In 1 Timothy 1:1–2 we read, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.” From these opening words and other places in Scripture, we can learn much about the relationship between Paul and Timothy. Paul loved Timothy as his own son. We see this also from 1 Timothy 1:18: “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy …” and from 2 Timothy 2:1: “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Additionally, Paul thought highly of Timothy as a fellow believer and preacher. 1 Corinthians 4:17 shows this: “For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.” Again, in Philippians 2:19–23: “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.”
We can see from these verses that when Paul left Timothy at Ephesus, he did so with love and confidence that Timothy would be a faithful pastor to the church at Ephesus. At some point after Paul had left Ephesus, he writes this letter to Timothy to give him encouragement, and also to teach and admonish him. However, Paul also writes this epistle to the Ephesian church. Timothy was a young man at this time and was not yet clothed with sufficient authority to restrain the headstrong men in Ephesus. John Calvin in his commentary writes, “It is likewise manifest, that there were many things to be adjusted at Ephesus, and that needed the approbation of Paul, and the sanction of his name. Having therefore intended to give advice to Timothy on many subjects, he resolved at the same time to advise others under the name of Timothy.”
We now look more closely at 1 Timothy 4:12 and see what it meant for young Timothy and also how we can apply this instruction to our own lives: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
In this verse Paul exhorts Timothy how he should live as a minister in the church. It is thought that at this time Timothy was about 30 years old. He would be a young man compared to the older members, the grandfathers and grandmothers, the widowers and widows. Timothy had to conduct himself so that he was not despised because of his youth. As we saw earlier, Paul writes this letter both to the church at Ephesus and to Timothy. Paul instructs the church that the age of Timothy should not prevent him from receiving the reverence that he deserves, provided that he conducts himself as a minister of Christ. The church was not allowed to estimate the amount of respect Timothy deserved based on his age. He also instructs Timothy how he is to live so that he is respected regardless of his age. He does this by telling Timothy to be an example to the believers. Timothy must be in the eyes of the world what they would expect to see in the best of Christians. Timothy must be an example of godliness. It must be evident to all around him that Christ dwells in his heart.
Paul then gives to Timothy six true marks of a believer. Paul says, ” in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” This list can then be broken down into two parts: first, in word and conversation, and second, in charity, spirit, faith, and purity. When Paul says “in word and conversation”, he means “in all that we say and do”. Timothy’s words and actions were to go hand in hand. He couldn’t say one thing and then do another. He could not preach Christ and then live as one of the world. The remaining four marks are parts of a godly conversation. The order in which Paul places them is important as well. Let’s look at them in reverse order to help us understand this. Paul places purity last. Purity really sums up all of the other marks given in these verses. Rev. George C. Lubbers, in the Standard Bearer, Volume 38, Issue 15, writes, “This purity is not to be taken in the sense that moralism would teach purity, leaving God out of the picture, but it must most emphatically refer to the spiritual ethical purity of the sanctification which is ours through the Spirit of Christ. It is the purity of heaven, of the spiritual man, of the new man in Christ, in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. It is the purity of godliness, which is not merely a matter of form and convention, but a life which has the power of godliness. A minister must be a truly godly man.”
We can see that if Timothy was to live with purity as described above, then he must walk in faith. Here, faith refers to both a justifying faith in Christ Jesus and a sanctifying faith from which proceeds good works. In the same Standard Bearer article, Rev Lubbers writes, “Such faith takes all its “purity” out of Christ; it eats and drinks the holiness of God in Christ, and reveals itself in the keeping of the commandments.”
The next true mark of a believer is “in spirit”. John Calvin, in his commentaries describes this spirit as “zeal for God”. This zeal for God would be evidenced in Timothy’s life if he lived a life of purity and faith. Without this zeal, Timothy’s faith would be lacking, and he would not be living a true life of purity.
The last mark we look at is “in charity.” Love energizes true faith. Timothy’s faith would have no power if it was not motivated by the love of God. Rev. Lubbers, in the aforementioned Standard Bearer article, says it best: “If a minister spoke with the tongues of men and angels, and had not love he is altogether nothing more than a noisy, clanging brass and cymbal. Only where such love is which is longsuffering, kind, rejoicing in the truth, and which love will endure eternity, is there true faith and real purity of God through the Holy Ghost.” Thus, if Timothy had this true love, faith, and purity, they will be reflected in his words and deeds.
We see how these verses are written as an admonition and encouragement to young Timothy, but now let us see how they apply to us as young people, young adults, older adults, parents, and grandparents—all of us. We saw how Timothy, as a young man, had a place in the church of Christ. We also have a place in that church as young people. While our place in the church is not the position of minister, we nonetheless have an important place in the church. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read that each of us has different spiritual gifts and each of us is a different part of the body of Christ. We also read that each part of the body (each member of the church) is important for the life of the body. Since God has given us a place in his church, we must live our lives in such a way that we are not despised for our youth. We must look to Timothy as an example of how we must live our lives. It is easy, as young people, to defer authority and respect to the older generations in our churches, and we must give them this authority and respect. However, as young people, we also have unique opportunities to be a witness unto godliness. As young people, we have many opportunities to profess our love for Christ and to show by our walk that we are his children. Whether it be in school, in the workplace, or in our busy social life, there are many times when we have a choice to make—a choice to choose God or to choose to go along with the world. The decisions that we make affect our witness unto godliness.
Choosing to profess our love for God will help us to be an example of all the believers. Paul gives to Timothy the marks of a believer, and they must be evident in our lives. Our words and deeds must be those that are filled with charity, faith, and purity. 1 Corinthians 13 shows us how important charity must be in our lives. I will not quote the entire chapter here, but it would benefit all of us to read this it again. In this chapter we see that if we have enough faith that we could move mountains and have no charity, we are nothing. This chapter shows us how charity (or lack of charity) affects all aspects of our life. This charity should be evident in the way that we feel about ourselves, the words that come out of our mouths, and the way that we treat one another. Only when we have this true charity of 1 Corinthians 13 will we have the true faith and purity of our God.
Timothy was exhorted by Paul in these versus to be an example of the believers, and from Scripture we see that Timothy followed that exhortation. Let us pray that we may also heed this exhortation from Paul and that our lives may be such that we too are an example of the believer, in word and conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.