“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12
I’m not a leader like Timothy, but I am a young Christian and I have a lot of “young” Christian friends, especially since I hear “your youth” probably meant somewhere in his thirties. What better way to break out the blog again than with a discussion on youth? Also, I wanted to challenge myself to make this short and sweet. Let’s see how it goes.
Frequently this verse has been partially quoted to me, like “Let no one despise you for your youth!” which gives the impression that I should be taking up arms and Bible verses whenever people unjustly discriminate because of my age.
But of course, the focus of Paul’s instruction to Timothy is Timothy himself, not those who are older than him. He finishes the sentence by encouraging Timothy to be an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, and it is couched between verses like “Rather, train yourself for godliness…” and “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Timothy had heavy spiritual responsibilities for his age and I can imagine that several obstacles could have come on account of his age. Paul is telling Timothy how to work against that prejudice through his own godly character.
A few points:
1. AGE IS MORE THAN A NUMBER
Though we haven’t run into any ‘despising’, Thailer as a young preacher has certainly had his share of teasing about his age. On the one hand, it’s understandable: the sooner we can accept that we don’t know half as much as we think we know, the faster we’ll be on the right track to really learning. Wisdom is kind of one of those things that, if we don’t think we have it, we’re probably close and if we think we do have it, we don’t.
It’s understandable when those older than us tend to not take us seriously because it’s true that only time and experience can draw out and perfect our knowledge and understanding. To those who are diligent, age brings maturity and clarity and there is much we can learn from them. It would be foolish not to acknowledge that difference.
From where I stand, our society has lost that inherent respect for old age, and gone with that respect are humility and a thirst for wisdom. If we’re going to stand out, even to believers, we need to go against the world’s current in that regard.
In chapter 5, Paul tells timothy: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father…”. Even if we aren’t doing any rebuking, there’s a way to approach spiritual disagreements, and it’s the way we would approach our fathers, presumably who we would respect and love enough to exercise self-control.
2. AGE DOESN’T DISQUALIFY
But this passage isn’t about sitting down and holding our tongues all of the time.
Of course, up in verse 7 Paul does warn Timothy to have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths, which reminds me of Titus 3:9, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”
Essentially: there’s plenty to argue about. And that’s something anyone can fall prey to, young or old, so we need to be very careful and concern ourselves with unity, humility, and love more than divisive technicalities or speculations. There certainly is a time to be silent, and (s)he is wise who can discern that time.
However, Paul is writing to Timothy in the first place because Timothy is going to be “commanding”, “teaching”, “exhorting” this church. Being young didn’t disqualify Timothy from being used in a teaching position, but it did mean that he would have to put in more effort just so his message could be received.
Age itself doesn’t disqualify us from understanding the Bible, holding legitimate spiritual conversations or even teaching, but what can disqualify anybody is conduct. Naturally, that goes for young and old, but let’s be real: why else might older people be inclined to despise youth?
We’ve already admitted that we younger Christians have a lot to learn. Young adults are notoriously selfish, we’re still learning by trial-and-error how to harness passion, how to control behavior, what to say and what not to say, what’s appropriate, how to think before doing, what the Bible teaches,. And that’s assuming we’re even trying to learn. The stereotype is there for a reason and it’s okay to admit that. Acceptance is the first step to recovery, or in this case, maturity.
Of course, age alone doesn’t make a person wise, nor uncontrollably foolish.
I’m sure we can all think of (at least) four types of people we know personally:
the self-interested, unrestrained youth,
the shining-example youth,
the old, godly and wise,
and the old, haughty and bitter.
There should be a respect for those who have lived longer, but age alone doesn’t determine truth or spiritual maturity; it takes purpose and a steady, diligent effort to abide in Christ for wisdom to be granted and for the Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.
3. GODLINESS TRUMPS AGE
I already made a case for how imperfect and immature we whipper-snappers are, so putting up a front and pretending we’re sinless will just backfire and instead reveal how sinful and hypocritical we are.
Paul wants the church to be able to see Timothy’s progress (v15), which means he isn’t concerned with him superseding everyone and not having any weaknesses, but that Timothy does actually progress, and noticeably. The idea is that people should be able to see where we are and that we are going in the direction of maturity.
Let’s get practical: how can we stand out against the stereotype as young Christians? Paul says, Be an example to the believers:
- Control our speech
-Look at the cross and what Christ endured so that we could be reconciled to God. He held his tongue though he was despised, condemned, accused falsely. Not only do we have his example of both speaking the truth yet rejecting all pride, we have Christ in us. We have that same Spirit.
- Control our conduct
-Remember, we’ve been called out of the bondage of sin (and stereotype) and into renewal. Being flippant about sin shows that we don’t realize the power that sin has and the hope that God calls us to. “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 4:7,8
-We have been loved by God when He desired to bring us to Him, though we, through our sin and spiritual deadness, despised Him. We can love others because He loved us. Seek love for God and others above self and we will be an example.
- Be an example in the faith
-Young people are known for ambition. I’ve heard that mid-life crises happen when all the ambitions of our youth are either 1) realized, yet we find we’re still unfulfilled or 2) we find that our ambitions were unrealistic, so we despair. As Christians we’ve been set free from the bondage of chasing worldly fulfillment and we can be an example by setting our ambitions and trust in Christ, in the hope to come, hungering instead after His truth, being a servant to Him and others.
- Be pure
-Lust is also rampant among youth (raging hormones and all that) and many try yet fail to control their behavior. But it seems many, many more in our society aren’t trying at all and instead see the concept of purity as being old-fashioned and prudish. But Paul says in the next chapter that we are to treat one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Are we trying to serve God and walk in the Spirit? Then we will help our brothers and sisters do the same.
- Keep a close watch on ourselves
-Let them see Christ in us by constantly examining and correcting ourselves, especially if we find ourselves in a leadership or teaching role that calls for correcting others. We can let our humility shine when we remember that none of us are blameless apart from Jesus.
So, will abiding in Christ as a young adult, with humility make for smooth sailing and approval? Not always. Not only because our effort won’t be 100% all of the time and because we will sin and fall, but also because no one else is going to be perfect either. Throughout life, at any age, people will likely, out of their own weaknesses, slander others even when they aren’t doing anything wrong. Just ask Thailer how many times I’ve taken things out on him even though it wasn’t his fault. Others will do that to us, and we’ll do it to others.
But most likely when other Christians see our commitment to God and His word and they see Christ working through us as we go against the tide of our peers, they will receive us lovingly as children, willing to be long-suffering towards our weaknesses and give our spiritual questions and assertions an honest consideration.
But ultimately, is that the reason we should desire to do everything Paul laid out for Timothy?
Personally, I don’t think it just ends at “Let no one despise you for your youth…”
but “Let not God despise you for your youth.”
“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” – 2 Timothy 2:21-23