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  • Writer's pictureAdam O'Neill

Advice for those young in the faith.

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Advice for those young in the faith.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. —1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV)

It is possible that no verse is more weaponized by zealous younger generations to dismiss calls for wisdom and prudence from older generations. Similarly, and just as dangerously, an older generation often forget that age and wisdom, while certainly correlated, are not linear.

So that this verse is received appropriately, it is helpful to define elements of what it is as well as what it is not.

What it isn’t:

Neglecting the wisdom that age often brings.

Proverbs is filled with affirmations of the knowledge and wisdom that comes with age.

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31).

“The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29).

Gray hair, the physical image of the stress and strain brought by the trials of life, far from being a sign of frailty is instead described as a crown and splendor. Though wearied by the trials of life, the follower of Christ is viewed as victorious and commended for their perseverance.

A dismissal of the necessity of Godly older adults to mentor and guide.

The very presence of Paul in Timothy’s life is evidence of the importance of older adults to mentor younger Christians, even when called to a specific or the general ministry for God. Wisdom literature is full of advice to surround oneself with wise counselors (Job 12:12, Job 32:7, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 30:17). Older adults provide, through their counsel, the lessons of what they did correctly and even more importantly, what they learned through their mistakes.

What it is:

An affirmation that age is not inherently a qualification for God’s service.

Asking a 21st-century person when someone becomes an adult would yield a very different response than when the books of the Bible were written. Though estimates vary, many of the heroes of the Bible are much younger than we may expect:

  • The prophet Samuel was likely in his early teens when God awoke him in the night calling him to service.

  • Joseph was in his late teens when he was sold into slavery and advanced to be head of Potiphar’s household.

  • David was a teenager when he was anointed King of Israel.

  • Mary was a teenager when she received a message from Gabriel about the Incarnation of Jesus in her womb.

  • Jesus was 30 when he began his public ministry and 33 when he was crucified and resurrected.

An affirmation of what are qualifications for God’s service.

As freeing to those who are younger as this verse is, it comes with a high calling. Paul instructs Timothy to set an example, “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” This all-encompassing charge includes what you say (speech), what you do (conduct), how you approach others (in love), how you approach God (in faith), and how you set yourself apart from the world (in purity).

So to those who are young, know that your age does not preclude you from God’s service and specific call. Instead, surround yourself with those who are mature in the faith, and pursue wholeheartedly to guard your speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity that you may be an example for us all.

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