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Setting the Example

Sometimes you read a passage in the Bible and you realize that it says something you have never noticed before.  This week I was reading in 1 Timothy and came across the classic young minister’s verse at 1 Timothy 4:21, which reads:

12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (ESV)

As a relatively young pastor, I have often considered the first part of the verse to be an encouraging piece of advice that allowed me to see my youth as irrelevant to my ministry effectiveness.  As a student, this passage was often given to mean that even teenagers can serve God in powerful ways.  Perhaps the verse has even offered some swagger for young ministers who are out there doing ministry among people who are two to three times older as if it is some kind of get out of immature ministry free card, but I am not sure that it is saying any of these things, at least without clarification.

It was not until I began contemplating the second part of the verse that I started to recognize how the first part was supposed to work.  Paul calls on Timothy to set a tremendous example for the other believers so that his youth would not even be an issue.  If taken as 4:12a (which I really hate because that little “a” can make a verse say a whole lot of things it is not supposed to say), then the verse could read as a sort of “shake it off” platitude.  Instead, the “b” part decides to make things just a tad more difficult as it challenges Timothy to set an example in the five hardest areas that exist when it comes to setting an example.

Speech: Use words that glorify God and His work.  Use words that demonstrate the character of Jesus.  Speak in a way that is both true and compassionate.  Speak words that always build up and never tear down.  Speak words that are consistently gracious to all people all the time.

Conduct: Even if your words are good, your actions must also be setting the correct example.  Do good works.  Treat people fairly.  Act justly.  Use time wisely.  Pray all the while that your actions demonstrate the character of Jesus.

Love: At all times desire the good for the other person, regardless of their speech or actions.  Have compassion.  Experience anguish over sin and rebellion while offering grace and mercy.  Sacrifice your own personal comfort.

Faith: Believe and be strong in your belief.  Allow your faith to keep you from worry, pride, or judgment.  Trust God in everything, and allow people to know where your strength comes from.  Let your faith permeate every part of your being.

Purity: Don’t sin.  Focus on what is good.  Reject what is bad or might have the appearance of evil.  Keep your thoughts and actions pure and reflective of a holy God.

The emphasis of this verse seems to have more do with setting a good example than age.  This good example will allow us to use the influence we have as leaders to build our people up.  As a leader you have influence.  With influence comes responsibility.  A large part of that responsibility is to set an example that others might follow and find themselves becoming more like Jesus.  As a student minister, you have become an important part of a student’s spiritual development.  However, we must be good stewards of this role if we are to see the transformation in our students or parishioners.  Your presence creates an impact, but your effort and example determines what kind of impact you will make in a person’s life.

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