“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.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
I once read that when Gen. George C. Marshall took command of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA, he found the post in a run-down condition. Rather than issue orders for specific improvements, he simply got out his own paintbrushes and lawn equipment, and went to work on his personal quarters. The other officers and men, first on his block, then throughout the post, did the same thing, and soon Fort Benning was looking good again. Gen. Marshall showed leadership by example.
The Apostle Paul was a great advocate of leadership by example, and it is reflected in his writings. First Timothy is one of three letters written by Paul to two of his associates – Timothy and Titus. The letters are called the Pastoral Letters because they are full of advice on how to pastor a church.
Timothy, who was ministering to the early Christians in Ephesus, was one of Paul’s most beloved and devoted associates. Paul’s letter provided Timothy with insightful guidelines for public worship, selection of church leaders, dealing with false teachers, and advice on being a good minister.
In this passage of Scripture, Paul gives Timothy instructions on how a young minister can operate in authority despite his youth. They are important instructions because they certainly apply to us as well. Just as Timothy was told to be an example, it is important that we as believers also heed Paul’s advice.
Paul basically was telling Timothy that it is not enough as a minister to just teach the Word of God, but a good minister must live the Word of God. In other words, “if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk.”
Paul lists six areas that refer to various aspects of our life, and in this he presents a blueprint of how a good minister (or a good Christian) is supposed to act. So, let’s look at each of these areas.
In verse 12 it tells says, “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 first area Paul mentions is word. This refers to our speech in private as well as in public, our tone of voice as well as the words we say, our speech with Christians as well as with non-Christians, our speech within our families as well as with those outside the family. As ministers (or believers) our speech should always be Christ like.
Secondly, Paul uses the word conversation. This refers to our conduct or behavior. As children of God, we should behave in a Christ like manner. This extends to how we treat others, how we use our time, how we react when wronged, and how we interact with authority. Our conduct should be both gentle and godly.
Someone came out with a bumper sticker a while back that read, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” As men and women of God our behavior should be our evidence.
Paul told Timothy that a good minister (or believer) should also be an example in charity. By charity, Paul was referring to love.
Jesus, who is the supreme model of a minister, said in Matthew 22:37-39, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
A Christian’s love for one another is the insignia of true discipleship. This affection is the normal experience of all who are born of God. This includes showing love for those who treat us well, as well as those who do not.
Following conversation, Paul lists the word spirit. This refers to having a proper attitude in the manner and disposition in which we do things. We must not do holy or charitable work in an unholy or uncharitable spirit. All of our good works will crumble if they are not carried out with a good attitude.
Paul also refers to purity. This means we are to be pure in thought and behavior befitting a child of God.
In Old Testament times a priest went through a purification ceremony upon entering his holy office. He was once-for-all cleansed by a whole bathing. However, even though he was wholly bathed, he was required to be cleansed repeatedly by a partial bathing at the brazen laver before undertaking any priestly service.
As New Testament priests (or believers) we are wholly and once-for-all cleansed at the moment we are saved, and by virtue of our salvation we are set apart unto God. Rather than washing at a brazen laver, we are at all times required to confess every known sin in order that we may be cleansed and qualified for fellowship with God.
And, finally, we come to the word faith. Faith is believing God completely, and trusting Him completely in good and bad times. Noah best represents the word faith. Hebrews 11:7 reads, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house.”
God told Noah to build an ark, and it was through Noah’s faith that he obeyed. His faith told him to believe God would destroy all living things with a flood. His faith drove him to build a seafaring boat on dry land. Each stroke of his brush as he coated the ark with pitch spoke faith. Each swing of his axe spoke faith. Each blow of his hammer spoke faith. His faith sustained him as people around him called him a fool. His faith kept him as he preached for 120 years, and at the end not one person went into the ark with him besides his family. It was by faith Noah gathered his family and the animals into the ark. And, it was by faith that he remained steadfast as the Lord sealed them in.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Faith must be a constant tenant, not an occasional guest.” As men and women of God we must, like Noah, believe, obey, act, and show our faith.
The words we say, the things we do, and the decisions we make all matter to the glory of God, and can make a great difference in the lives of those watching us. I once read something that said, “People look at a minister six days out of the week to see what he meant on the seventh.”
That same thing applies to every believer. There are many people out there watching how we live our lives. Our unsaved neighbors, friends, co-workers, and others are checking us out to see if we are truly living a Christian life or just pretending.
There is no better sermon than a good example, and Paul shows us that our lives are the most effective tools that we have in sharing the message of Christ. Our word, conduct, love, spirit, purity and faith should all represent who Christ is. The great commission is not just what we say, but it is how we live our lives.
I encourage you to listen to Paul’s advice and work on being the type of person who is a good example to other believers and to non-believers alike. You never know … your good example may be just what someone needs to lead them to Christ.
May God bless you!