(Talk given by Ben Agbo (Rev Fr) at Soul to Soul 2016, St Peter’s Chaplaincy, UNN, on the 5th of May
1. I am happy to be associated with your wonderful programme ‘Soul to Soul’. It is a big opportunity for any evangelist who knows his onions to catch souls young for Jesus. The tendency is there always, when talking to Youths to fall for such topics as: LOVE AND SEX but I want to attempt resisting that temptation. The philosopher Confucius observed so many years back that ‘Lust is the greatest sin of Youth, power the sin of middle age and avarice the sin of old age’. But, rather than discuss this merely, I will like us to get to the root of the problem, otherwise, we continue to scotch a snake without killing it. We are talking about the problem of sin /loss of the sense of holiness. The sinful life is characterized by the rulership of our passions. * There are 4 main passions of Youth : Pride, Anger, Lust and Vanity. These are enemies of love and holiness ; Pride makes you not to love at all ; Anger kills the love you have already ; Lust makes you love without self control ; while Vanity makes you love the wrong things.
2. The Psalmist says ‘How can the young remain sinless? By obeying your Word’, Ps 119 :9. Sin is not merely a Youth problem but Youths are more prone to some passions just because it is an age of volcanic eruption of energy that could very easily be wrongly channelled.
B. RIGHTEOUSNESS VS RIGHT STANDING.
3. The Word of God vehemently makes it clear that Righteousness exalts a nation (and of course the individual) while sin brings reproach to the same, Prov 14 :34.It is the view of some Pentecostal theologians like Pastor Christ Oyakilome and David Ogbueli (to mention but a few) that righteousness precedes right living. They argue that by being born again, you have been made righteous by God (grace) and that’s the only reason God expects you to live right. But religion generally teaches the opposite that if you would live right, then God will make you righteous. Oyakilome argues that just as a dog barks because he is a dog, Children of God must after being born again, have the ability to do right. – 1Jn 3 :5-9 – No one who remains in Him sins… Whoever lives sinfully belongs to the devil. – Jn 3 :3-6 – No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again. – Rom 8 :1-3 – There is therefore no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… Sound theological postulations but we all know that it is not as automatic and simple as we read it.
4. The view of Catholic theologians like St Thomas Aquinas is that although holiness is mainly by the grace of God, it is realized by a conscious effort towards cultivation of virtues (an operative habit that is simply good) since human action is affected by both knowledge and will. To know (the will of God) is one thing ; to obey is another. – Jn 8 :31 – You will come to know the truth and obedience to the truth will set you free. * Obedience is a virtuous act of the will that makes an individual freely choose good to evil according to the Will of God. – Matt 7 :21 – Not those who call me ‘Lord, Lord…’ but those who do the Will of my Father. – 1Jn 4 :16 – Whoever remains in love (Agape) remains in God and God in him. * So, there are 2 issues here now : standing right (in the grace of God) and acting right (still by His grace and our human effort ) from the beginning to the end of our lives.
C. BIBLICAL CASE STUDIES.
5. Compare Esau and Jacob, born under the same circumstances with the same genetic configuration (as Identical twins), why was their destiny different? * Gen 25 :23 – 28 – There are 2 nations in your womb – 2 rival peoples – 1 nation will have the mastery of the other and the elder will serve the younger. (NB : Be careful about predestination /predeterminism here.) V. 27 – When the boys grew up, Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the open country (a wanderer like the Fulani herdsmen)… Jacob on the other hand was a quiet man (a man of prayer and learning), staying at home among the tents (primitive image of the Church). V. 29 – Once when Jacob was cooking a stew (praying for blessings), Esau returned from the country side exhausted, hence the name given to him was ‘Edom’ and made a prayer for food (survival). * Jerusalem Bible Commentary speaks about the eternal rivalry between the Edomites – descendants of Esau and Israelites – descendants of Jacob (Perhaps this may make us understand better the reality of Muslim terrorism around us). Jacob also made a prayer for future inheritance (birthright). * Yes, the prayer of a carnal man is always for temporal food (desires) while the prayer of a spiritual man is for blessings (ie permanent food). V. 32 – ‘What use is a birthright to me?’ That was the killer statement! – Heb 12 :16 – Do not be as ireligious (ie worldly minded) as Esau, who sold his birthright for a single mesh of pottage.
