There is a lot to love about the Bible. I could go on for hours about just how amazing, just how unique it is. The Bible offers us something so different from what we get anywhere else, something so opposed to our all-too-human expectations. When we live by the Bible, we live lives that are completely, radically counter-cultural.
Today I am wrapping up a little series I’ve written with younger Christians in mind—people in their teens or twenties, people in high school, college, or just getting started in life. I’ve been challenging you to see a glimpse of yourself in Timothy, in the young man the Apostle Paul mentored into ministry. Specifically, we’ve been looking at 1 Timothy 4:12 where Paul tells him, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” We’ve looked at speech and conduct, we’ve looked at love and faith, and we are left today with the simple word purity. Timothy is to be exemplary in his purity.
I mentioned in a previous article that one of the challenges of being a young Christian is determining that you will not succumb to the low expectations of those who are older than you. And if there is any area of life in which older Christians have low expectations of younger ones, it is in this area of purity. Let’s be honest: This is not entirely undeserved. It’s not for nothing that Proverbs, a book written with young people in mind, says so much about the consequences of sexual sin and the joys of sexual purity. It’s not for nothing that just a few verses later Paul will insist that Timothy treat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1) and that when he writes to Titus he insists that young women need to be self-controlled and pure (Titus 2:5). And it’s not for nothing that here old Paul tells young Timothy, “Set an example in your purity.”
What does the culture around us expect of young people—people in their teens and twenties? It expects that you will use these years for exploration, for experimentation, even for exploitation. It expects that you will live these years wild and free, that you will sow your wild oats. A million sitcoms and movies and pop songs insist that these are the best years of your life and that you will be missing out, you will be less than a whole person, if you suppress or repress those desires. You’ve only got a few years before you’ll be bound by responsibilities, so in the meantime run wild! Be free! Set an example in pursuing hedonistic pleasure.
In the face of such low expectations, the Bible comes through with the very highest expectations. Paul looks to young Timothy and charges him to be exemplary in his attitude, his imagination, his actions. When older people in his church ask “What does it mean to live a life of purity?” they should be able to point to young Timothy to find their example. Now that’s a high challenge, but exactly the kind of challenge that is worthy of the Bible. The Bible never allows youth to be an excuse for sexual impurity or for any other lack of holiness.
Do you see how counter-cultural God’s Word is? Where but the Bible would we find something as unexpected as this? Young Christian, you—you, of all people!—are to be the very model of sexual purity. God expects that older people who are struggling with sexual purity will be able to look to you and say, “I want to be like him” or “I want to be like her.” Younger Christians who are struggling with sin should be able to look to you to find their example. They should all agree: He, she, sets an example.
Inner Purity, Outer Purity
But how? How do you set this kind of an example? And what does this exemplary life involve? When Paul charges Timothy to be pure, he is undoubtedly thinking of the shame and disgrace that would come upon Timothy and his entire church if he was found to be committing sexual sin. Yet we know from reading the Bible that Paul would not only want Timothy to refrain from actually committing sin. He would first want him to emphasize an inner purity. After all, what’s on the outside is always a reflection of what’s on the inside. He would want Timothy to have pure hands, for sure, but also a pure heart, and a pure mind.
Pure hands. “Hands” symbolizes the entire body, of course. Your actions are to be marked by purity. You are not to commit sexual sin, but not sinning is not enough. No, you are to take actions that are consistent with a pure and holy life. You need to live in such a way that you are not expressing lust toward others but expressing love toward them instead. This is putting sin to death and coming alive to righteousness. (Concerned about the issue of masturbation? Consider reading Self-Centered Sex Part 1 and Part 2.)
Pure heart. Of course the actions you take will be a reflection of what is happening within your heart. When the Bible speaks of the heart it refers to the desires, to the inner part of you that longs for fulfillment. Your longings eventually manifest themselves in your life, so you need to ensure that you are longing for what is right and good, what is pure and holy. (Struggling with heart desires? Consider reading Burning and Yearning. Struggling with pornography? Here are 10 Articles on Pornography.)
Pure mind. To have a pure heart and pure hands you must first have a pure mind. You need to be careful what you allow into your mind, what you see, what you read, what you hear. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). You must not allow yourself to live in a world of fantasy, a world in which you picture and ponder what God forbids. (Struggling with fantasy? Consider reading What’s in “The Look?”)
Purity consists of pure actions, of course, but also pure desires and pure thoughts. Charles Simeon says it well: “Every word and every look, yea, and every thought, ought to be well-guarded, in order that Satan may not take advantage of us, and that not even the breath of scandal may be raised against us.” There’s God’s standard: Not even the smallest breath of scandal.
Set an Example
Young Christian, God gives to you an important task: Set the believers an example in purity. He would not demand what you could not do. At least, he would not demand what you could not do when you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit who is far more committed to your holiness than you are to your sin. It is his joy to make you holy. It is his delight to help you become an example of purity—and of speech, conduct, love, and faith. My friend, set the believers an example.
Questions to Consider
- What is your greatest struggle when it comes to purity? What actions are you taking to combat this sin and to come alive to righteousness? Who have you enlisted to help you in this fight through conversation and prayer?
- Do you really believe that you—even you—can be an example of purity? Do you really believe that your example can make a difference to others?
- In what ways do you think you are setting a good example to the people of your church in your purity? 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 your purity? Pray and ask God for his grace to change you.