Art comes in many different forms. Visit a museum or art gallery and you may see sculpture, pottery, calligraphy, and, of course, paintings. Though each of these is beautiful and valuable in its own way, the Bible commends another form of art, one that is more important and more enduring. It is a living art. Francis Schaeffer said, “No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is called upon to be an artist in this sense. … The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.” No work of art is more beautiful, more precious, than a life lived for God in imitation of his Son.
In 1 Timothy 4, Paul writes to Timothy to tell him that he is responsible for making his life just such a work of art. He is to “set an example” before other Christians, and especially the ones in his local church. Though he is still young, he is to have confidence in his ability to live an exemplary life. Over the past few weeks I have been taking a deep dive into this passage, and doing so with younger Christians in mind. Having looked at what it meant for Timothy to set an example in his speech and conduct, we are now ready to consider his love.
Set an Example In Your Love
“Let no one despise you for your youth,” said Paul, “but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love…” We have already seen that speech and conduct refer to the two ways Timothy’s behavior would manifest itself externally—through his words and through his actions. Timothy was to ensure that everything he said and everything he did was worthy of imitation. Paul now begins to challenge Timothy in his inner qualities. Even in the inner man he is to be exemplary, to serve as a model of Christian virtue and maturity.
It is no surprise that love heads up Paul’s list of inner virtues, for love is the chief of all graces. As he says elsewhere, “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love is a defining trait for a Christian: “Let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love” (1 John 4: 7- 8). Love is to mark everything we do: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Co 16:14). But what is love? What is the love Timothy was meant to have?
If you have been around churches for any length of time, you have probably encountered the Greek word Paul uses here: agape (a-GOP-ay). You probably also know that Greek has several different words that we translate as “love,” each with its own nuance. Agape is as straightforward as they come. It refers to esteem or affection, regard or concern. Timothy was to search his heart to ensure he was concerned for the people in his church, that he desired what was best for them, that he was eager to equip and protect them, and even that he felt affection for them. His heart was to be warm, not cool. All the while he was to know that what he felt and believed internally would eventually manifest itself externally.
We need to understand that according to the Bible, love is not just a feeling or emotion but something that works itself out in action. Love is not less than what we feel, but it is certainly more. Aren’t you glad that Jesus did not only feel love for you but that he ultimately acted in love for you? His feelings would not have done us much good! The ultimate measure of love is not what you feel for others but what you do for them. Paul’s concern was not just that Timothy feel love for others, but that he act in loving ways.
Why was this something Paul needed to mention specifically? Because people are hard to love! Loving others is the kind of challenge that tests the best of men. It is a challenge because of sin—we are sinful and they are sinful, and there is always trouble when sin meets sin. Yet loving the hard-to-love is how we demonstrate our obedience to God. It is how we demonstrate our conformity to him. It is how we display Christ-like humility. Ultimately, it is how we give evidence of our salvation. The love we extend to others is the very same love God has extended to us through Christ.
Young Timothy was to be an example of Christian love, love he felt internally and love he acted externally. The special setting for his love was his local church, for it was there that he was to set an example before other believers. Timothy’s challenge has become your challenge. You, too, are called to love. You are called to love the people in your local church and to serve as a model of what it means to love them well, to love them creatively, to love them thoroughly, to love them even—especially!—if they are hard to love. They may be hard to love because they are difficult people. They may be hard to love because they are so different from you—older, younger, in a different stage of life, educated a different way, a different ethnicity. They may be hard to love because you are shy and they are bold. But the challenge remains.
Each of us has a comfort zone. Each of us has a group of people who make us comfortable and other groups that make us uncomfortable. Within the church, our love needs to extend beyond any comfort zone. Your love needs to extend beyond your comfort zone. The church is to be a community of people who love one another despite differences, who love one another through differences. It is the place where God showcases what he is doing in this world by calling all kinds of people to himself and binding them together in a spiritual family. Your church needs you to be an example of a Christian marked by love, a Christian who displays inner transformation by outward actions. Your church needs you need to serve Christ by serving his people, the people he bought with his blood.
Here is a challenge: Try to begin a friendship—a real friendship—with someone in your church who is at least 10 years older than you. Try to begin a friendship with someone who is at least 10 years younger than you. Try to begin a friendship with someone who is disabled. You don’t need to do all of this today or this week, but over the coming weeks and months, see if you can form genuine friendships with people who are different from you. You will benefit, they will benefit, and God will receive the glory.
Questions to Consider
- Who do you know who sets the believers an example in his or her love? How does that person display love for others?
- Consider what A.W. Pink says: “The measure of our love for others can largely be determined by the frequency and earnestness of our prayers for them.” Do you pray for others? How can you pray for them with greater frequency and earnestness?
- In what ways do you think you are setting a good example to the people of your church in the way you love others? Pray and thank God for each of them. In what ways do you think you are not setting a good example to the people of your church in the way you love others? Pray and ask God for his grace to change you.