“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 Tim. 4:12).
We read in 1 Timothy 1 that Paul had to leave for Macedonia; therefore, he left Timothy in charge of Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). However, knowing that young Timothy had a difficult calling to carry out, Paul wrote this letter to equip and encourage Timothy.
The Youth of Timothy
We all have been (or still are) at a point of time a youth. What exactly does youth mean? Here is a definition from Wikipedia: “Youth is the time of life when one is young, and often means the time between childhood and adulthood (maturity).” Does “youth ” in 1 Timothy 4 refer to this youth?
Consider this quotation:
“The Greek term for “youth” is neotes. In this culture, someone could be called a “youth” until he was forty years old. According to Irenaeus, “Thirty is the first stage of a young man’s age, and extends to forty, as all will admit”.
In his second missionary journey, Paul met Timothy (Acts 16:1). Fourteen years later, Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy. Supposing that Timothy was sixteen years old when Paul first worked with him, Timothy would be at least thirty at this point of time . From all these, we can infer that Paul exhorted Timothy because Paul was concerned that Timothy would not be respected by the older men in the congregation because of his age. With that concern, Paul gives Timothy the exhortation in our text.
In verse 12 we read, “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”. What does this mean? The verse is split into a pair of opposites. First, “let no man despise thy youth…” and second , “but be thou an example of the believers…”
Let us recall what Timothy’s calling was. His calling was to be a preacher of the gospel in Ephesus. Implied in that calling is that Timothy would be under the watchful scrutiny of his congregation. If Timothy erred in his preaching, he would fall under the criticism of his congregation and be deemed unsuited for the ministry due to his age. Worst of all, the ministry would be blemished severely! Rather than to err in this manner, young Timothy is to live a godly life that leaves no room for criticism in his youth. Fearlessly, he was to bring before the people in Ephesus the Word of God – not his opinions, but the infallible, inspired Word of God.
Looking now at the opposite exhortation, we notice that Timothy was to be an example in six aspects: word, conversation, charity, spirit, faith, and purity. These six aspects are what a pastor (really, every man) must embody to profess Christ as Saviour and Redeemer, showing evidence that Christ dwells in his heart.
We will group these six aspects into two groups to show the connection among them, word and conversation being the first: charity, spirit, faith, and purity being the second.
The first two aspects encompass the outward appearance of Timothy. He could not live out his calling as a minister if his actions did not show it.
In word, Timothy was to be an example in the words he spoke (in his preaching, teachings, and exhortations; 1 Tim. 4:13). The words that a man speaks reveal what is in his heart (Matt. 15:18). Our calling is to be pure in heart (Matt. 5:8), for the heart is the spiritual centre of a man. God looks at the heart of a man (1 Sam. 16:7), so the words which Timothy spoke were to show that he was pure in heart. Our calling then is also to watch our words, to be a witness of the light that is within us, even in our speech.
In conversation, that is, in Timothy’s “manner of life”, he was also called to be an example in his conduct. He was to conduct himself so that he was not despised because of his youth, and more importantly, he was to conduct himself as a minister of Christ. What might that look like? A man after God’s own heart, David (1 Sam. 13:14). David looked to God in all things; he always sought God first. This should be our manner of life, always putting and seeking God first.
The next four aspects encompass the inward qualities Timothy ought to be an example of.
In charity, love, Timothy was to be an example of loving God with all his heart, soul, and mind and of loving his neighbour (Matt. 22:37-39). This charity is connected to faith and purity. Let us remember 1 Corinthians 13:2, that if we have faith that could move mountains but have no charity, we are nothing. This verse shows how charity (or the lack of it) can affect all aspects of our lives. Timothy carried out his ministry in his love for God, because he wanted to fulfil his calling for God. As a pastor he would have to put in numerous hours in preparing, meditating on God’s Word day and night. Timothy too was to love his neighbour in humility and longsuffering, forbearing in love (Eph. 4:2). As a shepherd cares for his flock, so must Timothy show such love to the church (Isa. 40:11). This love, for God and for our neighbour, is the love we must have.
In spirit, Timothy was to carry out his work in a pure and holy spirit – that is, in a life which evidenced his zeal for God, a life with a focus on putting God and His work first always. How do we emulate this behaviour? By putting God first in our lives, when we set the work of the church as a priority, and not as a mere thought (Matt. 6:33).
In faith, Timothy was to have faith that is unfeigned (1 Tim. 1:5, 2 Tim. 1:5). The Heidelberg Catechism explains in Q&A 21 that “true faith is not only a certain knowledge…but also an assured confidence”. A genuine faith starts from that inward knowledge and confidence and flows into the outward behaviour. Faith in Timothy would bring forth an abundance of fruit – in his ministry, his love for others, his actions, and his words. In this too we see our calling to live out our faith, a faith which is sincere, out of love for God.
In purity, Timothy was to treat all those around him with purity (1 Tim. 5:1-2) and to keep himself pure in his spirituality (1 Tim. 5:22). Consider this quotation:
Rev. George C. Lubbers, in the Standard Bearer, Volume 38, Issue 15, writes that this purity is not“to be taken in the sense that moralism would teach purity, leaving God out of the picture, but it must most emphatically refer to the spiritual ethical purity of the sanctification which is ours through the Spirit of Christ. It is the purity of heaven, of the spiritual man, of the new man in Christ, in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. It is the purity of godliness, which is not merely a matter of form and convention, but a life which has the power of godliness. A minister must be a truly godly man” (Bylsma, 2013).
This is how Timothy was to live and keep a life of purity, a life which continually sought after God to flee from sin, where God is the center. For example, Timothy knew the temptations of a young minister of the gospel when he visits a woman; to give in to his youthful lusts would ruin his work and duty to preach the gospel. Therefore, he was to guard his heart and ensure that his sinful lusts did not affect his judgment. We too are in the same spiritual battle as Timothy was. We must always put on the armour of God, resist the devil, and constantly consecrate ourselves to God.
Timothy could be an example to believers only because God was with him.
God used Timothy’s mother (Eunice), grandmother (Lois), and Paul to prepare him for the ministry. What a marvelous work! Timothy had the instruction of his mother and grandmother from his childhood (2 Tim. 1:5). Maturing under their instruction, Timothy was taken under Paul’s wing, who groomed him to preach the Word of God.
God was present throughout Timothy’s life.
Without God, man can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). In His mercy, God neither leaves us nor forsakes us (Heb. 13:5) and will be with us wherever we go (Josh. 1:9). What assurance we have knowing that, even in our youth, we can be good examples to others, even to the older ones!
In conclusion, let no man despise thy youth. Let us be an example of the believers. Let the Word of God be the basis of our lives and how we are to live, for God is our God – all to the glory of God the Highest.
Written by: Deuel Teo | Issue 51
 Irenaeus II. 22.5. Cited in Stott, John Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996. 35.
 Earle, R. 1 Timothy. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 374.
Lubbers, G.C. (1962, 15 May) Exposition of I Timothy 4:11-16. Retrieved from: https://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/exposition-i-timothy-411-16
Bylsma S. (2013, April) Despising Not Our Youth. Retrieved from: https://www.beaconlights.org/articles/despising-not-our-youth/