 88-year-old J.I. Packer was asked which sins seem to plague the elderly. He responded, “Physical urges of an inappropriate sort have diminished because physical energy at that level has diminished.” A sin -- or at least a temptation to sin -- that he notices more in himself at this age is, “apathy … sloth … I’m more often tempted to say ‘oh why bother?’ when what we’re talking about is something concerning which I should bother.”
J. I. Packer on Aging and the Battle Against Sin from Desiring God on Vimeo.
‘Fleeing’ seems to be the energetic and suitable response to, as Packer puts it, “physical urges of an inappropriate sort.” But what is a suitable remedy for apathy when we lack the physical energy to flee it? Paul also reminds us we should stand firm in our faith and be steadfast, unmovable. Persevering rather than fleeing may be the appropriate response for the temptation to apathy.
5 Distinct spiritual struggles
Pastor Bob Russell from a large church in Kentucky asked 200 of his senior members to list what they considered their most obvious temptations. Here’s a list of their top five struggles:
• Spiritual retirement (apathy)
• Feelings of regret
• Critical spirit
Are these sins any less destructive than “youthful passions” that wreak havoc in lives? They can still shipwreck faith. They still have power to rob joy and steal peace. They certainly require the resolve of perseverance.
The ‘final lap’ is a vital measure of the race
If Paul had been writing an older Timothy, he may have rephrased the verse to read, “Stand firm against elderly disenchantments but remain zealous in your pursuit of righteousness, faith, love, and peace.”
The young and the old may face opposite pitfalls, but both are a danger to faith. Satan will continue prowling, seeking any whose faith he may destroy regardless of age.
As I looked over the list of struggles the senior saints identified, I thought how many of them could easily be quelled by church members coming alongside – not as “accountability partners,” but as encouragers…
• seeking the wisdom of the elderly, in order to help shield them from apathy;
• inspiring the elderly to exercise spiritual gifts, to keep them from inflexibility;
• reminding them of the impact their lives made, to ease regret,
• impressing upon them the importance of -- and your need for -- their prayers, to curb a critical spirit and ward off anxiety.
“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father” (I Timothy 5:1)
We need to be our father’s keeper as well as our younger brother’s. Let’s resolve to encourage the elderly to finish well with faith and joy to the glory of God.