This used to be one of my favorite Scripture verses: “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth” (1 Timothy 4:11-12).
To me, it seemed like God declared that no one could treat me like an immature, young brat just because I was an immature, young brat.
The Bible says it: No one can look down on us because of our age. The generation before us has no right to judge us just because they’re older. The problem is, we get so excited about the first part that we often neglect to read the rest. Paul’s instructions don’t stop there. He continues:
“But set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:12-13).
Paul had a young protégé named Timothy. Paul met Timothy on his first missionary journey in a city called Lystra. As a young guy, his reputation reached all the way to Iconium, two days away from where he lived.
Paul mentions Timothy more often than any of his other companions. And despite the fact that Timothy was younger, Paul gave him some really difficult assignments: Paul leaves Timothy in Berea to support a church plant; he sends him to Athens; Timothy goes to Thessalonica; and then Paul sends him to Corinth. Later, Timothy becomes the pastor of the church in Ephesus, which was practically the world’s first megachurch.
You see, maturity isn’t about how many years we have lived. It’s about how we live.
Too often, we do foolish things, like speak before we think, form ideas we have little or no evidence to support, fail to consider other thoughts or opinions and assume we’re always right. We crash through life like bulls in a china shop, often paying no attention to the fragility of the things around us. We are bold and energetic but also careless and inconsiderate.
Yes, Paul tells Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he was young. And then he teaches him — and us — how to be mature.
In What We Say
Communication has a changed a lot in recent years. Our speech isn’t just about what comes out of our mouth. It’s what we tweet, share, post on Facebook, pin and Instagram. The way we communicate, both in our content and our delivery says a lot about our character. If our emotional immaturity is evident in how we express ourselves, people will not look up to us. A great way to set an example with our speech is to consider how those we respect speak: Are they always ranting about something that bothers them? Do they make issues more intense than they need to be? Or are the people you respect more level-headed, in control, thoughtful and considerate?
In What We Do
Our behavior will either be a testament to our maturity or an advertisement to our lack of it. Conduct is one of the most powerful ways we can demonstrate that age and maturity are not synonymous. Look at Jesus. At 12 years old, He went to temple for the first time and his parents found Him teaching the religious leaders. The experts in God’s Word were asking Jesus questions. When we conduct ourselves like Jesus, people will have an easier time respecting us. That requires us to be responsible, wise and thoughtful.
Love is a selfless thing. One of the biggest pitfalls of age is we’ve been fighting so long to prove we can be independent that we’ve not yet learned how to put others first. Love is a powerful thing. It’s not about an emotional high or how someone else makes us feel. Love is about being willing to serve, to put others ahead of ourselves and value them over ourselves. Love is not just speaking truth boldly; it’s caring enough to temper our words and actions. Love always does good for the one it loves.
Faith is not just what we believe, it’s how that belief shapes our lives. Calling ourselves Christians is great. What does it change? How does our faith shape our treatment of others? When our love for God and our faith in Him transforms our lives, people notice. When we stay true to what we believe, when we serve others, when we share our love for Jesus, we demonstrate that our faith is something to be followed.
The passions of youth can drive us to greatness or rule over us. Often times we allow our youthful desires and lack of judgment to lead us down paths we will later regret. We let our emotions dictate our behavior. Often we engage in relationships that do not honor the faith we profess. When we lack the ability to control our own desires, especially ones of a sexual nature, we not only damage our credibility, we reinforce the belief that our age prevents us from being ready to lead in the Kingdom of God.
How do we set an example in these areas? It starts when we are shaped by God and not the culture around us. We need to devote ourselves to Scripture so that God can mold us into His disciples. Being an example takes work. Being an example takes practice. Age can be a limitation but it doesn’t have to be.
We don’t get to demand respect. People don’t look down on good examples; they follow them.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.