Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
Sometimes a bigger context helps us see things in a clearer light.
We should not see these words of Paul to Timothy as those of an experienced servant to a novice. Timothy was undoubtedly young (or Paul would not have referred to him as such), but he was not a beginner.
Remember: Paul trusted Timothy with the task of refuting false teachers in Ephesus. And they weren’t just any false teachers. They were among the most aggressive, and deeply embedded one could find. And along with these, there were also many pagan influences Paul had battled during his time in the city. Ephesus was not a place where everyone met rationally on the steps of public buildings to listen to teachers with an open mind. There were “wolves” present and trouble-makers that would literally tear a man apart (Acts 19).
The fact that anyone would look down on Timothy for his youth had nothing to do with his lack of ability, but rather with the tendency of his opposition to find any reason to discredit him. Therefore, Timothy needed to watch his “life, love, faith and purity”.
Do you find it strange that false teachers would be critical of Timothy, or anyone else, for the way they conducted their lives? After all, weren’t they personally exploiting the Lord’s church for their own purposes? Who were they to talk?
It doesn’t matter. When people are not allowed to get what they want, or aren’t given the places they think they deserve, their typical reaction is to criticize and undermine. Of course, in doing so they discredit themselves, but they don’t seem to mind as long as they feel they have hurt the people they resent.
Poor Timothy! He had to watch everything he did, love others in spite of the way they treated him, and demonstrate an unwavering faith in God. And at no point could he afford to give others a reason to think he was doing or thinking anything unholy.
I have personally taken Paul’s advice many times in my ministry. The kind of people Timothy was dealing with in Ephesus can act like toddlers throwing tantrums to get their way, or bullies pressuring others until their discouraging words finally begin to take root. There are effective ways of dealing with these personalities, but more than anything, one must be an example. That’s what good leaders do. They show others, by their actions and reactions how the household of God should function…even under conditions that are less than ideal.
Will these threats ever go away? No. As long as people want things they don’t get there will be those who try to tear others down.
But by being an example, leaders of God give those who follow a choice. And most people, in their better moments, will follow a life of character, love, faith and purity. “Hang in there Timothy!”
Dear God, teach me to lead by example. In Jesus’ name, Amen.