I have been teaching young people ever since I was technically one myself. I have seen amazing things from the young. There is an enthusiasm in youth which those of us of less tender years can marvel at. There are some drawbacks to this fervour as well, such as the tendencies to see things only as “black and whites” with little understanding of nuance, and the zeal which makes them at times rush in less than prepared.
There is an interesting case-study of this in John 8: 3-9. The crowd was in an uproar. Both old and young, were full of “righteous indignation.” “ The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.”
Jesus’ charge to have the one without sin cast the first stone, called for reflection. Jesus’ meaning was therefore picked up upon by those with the most experience first. They could see and understand their own shortcomings. They could when using their own conduct as the measure, see beyond the “black and white.”
The Apostle Paul seems to have grown in wisdom during his ministry. He a man a zeal in the early chapters of Acts, was full of his youthful, culturally based “truths” as well. He persecuted the church because it was “the right thing to do.” But the Damascus experience turned him in a new direction. But not without diminishing his fervour (or self-view). His, maturing is road-mapped in his own writings.
In Galatians 1: 1 (written circa 53 AD), he refers to himself as, “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” Paul and his office are introduced. Yet, within a year, he addresses himself as “the least of the apostles” 1 Corinthians 15:9 (circa 53-54 AD). This gradual diminishing of his self and elevation of “Him crucified” continues in Ephesians 3:8, “I am the least of all the saints…” (circa 62 AD). Here no longer least of the apostles, but of all Christians. His journey of Paul chief of sinners 1 Timothy 1:15 (placed by many as circa 64-65)
This should not be surprising. Job 12:12 reflects, ” Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” This said though, we need to give youthful zeal its do. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (I Timothy 4:12).” Even the young can show maturity (in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” It was evident in Timothy and in David as Psalm 71:5 “For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.”
Such maturity is not always easy (not even for many of advanced years), but Peter offers a starting point to this attitude of wisdom, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).” This was the lesson Paul seemed to learn between Galatians and I Timothy.
These musings call each of us to examine our walks. For the young – are you seeking wisdom and guidance? It is not the place here to seek a dig at “youthful folly” (Proverbs 7:7 and others) but to encourage as Paul and Peter did, the attitudes of maturity that the young are so remarkable in achieving. For those of us who are older (and we pray wiser), do we still hold on to the vision and zeal of our youth (either physically or spiritually)? And do we show the humility of an aging Paul? Do we offer our wisdom in a spirit humility with the goal of lifting others and not ourselves? May God give each of us balance.