The Vanities of Youth
Curtis Knapp is pastor of New Hope Baptist Church of Seneca, Kansas. He serves as the current Vice-chairman of the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship and Assistant Editor of The Sovereign Grace Messenger.
“Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.” -- Ecclesiastes 11:9-10
This passage could be summarized as follows: “Enjoy yourself, young man or young woman. Go have fun and follow your dreams and impulses. Just keep in mind that God’s judgment is coming, and you’ll have to answer to Him for everything you say and do. So, what you should actually do is put away evil and remember that the days of youth are days of vanity.”
Verse nine above is written with irony. The preacher is not seriously advocating that young people “walk in the way of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes.” We know this because of what scripture says elsewhere about the folly of walking in the way of one’s heart. Proverbs 28:26 says, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.”
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (see also Proverbs 3:5-6 and Mark 7:20-23)
The irony of verse 9 is also evident by the contrast at the end of the verse, “but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment,” and by the contrast with verse 10. “Therefore, remove sorrow (also translated anger) from thy heart, and put away evil…”
This scripture warns us against the very thing most older people know by experience—namely, that the years of our youth are filled with foolishness and vanity. We spend an inordinate amount of time on things that simply don’t matter. That is, they don’t matter for the kingdom of God. They do matter, however, in a negative way. We must give an account on Judgment Day for the ways in which we have wasted our youth.
When older people think about the vanity of youth, many things come to mind. One triviality is sports. Look at how much time we spend on sports in our youth, and for what? What was the great benefit of it all? “Teamwork” some will reply. Is sports the only way to learn teamwork? Is sports even a sure-fire method of learning it? If by teamwork, we mean unselfishness, then it begs the question: Are most athletes known for their unselfishness? Hardly!
Voddie Baucham, who was recruited to play college football, once replied to the dubious claim that “football builds character” with the incredulous response (and I paraphrase): “So professional football players should be the greatest examples of character in the world?”
A second oft-mentioned benefit of sports is physical exercise. Certainly, this has some temporal benefit, but is the benefit worth the all-consuming investment that we make? It is doubtful.
Another vanity of youth is clothing. Consider how much money is spent on decking ourselves out with the latest “cool” styles of apparel. And for what? To impress other fools, or to keep from being mocked by small-minded and superficial peers, only to have the “cool” fad of the moment be replaced by another arbitrary fad a couple of years later? This is vanity and a chasing after the wind.
Consider also the excessive attention given to beauty, especially among young women. The time, energy and money spent on the hair, the skin, the face and the figure is mind-boggling. And to what end? To be an object of desire or envy? Proverbs 31:30 shows the foolishness of such priorities: “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.”
This is not to suggest that we should throw all concerns about our appearance to the wind and parade about in our jammies with a bed-head hairdo. We are talking about the obsessive preoccupation with beauty and appearance, not the moderate and sensible attention that is necessary to avoid slovenliness.
Take the modern trendiness of tattoos. Generally speaking, it seems that tattoos are acquired to “make a statement”. They serve as a sort of advertisement that is intended to be seen or read by others. Yet how many months or weeks does it take before the new tattoo is no longer a novelty and no longer cool? In due time, the skull and crossbones become hard to discern under the sagging mounds of wrinkled cellulite.
This criticism is not intended to condemn everyone who has a tattoo, one percent of whom may be faithful brothers and sisters in the Lord and more mature Christians than myself. It is rather a criticism of the youthful vanity so common in our day, of which tattoos are an undeniable manifestation.
Not only does the preacher of Ecclesiastes tell us that childhood and youth are vanity, he also tells us that we must give an account on Judgment Day for the evil things we do in our youth.
When we are young, we think much of having fun, but very little about the consequences of that fun. We give no thought to the future. We have heard that there is an age of accountability and we perhaps flatter ourselves with the empty hope that God won’t take notice of our juvenile behavior. After all, we’re just kids! Surely, God understands that kids are going to be kids! One religious denomination believes that the age of accountability is 21. Consequently, some parents have actually encouraged their children to “sow their wild oats” in their teenage years to get it out of their system. At age 21, they are then encouraged to join the church. What madness!
Look again at the text. Does it give us such hope in a nebulous age of accountability? Indeed no: “But know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”
There is no age of accountability. It is a pipe dream read into certain texts that speak of the moral ignorance of young children, but which say nothing about whether children are held accountable for sins they commit in ignorance. Our text here in Ecclesiastes is a flat contradiction to such notions See also Gen. 6:5-7, Dt. 20:16-17 and Rom. 5:14-19.
If you are a young man or woman, take heed to the warning of those older than you. They have already traveled down the same road you are on. They have been young and know what it is like to waste their youth. They know what regret is. You, however, are not yet old, and you do not have the kind of discernment that is acquired by years of experience.
Listen to the voice of scripture which is wiser than the collective advice of a thousand elders. The days of your youth are not “freebies” that God gives you to waste in vain pursuits. You are accountable before God in your youth no less than in adulthood. It doesn’t matter if “everyone else is doing it.” God is quite capable of judging multitudes in the Valley of Decision (Joel 3:13-14).
The time for sobriety and serious devotion to God is now, not later. Do not procrastinate on something as weighty as your eternal soul. Christ was sent to die for the young no less than the old. Come to Him now. Put your trust in Him now. Today is the day of salvation. Seek the Lord while He may be found and call upon Him while He is near. “Put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.”