In 2Timothy 2:22, Paul urges the young evangelist Timothy to “Flee youthful lusts…” I strongly suspect that these words of warning were ultimately intended for a much larger audience! Verses immediately previous in the context sure seem to indicate that he had a much wider target in his sights than just Timothy. So, let’s give this admonishment a little consideration.
The meaning of to “flee” seems pretty obvious: it means to get away from- usually as quickly as possible! “Youthful” likewise appears fairly easy to discern- it means of, or pertaining to, the young. OK, but what about the “lust” part of the phrase?
Generally, the word “lust” is used in the New Testament to refer to unlawful sexual desires, but can also refer to inordinate, or excessive desires that are not sexual in nature, cf. Romans 6:12; Ephesians 2:3; Titus 3:3; or, it can even refer to good desires, Luke 22:15; Philippians 1:23; 1Thessalonians 2:17. However, in our passage, Paul is using epithumia (the Greek word translated as “lust”) in a definitely negative, but not exclusively sexual, sense. So, what do we have? “Quickly get away from young desires”- which begs the question: “What is it about young desires that merit our haste in getting away from them?”
Young desires are usually impulsive. This is not meant to be a criticism as much as a statement of fact. Younger folks are much more prone to act based on spur-of-the-moment emotionandpassion of the heart, rather than on deliberate thought and consideration of the mind. Unfortunately, such decisions are usually not the best ones we can make. In fact, if we have enough self-control to just stop and think about what God says is the “right” thing to do before we act, many “harmful desires” (1Timothy 6:9) can be avoided. And, if we delay acting long enough to pray for guidance and strength also, then the odds go way up of avoiding activities that have very detrimental, and often irreversible, consequences.
Young desires are typically based on instant gratification. Obviously, this is very much related to the previous point. When we are controlled or directed more by our hearts than by our heads, the result is that we’re usually short-sighted. The heart wants what it wants right now, but the head can often think through the situation, and put off immediate gratification for future longer-term benefits. The problem is, again, that the heart is leading us to act before the head has time to contemplate future consequences or benefits. Such is simply a sign of immaturity. 2Peter 1:5-10 tells us that if we fail to “add to (grow or mature, PCS) our faith,”we are susceptible to this kind of short-sidedness. Therefore obviously, if we fail to flee from emotion-based decisions to thought-based decisions, we never really become “trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14), and our “youthful lusts” quickly become full-grown problems!
Young desires are often negatively influenced by peer pressure. Timothy, to whom Paul is writing, is himself “young,” relatively speaking. Paul is urging him to avoid the pressures of the emotionally immature and spiritually carnal. The young, while still in their formativeyears, and searching for their own way in the world, often fall prey to desires to “fit in” with the crowd. If they have chosen their “crowd” foolishly rather than wisely, they are apt to be influenced away from, rather than toward, God. However, being young shouldn’t be an excuse. Too often, parents and adults in their lives excuse bad choices with, “They’re just sowing wild oats,” or “They’re young- they’ll learn better later.” But remember, sown wild oats have a way of sprouting and growing into bad plants; and young folks likely won’t learn better unless we teach them better! Heed another related imperative by Paul from 1Corinthians 15:33-34, “Do not be deceived; ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’ Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God.” While this passage is directed primarily to adult Christians concerning their own poor choices of associates, the principle applies to younger folks also. Young and old alike should decide to associate with those who influence them positively toward holiness and right conduct.
Finally, please note that “Flee youthful lusts” is not all there is to 2Timothy 2:22. The rest of the verse urges, “and pursue after righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Failures in these areas render us neither sanctified nor useful to the Master, 2Timothy 2:21ff.