I Timothy 4:12, "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."
This morning, two fading concepts in society at large are respect and good decorum. More often than not, people today do not show the respect and deference for one another as was more commonplace some years ago. Likewise, more people today are concerned with doing what they want than devotedly adhering to what is right. Both of these characteristics are symptoms of a problematic society that gets more and more steeped in the plagues of sinful flesh. However, to the disciple of the Lamb trying to war honorably and daily, we have the same commands set before us as we always have. To the minister particularly, the command is painfully simple, yet the consequences – both good and bad – can be quite large.
In our study verse, Paul gives the young minister some pointed instruction. However, that pointed instruction is built upon a statement that indicates something quite interesting. Paul's opening statement in this verse instructs Timothy to not let anyone condemn him due to his age or youthfulness. The word despise can be rendered condemn, but the way Paul says it, he implies that this behavior is coming. Much like he warned the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:28-29), there are things coming that you can count on. Wolves have come in and will continue to come in seeking to rip up and destroy the flock, and as long as the world stands, they will continue to try to do so. Likewise, people have been despising or condemning ministers since the days of the early church, and Paul had – no doubt – heard many of the complaints that people raise. He foresees Timothy being verbally condemned because of his age and encourages him not to let anyone do that to him.
Just as Paul knew that wolves were coming to Ephesus after his departing, he knew that Timothy would have to field criticism for his circumstance. However, Paul's discussion to Timothy for combating this is much different than expected and certainly not "comfortable" to consider. Paul's instruction did not include, "Now, Timothy, when someone tries to denigrate your age, just tell them you're a minister of the gospel. They have no right to question your authority like that. Tell them your office is too important, and make sure they don't ever do it again." No friends, that kind of rebuttal to criticism would have fed the flesh and given footing to any accuser that Timothy might have had. Rather, Paul gives a glowing list that encompasses every aspect of Timothy's life. When this list is complete, we will see a glorious thought about how a minister keeps someone from condemning him for whatever circumstance.
Timothy was instructed to be an example to the believers in word. The meaning of the word "word" here literally has reference to spoken words as they proceed forth in conversation. Paul's message is clear. Do not give anyone a foothold to accuse you by what you say. People listen to what is said, and many times, a hastily spoken word of foolishness can take a lot of time and effort to overcome. Most people associate youth in the realm of conversation with brashness and hot tempers. Timothy was not to let his conversation bespeak of his age, but rather to show forth spiritually seasoned conversation.
In like manner, his conversation was to be equally above reproach. The word "conversation" here has less reference to spoken words particularly but a manner of life in general. Timothy's general way of life was to follow in lockstep agreement with the spoken conversations he had. In other words, his feet followed what he spoke, and Timothy's walk matched his talk. This is a logical progression Paul makes, because if someone is looking to accuse Timothy, they might say, "You know, Timothy keeps his tongue in check. But what about his actions? Does he show youthful pride in what he does and how he carries himself?" Paul encourages Timothy to take these bullets from their guns too. By having a good walk to match his talk, Timothy removes more doubt that people might have about his tenderness of age.
Now that Paul has covered Timothy's tongue and general manner of life, what other ground could someone use to condemn Timothy's ministry for something like his youth? Paul tells him to furthermore be an example in charity. Charity is a much misunderstood concept in the world today. Since charity is love in action, it behooves us to understand what love truly is to then understand charity as well. People today assume that love is simply being compassionate, kind, tolerant, etc. Being congenial many times walks hand in hand with love and charity, but that decorum does not constitute love or charity at its heart. Love for someone else brings to bear sacrifice for someone else, and denial of self. For example, a good Biblical example of love and charity is the husband's sacrifice for his wife all the way to death if necessary. Should someone doubt Timothy's ability, Paul instructs him to sacrifice for the people of himself and his time. As Paul told the Thessalonians in I Thessalonians 2:5-9, the ministry should be devoted to not just the preaching of the gospel to the church but also their own souls as well. A sacrifice made of our own souls for the good of the flock would serve to further show how Timothy took away despising and condemnation.
Paul furthers the argument with spirit and faith. The word "spirit" here has many different meanings but the most logical meaning for the word in our verse is the very essence of the person. It could be called the inward being as well. The word "faith" here refers to someone's conviction or most deeply rooted feelings of the truth and what is right and wrong. Timothy was to show all good fidelity in what he thought and how he was willing to stand upon it and for it. In other words, when someone said, "You know, Timothy's awful young. Reckon he'll stand strong in the heat of battle? Will he care for us when the enemies come or will he get scared?" Paul tells Timothy that the best way to show your inward affection and being is to stand firmly and solidly on the principles of truth just as Paul had taught him. Much about a minister can be gleaned during peaceful seasons, but the most abundant information the flock could gather about a minister is how honorably he conducts himself in battle or times of strife. Does he maintain truth and verity? Will he stand for it even if he suffers personally for it? These questions were to be met by Timothy by showing good spirit and faith.
Finally, Paul concludes by instructing Timothy to be an example in purity as well. Paul's concluding remark drives away the last shred of condemnation that someone could have against Timothy and his age. As if all the items above were not enough, Paul tells him to live as sinlessly and above reproach as he can. Now, Timothy will not be perfect in this – no man will – but just as the Master commanded us to be perfect as our Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and Brother Peter commanded us to be holy as God is holy (I Peter 1:16), Paul here commands Timothy to completely adorn godly living and abstain from sinful pleasures. What is one of the "hallmark traits" of younger people in the eyes of common thinking? Most people believe that young people are just going to "sow their wild oats" like it is a part of life and not to be shocked by. Paul tells Timothy that he should go patently in the opposite direction to show forth maturity and wisdom perhaps somewhat uncommon in his age.
Now, having gone through all the things that Paul told Timothy to do to put down condemnation from others, let us apply the thought and then broaden it out a bit. Paul's point to Timothy was twofold. Firstly, this exhortation was to indeed put down condemnation from others, but the second application was for Timothy's life to serve as an example to those he ministered unto – even those that might have condemned him! One might say about this writing, "But preacher, I'm not a preacher, so what does all this have to do with me?" The point is that the preacher faces similar criticisms about his ministry that others face in different avenues of their lives. If the flock can see a good pattern of behavior, attitude, and conviction from their pastor, there is a good example for them to be emboldened in the day of trial in their own lives. In this way, Timothy's example can do as much or more preaching that just words from the pulpit. They do have the words from the pulpit, but they also have examples of conviction, love, purity, and a general manner of living. These sermons serve the church in great ways as all persons grow together in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, by broadening this out a bit, one might say, "But I'm not young anymore." Have you ever noticed that being aged can serve as ammunition to be despised just as youth can be? It really does not matter what someone's situation in life is, there is something for someone to "pick on." Maybe someone is too loud, too quiet, too old, too young, etc. However, whatever the charge and whether minister or congregant, may we all be emboldened to serve as examples to others in all facets of life. Friends, we will all get picked on. One way or another or for one reason or another it will happen. May the ministry serve as good examples in standing up honorably to the criticism so that the flock may do likewise. May parents be such examples to children. May we all be so to our friends. In so doing, who knows how our lives may touch others for the glory and to the ultimate praise of God Almighty.