Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 4:11-16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/19/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 4:11-16
“An Example to the Believers”
Show me. That’s often how I feel when I am learning something new from someone. They are explaining the new thing to me, but I am having trouble understanding the verbal description. I’m more a of visual learner, and so I want to see it. I want to see an example of what the person is explaining, and so I say “show me.” Examples are helpful not only if you are a visual learner. But examples can help illustrate to us something that otherwise might seem only theoretical. Well, today’s passage reminds us that in terms of being a disciple of Christ, we can also benefit from an example. This is especially helpful when you first become a Christian for some of the most basic things about our Christian faith. But certainly, it continues to be helpful in our Christian growth to see examples before us of what it looks like to live for Christ.
Let me give you an example of an example. Like how to pray. When you first become a Christian, you will have to learn how to pray. It’s one thing to teach someone about the concept of prayer. That can be helpful. But it can also be helpful to give people an example of prayer. Isn’t that what Jesus did? When his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he responded by giving them an example. The Lord’s Prayer is an example prayer. It’s certainly not the only prayer we can or should pray. It’s rather an example of prayer from which we can learn more about how to pray.
And so, today’s passage speaks of Timothy being an example to other believers. We continue to work through this part of 1 Timothy which deals with Paul instructing Timothy about how to be a good pastor. And so, in today’s passage we’ll especially focus on verse 12 that speaks of how Timothy is to be an example for other believers. And though it is important for a pastor to be a good example for the church, certainly every Christian should live so as to be an example to others of what it looks like to live for Christ.
Let’s begin then looking at the first part of verse 12 and think about Timothy’s age in connection with his call to be an example. Verse 12 begins with Paul telling Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers.” This is our first point to consider. Paul commands Timothy to be this example. But notice that he does it in conjunction with this note about his youthfulness. Paul says “Let no one despise your youth.” We don’t know exactly how old Timothy would have been, but this term for youth would likely have applied to men who were under forty. A typical scholarly guess is that Timothy was in his mid or later thirties at this time. So, maybe he was about my age which is currently 38. This is in part estimated based on information in Acts of when Timothy first started traveling with Paul and serving with him. So, Timothy’s youth would have been relative. I’m sure that is very true today too. To some, mid-thirties might not sound very young, but to others it surely is still “young.”
And so, Paul’s words here serve to remind the church that we ought not show age-discrimination among adults. Paul says Timothy’s age should not be reason to despise him. Interesting, in 1 Corinthians 16:10-11, Paul tells the Corinthians that when Timothy gets there, they should not despise him. It makes you wonder if the same sort of concern is there as well. That Timothy’s relative youthfulness especially compared to say many of the elders in the church, might have been a reason that they would look down on his leadership. Of course, we can appreciate why an older person might be tempted to look down on a younger person, especially someone who is in a position of spiritual oversight in the church. Think of what the Bible says about the value of age. Job 12:12 says, “Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding.” Similarly, the Proverbs speak of old age as being a thing of honor, speaking of grey hair as a crown of glory (16:31). Similarly, the opposite can be found in the Bible. For example, in 2 Chronicles 13 it mentions how King Rehoboam lost the northern tribes of the kingdom because of inexperience and youth at the time. That affirms the simple fact that when you are young, you have less experience, and therefore have had less time to grow in wisdom.
And so, there is a value and honor to old age. We should not discount that. On the other hand, Paul says that this truth doesn’t mean that people should disregard Timothy in his service as a pastor. It’s clear from this passage that Paul believed Timothy was not only called by God to be a pastor, but also gifted by God to be a pastor, verse 14. And so, though Timothy may be relatively young, and may not even possess all the wisdom that some of the more elderly Christians in the church may have, he has been duly ordained and installed as a pastor in the church. He should be treated as such and his relative youthfulness should not change that.
As I reflected on this passage, I had an insight into that I hadn’t before. I think in the past I’ve heard so much the first part quoted on its own, “Let no one despise your youth” that I missed the emphasis here. I think I assumed the main point was for Paul to send a message to the church at Ephesus to support Timothy as their pastor even though he was young. I still think that’s a point here that would have come across, but it seems to be secondary. Just look at what Paul says Timothy is to do with this information that he shouldn’t be despised for his youth. Paul doesn’t go on to tell him to rebuke anyone that does or file a church discipline charge against them. No, instead Paul turns it back to Timothy. He says that Timothy should strive to be a godly example to the church. In other words, Timothy should live in such a way that no one will be able to look down upon them. We can think of all the stereotypical problems that a young leader might have. Paul’s telling Timothy, “Don’t give them anything to point at; Don’t give them any fuel for the fire.” It’s like how Peter talks in 1 Peter 3:16 that Christians should live godly in front of outsiders, so when outsiders accuse Christians of evil the outsiders will be ashamed of their baseless accusations. Likewise, Paul’s implication here is that Timothy should live as a commendable example so that no one in good conscience could look down upon his youthfulness since he is living in such a commendable way.
