I don’t know how many times I have heard people my age (for I am still a youth) and younger whine and moan with I Timothy 4:12 on their tongues. “Oh, you awful old people. You’re not supposed to despise my youth.” But these whiny fits miss the point of Paul’s statement. He was not telling Timothy to direct from on high that no one was allowed to despise him for his youth no matter how youthful he acted. Rather, he was telling Timothy what he needed to do so no one would despise his youth. In fact, he immediately provides 5 keys to keep others from despising his youth.
1) Be an example
Specifically, Paul told Timothy to set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. If we don’t want folks despising our youth then we need to exemplify mature Christianity even though we are young. We need to speak in mature ways, live in mature ways, love in mature ways, believe with maturity and show mature purity. This connects with the command elsewhere to flee youthful lusts. Let’s face it. Paul’s point is if we don’t want people to despise our youth, then don’t act like a youth.
Here is the key. If we talk rashly and carelessly, without thinking… If we behave impulsively… If we love selfishly… If we believe shallowly… And if we stain our purity with thoughtless arguments about personal liberty, then our older brethren are going to look at us and say, “Your young, you don’t understand.”
2) Give attention to reading, exhortation and teaching the Scripture.
This is a statement about personal humility. Too often, we young people are not actually focused on reading, exhorting or teaching based on the Scripture. Rather, we have a point we want to make because we think we have figured something out that no one before us ever has. Then we go searching about for a Scripture to make it fit.
If we want our older brethren to honor us despite our youth, our words and teaching must be based on Scripture not the latest self-help book or the newest scholarly treatise even if it is from a respected theologian. I know I have been one of the worst violators of this principle. I love self-help books. Certainly, we can gain some insight into scriptural ideas. However, when we teach we have to make sure what we speak is the oracles of God, not Covey, Maxwell, Blanchard or Warren.
3) Use your gifts
Based on my understanding of other texts and the passing on of miraculous gifts through laying on of apostles hands, I do not believe this passage refers to miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Rather, I think this refers to the gift of the ministry and authority that the elders who had charge over Timothy granted him because of the prophecy the Spirit had revealed to them about Timothy. The reason he had the opportunity to be an evangelist and work at Ephesus was because of this gift.
Therefore, I believe Paul’s point is not to squander the opportunity given him. The elders had put trust in him. They expected him to do good work and so they had granted him a measure of authority and ministry. In much the same way that Paul had said deacons who do their job well gain a good standing, if we young people will use the opportunities given to us by our leaders, we will also develop a good standing. Our older counterparts will not despise our youth when they recognize that we use what abilities, opportunities and resources we have been granted well. If we squander what we have now, why should they give us more?
4) Make progress through devotion
Sadly, we young people can sometimes think we have already reached the mountaintop. Oh, we pay lip service to the fact that we have room to grow. However, we have the idea that really we are pretty much as good as it gets and if everyone else no matter their age would be more like us they would be really spiritual. Paul’s statement here demonstrates that we have some real room to grow. It also demonstrates that the older folks have been through exactly what we have been through. They know what we have experienced and they have come out on the other side. They can tell when we are maturing and when we are not.
We need to devote ourselves to the keys Paul is mentioning. When we do, we will grow. We will progress. We will actually climb toward the real mountaintop and those who are already closer will actually be able to see our progress. They will, therefore, no longer despise our youth.
If, on the other hand, we continue in the mindset of our own greatness and maturity, those who really are more mature than us will be able to see our immature pride and arrogance. They will despise our youth, but they won’t be the ones sinning.
5) Watch your teaching
There is something about being young that says we need to come up with something new. The young seem to believe they only justify their existence in the body of Christ if they figure out something no one else has yet been able to realize. Granted, I realize everyone has room to grow and we may in fact have a spiritual breakthrough that is novel and true at the same time. The problem is with this mindset, we can very easily lose sight of what we really need to be teaching. We need to teach the truth that has been passed down to us from the word of God. It is not our job to find new things. It is our job to pay attention to what we are teaching and make sure it is in line with what has been passed on from Paul, the apostles and prophets of the New Testament.
As young people, we definitely need to take care. If we have studied and believe we have figured out some truth that others have missed, we need to take great care before we go hog wild passing it on. We may not be the first to think the way we do. Some of our older brethren may have already “discovered” our new teaching and in their maturity know why it doesn’t mesh with the word of God.
Again, the point is not that we never branch off with some “new” teaching, but that we take care and watch what we teach. We are not teaching to show off our mental prowess. We are teaching to help folks glorify God and go to heaven. Let’s keep that as our goal and we won’t be enamored with introducing folks to some new teaching, approach or practice unless there is real reason to do so.
Don’t let people despise your youth. But don’t approach it as a demand to simply not despise you no matter how you act. Live in such a way that folks won’t despise you because you are acting youthful.
Keep the faith and keep reading,