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Monday, September 21, 2009

Can't Teach Me Nothin'

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. --1 Timothy 4:12 NIV

What was Paul telling Timothy when he wrote that? Punish older members of your church if they don't give you proper respect because you are younger than them? Or, perhaps, that young persons in leadership shouldn't take any criticism from older congregants?

How are we to interpret the "don't let" part of that verse? I've heard this verse used to criticize church elders who disapproved of the younger generation's "new way of doing things." I've also heard it used to encourage young people to lead when they were neither equipped nor qualified for the positions they were being encouraged to seek. However, this verse isn't saying either thing.

The main point of the verse was not to address the "problem" older people who were looking down at their young pastor, Timothy. It's really about Timothy's worthiness for their respect, and what he could change about his own behavior that would gain their respect. If Timothy wanted respect from the elders in his church, he had to change himself, not react against them. Youth, in an older person's mind, translates to "wild oats," erratic and often disobedient behavior, even rejection of authority. This is certainly not godly behavior, and no one should be given authority or respect when he or she has no respect for God's standards.

No, if any young person wants to lead, he or she has to act mature, not like a "youth." Young leaders should model the godly behavior they claim to be leading others to have, being exemplary role models "in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." Otherwise, these young leaders are the worst kind of hypocrites, and deserve to be ignored or replaced by worthier leaders.

Another important thing to glean out of this verse is the disassociation of "mature" and "immature" behavior with the actual age of the person. Timothy was instructed to act older than his physical age, to gain the approval of his elders. Meanwhile, there may have been older people who were acting younger than their age, dismissing genuine, God-given authority with the petulance of stereotypical teenagers, and using Timothy's youthful appearance as a justification for their deeper spiritual rebellion.

The one thing we can certainly see is that God's standards of behavior apply uniformly to both groups, both young and old. Straying from God's moral standards makes a person unworthy of respect, no matter his or her age, five or ninety-five. All Christians, in order to gain respect, must act mature, modeling righteous behavior in every aspect of their lives.

How do we go about measuring maturity, if it has nothing to do with physical age?

Mature, as in the Bible, Not as in Video Games

  • In Speech--Do prospective leaders recognize bad speech habits in their own lives and humbly seek to correct these habits? This includes gossip and dirty jokes and cursing.
  • In Life--Do prospective leaders live their everyday lives for God, making life and career choices to please God and to do His work, or do they go through life without considering other people or even consulting God about their decisions? Is it clear that they know Whom they are working for, and what God's purpose is for their lives? (Philippians 1: 20-26)
  • In Love--Do prospective leaders love others, and not just themselves and their friends? It is easy to love friends, but it is hard, without God in our lives, to love people who hate us or who cause us pain or discomfort. A Christian leader should be capable of godly love, or he or she is not actually a Christian ( 1 John 4:20).
  • In Faith--A leader without faith may know an awful lot about the Bible and even be able to recite passages, but without faith, all that knowledge is meaningless to him, and to those whom he teaches. Knowing all about God is not equal to knowing Him (Hebrews 4:2). Without faith, a leader has no understanding of what Christianity really means, so how could he or she teach it to others?
  • In Purity--This goes farther than just avoiding the many kinds of sexual immorality in this world. A prospective leader should not be engaging in any sort of behavior that is offensive to God or that casts shadows on his/her credibility. This ranges from covering for and sheltering murderers, to consulting with witches and fortune tellers, to having a reputation for cheating and lying. Just as the priests in the old testament were not allowed to enter the temple if they were impure, Christian leaders of any age should not attempt to take leadership if they are blemished by sinful behavior (see Psalm 24: 3-5).

Can't Teach Me Nothin'

From God's perspective, maturity is not defined by age or life experience, but rather a willingness to obey and humble ourselves to His leadership. For the longest time, people have mistakenly believed that experience or even extensive education brings wisdom and leadership potential, but only humility and obedience to God really brings about the proper maturity. In this way, it is possible for a child who reads his Bible and tries to do what it says to be a more qualified leader than the adults who teach his Sunday school class.

If a child wishes to take up this leadership role, he has only to set an example in moral behavior that shames even the adults around him--not to advance himself, but rather to advance Christ's work.

We should never have the "can't teach me nothin'" attitude that I've been picking up from people in the church lately. More specifically, this includes adults who feel that they can learn nothing from younger Christians, because they've already "been there, done that," and young people who dismiss everything older people say because it seems too outdated or old-fashioned. What has been true is still true, or it never was; what has been righteous is still righteous, or it never has been. If what is being taught is in God's Word, it's validity is not in any way affected by the age and experience of the one sharing it. Physical age means nothing if we are spiritual babies. If we haven't learned it yet, we shouldn't shoot the messenger.

The standard by which Timothy was to measure his life was a universal standard, which applies with impunity to all people in the Christian community. We are all leaders in this world, setting forth the moral standard of Christ. If all the world sees is a bunch of immature people, behaving like uncontrolled "youth," they have every right to despise us--and far too often, they do. We claim that we have something better in our walks with Christ; now it's time to prove it. If we want the respect of the world, we have to earn it, not demand it or take offense when we don't receive it.

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. --1 Timothy 4:12 NIV


Anonymous said...


Being a military brat I have seen the world change from what it was 20 or even 10 years ago. I have seen men and women who are barely ten years older than me holding leadership positions that were usually reserved for members of the military that have served for over eighteen years! Father is a twenty-three year veteran and holds the rank normally associated with these older members. However, I have seen where the attitude cost a serviceman his career because, although he outranked my father, he neither had the experience nor the tact that being in the service requires you have in order to further your goals. When the younger man sent out for a task without my father's advice, he upset the rest of his work force and severely limited his ability to influence the members he worked with because he pressed the issue "I have rank and therefore know more than you".

Please listen to these words and learn from them.
I recommend this post for those aspiring to be leaders in the coming times.

Jonathan Hartzell.
Phil 4:8-9, Phil 4:13, Jer 29:11-12