It has never been easy to be a Christian. It has never been easy to be a young Christian. How are young Christians to live differently in their speech and conduct? How can they strive to live godly lives? Here’s my attempt to answer those questions.
The young adult years can be spent chasing after many different things, what does the Bible say to young people about this?
Yes, you know the Bible doesn’t let you get away with wasting any of your life. It certainly doesn’t let young people off the hook when it comes to living godly lives, when it comes to living with character. So, I think there’s a couple of ways you can go with a question like this, and the first one maybe is to appeal to Jesus himself. What was he doing between 12 and 30? He was submitting to his parents and he was growing in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man. So, Jesus himself needed to grow in wisdom, stature, and favor. If Jesus did, you probably do too, as a young adult.
Another place we can go though, and that’s to the book of 1st Timothy, and I find that a very very helpful passage on the subject. So let me read it for you, and then maybe we can break it down.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
You want to know what to do with your young adult or teenage years? There you go. Set an example for other believers. Look at the older people in your church and say, I am going to stand before them as an example of godliness.
Young people sometimes don’t give much thought to what they’re talking about. How can they set an example in speech?
Right, so set an example in your speech, in the words you use, and if that’s always been a challenge, how much more today where we’ve all got these little glowing rectangles in our hands and in an instant, can tap out something with our thumbs and send it out to the world. Or we can just communicate through our voice in a million different ways, so, as a young adult, you need to set an example in every word you say. That means you’re going to take the lead in ensuring that every word you say is honoring to God. That none of the words you say are dishonoring to God. They’re not hurting other people, they’re not harming other people. You’re understanding what it says in James that the tongue is a fire, it’s poisonous, it just takes the desires of your heart and then comes spilling out of your mouth. So, having a deep awareness that your words can be used to help, they can be used to destroy. They can be used to heal, they can be used to bring about great destruction, so set an example in using your words to bless other people and to praise God.
What does it mean for young people to set an example in their conduct?
Well, conduct is just the way you live, right, a general living of your life before other people. So in your conduct, and remember in this passage, we’re talking especially in the gathering of believers, especially in this public way. That’s not to say you can have private sins of course, but we’re talking here as Christians see other Christians. So in your conduct there, especially in the local church, you need to be exemplary. That means you’re reaching out to other people in love, you’re serving. Look, you’re young, you’ve got strength. Use that strength to bless other people. You’ve got enthusiasm, that youthful enthusiasm. Direct that to good ends. One of the things I love to see is young people deliberately sitting with older people, deliberately pursuing their wisdom, deliberately pursuing a relationship with them. Why not do that? Let your conduct challenge even the older people in your desire to set aside barriers, to pursue difficult relationships, to do those things that you can best do with your youth, with your strength.
How can a young person set an example in love the way the Bible calls us to?
We’ve talked about speech and we’ve talked about conduct. Love, I mean love, biblically, is not just a feeling, you have to feel some love for people in your church and for others, but you need to act in loving ways. Love always takes form ultimately in action. So what you have to be considering, as you think about people in your church, as you think about your contact, how can I love people? What would it mean for me to act in loving ways towards them? One of the big things is to pray for people, to be involved in prayer for them. To deliberately hold them up before the Lord, to remember them before the Lord. So pray. Other ways, just how can I love the people in this church? How can I prove that I love Christ by loving the people around me?
How can young people set an example in faith?
Young adults can set an example in faith by first having rock-solid confidence in the Gospel, in Jesus Christ. So having faith in that sense, belief in the facts of Christianity. But then also in their living out of it. I think young adults have an amazing opportunity to develop theologically. There’s that enthusiasm I’ve already talked about, enthusiasm that comes with the younger years. Direct that to learning. To learning, not just what you study in school, that’s great too, but learning the facts of the Christian faith, learning theology and applying it very carefully to your life and listening to good sermons, being present in church, being all in and living out your faith in the context of the local church. This is the time to learn to do that.
A lot of young adults today struggle with this, but how can they set an example in purity?
I love this. I love this one because it’s so counter-cultural. Young adults, especially young men, here, he’s speaking primarily to Timothy, set an example in your purity. So, young people who are in a worldly sense, you’re supposed to just do whatever you want in these years. And explore, and just, you know, do whatever you like. Paul’s saying, set an example in your purity. So there’s your challenge as a young adult in a pornified world. In a world where you’re surrounded by bare sexuality at all times. You need to look at the older people in your church and say, I want to be an example to them of what it means to be pure. An example of what it means to live with sexual purity. How counter-cultural is that? But, speaking from the perspective of someone older, in his forties, it is such a joy to see people who are really setting that example. You speak to them and you realize, they used to be deep in sin and now they’ve put that sin to death and they’re coming alive to righteousness. That is a major encouragement and a major challenge to someone like me. So, you’ve got an amazing opportunity here to be counter-cultural, also to be a blessing to the people in your church, by coming alive to righteousness, by setting an example in your sexual purity, in your sexual self-control.
Today, young people are often not called to anything higher or expectations are set too low for them. What’s a biblical way to think about this?
Yes, so here’s Paul, writing to Timothy, old Paul, young Timothy, set an example. He is not allowing Timothy to just kind of give in to the low expectations, and I think that’s in the background of this passage. The older people in Timothy’s church, Timothy’s a pastor. The older members of the church, they expect that Timothy’s going to blow it. They have pretty low expectations of him because of his youth. Paul’s saying, don’t give in to those low expectations. Elevate their expectations. I think that’s such an important challenge for young people. We as a church, but especially the world around you could not have lower expectations of you in this time. So that’s an amazing challenge for you. I’m going to elevate it, I’m going to just show people I can be an example of godliness. Not so I can feed my ego, so I can give glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. What an amazing opportunity you’ve got right here, right now, beginning today.
And if there was a resource I could direct you to, I’ve written a little booklet on this, called Set an Example. I hope you’d find that helpful. It will lead you through the passage. There’s also a study guide. Maybe you can go through it with some friends, or as a group of young adults. It might help challenge you and direct you even more. How can I live for the good of others and the glory of God?