I don’t know what the girls did. I imagined them in the next room looking through BRIDE magazine, playing M.A.S.H. or picking out prom dresses. They laughed and hugged while we men stared at the floor. We were slammed in the face with our evil and unbound sexual desire. Lecturers called us adulterers and recommended gouging out our eyes and cutting off our sexually promiscuous hands (see Matthew 5:27-30). We were taught the second glance rule to keep our hearts in check. We were assigned accountability partners specifically to discuss how, when and where we acted on sexual desire in the past week. We were nearly made to believe that the pinnacle of male spirituality is the absence of sexual attraction.
Finding Sex Where It Doesn’t Exist
One of the verse bombs hurled our way was 2 Timothy 2:22. “Flee from the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Without fail every teacher interpreted the expression "evil desires of youth" (or “youthful lusts” in some translations) as a man’s sex drive. You needed to flee, run, scat, sprint and hurry if you wanted to escape it.
Admittedly 2 Timothy 2:22 did justify the advice to find accountability partners (“pursue… along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart”). But it didn’t quite make sense. Why would some guy fighting sexual temptation find victory by pursuing peace instead of sex? Why does nothing Paul write in 2 Timothy 2 ever mention sexual purity or promiscuity? Why doesn’t Paul use adjectives like “sensual” or “sexual” to describe “lusts” as he does elsewhere when discussing sexual desire?
Any one of us who reads a Bible gets to decide what the words mean—whether we know we’re doing it or not. Now that's an intimidating responsibility. If you think 2 Timothy 2:22 warns about sexual lust, then it does. Your assumptions, experiences and opinions combine to transform the meaning of verses into something familiar to you. Consciously or not, you tell the Bible what it means. So how do you figure out if it actually agrees with you?
"Consciously or not, you tell the Bible what it means. So how do you figure out if it actually agrees with you?"
Putting the Bible in almost everyone’s hands and language has introduced many to Jesus. That's the good part. But it also created an endless string of bad interpretations. 2 Timothy 2:22 is just one of many verses that well-intentioned but unprepared teachers of the Bible have messed up. But we can get it right by studying the context of the chapter.
Young People Love to Be Right
2 Timothy 2:14 begins the section of Paul’s letter in which 2 Timothy 2:22 is found with a command: “Don’t argue about precise wording because it’s useless.” Paul’s advice may not be relevant to a songwriter or a student finalizing an English paper, but young Timothy needed to hear it. What is Paul talking about? He is talking about theological discussions. He is talking about pointless arguments about God that don’t matter. Paul calls these arguments: “foolish and ignorant speculations” (2 Timothy 2:23). Paul doesn’t want Timothy to get caught up in fights about someone’s theory of how God does what he does. That is the context of 2 Timothy 2:22.
When Paul says, “Run away from the evil desires of youth,” he isn’t talking about sex. He isn’t talking about fantasies or sexual temptation or porn. He is talking about theological arguments. He is telling Timothy not to get trapped in speculative conversations about God.
So what are the “youthful lusts” for us to escape? It’s the desire to win every argument. Young people love to be right. I know that personally because I is one.
Stop Your Pointless Speculations about God
Blogging belligerently, theorizing incessantly or attacking some guy at a coffee shop because he disagrees with your idea isn’t cool. God doesn’t like it. Paul says “foolish and ignorant speculations” lead to quarrels, and “the Lord's helpers must not pick fights, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Timothy 2:24-25a).
How To Escape Pointless Arguments about God
Directing people toward the truth is our task. And some hills are worth dying on. But first you must know the truth (see 2 Timothy 2:15) and know what’s knowable versus what’s pure speculation. Interpreting scripture in context and avoiding fights over our guesses about God are a good place to start. You’ll be surprised at how few theological fights are left to win.
Young people do love to win arguments. We love to be right. We love to be smarter, quicker, and more informed than the next guy (and so do some old people). But God’s kind of people love to teach others with patience, kindness and gentleness. That’s why Paul told us to flee from youthful lusts and instead pursue virtues like peace. When we stay out of pointless theological discussions and only enter important ones with humility, there is peace. We can run from the “lusts” all young people have and find more love, faith and peace without the constant push to win the next argument.