Both Young and Old
J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple
Living as we do in an age when a notorious faction of society seems to be obsessed with the neurotic whims of militant adolescents, it is wise for us to review in the light of Holy Writ what ought to be our attitude towards the rising generation of believers. What contributory role within "the fellowship of saints" should young Christians be exhorted to fulfil? Moses, in his prayer of Psalm 90. 16, anticipated the need of the descendants of God's servants; while Asaph, in Psalm 78. 6-7, seems to have a pertinent message for new generations, "that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments". If the seer's ministry is not heeded in this our day, a parallel with Judges 2. 10 will emerge. The energetic attendance to the Word of the Lord, found in the book of Joshua, died with the passing of Joshua's contemporaries, "and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done". How solemn!
Consideration and Attention. Young folk, as they pass through the stress and turmoil that accompanies their teenage years, are entitled to godly leadership and exemplary guidance. Christian parents, in their own best interests, mould their family relationships according to the Scriptural pattern, Prov. 22. 6; Eph. 6. 1-9; Col. 3. 18 to 4. 1; 1 Pet. 3. 1-7, and this does more to benefit society than many imagine. But parents need the co-operation of their fellow church members. Good though the domestic environment may be, teenagers normally live through a period when, temporarily, the voice of friends is followed more than the counsel received at home. A complacent body of believers, which does nothing to cater for the needs of its youngest contingent, will discover that the junior members gradually despair, become desperate and ultimately disappear. If the Holy Spirit endows a church with youthful vitality then such a gift is not to be ignored - such will serve only to aid the adversary who would suffocate assembly life. It is all too easy to despise members of a different generation, and simply "please ourselves", Rom. 15.1. On the other hand, the assembly that provides only for the taste of its younger members will soon find them undernourished; "the appetite grows upon what it feeds".
In some areas club rooms, barbecues, musical evenings, Young People's Rallies, squashes, etc. have proved to be valuable methods of reaching modern youth with the message of salvation. Before extending such ideas by providing similar material for committed Christians, let us investigate the Biblical concept of gatherings held within an assembly. The motivating principles of evangelism that lead some to arrange "coffee mornings" and others to organize "coffee bars" cease to apply when considering the attention that saints who are still in their teens should receive as members of the church. The question must be how best to "feed the flock of God which is among" us, 1 Pet. 5. 2. Performances by mediocre "groups" can do little to engender spiritual growth in young believers, who should be trained to scale the heights of 1 Timothy 3. Neither compromise with worldly procedures nor emulation of current fashions will do anything to cause growth "in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ". The indwelling Holy Spirit is not to be grieved or quenched; He will do His work only in His own way, Isa. 55. 8. If the diet of Hebrews 5. 11-14 demands an acquired taste, then we are to produce a menu that will help newcomers to desire the "sincere milk of the word"; we have no licence to prepare any diluted forms.
Co-ordination of Activity. The New Testament does not make provision for any generation gap within a local church. Clearly God expects an ecclesia in any locality to form an integrated whole; we are "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace". Lambs feed with the adult sheep, the same shepherds caring for all. When young and old study the Scriptures together, evangelize together and so, in spite of the discrepancy in years, have fellowship with each other, 1 Tim. 4.11-16; 2 Cor, 1.19; Phil. 1. 4-5; 3 John w. 2-8, a beautiful harmony results. Keen young Bible students inevitably provoke helpful expositions of the sacred page by well-taught pastors; normally one is not found without the other, such as at Antioch where the Lord provided a variety of teachers ideally suited to the needs of the infant church, Acts 11. 27; 13. 1; 15. 22. Again how frequently the eloquent, powerful ministry of an elder is advanced by the complementary, vigorous preaching of a younger brother, 2 Cor. 1. 19. The same holds throughout assembly life. Old and young move forward together (cf. 2 Kings 6. 1-7); "those who pray together, stay together".
The opening chapters of 1 John classify the sons of God first as a family in unison and then as a family in different relationships, viz. fathers, young men, children. The first aspect emphasizes that the "body" is not to be "disjointed"; the later aspect, in chapter 2, shows that each group is to be considered and requires a distinct message. Young men are to be "sober minded", Titus 2. 6, the command being: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world". More seasoned saints are to "press on unto full growth", Heb. 6.1 R.v.
