“The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair”
– Proverbs 20:29
This Proverb crowns the young and old man with his distinctive yet complementary qualities: the young man with his strength, and the old man with his wisdom. These two traits, when intertwined in both use and fellowship across the two generations, are glories of both and service to all.
I heard a sermon on this verse several years ago that gripped me with the glories of both strength and wisdom. And as a young man, I’m more and more convinced that the glory of young men, strength, needs to be reignited, protected, and used among the young men in today’s culture.
Strength is the Glory of Young Men
The words glory and strength side-by-side evoke images of battles, adventures, and conquests. They are the words of legends and heroes, seemingly more at home in Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, or Tolkien’s Return of the King than within our own stories in the 21st century.
But Solomon is not writing fiction or fantasy here. He’s writing to real young men about a real strength and a real glory.
The word here for strength has the idea of firmness and vigor. The word is forceful and tough, with the idea that its object can withstand, endure, and bear a heavy load. It’s powerful, energetic, and mighty.
Strength is the quality Solomon picks as the descriptive glory of a youthful man. It is a young man’s crown, his breastplate, and his God-given gift. It’s his unique contribution to his family, his church, and his community.
This strength, for the young man, is both literal and figurative. It’s the strength that protects those around you physically and the strength that confronts ideological threats. It’s the strength that endures long days of labor and the strength that ministers to others with your words and attention. It’s the strength that uses your hands to build and create and the strength that uses your hands to welcome friends and strangers.
For the young man, this strength is his glory. And it’s under assault.
The Glory of Young Men Watered or Wasted
The attack on young men’s glory comes from within and without.
From within, your sin will try to redirect your strength into a self-serving operation that seeks strength exclusively for the vanity of self and the harm of others.
From without, the world and the devil will try to throw all sorts of temptations your way to prey on your sin, in an attempt to redirect your strength away from the use of God-glorifying pursuits.
This glory can be watered to bear fruit that will last for God’s eternal purpose. Or this glory can be wasted in a dry desert of self-glorifying ambitions.
Here are at least five ways this can happen.
#1 – Strength Neglected
“I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was veered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down” – Proverbs 24:30-31
The first assault tries to create negligence through laziness. The snoozy sluggard does not work, does not labor, expends no strength, and is found sleeping when he should be working (Proverbs 6:9-11). The youthful man who is lulled to sleep by sluggardly tendencies idly wastes his glory.
Solomon sees this danger and warns the young sluggard to pay a visit to the ground and learn diligence from the ant (Proverbs 6:6). The ant works when no one is watching or prodding, makes plans for the future and patiently executes them, and reaps a bountiful harvest at the end of the season (Proverbs 6:6-8). The ant uses her strength and does not let it slowly waste away.
Learning diligence is a strategy out of neglecting your strength.
#2 – Strength Stolen
“What are you doing my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows? Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings” – Proverbs 31:3
The second assault tries to steal your strength through the perverted expenditure of it through lust. King Lemuel’s mother warns her young prince against the danger of this deadly sin. And King Solomon gives plenty of attention to it as well.
Lust is not safe and it’s not harmless. It’s the trap that can ensnare a strong ox and a young stag (Proverbs 7:22). It’s a reliable path to Sheol that is lined with pleasurable poisons and cooing temptations (Proverbs 7:25-27). It’s the fire that will burn your chest (Proverbs 6:27) and the expenditure of your strength that will cause regret in your later years (Proverbs 5:11).
Solomon pleads with his son not to follow this path. Instead, he teaches his son to pursue faithfulness to the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:15-19). Find your pleasure, your contentment, and your satisfaction in her and in the covenant made with her. It’s the protection against a formidable sin that will rob you of your youthful strength.
Learning faithfulness is a strategy out of strength that can be stolen from you.
#3 – Strength Misdirected
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be… treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” – 2 Timothy 3:1-2,4
The third assault tries to steal your strength through the misdirection of being swole with conceit. In 2 Timothy, Paul warns the young man Timothy to beware the challenges he will have to encounter in the course of his ministry. And one of the traits he will have to deal with is those who are “swollen with conceit”.
A young man can be physically swole… but he can be swollen with conceit. The word picture here is an object that is puffy but inwardly it’s just filled up with smoke. There’s no inward substance or strength that can endure the rockiness of life. The young man who is swollen with conceit is one who has his eyes and gaze directed inward, which inevitably results in strength directed towards self only.
Paul encourages Timothy to direct his eyes elsewhere later in chapter 3. Paul tells Timothy to look at his “gray hair” so-to-speak, and to follow his path of living for the Gospel (2 Timothy 3:10-11). He tells Timothy to look ahead and get ready to suffer well (2 Timothy 3:12). He then tells Timothy to gaze deeply into the Word of God, which can equip the young man for any good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Learning to look outside of ourselves towards God’s word and maturity is a strategy out of misdirected strength.
#4 – Strength Shamed
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” – 1 Timothy 4:4-5
The fourth assault tries to shame your strength through the haziness of Gnosticism. This age-old ideology loves to sharply distinguish between the material and immaterial. But it moves further than just categorizations. It calls the material inherently wicked, and the immaterial inherently good.
This thinking has its hooks all over the culture. For the young man, the temptation is to label your physical body and physical strength as something that’s at best unimportant and at worst something to be treated with disdain. This can’t be further from the truth, and consequently this thinking will neuter your physical strength. It will teach you to treat your physical strength like it’s not worth anything.
Gnosticism is ignorant of reality. With the physical, it ignores the notion that God created all things as good. With the immaterial, it ignores the truth that our actions and words flow from our sinful hearts. And it ignores that sin corrupts both.
Jesus shattered Gnosticism in the most magnificent way. He became flesh and blood to deal with the polluting stain of sin in both our bodies and our souls. He existed in the beginning with God (John 1) but became God-incarnate to die and be resurrected in the flesh. The hope of the Gospel transforms our minds and our hearts (Romans 12:1, Ezekiel 36:26) and promises a future transformation of our physical bodies (Philippians 3:21). All of this culminates in an attitude of thankfulness for everything that God has created.
Learning thankfulness for all the things God has given you, including your youthful strength, is a strategy out of strength that is shamed.
#5 – Strength Enraged
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” – Proverbs 16:32
The fifth assault tries to enrage your strength into the destructive force of quickly kindled anger. This misuse of strength is destructive to yourself and damaging to those around you.
Solomon delivers a great warning about anger in this Proverb by using metaphor of a victorious warrior. The mighty man who goes out and conquers an entire city certainly demonstrates his glory of strength. But this warrior’s glory pales in comparison to the glory of the man who has enough strength to subdue a far deadlier enemy – his inwardly brooding and easily angered spirit.
The description of this mightier warrior is the man who is “slow to anger”. Paul might call this man the young man who is “self-controlled” (Titus 2:6), which is the individual who can reign in his spirit through the submission of his self to the Holy Spirit. This man is sober-minded, not easily buffeted, and has his tempers and his mind under submission.
Learning self-control is a strategy out of strength that is enraged.
Will You Use Your Glory?
When a young man embraces his strength, learns to navigate through all the neutralizing inward vices and outward temptations, it becomes his glory.
Refuse to have your strength neglected, stolen, misdirected, shamed, or enraged. Learn to humbly use it through the power of the Spirit for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
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