Setting a Christian Example
by Sarah Piper
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:12
Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt like you had nothing to offer or that your contributions didn’t matter? Ever had to prove yourself to others in order to gain their respect? Think back to your childhood—maybe you experienced this in a classroom or on a sports team. It’s easy to be intimidated or overshadowed by those who are older, smarter, more talented or more experienced than we are. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul is writing to Timothy, a young believer. He encourages him not to give anyone an excuse to write him off as immature or undeserving of their attention, but instead to confidently set an excellent example of the Christian life.
Of course, Paul’s message here doesn’t apply only to Timothy, but to us as well. Even if we sometimes feel useless, God has a plan to use us for His glory in every situation. He enables us to live in a way that exalts Him and to bless others with our example.
In this verse, Paul names five specific areas in our lives that should be representative of a changed heart, the first of which is speech. This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of our character to keep in check; as James 3:6 says, “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” Although there’s no denying that it’s challenging, it’s vital that we learn to control what we say since it often has a huge effect on others. Thoughtful and loving words can establish relationships, but just a few angry or careless words can destroy years of friendship.
Next, Paul emphasizes our conduct. In his letter to the Philippians, he encourages them to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” As believers, we have a responsibility to represent Christ to the world through our actions. If we wear the label of “Christian,” we must be willing to live our lives to that standard.
Perhaps the most essential aspect, love must also be characteristic of our lives. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” More than anything else, our love distinguishes us from unbelievers. Christians are called to exhibit a kind of love that others would see as crazy, the same kind that Jesus showed us: unconditional, undeserved, and often unrequited—the type of love that makes people do a double take.
Next, Paul addresses our faith. As believers, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). We trust that the Bible is true, that Jesus was who He said He was, and that God has the ability to keep the promises He has made to us. This faith should give us courage to live boldly for Christ because we know God will love, protect, and provide for us no matter what.
Finally, we are called to be an example of purity. In the Beatitudes in Matthew 5: 8, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Because of our fallen nature, we can’t reach perfection in this life, but nevertheless, we are to strive to keep God’s commands as a demonstration of our love for Him and gratefulness for the saving work He’s done in our lives. As we grow in our walk with Him, He promises to purify us and make us more like Himself.
The characteristics outlined in this verse aren’t easy to perfect by any stretch of the imagination. That doesn’t give us a free pass not to work towards that goal, though. Paul challenges us to reach for a higher standard, not only to set an example for other believers, but also to make unbelievers wonder what we have that is so special that it changes everything about our lives.