Care and Affection. Nurturing babes in Christ successfully is a skilful occupation (not unlike "bringing up a family"). Stepping aside from modern gimmicks and "holding fast the form of sound words", there are still talented men and women who, though receiving little recognition, do an excellent job among new converts, edifying the body of Christ. Young folk require the sort of personal attention that trained Timothy to be "a good soldier of Jesus Christ", and that enabled John Mark to survive the vacillations of his youth. A genuine love, which can overcome disasters like that reached in Acts 15. 39, is needed by every brother who endeavours to "train up a child in the way he should go". Christian girls, also, must receive the individual, helpful friendship of spiritually minded ladies. Perhaps the writer of Titus 2.3-8 has been frequently criticized simply because his admonitions prick the consciences of those who criticize.
The Biblical presentation of young men and older saints is clarified by the references to young people (neanias, neaniskos, neoteros) and old men (presbuteros, presbutes) in the New Testament. The eleven examples that follow are not intended to be exhaustive.
Characteristics to Avoid.
1. In Matthew 19. 16-22 an illogical young man went away from the Saviour and was sorrowful. (If Jesus was good, He must have been God and not simply a rabbinical teacher. An inheritance is not to be earned, see Mark 10. 17). Was it his reliance upon riches which was his ruin?
2. Mark 14. 51 highlights an intimidated youth who ran away from the Saviour and was scared. Was it his fleeting enthusiasm that ended in his embarrassment?
3. Saul was an immature young man, Acts 7. 58, when he persecuted the Saviour, Acts 9. 5; his savage attitude was short-sighted, Acts 8. 3-4. If we consider a garment, as a covering, to typify "righteousness", this incident in Acts 7, which brings Saul of Tarsus on to the page of sacred history, is suggestive. He is introduced as a person who took upon himself the task of guarding the Judaistic cause, "the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet". Later he learnt to rely upon Jesus of Nazareth, "clothed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne". At this stage however, was it his zeal which caused him to reach sin's zenith?, 1 Tim. 1. 15. Such is ever "the way of the head". Let all who possess the energy of youth beware of the "way that seemeth right unto a man".
4. In Acts 20. 9 we read of an indifferent young fellow who was sleeping] Had he not enjoyed youthful agility he would not have attempted to climb to the window ledge; had he been astute he might have avoided a seat adjacent to a high aperture where the oil lamp fumes would accumulate. Was it the boy's imperception that led to his insecurity?
These four illustrations warn us to "flee... youthful rusts", 2 Tim. 2.22. The first of these men fades out of the evangelists' record, the second fled into the shadows, the third fired a brand of persecution and the last fell to his death.
Cases to Admire.
5. The Lord's direct concern extended to every age group. Near Cain, Luke 7. 11-15, a young man was manifestly responsive to the Saviour, bringing relief to his widowed mother.
6. In Acts 5. 6, 10 reverent young men are found bearing responsibility among the saints. Young and old can be "labourers together" only when both are given tasks compatible with their spiritual gifts.
7. Paul's reliable nephew proved his allegiance to the apostle, being resolute on his uncle's behalf, Acts 23. 16-22. Of such as these we should say: "Let no man despise thy youth", 1 Tim. 4. 12.
Character to Acquire.
8. In Luke 1. 5-25 an elderly priest received an angelic visitation concerning John Baptist.
9. In Titus 2. 2-8 veteran pilgrims are envisaged as examples to the succeeding generation.
10. Philemon v. 9 is the desire of an aged prisoner of Jesus Christ who was striving to reconcile poor Onesimus and prosperous Philemon.
11. John, the elder, 2 John 1; 3 John 1, was well described as a pillar in the house of God, Gal. 2. 9. Such know what it is to "bear . . . one another's burdens".
This last group shows ways in which the "strong" will prepare for, provide for, and protect their junior partners. "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder", 1 Pet. 5. 5. Maybe the best synopsis of the ideal state is Joel's prophecy, taken up by Peter at Pentecost, Acts 2. 17. Self-willed youth, John 21. 18, can, through the influence of the Spirit, be transformed to a manner of life commendable in "children of God". Similarly, the inflexibility, common to men of advanced years, can give place to heavenly fervour, Isa. 40. 29-31; Eph. 5. 18, producing "fruit in old age".
"Both young men and maidens; old men, and children: Let them praise the name of the Lord", Psa. 148. 12-13.