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Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Luke 2:10

The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  James 1:20

A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  James 3:18

Flee youthful passions.  2 Timothy 2:22

The “youthful passions” in this context are not sexual.  Paul has in mind the passion for controversy, that feeling inside that relishes a fight and loves to be proved right and even prophetic.  Instead, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, . . . patiently enduring evil” (2 Timothy 2:24).  But there is something about us, especially in our youthful immaturity, that lusts to raise protests and set the world right and make sure everyone cares as passionately as I do, because I’m on the side of the right, I’m the defender of the downtrodden, I get it more than others do, etc.

In this world of blatant, horrible wrongs, it is not hard to get angry.  It is hard not to get angry.  But “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  It just doesn’t.  Because it can’t.  No matter how right the cause is, the anger of man only makes things worse.  Sometimes the youthful don’t see how clever evil is, how easy it is for us to add to evil while intending good, how hard it is for us to be angry and not sin and complicate things further.  Exposing and confronting wrongs — real wrongs with real victims — is good, but not simple.  Not for us.  What is simple is creating more victims by rushing to judgment with guns ablazing and a golden heart pursuing a noble cause.

Personally for me, as a pastor, I long to be the kind of man that sinners want to move toward, not away from.  Inevitably, for every one of us, there will come a moment when we have sinned so stupidly that our future is in peril, or when we have been sinned against so destructively that we fall into despair.  When that happens — not if it happens — to whom will we go?  Not to the fault-finders and finger-pointers.  Desperate people will go, if they have any courage left, to a pastor who is known for good news of great joy for all kinds of people.  They will go to a man who is known for being kind to everyone, a man who understands sowing and harvesting shalom for other people.  And if the pastors within the acquaintance of a person in serious trouble are not like that, if those pastors are known only for their trenchant criticisms — Oh, what a loss!

There is a continuum in pastoral ministry, with rebuke at one end, comfort at the other, and various strategies between.  Wise pastors move along that continuum constantly, interacting with people as we understand their needs moment by moment.  Personally, I default toward comfort.  Unless a person is defiant against the Lord, the ministry of comfort is more consistent with the tone of the gospel — good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  They, and they only.

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8 thoughts on “Flee youthful passions”

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  2. TimW says:

    This helps me. Thank you.

  3. Youngin says:

    While I can pull a message out of this, I don’t feel like it clearly states a point. The motivation of youth to correct the wrongs of the world should not be admonished and treated like mere anger pushing away people. It is more crucial to focus this passion and teach how to not include hate or spite in attempts to change the world. Often it is the old and wise who get set in ways that don’t see why things need to desperately change, but understand how to go about change. The young see a need to change for the better, but often lack the ability to initiate it positively.

  4. Oliver says:

    Thanks for this, Mr. Ortlund. I found it very useful, and it clarifies a lot of areas where I have a deep, ingrained potential to sin. Looking at what you wrote, I see my 20s, and a large part of my teenage years, described from a third-party perspective, and thereby receive a warning that I, in my 30s now, and in Christian service, am still deeply flawed, deeply vulnerable in this area, and greatly misguided in my motivations and expectations. Do I foster an environment in my relationships, where those who are feeling guilty and ashamed would come to speak to me, confident that it would be a step toward redemption instead of judgmental shame? I don’t think I do. Thank you for showing me this in your post.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      I can see, Oliver, that the Lord is going to use you. He will send people to you, because he knows you will treat them well. God be with you.

  5. Thank you so much for this article Pastor Ortlund. I have found myself in the very cycle of “proclaiming the truth” as you have confronted in this write-up. I desire to walk in truth and love but seemed to be enjoying the confrontation more than I knew was right. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your pastorial and fatherly words

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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