Today I want to scare you a little. At the very least I want to intimidate you. Actually, I want the Bible to scare and intimidate you, to set a challenge so difficult that you’ll know you can’t possibly meet it on your own. This is a challenge for any Christian, but I’m directing it particularly at younger Christians, at people in their teens or twenties.
I’ve been working on a series of articles that takes a look at some words Paul wrote to Timothy—the older mentor writing a letter to his younger protégé: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). We’ve already seen that Paul wants Timothy to make his life a work of art that other people will be able to see and imitate. Even as a young man, Timothy is to be exemplary, to be worthy of imitation. Last week we saw what it means for Timothy to set an example in his speech and today we want to see what it means for him to set an example in his conduct.
Set An Example In Your Conduct
I’m sure you know that as a Christian you are meant to live as an example in the way you behave. Older siblings are warned to be a good example to their younger brothers and sisters. Christian young people are told of the importance of living as Christians before a watching world of unbelievers. When you’re at school and work, when you’re interacting with neighbors and customers, even when you’re at a family reunion, you are to behave in distinctly Christian ways. You won’t do what unbelievers do, you won’t watch what unbelievers watch, you won’t laugh the things unbelievers laugh at. You are to live as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), standing out from the world around you. You know that. You’ve been told.
But did you know that you are also to stand as an example of Christian character and maturity before other Christians, even when those Christians are older, wiser, and godlier than you? That is a scary thought, an intimidating challenge. Yet this was exactly Paul’s challenge to Timothy. Timothy was a young man, young enough that older Christians might look down on him, convinced that they couldn’t possibly learn anything from such a young man. And still Paul told him that it was his responsibility to set them an example in his conduct.
“Conduct” is a very general word. It’s a broad word that refers to all of life. In all he does, in all his behavior, Timothy is to set an example. In every realm of life he is to be exemplary. There is no area of life that isn’t covered by “set the believers an example in conduct.” This was true for Timothy and it is true of you. You aren’t exempted from serving as an example of Christian conduct simply because you are young. You are to be an example “at home, at church, at the grocery store, on the freeway, on the playground, at the barber shop” (according to Philip Ryken). Kent Hughes says, “In the day-in, day-out humdrum of existence—at the gas station, in the grocery line, at the soccer game, washing the car—[you] must be an example to all who believe.” All the time, in every way, in all of life, God challenges you to be an example of godliness to other Christians.
Are you that example of godliness? Do other believers look to you as someone who models what it means to conduct yourself as a Christian? I will leave it to you to consider the entirety of your life because I want to focus on just one—the way you behave when you’re with your local church. When you gather with other Christians, do they see you modeling Christian conduct? Do other Christians, and even older Christians, see you as a model of godliness? This is your God-given task!
From the perspective of an older Christian, one who is just weeks away from hitting 40, I can attest that few things are more encouraging to me than being around young people who exemplify Christian character. I love to be challenged by seeing young people lead godly lives. So I want to challenge you to make a point of setting the believers an example in your conduct right there in your church family. Here are a few ways young Christians can do this:
- Be there. Attend every service. Make church attendance a high priority that will only be interrupted in the most unusual circumstances. If a sport is going to keep you from church week after week, you need to think long and hard about whether that’s a fair trade. Don’t let every cough and sniffle keep you home on a Sunday morning. Get your homework done by Saturday so you can commit Sunday to the Lord. You can only be an example to other people if you are around other people!
- Be all-in. Once you get to church, be all-in. One of the best ways to do this is to be friendly, to meet people and engage them in conversation. Your temptation will be to gravitate to people who are very similar to you. So challenge yourself to meet people who are different from you—much older or younger, a different ethnicity, people with disabilities. Look for people who are otherwise overlooked and get to know them.
- Be a servant. Look for ways to serve in the church, and especially in those ministries that are low-visibility. Lots of people feel specially called and equipped to sing or play an instrument at the front of the room, but most of us are far better equipped to take out the trash or set up the chairs. Volunteer for the lowest jobs, the ones no one else wants to do. And then do those jobs with joy and without demanding gratitude.
- Be visible. As you worship, set the believers an example in your joyful singing. As you listen to sermons, set the believers an example in your attentive listening. As you put what you’ve learned into practice, set the believers an example in your humility and diligence. As you fellowship, set the believers an example in your willingness to go outside your comfort zone.
This is only a start, just a few suggestions. In these ways and many more you can set an example to the believers in your conduct. This is God’s high and holy calling for you, the young Christian. Will you heed that call?
Questions to Consider
- Does it intimidate you to know that you’re called by God to serve as an example in your conduct, even (and especially!) before other Christians?
- In what ways do you think you are serving as a good example in your conduct. Pray and thank God for them. In what ways do you think you are setting a poor example in your conduct? Pray and ask God to forgive you and to give you the grace to change.
- What are some of the ways you serve in your local church? What are some of the ways you think you ought to serve in your local church?
- Do you find it difficult or unnatural to fellowship with people who are different from you? What will you do about it?