Quick story about writing this blog post… I was about two paragraphs away from finishing one I had started two weeks ago when I decided this past Wednesday to change it. On Monday I felt like it wasn’t the right time for the other one I was writing. I don’t know if the wording is wrong, the content is off, or there’s just a time in the future that it will be of better use, but I knew today was not when I was meant to post it. Perhaps it’s just because someone needs this one more today. I began praying and asking others for prayer about what it was I could write instead because I was drawing blank. Tuesday night I was praying and studying the Bible when I remembered 1 Timothy 4:12-16. Verse 12 is by far the most quoted which begins with, “Let no one despise your youth.” It was a passage I’d read and heard countless times, but I felt as though I needed to give it some more attention. This post is the result of that. I pray it finds who it’s supposed to. To start off, let’s take a look at it:
Timothy 4:12-16 – Titled “Take Heed to Your Ministry”
“12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”
I think this passage of scripture can be taken too lightly. The first thing that came to mind that night while studying this passage is how many times I’d overlooked how many things Paul is telling Timothy to do along with not allowing people to look down on him for his age. Do you realize there’s a total of eight commands from Paul in these five verses? I believe each of them has their own specific purpose, and it’s worth looking at each on their own. As I was reading I realized how many of these things were struggles for myself as a young Christian and how many of my peers have similar struggles. While I believe these are not only beneficial for teenagers or young adults, I think there’s something to say about the fact that it was addressed to one. I’m sure most of you know by now that my thoughts are best organized in lists, so first I want to go through each piece of Paul’s instruction and discuss it a little bit.
1. “Let no one despise your youth.”
This one feels easy, doesn’t it? It feels empowering. It feels like your youth could conquer the world. It’s always made me feel like maybe I needed to be knocked down a notch and reminded that we’re also told to respect and care for our elders in the following passages. This is in no way me bashing this verse or tossing it to the side. It’s more me telling myself (and hopefully someone else who may need to hear it) that not letting someone despise your youth does not mean thinking of yourself as above them. It means recognizing that you have the same Spirit of God in you and the same authority over sin through Christ despite any difference in age.
2. “Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
This one is lots tougher. When I used to read this immediately after that first command, I sort of got this feeling like, “Hmmm, maybe I’d rather be despised for my youth.” I used to tap out after this one and sort of just skimmed over the rest of these commands. It can feel like a lot of pressure being told that you should be the example to everyone, young and old. Especially with that possibility of them despising your youth.
So here’s something that you may find comforting. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The preceding and following verses tell us that we’re made righteous through our faith in Jesus Christ and not by the law. Now, later in Romans 6 we’re reminded that just because God’s grace abounds does not mean that we shall continue in sin. My point here is: being an example to believers does not mean you are expected to achieve perfection. It means you are expected to maintain a compelling relationship with Christ, follow His commandments to the best of your abilities, and not be timid in your faith.
3. “Give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”
This one is one of the most difficult for me, and I know it is for a lot of my peers as well. It is also so incredibly important though, because our relationship with Christ relies heavily on these things. First, reading. Seems easy enough. Now tell me how many times you’ve started a reading plan and ended up not finishing it. How many times have you decided to read through the entire bible and got stuck in the Pentateuch? Studying the Word is not always easy. The Bible can be difficult to understand and it’s pretty intimidating to pick up a book with hundreds and hundreds of pages. It’s so vital to our faith and relationship with God that we understand the Bible, though. Even if it’s just a passage or two each day, I encourage you to spend time in the Word daily. It will literally change your life. Second, exhortation. While I was studying this passage, I decided to look up the definition for this word because I see it used in the Bible all the time but only had a vague understanding of it. Essentially, Paul is telling Timothy to acknowledge the authority he has in Christ in his communications with others.
I think this ties in real nice with the first command. We cannot doubt the power of Christ in us, guys. There’s no room for it. Third, doctrine. Doctrine used to feel like a far-off word to me. Studying it seemed like the thing that the big kids did. Well, it simply means the beliefs that the church teaches. We’re supposed to keep up with that, learn from it, and we aren’t supposed to blindly follow. This is another reason why understanding the Bible is so important. So you know that what you’re identifying with and claiming to be true is actually in alignment with God’s word.
4. “Do not neglect the gift that is in you.”
This is such a good reminder for me for a couple of reasons. I often find myself striving to be something I’m not – even within my walk with Christ. I forget the beauty of diversity in the church and how we are not designed to fit every role. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need each other. I find myself neglecting the gifts that are in me trying to get all those gifts other people have. On the other hand, there are times when someone may acknowledge one of my gifts, and I try to deny it. Let me tell you, guys, humility does not mean discrediting yourself. Humility is instead crediting God for what He does through you.
