Let No Man Despise Your Youth

For all young people everywhere, the advice Paul gave Timothy as recorded in 1 Timothy 4:12 is worth heeding. "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." The ASV more aptly says "in manner of life" instead of "in conversation," and "in love" instead of "in charity." It also says, "Be thou an example to them that believe" instead of "of the believers."

Each of these areas Paul mentions needs emphasis in this generation, as in all others. Let us look briefly at each of them. It is important for us to be an example in word. Jesus showed how important it is when he said, "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matthew 12:37).

It is easy to become hardened to the use of vile words, cursing, lying, dirty language of one sort or another, but young people especially need to be warned that they must not become hardened enough to use such language. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying" (Ephesians 4:29).

The next admonition has to do with the manner of life. I try to warn young people by pointing to such passages as Romans 1:24-26. There were those who did not want to have God in their knowledge, so God gave them up to a reprobate mind to do the things that are not fitting.

If we are not very careful in our warnings of all the things not to do, we may teach in such a negative fashion that our young people get the impression that the Christian life is primarily a life of not doing things. When we admonish them to let their manner of life be an example, we need to fill their minds with many good things they can do. We can encourage them to be sure to attend all the services of the church when they are away from home and participate in all the good activities that may be provided for them. It is impossible to attend a wonderful activity of fellowship and fun with Christians and simultaneously be engaged in a drunken party with another group set on doing evil.

Young people should be an example in love. I do not know exactly what aspect of love Paul had in mind at this point, but since he used the word "agape" he was not simply talking about an emotional response to some person or situation. If I had been giving advice to a young person, I might have thought it more significant to advise concerning "eros" or sexual attraction. It is important, but Paul was dealing with something more fundamental. When one understands, and has "agape" in the way Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13, his "eros" will usually take care of itself.

To put it another way, "agape" is not an emotion, but a choice of will to sacrifice of yourself and what you have for the welfare or happiness of another. When one is the proper example in this, he will first love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and love his neighbor as himself. He first seeks to please God. Then he seeks the welfare and happiness of all others. There is no better advice or example than this.

For a person to be an example in faith, he must show his personal trust in God and Jesus. He must not be like the young man who went away from home and his mother warned him in a letter that some of his companions might ridicule him for being a Christian. He wrote back, "Don't worry about it, mother. They have not found out about it yet." You cannot be an example if no one finds out about it.

Although you may expect ridicule when you stand up for anything, if you really show that you mean it, without being dogmatic, arrogant, or trying to force it on anyone else, the pressure or ridicule will largely disappear and be replaced by respect. When my buddies found I did not drink, after they had gone through their elaborate hoax of trying to get me to drink what I thought was a cold drink that had been secretly thoroughly spiked with rum, they no longer overtly ridiculed me, but actually came to me with their questions and problems.

If one compromises and plays around with temptation and sin, and like Balaam says in effect, "Let us try it again on this other mountain" (Numbers 23:14), he will continue to get temptation, ridicule and disrespect.

We are to be an example to the believers in purity. If there is any admonition that needs to be heeded, it is this one: "Sound speech that cannot be condemned" (Titus 2:8). Pure speech, free from dirty jokes, vile language, cursing and all the things one commonly hears this day, is unusual. Pure lives, free from fornication, gambling, ungodly activities of all sorts are greatly to be desired. Perhaps as basic as any of these, is purity of motive. Although I have never heard anyone talk much about that, I think it important, for if a person will examine his motives, insofar as he can know them, he may discover some interesting things about himself and prevent many dangerous situations from arising. Probably Jesus had these in mind when he said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).

There is without doubt much other advice, warnings, admonitions that would be appropriate for young people to have, but if a person will be sure to take heed to the inspired and inspiring words of Paul to Timothy, he will be far ahead of the average.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive