Let no one despise you…
You can have a huge impact when you're young
I really like it when people memorise parts of the Bible. It’s great to know some “key phrases” that help us understand tricky things, remember important truths or answer questions about God.
However, when I memorise a verse, I often forget where it comes from – or more importantly, what the verse actually means in its context. I think this happens to some verses more than others. One of those verses is "Let no one despise you because of your youth." (1 Tim 4:12a ESV)
What does this verse mean?
To us young people, this sounds great! It seems like a free ticket to respect in our Christian circles. However, some take it as an excuse to act disrespectfully and irreverently to those who are older (and often more mature) than them.
Such an attitude is not on, as you can see just a few verses later: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men as like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim 5:1-2, see also verse 17). Just like we’re told to honour our fathers and mothers, we should do the same to those older than us at church or youth group.
So what does the verse in question mean, then? Well first of all, we need to remember that 1 Timothy is a letter from Paul, an Apostle, to his young colleague Timothy. Timothy was the appointed leader of the church at Ephesus, so he could rightly insist that people did not ignore his authority simply because he was young. However, this is an authority most of us do not share! So we should continue to respect and not be hostile towards our elders.
Set an example in how you act
That said, this passage does have a biblical principle that applies to us. It comes in the fullness of verse 12: "Let no one despise you because of your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Tim 4:12 ESV)
We should still set an example to each other in how we use our tongues, in our actions, in our care, in our trust in Jesus and with our bodies (see the letter of James for a great guide on this). If we do this, then we won’t be letting people despise us for our youth – because there’ll be nothing for them to despise us for!
Let me finish with another challenge and key part of 1 Timothy: "Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called." (1 Tim 6:11b-12a ESV)