The Light of the Next Generation
“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” I Timothy 4:12
Paul’s instructions to a young man named Timothy are a needed call to action for our young people today. The Lord’s church needs young adults to step up. The work of the Lord is not restricted to the middle-aged and those who are “over-the-hill.” Granted, Timothy himself was a preacher, by trade. While he may have applied Paul’s instruction in a different context, the basic directions apply to every young person in the Lord’s church. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, “Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Let us consider how the next generation can let their light shine.
Realize that you can be an example. We often think of older people serving as an example for younger people, and that is certainly necessary. However, younger adults have a great potential to be an example to older generations, too. Don’t discredit yourself because of your age. Society sets pathetically low expectations for children and young adults. Sure the youth has a lot to learn, and they generally lack the experience of those who have celebrated more birthdays. However, passages like I Timothy 4:12 and even Ephesians 6:1-3 encourage young people to hold themselves accountable and become an example for others, even at a young age.
In I Timothy 4:12, Paul goes on to explain how the next generation is able to be an example to the others.
Watch your speech. Rude comments, negative talk, foul language, and inappropriate conversations are all too common and all too easy. Simply being polite, positive, and pure in your speech is already enough to serve as an example to others.
Behave yourself. Sounds simple enough, but self-control is too often lacking in the younger generation. Do not let the behavior of your peers be an excuse for you to make poor choices. Unfortunately, even the behavior of older Christians is not always what it ought to be either. You can be an example by living right and acting the way the Lord wants you to act.
Love selflessly. Love is demonstrated by putting the needs of others ahead of your own, (Philippians 2:3-4; Luke 10:25-37; I John 3:16-17). The temptation is for young people to think they are too busy. From homework to part-time jobs and extra-curricular activities in high school and college, to establishing your career and starting a family, it’s easy to find excuses to neglect the needs of other people. If you want to be an example, though, you need to make time to love selflessly.
Walk in faith. A healthy faith is growing (II Thessalonians 1:3) and active, (James 2:14-26). Aim to glorify God in everything you do. Let your belief and trust in God encourage you to live boldly. There is a tendency for a Christian’s zeal to simmer and become lukewarm over the years. The passion of a young Christian can be a powerful influence on a Christian whose fire needs rekindling.
Purify your heart. The purpose of being an example “in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” is not to build up your own reputation; the purpose is to glorify God. As such, your pursuit to become a good example in the church needs to be motivated by your sincere love for God. When you “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” (Matthew 22:37) then your speech, your behavior, your love, and your faith should all come to exemplify the life of Christ.
Paul then follows up with a very practical habit in verse 13, “give your attention to the public reading, to exhortation, and teaching.” Again, Timothy happened to be a gospel preacher, and he would have specific responsibilities in regard to this instruction. Certainly, however, giving attention to Bible reading, both in Bible class and privately, is an essential part of any Christian's life. When you devote yourself to God, to reading His word, and to becoming the Christian that God wants you to be, your light shines as an example for all to see.