Previous article in this series: June 2018, p. 307.
When you think about what it means to be a mature man, one of the things that probably comes to mind is his strength. Generally speaking, men are physically stronger than women. If the woman is the “weaker vessel” (I Pet. 3:7), this implies that the man is the stronger vessel.
Especially is it the case with young men that they are characterized by strength. When I was a teenager, it was not uncommon for me to work all day in the scorching heat of the summer and, then, after work spend the entire evening running up and down the basketball court. The point is not to make you think that I was so strong (I was not), but rather to illustrate the point that young men in general are strong.
The Bible speaks of young men in the same way. Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.” We read in I John 2:14, “…I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong….” And in Isaiah 40:30, when it describes our dependence upon Almighty God, it speaks of young men as the epitome of earthly strength: “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall.”
But when the Bible speaks of the strength of youth, it does not have in mind merely muscles. After all, God “taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man” (Ps. 147:10, a verse oft repeated to a sports-crazed young man by a wise grandmother).
Rather, the Word of God has in mind spiritual strength. This is evident from the rest of I John 2:14 when it says to young men, “…because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” What ought to characterize mature Christian men, and young men in particular, is that they are strong spiritually.
But what does this mean? What is spiritual strength?
There are probably many different ways of describing this strength. You could say that it is a close walk with God, the fear of the Lord, wisdom, godliness, and so on.
But what I want to look at here is that the strength of a mature man is his faith. The spiritually weak man is weak in faith, and the spiritually strong man is strong in faith.
This idea is biblical. In Isaiah 30:15 God reminds the people of Judah, “in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” Ephesians 6:10 says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Then, in the following inventory of the Christian armor, the Holy Spirit says, “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Significantly, I John 5:4 says, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
As many of you have learned in catechism, faith is fundamentally a bond that unites us to Christ. Christ is the living Vine. In Him alone there flows the “sap” of everlasting life and the blessings of salvation. By nature we are dead branches, unconnected to the Vine, fit for the fire. As the gracious Husbandman, our heavenly Father takes His elect but spiritual dead branches and engrafts them into the Vine. The “graft” that unites us to Christ is the bond of faith.
This reminds us immediately that our strength as men is found in Christ alone. In ourselves we are weak and impotent. Apart from Christ we young men “faint” and are “weary” and “utterly fall” (Is. 40:30). Our strength is found alone in the sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords. Our victory, our overcoming of the wicked one and the world, is in His cross and empty tomb.
In giving us the gift of faith and uniting us by that unbreakable bond to Christ, God also makes us alive and active. With the life-giving “sap” of the Vine flowing through us, our faith becomes active, something that we exercise.
As the Heidelberg Catechism so helpfully explains, the faith of the child of God has two important aspects. The first is that faith is a “certain knowledge.” Faith is knowledge, the comprehension of certain facts. It is the knowledge that there is a God in heaven who alone must be worshiped. It is the knowledge that this God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things visible and invisible. It is the knowledge of the Fall, the curse, and sin. It is the knowledge of Christ as the only Savior who by His death on the cross atoned for the sins of His elect church. It is the knowledge that this Christ is now Lord over all, and that He is coming again to judge the world. It is the knowledge of all that God has promised us in His Word.
Faith is a certain knowledge. Far from being merely intellectual head-knowledge, this is personal heart-knowledge. The one true God is my God and Father. The Fall of Adam and Eve was my sin. Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord. He is coming again to judge me and bring me to glory. This is not abstract, but personal. Not coldly academic, but heart-warming.
If the strength of youth is faith, then one who is spiritually strong is one who possesses this certain knowledge and delights in it.
The second aspect of faith mentioned in the Heidelberg Catechism is an “assured confidence,” or, as others have translated it, a “hearty trust.” Whenever the Bible speaks of our trusting in the Lord, it is speaking of this aspect of faith. Knowing Christ as our Savior, we look to Him, rest in Him, embrace Him, and depend upon Him alone.
This aspect of our faith, the hearty trust, rests upon the first, the certain knowledge. Why do you trust your parents? Because of your knowledge of their love and care for you. Why do you trust that friend? Because of your knowledge of his faithfulness and her confidentiality. Why do we trust in Christ? Because of our knowledge of Him as revealed in the Bible and also our knowledge of His love and faithfulness in our own lives.
