/ Masculinity / Kyle Borg

A Word to Young Men

In human history there’s been any number of memorable speeches. They’ve been spoken by philosophers and orators, military leaders rushing onto the battlefield, or statesmen and politicians. In many of them there is a common theme – they often given an ideal to strive after with manly strength.

When I was in basic training a poster hung on the dormitory wall containing an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech. With rhetorical flare, Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly.” Cliche and overused as the quote may be, Roosevelt harnessed the power of words to inspire and refine the character of a man.

To his true child in the common faith, the Apostle Paul — without the artistry of rhetoric but in a demonstration of the Spirit and power — gave a direct word of exhortation to young men. Writing to Titus he said: “Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded.” The word used for sober-minded can mean similar things — self-controlled, thoughtful, or careful. Perhaps why this is particularly urged for younger men, is that it’s a rare grace to be found in them. The young are often marked by carelessness, thoughtlessness, and a lack of control. But in Jesus Christ this is the ideal young men are to strive after in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

In a way that matches Paul’s instruction to Titus, I want to write eight encouragements to young men to urge them toward this ideal.

First, young men should be encouraged to be thoughtful in their perspective on life. We live in a cultural context that resembles, in many ways, the days before the world-wide flood. God had given Noah a warning about coming judgment and a means of escape, yet the people of his generation, we are told, were busy eating and drinking. Jesus said that they were unaware “until the flood came and took them all away” (Matthew 24:39). Young men aren’t being encouraged to live prospectively but to live in and for the immediate moment, and almost everything around them is lulling them into a stupor to be unaware of what lies ahead. Against that, the Wise Preacher said: “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

Second, young men need to be encouraged to be careful in their estimate of themselves. With youth — often which is untainted with any real sense of failure, defeat, and loss — there can be a certain degree of boastful pride and arrogance. Youthful egoism isn’t a virtue esteemed by Christ and is contrary to the basic law of love, as love doesn’t boast and isn’t arrogant (1 Corinthians 13:4). Young men need to restrain their self-inflated opinions of themselves. While wisdom teaches: “Let another man praise you” (Proverbs 27:2), it should also be kept in mind that the true measure of a man is never what he or others think of him, but only what the Lord approves: “For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Third, young men should be encouraged to be thoughtful in their consciences. Simply put, the conscience is our moral awareness. Young men are being taught by the world that the difference between right and wrong, good and bad is a difference of opinion or mere preference. Against this they need to be urged to form a sense of moral goodness as informed and rooted in the Bible. In fact, this is a true mark of maturity. The Apostle wrote: “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). We need men who have well-developed convictions and act from conscience rather than spineless pragmatism, or on the basis of preference and popularity.

Fourth, young men need to be encouraged to control their wills. Above the mirror in front of my dead lifting pad I painted the famous Latin motto: vincit qui se vincit — he conquers who conquers himself. While not a Christian expression of itself, we can take it in a Christian way. The man who conquers is the one who has conquered his will and brought it into subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a fruit of the gospel, as Paul taught: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). Young men should strive to have their wills bent toward God, so that in integrity they can say with the greatest man who ever lived: “Not my will, but thine, be done.”

Fifth, young men should be encouraged to be thoughtful with their time. When you're young time seems to be an everlasting commodity, and the naivete of youth is often unaware of how quickly it really passes. The Apostle said that part of our wise living in Jesus is to redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16). For many young men this especially targets the habits of social media and video games. Statistics suggest that the average young person spends 1500 hours a year on social media – Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, or Tik-Tok. To put that into perspective, if the same young man spent 2-hours a week in Lord’s Day worship (and that's probably a liberal estimate!), it would take nearly 15 years to spend as much time in worship as spent on social media in a single year. When you add to social media use the amount of time young men spend playing video games – many of which invoke a pseudo sense of masculinity – the disparity would only increase significantly. The answer isn’t simply “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch." That may have the appearance of godliness but it lacks the power (Colossians 2:21-23). Rather, it's a matter of being wise young men who know how to use the six days that God has given for all of our work, and having the wisdom to enjoy the one day of rest for worship.

Sixth, young men need to be encouraged to be controlled with their strength. While a head of gray hair is the crown of the aged, inspired wisdom says: “The glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29). Physical strength and vigor of mind is a blessing of youthfulness, and many older men would likely give much to reclaim and restore that blessing. God has made young men strong, but that strength needs to be cultivated and used for good. If you think about God’s strength — his omnipotence — it’s always a strength exercised according to his wisdom, goodness, truth, and righteousness. A young man’s strength is his glory only when it's an expression of grace and honorable virtue, oriented toward protecting, defending, leading, and helping.

Seventh, young men should be encouraged to be controlled with their bodies. The Bible teaches that God has created us with two constituent parts — body and soul. In fact, we are an embodied spirit, and the body is the means by which the soul often acts. The Apostle says it matters how we use our bodies: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.” He went on to write: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:12-13). The word Paul uses for “instrument” is actually a word for “weapon” — offer your bodies as weapons for righteousness. Young men should not indulge their bodies the way that unbelievers do, but with Paul by constant discipline they should bring their bodies into subjection to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Eighth, young men need to be encouraged to be controlled in their passions. Painting in broad strokes, young men are often inflamed with the passions of lust and anger. Lust is that inward desire for sexual satisfaction outside the context of a biblical marriage, and it sits closely to the heart of most men. There’s a reason why Solomon instructs his son so carefully to avoid the alley of the prostitute whose “house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27). If it was true for Solomon’s son, it's infinitely more in a cultural saturated with pornography. Anger too is an often found vice in young men that if not stomped out by grace will lead to angry and irritable older men – husbands and fathers. When Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was not, Cain was “very angry.” God’s word to him was: “If you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). Tragically, Cain couldn’t rule over his sin. Young men learn many lessons — in school, in sports, and in hobbies. But perhaps no lesson is as important as learning how to rule over sin in Jesus Christ. Youthful years should be spent being well-trained on how to control lust and anger through the assurance of justification and that holiness without which none shall see God and in the hope of glorification, and repentance when temptation is yielded to.

Paul’s words to Titus are few: “Exhort the young men to be sober-minded.” But they give an ideal to strive for with manly and Spirit-wrought strength. If Christian young men will give themselves to this, they will not only be worthy husbands and fathers; and leaders in home, society, and maybe even in the church but they will grow from saplings in the courts of God to become towering oaks of righteousness.