Something to note about putting yourself down is that it 1) is just as self-centered as being prideful and 2) takes away the opportunity to give God the glory He deserves. Do not deny the gifts God has given you. Glorify God in recognizing them.
5. “Meditate on these things.”
“Meditate” by definition means to “think deeply or carefully about something”. I want to reference back to the third command about giving attention to reading, exhortation, and doctrine. In addition to each of those being vital to our faith, we also have to make the time to really consider them. How does what your reading and learning apply to you today? What does it reveal about Christ? How can you incorporate what you’re learning into your everyday life? Something that I’ve found to be an extremely valuable practice is journaling. Even if it’s not everyday (honestly, I don’t have something to write about everyday), just two or three times a week, picking up a pen and paper and intentionally thinking about the various passages I’ve read recently (and my own experiences). How do they relate to one another and what they tell me about God? It has been one of the most beneficial parts of my studies and has contributed to a lot of the understanding I have of the Bible. So, in addition to consistently reading the Bible, consistently take the time to reflect on what you’ve read and have learned outside of time in the Word as well.
6. “Give yourself entirely to them.”
This is a big one. Giving yourself entirely to anything is a huge commitment. Now Paul is saying to give yourself entirely to these things that are possibly the most difficult things to commit to – for our flesh to commit to. I’ve found that the thought of any of these things has perked up my spirit. My initial reaction is always excitement at the idea of doing these things all day everyday. What better way to spend your days than in the Word of God, dwelling in His presence, worshiping Him, being able to give these things your full attention? My second reaction comes from my flesh which says, “There’s a million other things I want to do, this would get in the way. Also, it sounds exhausting.” The funny thing is, whenever I spend time with God there’s nowhere else I want to be, and it’s the most energy I get from anything.
While I know that in my spirit and am thrilled at the idea, my flesh wants nothing to do with it. That’s where we have to make the conscious decision to give our time to Christ. We have to make space for Him in our lives. Of course, we always have Him with us, we should always be aware of His presence. Making intentional time for Him is so important, though. He’s worthy of an intentional relationship with Him, and sweet sweet fruit comes when we surrender our time to Him.
7. “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.”
To take heed means to listen and pay attention to something. Now the two things we are to take heed to are ourselves and the doctrine. Think about it like this: take a moment to consider how many times you have not listened and paid attention to yourself, your spirit, your “gut”. Think about how many times you haven’t listened and paid attention to what you know to be true from God’s Word. How often should you have listened to it? God gave us the Bible for a reason and it isn’t to look pretty on a shelf at home. It’s meant for us to grow in Him and learn how to prosper. The more you read, the more you know about God, the more your “gut” (or spirit) is in alignment with Him and you can confidently “take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” just as Paul commanded Timothy to.
8. “Continue in them.”
Here we go, the final command, what all this has led up to. “Continue in them.” These things may all seem feasible on their own. You may be thinking, “I could do all this for maybe two weeks – how can I do it throughout my lifetime?” Well, it’s not possible. You can’t. Christ can, though. He’ll do it through you when you surrender your life, your plans, your desires, your hurt, your time, your good, your bad, your everything to Him. God is fully aware that on our own we can accomplish very little. That’s why He sent His son to make a way for us to live our lives to the fullest – fully His. Please, please, take it from me, you cannot do it on your own. Life can be so much more and is so much more when we dedicate it to following Christ.
Reading this passage, I saw so much that relates back to challenges that I’ve faced and have seen peers face as well. Distraction from my relationship with Christ, struggling to commit to the Word and prayer, lack of attention to what I’m learning, and a lack of confidence in the authority I have through Christ. As I began to consider each command more deeply I was floored at the fact that “let no one despise your youth” has somehow overshadowed the others. People talk much less about how Paul tells us young Christians to behave in this passage, how we’re told to give ourselves entirely to Christ.
Two more things to think about before wrapping up: First, notice how much of this stems from your personal time with Christ and His Word. Your relationship with Him begins in your quiet time with Him, that’s the foundation of your faith. That’s not to say that church gatherings or group bible studies are not beneficial to our growth, but your intentional surrender of time to spend with Him alone ultimately will be where your roots form. Second, when you toss aside those other seven commands, people will inevitably despise your youth, and truthfully, there’s no way for you to dispute that. Your teenage and young adult years are formative and can lay a foundation for the rest of your life. Don’t throw it away. A life lived the way Paul describes to Timothy in this passage will be the most fulfilling way you could ever find to live.
That’s all for now. Thank you to everyone for taking the time out of your day to read these thoughts of mine. I’m so grateful for each one of you and hope that this post was an encouragement and a challenge to you. Remember that you’re not alone in these things. God has not called us to do something that would be impossible on our own without sending the Way to make it possible – Jesus Christ (John 14:6, Phil. 4:11-13). You are so loved, you’re called to do incredible things, and you are not alone.