These words of the Apostle Paul were addressed to Timothy, whom he described as “My own son in the faith” (I Tim. 1:2). Moreover Timothy had received the great favor of a spiritual gift from the Lord, ministered by, “the putting on of my (Paul’s) hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). This was also given “by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (I Tim. 4:14); expressive of their fellowship with him in it.
From II Timothy 1:6-8, we gather that Timothy was naturally of a timid and backward temperament, for Paul wrote exhorting him to stir up the gift he had received, reminding him of the power and love which were his by the Spirit of God, and hence he was not to be ashamed of the testimony nor of Paul in his imprisonment. All these instructions were not put on record for the sake of Timothy alone. They are for the help and instruction of every Christian young man from that day to this. It is in this light that the two epistles should be studied.
It was to Timothy that Paul wrote “Let no man despise thy youth,” (I Tim. 4:12). Do any of us ask, In what way should a young believer act, so that his youth should not be despised? The answer is very direct and practical, and given in the same verse; for we read, “be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
Let all who read these lines take full account of this verse in all its details. It is not the correct knowledge of doctrine, important as that is, but the carrying out of it in practice, that is enjoined upon us. And it is well to note that the Apostle Peter also stressed conduct, for he exhorted the elders to be, “ensamples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3), using the same word. Whether with the young or with the old, there is nothing sadder than a head full of sound doctrine, if divorced from the conduct which the doctrine enjoins. In such a case you have just a hypocrite.
“In word.” This is a very big test for each of us, for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” What is enthroned in our hearts will assuredly govern our speech. It is not a question of how we speak about divine things for a short hour in a Bible reading, but of what kind of talk characterizes us in our homes, in our business life, among our friends, in the social circle, and at all times.
“In conversation.” In the Bible this word is used in its old-fashioned sense, embracing our whole manner of life and behavior. Do we so behave as to be well pleasing to the Lord, and set forth what becomes a follower of Christ in the eyes of those who told us? Years ago it was said of a prominent minister that he preached so well that he never ought to be out of the pulpit, but that, on the other hand, his life was so inconsistent with his preaching that he ought never to be allowed to enter it. A sad example truly; but we knew a young man who gave Scripture expositions of a lofty nature, and yet disgraced himself in private by questionable talk and action.
“In charity.” You have only to study I Corinthians 13, to see the practical way in which divine love works. One sentence seems to stand out vividly. It does not “behave itself unseemly,” for it is more than a matter of kind words. It shows itself in kind actions. Love in action gives great weight to the spoken word. On the contrary, even if we could speak with the tongues of men and angels, and yet not have love, we should be simply like “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Christian audiences to their distress are quick to recognize the sounding-brass and tinkling-cymbal speakers.
“In spirit.” We recognize too often the dictatorial spirit, the gossiping spirit, the frivolous spirit, or even the attractive spirit of amiable human nature; but we should rejoice that we have the Spirit of Christ, for, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). Surely that Spirit should permeate our spirits, resulting in the fruit of the Spirit, of which Galatians 5:22, 23 speaks, being seen in our lives. It is well to remember what Spirit we are of.
“In faith.” We have five senses, which are all receptive and put us into touch with this world of time and sense, but death at one blow brings them to a finish. But the believer is connected with another world and with eternal things by faith; things of which the unbeliever knows nothing. Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter of the Bible, and it shows us that where there is faith there is bound to be works. Eighteen times in that chapter, we find the words, “by faith,” or “through faith,” reminding us that faith is not real unless it is practical. Read down the chapter and note what a wealth of action in times past sprang from faith, and how also it has wonderful sight. Abraham looked for a city whose Builder and Maker is God; and Moses endured as seeing Him who is invisible in natural light. Faith should mark our lives.
“In purity.” This should unmistakably mark the Christian young man, especially in these days of loose morals on every hand. The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to treat the younger women “as sisters, with all purity” (I Tim. 5:2). When the young indulge in thoughtless flirtations, which are manifestly of the flesh, great dangers are incurred, and all too many have learned too late and to their grief, how bitter is the fruit of it all. It is true for saint as well for sinner that, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7)
One thing is certain: if a young man pays heed to these six exhortations, he will be greatly respected in the circle in which he moves, and his youth will not be despised.
The Apostle Paul sounded a warning note to all, old as well as young, when he bade every man, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). It is not given to every Christian young man to have conferred upon him a spiritual gift, such as that of an evangelist, or a pastor and teacher. It is sad when a young man, not so gifted, imagines himself to be gifted and consequently pushes himself forward to no profit. Real gift will always be welcomed and appreciated by godly saints. On the other hand a gifted young man like Timothy may be unduly backward. Such should be stirred up and exercised not to fail in service. We are to think soberly.
In writing thus we have in view those who meet on simple lines laid down in Scripture, and who are therefore not hindered by clericalism, which would leave everything in the hands of the clergy, and leave those called the “laity” without exercise on such matters. But it is still possible for the young brother, who does meet with others on Scriptural lines, to evade all responsibility in service, whether in testimony or in worship.
What boundless opportunities there are for the young believer today, whether in preaching the Gospel, in ministry to the saints, for gathering children under the sound of the Word, for visiting the needy, for tract distribution! Not only are there vast districts abroad not yet evangelized, but at our very doors there are multitudes unevangelized. We are told that hardly ten percent of the population attend any place of worship, so what must be the spiritual condition of the remaining 90 percent? Moreover, when we read our Bibles we are struck by how often God used a young man in His work. In the Old Testament, Joseph, David, Daniel, come at once to mind. In the New Testament the men called to be His apostles were evidently young. In our own time too the same thing has been seen.
May all who read these lines be marked by humility and devotedness for the Lord’s sake. Let us see to it, that prayerfully and earnestly we make the most of the one life God has given us, so that at the end we may not look back with regret, having missed our glorious opportunities.