As a young person, I love 1 Timothy 4:12.
The first part says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young…” Which is nice, the Bible is actually telling me that young people are good. Lots of times, young people are looked down on for being rude, clueless, or generally problematic.
But here’s the second part of the verse:
“…be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” (NLT)
That part is a little harder. What does it mean to be an example? I’m the oldest in my family and I’ve been told this quite a few times. The verse lays out five specific ways we can be examples, so let’s dive in!
What you say
Our words have meaning and what we say reveals what’s on our mind and in our heart. James 3 takes a deep dive into this idea. Take a look at these verses in particular:
“In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.” James 3:5 (NLT)
The tongue is small but powerful. I heard a quote that said, “The tongue is three inches long but can take down a man six feet tall.” It’s the same idea here. When we speak, we can compliment or insult, build up or tear down.
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” James 3:9-12 (NIV)
If we’re sincere Christians, our tongues can’t lead a double life. We can’t say nice things in church and then gossip about that one teacher we don’t like at school. Only one thing that we’re saying is true — you’re either saltwater or freshwater, you can’t be both.
Being an example in how we speak is one of the most challenging things, which is why it’s good to step back. I heard another quote that says “Watch your thoughts, they become your words, and watch your words, they become actions, and watch your actions, they become habits.”
You see, your words are second on this food chain of human action. If you want to be an example in speaking, start with your thoughts first. Think about things that are true and encouraging to others, and watch out for feelings of jealousy. When you think kind thoughts, kind words will come naturally.
The way you live
Christians live changed lives after we accept Jesus. Colossians 2:6-7 shows us how we should be examples in the way we live: “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (NLT)
Following Jesus changes everything. For a good book on the topic, check out This Changes Everything by Jaquelle Crowe Ferris.
“This is the truth I’ve learned: if you live for Jesus, you can’t live an unchanged life. If the gospel is true, it will inescapably change every little part of us—what we do and think and say and mean, and who we hang out with and esteem and listen to and why, and how we live today and tomorrow and for all eternity.”Jaquelle Crowe Ferris
We know we should love others, and for the most part we do. But what does it mean to be an example in our love?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is a famous passage that gives us a list of the qualities of love:
- Love is patient
- Love is kind
- Love does not envy
- Love does not boast
- Love is not proud
- Love does not dishonor others
- Love is not self seeking
- Love is not easily angered
- Love keeps no record of wrongs
- Love does not delight in evil
- Love rejoices with truth
- Love always protects
- Love always trusts
- Love always hopes
- Love always preserves
A common theme throughout this whole passage is that love isn’t selfish. Some people say to look out for yourself and your own interests, but that is not what love is. In order to love others well, we have to stop thinking about ourselves.
Think of it this way: envy of others comes from insecurity, and insecurity comes from obsessing over ourselves. If you love your sibling well, you won’t be jealous when they win an award you were hoping for.
It’s not easy to love others well, it has to be a daily practice, but it’s what we’re called to do.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) Faith is more than wishful thinking, our faith is to be confident even though we can’t see God face-to-face.
Hebrews 11, also known as the hall of faith, tells us a lot about what it means to be faithful. We cannot please God without faith (v. 3). All the people’s stories mentioned in the hall of faith are in the Old Testament. A common thread between them is trusting God, especially when it involved personal sacrifices. You can read Hebrews 11 and the stories along with it to get a clearer picture.
Purity is a tricky one because it’s an abstract concept. It’s not as easy to get a grip on as the others.
Purity is freedom from being tainted or defiled from things that are not pure. Think of a coffee mug with a lipstick stain. The coffee mug is not pure because of the stain, it is tainted. Sin taints our purity. Because we sin, we are not pure, but the good news of the gospel is that Jesus is pure and we are pure through Him.
1 John 3:2-3 says “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure.” (NIV)
The call to purity is a difficult calling, but God gives us grace. So take heart, there is grace when we fight our daily battles: the battles of sinful thoughts, the urges we know are wrong, or the things we say that we know we shouldn’t. We strive to live pure, confess when we sin, and then turn to fight again.
Being an example in what we say, the way we live, the way we love, our faith, and our purity is not an easy calling. We can’t shortchange or cheat living an authentic life. This verse is meant to be an encouragement to Timothy (and us) that even though we are young we are called to live this way.