So then let’s turn now in our second point to think about what kind of example Paul has in mind. In general, realize that Paul is not asking Timothy to do anything that he hasn’t done himself. In passages like Philippians 3:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:9 it is clear that Paul himself lived as an example of how to live Christianly. Paul called Christians to see him as this kind of an example and use it to model their behavior after. Also, Paul’s command to Timothy is not unique to Timothy, simply because of his age. We see in Titus 2:7, that Paul also commands Titus as a pastor to be this kind of an example to the saints. And we also see in Paul’s writings that being an example is not something just for pastors and apostles. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 1:7 he commends the entire Thessalonian church for the kind of positive example they had been to all the believers in surrounding regions. And so, I take this to heart that as a pastor I need to pay careful attention to be a good example to the church of what it looks like to live as a Christian. But each of us here should see that call to be living in such a way that other Christians could model their living after you.
The word for example here is tupos in the Greek. It’s where we also get the word “type” in the Bible. So literally we could say that we are to all be a “type” to follow. What are we to be a type of? Well, I love what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1. He says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Christ is the ultimate example, model, or mold, we should all want to imitate. And so, that answers my question of what are we to be a type of. We should all strive to be a type of Christ. That is what the Bible says is a goal of our salvation. Romans 8:29 says that the elect have been predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ! This is at the heart of the gospel that we are being made by grace to look like Christ. So, in light of that salvation plan being worked out in our lives, by faith we look to be an example of Christ.
So then, Paul gives Timothy and us some specific areas that we are to be examples in. First, he says in “word.” Likely he has in mind the idea of speech and tongue, and not necessarily referring to the content of his Bible teaching. Paul deals with the content of Timothy’s teaching elsewhere. We are to strive for sanctified language. We should put away gossip, slander, coarse jokes, unkind speech, crude language, etc. Instead, we should speak the truth in love and with kindness, we should build up with our language, we should use beautiful and fitting language. The book of James has a lot of instruction about how to handle our tongues in a godly way. Second, Paul says we should be an example in terms of conduct. This is focused on our behavior; our actions. The puritan Richard Baxter said that you need to watch how you live, “lest you may unsay with your lives that which you say with your tongues.” We have the law of God to help us know how to conduct ourselves.
Third, Paul says that we are to be an example in love. I think of here the two greatest commandments which are a summary of God’s law. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Those two commandments summarize the law, but the point is that they summarize the law in terms of love. Christians are to follow God’s law in genuine love. Love for God and love for our neighbor. In other words, as an example, people ought to be able to recognize such love in your keeping of God’s law. The opposite example would be to keep a commandment of God while openly grumbling about how you don’t like keeping the law. Instead, we are to show forth such love in our obedience to God as an example to others.
The fourth item here in the pew Bible is to be an example in the spirit. Interestingly, that word “spirit” is only in the some of the Greek manuscripts such as the one called the Textus Receptus which the pew Bible is based on. But, likely it was a copying mistake due to its absence from a number of key early witnesses.
The next item is that Paul says to be an example in faith. We need to think about how our faith is shown and seen by others. Living in faith should be shown in how you respond to trial and tribulation and even Christian persecution. It should be shown in how you respond to outsiders who attack the faith. It should be shown by the choices that you make in light of your faith, even if those choices involve personal sacrifice or cost. We should show our faith by not living in unsettled fear and worry but in confidence in God and his good place; having a peace in the providence of God.
Lastly, Paul says we should be an example in purity. This term could be used to refer to a general purity across the board in terms of holy living. But the word more typically gets used in the specific sense of sexual purity. Given that next chapter uses this word again in 5:2 to refer to sexual purity, that is surely the sense intended here. Given how much scandal in the church has happened due to matters of sexual immorality by its leaders, we see why this is especially important for pastors.
