Bible Q & A: 1 Timothy 4

1 Timothy 4 is referenced many times when speaking to the youth. We, in the Church, talk about growing up our young people, but do we really do it? What are your thoughts about this chapter and Paul and Timothy’s example?

The verse that is generally quoted either to or about young people in ministry is verse 12:

Don’t let anyone make fun of you, just because you are young. Set an example for other followers by what you say and do, as well as by your love, faith, and purity. (CEV)

There’s two ways to go wrong in reading this passage. The first is to read it as addressing only the older members of the congregation. Sermons based on this reading generally start by explaining how Paul put Timothy in a leadership position and told him not to let others make fun of him or despise him, so modern church leaders should put more young people in ministry.

The second is to read it as addressing solely the young person. This reading is for sermons explaining to young people how they must step up to the plate when they are placed in a position of leadership. This latter reading pays more attention to the context, particularly the last part of the verse, but it still misses part of what Paul* is getting at.

To get the message you need to read the whole book of 1 Timothy, but you can get a good deal of the message by just starting at the beginning of chapter 4, where Paul concludes the main portion of the letter. Here we have a warning regarding false teachings that will come. Paul is discussing ministry specifically in terms of how leadership is to deal with it.

Briefly, in verses 1-4, Paul tells us what the problem is, and in 5-10 he basically tells Timothy to keep his focus on ministry. Starting in verse 11 he gets specific about how Timothy personally should respond.

He’s not telling us who should be a leader; he does not question that Timothy is rightfully a leader. He’s interested in how a leader must behave so as to confront false doctrine and bad behavior. In this he starts with how the leader must behave. He is to be an example to the believers.

You might paraphrase the message in this way: “Timothy, you’re a leader, and people might try to despise you because of your age. In order to meet this challenge you need to be above reproach. Your life should be an example to those you lead.”

This isn’t a message that applies only to young people. People might despise your leadership because you’re too old, too young, not from around here, from around here (so you can’t be an expert), or for any of a number of other reasons.

There’s a message here for the people in leadership: Prepare and then commission. In the church we frequently spend years training people, but never let them get out and lead. On the other hand, we are constantly shoving unprepared people into positions of leadership. Sometimes the choice of church leaders involves the least time of prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit, rather than the most. But Paul specifically mentions that Timothy was commissioned because God had spoken (v. 14).

Let me summarize what Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4 for the church:

  1. We need to be preparing people, young and old, for ministry. We have plenty of time with Sunday School classes to train . We need to do it.
  2. When we choose leaders we need to pray, listen to the Holy Spirit, and identify the persons God is gifting for a particular position of leadership. Once we identify the gift, we need to learn to ignore all the irrelevant reasons people will find to oppose leadership. In Timothy’s case it was age, but there are many other possible reasons.
  3. Once a leader is chosen, he or she is responsible to be an example. If there is to be opposition, let that opposition be unfounded.

*While some scholars maintain that 1 Timothy was written by a disciple after Paul’s death because of the church structure it reflects, amongst other things, I would disagree. I think arguments for dating of New Testament books based on the development of church structures ignore the derivation of early church structures from the synagogue and other structures in the surrounding culture.

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