Today we consider Young People. Saint Peter says, “Young people, submit yourselves to the elderly. Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility. For God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”
Beloved in the Lord Christ, it holds true with young people that, if they are not continually maintained in Christian discipline, they can easily go astray on account of their lack of understanding.
The dear apostle Peter speaks to the youth to be submissive and humble. This is an apostolic, divine commandment that can by no means be despised. For it often happens that the wretched satan inflicts them more than other people with conceit and arrogance. They presumptuously think too highly of themselves when they find that they are adorned with fine gifts of body and mind.
Instead, they should break this inborn pride through the power of the Holy Spirit. They should be all the more submissive in proper, genuine Christian humility and lowliness of heart. God the Lord also commanded in Leviticus nineteen: “Before a gray head you shall rise, and you shall honor the elderly. For you shall fear your God.” With these words, He wishes to demonstrate that whoever honors the elderly shows thereby his fear of God. But whoever does not hold them in honor shows thereby that he does not fear God, or else he would follow and obey this commandment of His.
It pleases God when a young man humbles himself before the elderly. Accordingly, God also gives grace to the humble, so that He increases His divine gifts and grace in such a young, disciplined heart. He demonstrated this in Joseph in Egypt, and in Daniel and his companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They behaved in all lowliness of spirit toward God and men. Therefore God increased His gifts in them and exalted them.
Young people should not become prideful if they have received gifts, nor should they wish to be seen as more important than the older adults because of them. One can surely find young, foolish people who think they are much wiser than the elderly. They are unable to keep their supposed greatness to themselves. They think that whatever an older person does cannot possibly be done well; the youth can do it better.
Now if you are young and the evil foe tries to instill such puffed up thoughts in you, then you should remember this text: “Young people, be submissive to the old and show humility.” You should remember that it is written, “Do not think yourself smarter than the old, for they also learned it from their fathers.” Be aware of the teaching that “The elder should speak, for it is fitting for him, as one who is experienced.” And again, “A young person may indeed also speak once or twice, if he must and if he is asked. He should keep his remarks brief and control himself, as one who knows little and prefers to remain silent. He should not consider himself equal with the masters, and when an elder speaks, the young man should not prattle on.”
So you should always yield to those who are older. This humility is not to your detriment or shame, but to your honor. Why would the youth be ashamed to honor their elders, when old age is an honorable thing? The elderly have certainly experienced more, seen more, and heard more. Therefore the Scripture again reminds and admonishes: “Do not despise the speech of the wise, but conform to their sayings, for you can learn something from them, including how you should restrain yourself in the presence of great men.” Indeed, in the story of King Rehoboam, the older men gave him very good counsel, that, in order to appease the tribes of Israel, he should lessen their burden. But the young, inexperienced men gave him the opposite counsel, and their counsel was so bad that it caused ten tribes in Israel to break away from the house of David on a single day.
Young people should also consider early in their tender, young years how they will obtain a right, honorably old age, which is a matter of wisdom and true godliness. True old age is a matter of honor, not of living a long life or attaining to many years. Wisdom among men and a spotless life are the real gray hair. To this belongs a right knowledge of God, as the Evangelist Saint John admonishes the Christian youth in his First Epistle: “I write to you, children, for you know the Father.” This knowledge they gain from God’s Word and from their holy Catechism. If they apply themselves to it as a spiritual exercise, if they grow and progress in it, they will also go from budding youth to full-grown adulthood. Saint Paul writes in Ephesians four that they “attain to the knowledge of the Son of God, of the full adulthood of Christ, and no longer be children who are moved here and there by every wind of doctrine through the deceit of men.” And in Psalm 119 the prophet says, “How shall a young person keep his way blameless? By holding to Your words.”
In order that they may walk blamelessly in this blessed and holy way of God’s commandments and not stray from it onto the path of the world, youths should associate with older people who are pious and godly. This edifies the youth, and they progress in the blessed school of heavenly, divine wisdom. King Solomon gives them this same faithful counsel in his Proverbs: “He who walks with the wise man becomes wise.” And Sirach says: “Associate gladly with the elderly, and where a wise man is, abide with him. Hear the Word of God gladly, and note the good sayings of wisdom.”
But just as the company of wise and learned people is edifying for tender youth, so also they should avoid and flee from the company of the wicked, if they want to be delivered from all the deception and mischief that spring from such company. It is not in vain that the Holy Spirit has so earnestly warned us about this. “Do not be deceived. Evil company corrupts good habits,” says Paul. “He who touches pitch will sully himself with it. And he who associates with a proud man will learn pride,” says Sirach. “For bad examples lead astray and corrupt the good in a person, and alluring desire twists innocent hearts.”