May we each look to live as this kind of an example. As we strive by grace to do this, I point you to the advice of verse 16. In striving to be this example, Paul reminds Timothy to “Take heed to yourself.” This will be our third and final point for the day. To be this kind of example, we need to take heed to ourselves. Let’s face it. Being this kind of example is not an easy thing. We will need the grace of God to do that. It is God’s grace that even gives us a specific tool to use in our growth. It is this tool of “taking heed to yourself.” This is about putting your attention to yourself and to this example that you are supposed to be. Elsewhere, the Bible refers to this as watchfulness. It is about the practice of self-examination that keeps an eye on your progress and growth. It’s about spiritual vigilance and taking Biblical action when you see threats and temptations to where you should be at as a Christian.
The Bible talks about this watchfulness in a number of ways. I’ll mention two. The first is in Psalm 119:9. There it asks how can a young man cleanse his way? The answers it gives is this, “By taking heed according to your Word.” I love the reference to the young man there in light of today’s topic, by the way. So, the Word of God is given for our watchfulness. We watch our lives and look to see if we are living according to the way God’s Word says. When we find discrepancies (and we will), we practice repentance by confessing that as sin and turning away from that toward righteousness. This is the discipline of regular watchfulness and vigilance that the Bible commends to us. It is a tool God gives for us to seek to be more like Christ and thus more like the example we are called to model.
A second aspect of watchfulness is found in Matthew 26:41. There Jesus tells his disciples they need to watch and pray. He says that they need to do this so that they won’t fall into temptation. And so there the task of self-watching is connected with prayer. We look inwardly at our struggles with being the kind of Christian that God would have us to be. We see our shortcomings and we bring those to God in prayer. In this watchful prayer we can often spot temptations that we are having even before they result in sin. And then we can ask for help from God for those temptations.
Brothers and sisters, I think it is this with this last example of watching and praying that we are encouraged again today in God’s grace. Remember that when Jesus taught his disciples to watch and pray, it was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before Jesus was arrested and brought to the cross. He especially addressed Peter when he told them to watch and pray. And yet what kept happening? The disciples kept falling asleep while praying. Can you relate? Isn’t this the challenge for us as well? We are striving to be this Christian example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity. But we struggle so much. And so, then we try to do things like watch and pray to try to be a better Christian example, and again we struggle. We might even fall asleep in our prayer. We struggle be to such a good example.
And that is when I draw you back again to Christ today. Jesus did not fall asleep in that Garden. He did keep watching and praying. We learn in Luke 22 that part of Jesus’ prayers around that time were specifically for Peter. Jesus knew that Peter would struggle and would even fall prey to temptation that very night to deny Jesus three times. But Jesus prayed for Peter. And God answered that prayer and ultimately Peter was restored and went out to be a great Christian example. Not a perfect example. Galatians 2 shows a later failure of Peter in how he treated some of the new Gentile converts by not eating with them. In that, he again didn’t prove to be a good example of the Christian faith. But isn’t that part of the beauty of Peter’s story. In answer to Jesus’ prayer, Peter went on after that threefold denial of Jesus to be restored and become a better example. Yes, he still struggled, but still was a good example of living for Christ. In fact, even in the struggles, we can especially relate, because we struggle. But Christ prayed for Peter, and he intercedes even now for us. And Christ not only prayed for Peter, but he also died on the cross for Peter. And he died on the cross for us too. Let us take then this call to be a godly example and remember the grace that is in Christ. Let us see that Christ is not just standing back and commanding us to be this. He supports us in prayer. He supports us by his Spirit. And he supports us by the victory over sin and guilt that he won for us at the cross.
In driving home this exhortation, let me bring together this idea of being a godly example with the point earlier about age. In the Old Testament, there were multiple prophecies about coming of Christ and the new covenant. Some of them even went so far as to emphasize that the benefits would come to both young and old alike. We said how the Bible speaks to the benefits and wisdom that come in our old age. Yet, you have new covenant prophecies like Joel 2:28 of how God would pour his Spirit out upon both the young and old. And you have for example Jeremiah 31 that speaks of how in the new covenant God would write his law upon his people, so that the least to the greatest would know God and his laws. In other words, the Old Testament predicted a day when age would not stand in the way of being able to be a godly example of Christ. I love how in 1 John 2 he writes to both old men and young men and acknowledges their victory in Christ. What is my point in all this? There is a reason why Paul can tell Timothy that even though he is relatively young he can hope to be a godly example in the church. It’s because of Christ. In the new covenant, young and old are being sanctified and matured. Let us seek to be a model of Christ. And let us trust in Christ even in our efforts to be this picture. It will be an imperfect picture of Christ for now; but let us press on until that day when he returns and completes that picture in us. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.