Happy birthday, son. Becoming a teenager is a very big deal. It should be. You are beginning the amazing transition from boyhood to manhood. That’s why you received a knife as a gift. That’s also why we paused Sunday night so I could speak to you in front of our guests. If you recall, I challenged you to remember your three-fold mission: Glorify God, Bless Others and Prepare for Eternity.
You may have quietly asked yourself, “What does this mission look like?” This letter serves to flesh that out just a bit. The sections below in italics are taken from J.C. Ryle’s treatise, “Thoughts for Young Men” (The Upper Room, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000).
Without a doubt, you reside in a world of competing affections. You are already being tempted to love someone or something more than Christ. Protect yourself from loving the created rather than the Creator. Ensure that your love of God never becomes lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).
Instead, love your God with all that you have–your heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37). He alone is deserving of such wholehearted love. Deep down, you know this to be the case. Love Him for Who He is. Love Him for what He has done, is doing, and will do for His great glory and your great good.
Young men, resist sin in its beginnings. They may look small and insignificant, but mind what I say, resist them,–make no compromise, let no sin lodge quietly and undisturbed in your heart.
I have always loved a passage from the Apocryphal book of Sirach. It reads, “Flee from sin as from a snake, for if you approach sin, it will bite you. Its teeth are lion’s teeth and destroy the souls of men” (21:2).
Experience has taught you this already. Sin is ugly. It dishonors God and hurts others. Hate it. Hate your sin more than you hate sin of others. That cannot be overstated, my son. Truly grasping its truth will be a sign you genuinely know God. Hate your sin more than you hate the sin of others.
“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).
Hold the Bible Tightly
In Philippians 2:16, Paul challenged his readers to “hold fast the Word of life.” I believe this has no less than two meanings. First, we should hold it closely as it is an incredible gift of God. Second, we should not waiver in our beliefs to those essential truths of the faith so clearly presented in the text.
I very much hope I have proved to be an example to you in this important endeavor. I do indeed love God’s Word and the truths drawn from it. Since owning my first Bible as a nineteen-year-old, I have cherished it and enjoyed both studying and teaching it. Don’t ever take the blessing of owning a Bible for granted.
Remember, if ever there was a book which has been proved true from beginning to end, by every kind of evidence, that book is the Bible…It has been tried in every way, and the more it has been tried, the more evidently has it been shown to be the very handiwork of God Himself.
Young men, when did God ever fail to keep His word? Never. What He has said, He has always done; and what He has spoken, He has always made good.
The Bible is God’s merciful provision for sinful man’s soul,–the map by which he must steer his course, if he would attain eternal life. All that we need to know, in order to make us peaceful, holy, or happy, is there richly contained.
Young men, I charge you to make a habit of reading the Bible, and not let that habit be broken.
You know little of the perils around you, and so you are heedless how you walk. You hate the trouble of sober, quiet thinking, and so you form wrong decisions and run your heads into sorrow…Believe me, this world is not a world in which we can do well without thinking, and least of all do well in the matter of our souls.
Socrates is reported to have said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth the living.” TJ, make reflection a regular habit. Examine yourself. Evaluate the worldview of your culture. Never cease to renew your mind (Romans 12:2). Train yourself to think. Wed reason to your faith.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever in honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Do not be confident in your own judgment. Cease to be sure that you are always right, and others wrong. Be distrustful of your own opinion, when you find it contrary to that of older mean than yourselves, and specially to that of your own parents.
We will always be available to you. You will always have my ear. More importantly, God is at the ready to hear when you pray.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Lean upon Him, TJ. Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).
Remain in Church
Be regular in going to the house of God…
I dwell on this point too, because of the strong anxiety I feel that every young man should regularly hear the preaching of Christ’s gospel. I cannot tell you how important I think this is.
You seen how important this has been for me. You’ve seen me attend church when I was tired (you probably even recall how we commuted to church in Chattanooga each Sunday after I drove the Dayton Mountain paper route). You’ve watched me go to church when I would have rather remained home. And you have understood that legalism was not the reason for my attendance. The local church is not heaven. She is filled with sinners, imperfect people like you and me. But she is God’s creation and a blessing. It is also the reason God has given spiritual gifts to all of His children. We are not to forsake meeting regularly with the Lord’s people because He has called us to make a difference in their lives (Heb. 10:25).
Don’t stray far from fellowship. You desperately need it. Others desperately need you.
Beware of Ungodly Pleasures
Enjoy life. Have fun. But be warned.
Remember what I say: if you would cleave to earthly pleasures,–these are the things which murder souls. There is not surer way to get a seared conscience and a hard, impenitent heart, than to give way to the desires of flesh and mind.
And here I will not shrink from warning all young men to remember the seventh commandment; to beware of adultery and fornication, of all impurity of every kind. I fear there is often a want of plain speaking on this part of God’s law.
Imagination is the hotbed where this sin is too often hatched. Guard your thoughts, and there is little fear about your deeds.
You know me well. You know I like to have fun. I have made you laugh more times than you can count. I do not believe that life is meant to be a miserable experience each and every day. Yes, it is difficult. Life is much harder than I ever would have imagined. But we can hate sin and guard against it and still find ample reason to be happy and joyful. Don’t buy the lie that broken cisterns satisfy the soul (Jeremiah 2:13). Only the Lord does. And believe me when I say from experience that the everlasting pleasures of God trump the passing pleasures of sin every day of the week (Hebrews 11:25).
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33).
So my son, love God, hate sin, hold the Bible tightly, think biblically, seek wisdom, remain in church and beware of ungodly pleasures. Glorify God, bless others and prepare for eternity.
I will be praying for you to do no less, and I will be cheering for you as you navigate the turbulent waters of your teenage years.