D. THE PASSIONS OF YOUTH
6. That brings us back to the passions of Youth and their impact on our destiny ;(a) Pride puffs you up and goes before your fall. Like it did to the young Absalom, son of David, it blocks your reason and bloats your self image. Sanni Surk calls it ‘the obesity of the mind’. (b) Anger makes you momentarily mad and like Cain, you could afford to kill your brother, Gen 4. * Recently, one of my altar boys in my former parish got himself so provoked and killed somebody with a knife. It started with entangling himself with cults of violence (Omabe, Bagas) and ended in blatant murder. (c) Lust leads to the objectification of the human person in sexual interaction. Boys call it ‘banging women’. * Self indulgence is anti love. Even in marriage, mere sex as a physical act can be very demeaning and very animalistic. Conjugal love is the greatest gift of God for man’s pleasure and happiness on earth. But this entails a lot of mutual tenderness and care (We call it TLC in marriage counseling). A man cannot demand sex from the wife in the night after beating/insulting her in the afternoon. So, you can see how the devil has mutilated God’s original plan for man’s happiness through passions. The ‘New Civilization of Love’, as Pope John Paul 11 calls it is the goal of Christianity. It is the new commandment, Jn 13 :35. As in a big University like UNN, 8 Departments are to be found under the Faculty of Agape Love ; 1. Joy, 2. Peace, 3. Patience, 4. Kindness, 5. Goodness, 6. Trustfulness, 7. Gentleness, 8. Self control.
7. Jacob had a completely different orientation from his twin brother Esau ; the latter so full of passions, the former so full of spiritual sobriety as we can see from these 3 major phases of his life journey ;(a) At Beersheba, Gen 28 :10 – 22 : Jacob was blessed by his father and warned : ‘You are not to marry any of the Canaanite women…’ and sent away to Paddam Aram. This instruction he obeyed. He was a man of prayer and God spoke to him through visions. The story was different with Esau who kept frolicking with Canaanite women against his father’s orders. By the time he tried to obey this instruction, it was too late, Gen 28 :6-9.(b) At Paddam Aram, Gen 31 :13 : God prospers and defends Jacob against Laban, his master and Esau his embittered brother. * Beware of embittered brothers. They are destiny killers. (c) At Bethel, Gen 35 :1-11: God told him again in prayer : ‘Move on, go to Bethel and settle there.. Get rid of the foreign gods you may have around you, cleanse yourselves and change your clothes’. He built an altar there and it was more like a Baptism experience. Even his name was changed to ‘Israel’. * May the Lord do the same in your life now even as you hear this Word.
8. We are all expected now to go beyond Bethel (level of religiosity) to Jordan (place of Holy Ghost empowerment). And you need to deal first with passions of your youth through a life changing prayer life.
9. Take note of Joseph’s vision and destiny : A biblical example of a man who had the realization of God’s perfect will in his life through the power of righteousness, Gen 39. NB : God’s will always come to pass but it could be in the form of His Predestined Will, His Permissive Will or His Perfect Will. Only Joseph in Old Testament biblical Theology had this experience of the realization of God’s perfect will. He passed through the 3 Schools of Divine Providence ; 1. The School of Humility -where we learn the disciplines of character 2. The School of Gratitude – where we learn the disciplines of relationship with God and 3. The School of Management – where we learn the disciplines of relationship with human beings.
E. THE DISCIPLINES OF A GODLY MAN.
10. Catholic Theology maintains that holiness is attained when there is an equilibrium between our knowledge of the Word of God and the training of our will in obedience. * Wisdom is a special grace which blends knowledge with discipline. As soon as Solomon’s wisdom had a disconnect with God, his destiny as a man of God nosedived.
11. Kent Hughes discussed extensively in his book ‘The Disciplines of a Godly Man, the following vital areas of discipline ; 1. Disciplines of Good relationship with God (Devotion, Worship and Reconciliation) 2. Disciplines of Good relationship with Others ( Purity, Friendship, Marriage, Fatherhood and Motherhood) and 3. Disciplines of Good Character (Integrity, Tongue, Work and Leadership).
F. SPIRITUAL EMPOWERMENT
12. The ultimate mission /goal of Christianity is to empower you spiritually but this empowerment must finally be wholistic. – 2 Pet 1 – 9 speaks deductively about 8 levels of this empowerment ;1. Faith (SPIRITUAL) 2. Goodness (SOCIAL) 3. Understanding (INTELLECTUAL) 4. Self control (MORAL) 5. Perseverance (PSYCHOLOGICAL) 6. Devotion (RELIGIOUS) 7. Filial love (POLITICAL) 8. Agape Love (TRANSFORMATIONAL) – Holiness.
13. The Catholic Church has all it takes to train her Youths in the life of holiness but if care is not taken, the first may become the last in this area of Catechesis and Spiritual Theology. * There is a growing need for lay evangelism according to the spirit of Vat 11.* Catholic homes must be spiritually revived. As charity is said to begin at home, holiness is also supposed to begin at home.
14. If we make our children homely and spiritual minded from the early period, as we find in the case of Jacob, we save them from Esau’s destiny ; the destiny of the redeemed but not regenerated ; the destiny of the converted but not yet adjusted ; the destiny of the commissioned but not yet empowered – Christians whose lives are still controlled by their youthful passions. We bequit to them the blessings of Joseph ; enabling them to move beyond Bethel to Jordan ; enabling them to live above their passions of pride, anger , lust and vanity ; enabling them to move beyond their ‘almost’ to their ‘utmost’ potentialities. * Song : Because he lives I can face tomorrow.