It seems almost paradoxical, but the reality is that spiritual strength is found in acknowledging that you are weak. The proud man, the one who imagines himself to be strong, falls. The humble man, the one who knows he is weak and depends entirely on Christ for strength, stands. “When I am weak, then am I strong” (II Cor. 12:10).
If the strength of youth is faith, then one who is spiritually strong is one who possesses this hearty trust in and dependence upon Christ.
And this is strength! By faith in Christ we are strong to withstand the fiery darts of the devil. By faith in Christ we are strong to overcome the world and its pressures. By faith in Christ we are strong to wage war against our old man of sin. By faith in Christ we are able to bear up under heavy burdens. By faith in Christ we are able to carry out our callings in life. By faith in
Christ we are able to be strong and courageous leaders.
Young men, you are strong! Because you have received the gift of faith!
Since every son of God has received the gift of faith, every young man is strong. And yet there are varying degrees of strength. Some might be weaker in faith, while others are stronger in faith. In our own lifetime we might have times of weaker faith and times of stronger faith.
Understanding this, we ought to be striving to grow in our faith. Just as a world-class athlete spends his life honing his skills and building his muscles, so the mature man will spend his life strengthening his spiritual muscles and growing in faith.
God has provided us with different means (tools or instruments) by which our faith grows. Not only does He graciously give us faith, but in His grace He also provides us with the means by which He makes our faith to be strengthened and nourished.
The chief means by which God strengthens our faith is the preaching of the gospel. Not only does the preaching provide instruction in various doctrines and in the Christian life, but in all this it points us always to Christ and to His saving work on the cross. Through such faithful preaching, the Holy Spirit works to strengthen us both in the certain knowledge and the hearty trust of our faith.
A secondary means of faith is the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As earthly pictures of spiritual realities, the sacraments serve to further confirm and assure us of what we have heard in the preaching.
The means of the preaching of the sacraments are found in the local, instituted church. This means that the wise young men will value membership in the church and attendance at the worships services of the church. His attitude is not that Sunday is a bore, but rather that the Sabbath is a great delight. He rejoices in the means God provides on the Sabbath in the church to strengthen his faith.
In addition to these two chief means of faith, there are many other means that the Holy Spirit uses to strengthen our faith. The means of grace include prayer, singing, personal and family devotions, good reading, meditating, memorizing Scripture, catechism, Bible study, visiting the shut-ins and widows and widowers, the instruction of parents, and the communion of the saints. From a certain point of view, all things are a means of grace for the believer. This includes trials. Even though they are so difficult, trials greatly strengthen our faith.
In one way or another, all of these things drive us to and focus our attention upon the Word. It is chiefly by the Word of God that we have our faith strengthened. Psalm 119:9 asks, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” I John 2:14 says, “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you.” There is no substitute for time spent in the Word for producing spiritually strong men.
That forces us to examine ourselves: “How much time do we actually spend using these means to grow in our faith?” Perhaps start here: “How much time do I spend going to the gym and working out to get physically ripped? How many hours have I spent practicing my jump shot or perfecting my golf swing? How long do I spend fine-tuning my car or playing video games?”
If we spend so much time focusing on physical strength, should we not spend at least an equal amount of time on gaining spiritual strength? If we devote so much energy to what is of limited value, should we not devote at least a proportionate amount of energy to what is of greater, lasting value?
Young men, you are strong! And continue to grow in strength!
This is not the kind of strength that the world tries to promote. They think that strength means being physically strong and attractive, having a successful career and making lots of money, driving a certain vehicle, and having beautiful women fawn over you.
That is not the strength of which God’s Word speaks. Strong men are spiritually strong, strong in God’s Word, and strong to fight against the enemies of the church.
The church needs single men that are strong and wise. The church needs husbands that are strong leaders for their wives. The church needs strong fathers who instruct and rear the covenant seed faithfully. The church needs strong members who know and love God’s Word. The church needs faithful officebearers who are strong and wise and love the church.
Young men, if you take stock of your congregation, you will probably see that there is an old, wise generation of strong men that has served their families and church faithfully for many years. But they are reaching the end of their earthly pilgrimage. The church needs another generation of men to arise in these dark days, to grow into spiritual fathers and take up their place in the church.
This is what the church needs! This is what the church has always needed, but in these dark days in which we live this is something that the church needs even more than ever before! The church needs strong young men! And the church needs these strong young men to mature into wise older men.
Young men, you are strong! Be strong!