Therefore, if you are a young man and you see someone who likes to curse, who does not like to go to church to hear the sermon, who is disobedient to father and mother, quarrelsome and undisciplined, who is a scoundrel in words and actions, flee from him as from the wretched devil. For he is the devil’s ambassador. Where the devil cannot enter, he sends people through whom he advances his work. Beware of them and follow the teaching of Solomon when he says, “My child, if the wicked sinners entice you, do not follow.”
Now it is true that young people are more inclined to merriment than those who are older. So it will be very important for them to guard themselves in this matter. For satan is quick to take advantage of this in order to seduce the foolish, unthinking young men into the lust of this world, so that they begin to be wild, crude, and godless. They waltz into all kinds of sin and shame while they forget about discipline and the fear of the Almighty, thinking to themselves, “Why would you want to expend your energy on those things? You have to enjoy the pleasures of the world so that you won’t have wasted your time here.” They are thus urged into the way of sinners and mockers who rush with false security to their own destruction, who say, “Come now! Let us live well, while we have the chance. Let us use our body while it is young. We want to fill ourselves with the best things. Let none of us lack fancy clothes. There is nothing more to life than that. For he who cannot do as he pleases is worth nothing.” But their wickedness has blinded them so that they do not know God’s hidden judgment, that a holy life will be rewarded.
It happens to many young people that, while they indulge in the world’s pleasures, they are suddenly taken away by death and must appear before the judgment seat of God sooner than they expected. A man may be young and strong now, but in an instant he is cut down and powerless. If he is not found in the fear of God, he goes to his eternal ruin. For “all flesh is like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade, for the Spirit of the Lord blows on them.” Therefore, do not grow conceited because of your youth. You are neither too handsome nor too young for our Lord God to find you when you least expect it.
But “Remember your Creator in your younger years,” as Solomon teaches in Ecclesiastes twelve. Keep God before your eyes. Allow yourself to be led and disciplined by His Word. Joseph is a notable example of this. Although he was young, nevertheless the fear of God was in his heart like an iron wall, so that satan was unable to overpower him or compel him to do wrong when he was urged to unchastity by his master’s wife. Indeed, that is also the spiritual victory against satan, against the world and its perverse pleasures. John praises this victory and triumph to Christian young people with these words: “I have written to you, young ones, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides with you, and you have conquered the evil one.”
But here someone will say: “Are young people, then, to have no pleasure or enjoyment whatsoever?” Here we will let the preacher Solomon answer, who gives this response: “Rejoice, O young one, in your youth, and let your heart be of good cheer in your youth. Do whatever your heart desires and your eyes find pleasant [understand – in honorable things]. Know that for all of this God will bring you into judgment.” That is as much as to say: When you are surrounded by pleasures, you may indeed enjoy yourself; God certainly allows you this. But keep His fear and judgment ever hovering before your eyes, so that, when you are tempted by bad company or by your own corrupt flesh to indulge too much in such pleasures, you may then restrain yourself and allow yourself to be ruled by the fear of the Almighty God. Consider that God will one day bring you before His judgment seat for all the things you have done and will require that you answer for it, as the Son of God says in Matthew twelve. “Men must give an account for every careless word they have spoken.” This fear of the Lord and blessed consideration of His eternal judgment will keep you in check, so that even in the midst of pleasures you keep your way pure before Him, lest with revelry, drunkenness, pride, filthy words or works, you sin against God your Creator and against His holy Majesty.
Young men who have thus preserved themselves in the things they were to do and leave undone are the ones who have obtained honor in the blessed knowledge of God and in a spotless life. They have obtained the dearest victory of all: the victory against satan. Such young people rise up to take the place of the older ones who are fading away, so that they serve both God and men.
In this way, young Christian people store up for themselves a good treasure for their future old age, namely, true blessedness. For if they have been diligent in these things in their youth, they carry with them a good and quiet conscience into their old age, which is better than all the things for which the world yearns. They can deal with all the sorrow, sickness, and trouble that comes with old age, because they know that they have a gracious God in heaven. On the other hand, those who destroy their precious youth and misuse it with sins and vices carry with them into old age a gnawing, consuming worm. This worm is a bad and restless conscience that tortures them more severely than all that could possibly happen to them in the flesh.
May the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, graciously grant to the poor, tender, inexperienced youth to consider all this at all times. May He direct their life accordingly, so that they may ever grow and advance in the heavenly wisdom that consists in true knowledge of God, genuine fear of God and irreproachable conduct. Thus they will not disrupt the blessed work begun in them in Holy Baptism, but be preserved until the end and perfected. May God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, worthily praised forever and ever – grant this to them and to us all. Amen.
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