I was always lousy at painting. In my high school art classes the teacher would give an assignment that involved studying a car or a human form or a bowl of fruit. Our task was to observe and then paint. I would do what she said. I would look at it, I would study it, I would observe its form, its curves, its angles, its colors, its shadows. But when I put brush to paper it would never look like it was supposed to. It didn’t look realistic, it didn’t look impressionistic or abstract, it just looked like a mess. It’s for good reason that I skipped fine arts in college so I could pursue liberal arts—English, history, humanities. That was where I was meant to be.
Yet there is still an area where I know I have the calling of the artist. I may not have the eye, the hand, the skill for painting, but I believe God has given me everything I need to succeed at this other form of art. Francis Schaeffer describes it like this: “No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is cared 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.” That’s a work of art I want to create. That’s a work of art God calls and equips each one of us to create. Even you.
Today I want to begin a short series that I’m writing with younger Christians in mind. If you are sixteen or eighteen or in your twenties, if you are in high school or college or just moving into marriage and career, I want to speak to you. I want to speak with you. Maybe you found this article on your own or maybe it was forwarded by a parent or grandparent, an aunt or an uncle. Either way, I hope you will read it and the ones that follow. I hope you will hear me out. Best of all, I hope you’ll read the Scripture passages and pray about them, asking God to help you apply them to your life. If you’ve got questions, you can send me an email and I’ll do my best to reply. (Just be sure to mention you’re writing about the “Set An Example” series.)
Through these articles I want to focus on one key verse: “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). In these words we encounter art, we encounter the ideas of modeling and imitation, of studying a form and attempting to recreate it. But this art does not exist on paper or on canvas. This art exists in a life. Your life is the canvas.
Before I close out this introduction, I want to back up just a few verses. In verse 7 of the same chapter Paul uses a different metaphor, walking down the hall from the art room to the weight room. “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7b–8). Physical training is good, whether you’re training for strength, speed, agility, or distance. Just this morning, long before the sun rose, I was training, I was trying to beat my personal best in the 5k run. But this kind of physical training needs to take a back seat to spiritual training—training in godliness. Shaping your character is so much more important than shaping your body. The kind of formation that concerns God most is not physical but spiritual.
There are many good ways to invest your time at this stage of life, but none is better than the pursuit of godliness. The Bible calls you to be an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. We will see that these five terms speak to your inner and outer self, to what you think and what you say, to what is hidden in your heart and what is broadcast in your life. We will see that God means for your life to be a canvas, the setting for a beautiful work of art. And he also expects this work of art to be seen, admired, and imitated.
I hope you’ll join me for the rest of this series as we learn how you can train yourself to be an example to others, even to people far older than you. We’ll pick it up again next week.