The Expository Files


Paul’s Counsel For Timothy & All Evangelists
Or – Earning Respect The Biblical Way

1 Timothy 4:12-16

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

(1 Timothy 4:12-16 ESV)

{Editor’s Note – the following commentary is based on a study I prepared and delivered to several young preachers recently. Please read the article remembering this is from my manuscript to a group of young preachers. }

Don’t Let This Happen: “Let no one despise you for your youth.”

My own experience with this text may be common. When I was about 22 years old, in college and beginning to preach, I carried this verse with me – like Barney Fife had his bullet in his pocket. If there was any suggestion or any perception on my part that someone was inclined to disrespect me because of my youth & my stature – I was ready to load and fire this bullet.

I was anxious to say to people – The bible says, “let no one despise my youth.” Then one day I had one of those awakening moments when I looked at this text and saw what it really meant. The simple truth finally penetrated: This is not a bullet for me to fire at people to shut them down. This is an imperative to me.

Paul said to Timothy: “Timothy, don’t let this happen.” Respect is not created by quoting a prohibitive verse. Respect is earned and it is earned by a daily pursuit of life, as described in the verses that follow!

Do you see that? You don’t get people to respect you by telling them they must. People will respect you and your work, to whatever extent you are engaged in all the dimensions of thought and conduct described in this text.

The young preacher is to live in such a way, with such careful com-portment, humility and sincerity, he will not give anyone cause to despise his youth. This is responsibility placed first on the preacher – not the audience or members. If people hear us, see us and get to know us and all they see is the arrogance of youth, that says more about us than our critics.

A man said to me one time – when I was a young preacher – You must recognize your immaturity but be careful you do not advertise it. This is your responsibility. You take this as your duty – “Let no one despise you for your youth.”

Be careful about how you come across. Respect your elders; don’t be unduly led by the young people. Don’t fall into the trap of the early disciples, who wanted to know who would be the greatest (Mark 9). Recognize your immaturity, but be careful not to advertise it.

Calvin Miller wrote: “…when a plain speaking preacher says, ‘Thus saith theLord,’ he must make it very clear – HE’S QUOTING GOD, not trying to be God.”

As we continue through the text, we discover from Paul to Timothy – the various vital dimensions of character and work, that must be our daily pursuit. This is how God is pleased and respect is earned in consequence of that service to God.

“Set The Believers An Example.”

No matter your age, location, talent, knowledge, resume or anything – you make an impression on people. This impression happens beyond the scope of your words, your slides, your outlines and your bulletins. We make our mark on people through all our behavior (Matt. 3:13-16).

Aware of that – look at the various dimensions of the impression you make: Speech, Conduct, Love, Faith & Purity. Now don’t miss it. This is not about preaching on these subjects, though you should. This is about how you live; what you illustrate by your daily pursuit. We preach on these five subjects every day!

Whatever people may say contrary to reality, preachers are role models! People need to see in you, in us – what they hear from the pulpit and class room. If there is a gap between what you preach and how you live, someone may despise you on account of your youth! You do not live in the dark – you are visible. Your existence is not just behind the preacher’s door.

“Set the believers an example…. in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” From Letters To Young Preachers, Harold Turner said, “1 Tim. 4:12 speaks principally to character and not to rhetorical skills.”

People learn by example. You cannot stop that. What you can do is – give them the right things to learn. “Set the believers an example.” You gain respect from good people, by living as Paul describes here.

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

Your daily pursuit must be centered in Scripture. This is really elementary but ought to be said: You cannot preach and teach what you have not read and studied and prepared and rehearsed well. You cannot set the believers an example if you are not well acquainted with the highest standard. You cannot preach the Word, if you do not live in the Word and immerse yourself in it. You cannot take passengers on a journey into the Word – if you haven’t been there! Or, if you don’t know how to drive the vehicle.

So – all of that understood – when you get up in front of people as a gospel preacher – YOU MUST READ THE WORD TO THE PEOPLE, and then, from that source – exhort and teach!

There are preachers who are not taking seriously their duty to read Scripture to the people. I hear sermons where preachers talk about the Bible, but seldom read from it. I hear preachers announce a passage in their introduction – but don’t get around to reading it until 10 minutes in. And I hear preachers read scripture quickly – almost like it is a burden; without the reverence and care that God’s Word deserves.

Let me say this plainly: we have no right to tell people what to do, if we haven’t read it to them from God’s Word! The public reading of Scripture must be a part of preaching, so that we give the source and authority for all our exhortation and teaching.

I see here – and elsewhere in the letters to Timothy and Titus – three things often connected –. SCRIPTURE, TEACHING AND EXHORTATION. Read what God has said. Teach that. Urge and challenge the people to apply it – storm the will.

“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.”

There will be some temptation – when you get to this verse – to frame this in the first century context of spiritual gifts and just pass by it. Or, come to this verse – jump into a debate about what it meant for Timothy and how it is variously translated. I’ll let you do that with somebody else, some other time.

I want to observe from this – THE PRINCIPLE, and I believe it is stewardship.

I want to take us to one thing: Use What You Have! It can be argued, Timothy had some advantage we don’t have - - that discussion can play out some other time. In principle – we need to understand the challenge to USE WHAT YOU HAVE.

That leads me into this - - We do not all have exactly the same talents and capacities. Some men are extremely good at one-on-one: sitting at the kitchen table doing personal evangelism. But those same men may not be as efficient in public delivery. It works the other way. Men who may be dynamic and powerful in pulpit delivery, are terrified and stuttering for the right words when across the kitchen table. (Some exaggeration here).

We do not all have the same areas of competency and excellence. We are not clones, and shouldn’t be frustrated about that. Use What You Have, as a good steward. Do all you can to improve all the skills you need – and be willing to learn better ways of doing what you do. But understand that we are charged to do our best with what we have. It is stewardship – using what you have the best way you can . . . every day.

Verse 15 is about the maturity and depth of our devotion that ought to arise over time and practice: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” A preacher who makes no progress, does very little good and perhaps a lot of harm! {And, I hope we all understand, seeing your progress is not for our praise . . . But because we are examples to the believers.}

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

What I’m going to say may seem extremely elementary – but stay with me: This says to Timothy and to us: “Keep a close watch on yourself.”

I am charged here to watch myself. Whatever may be said about watching others: Right here in this verse – “Keep a close watch on yourself!”

Paul Earnhart, in Letters To Young Preachers - -

It is a great temptation to preachers to take their preaching as a surrogate for their own spiritual growth and development. It is a well-known fact that one can issue great spiritual challenges to others without attempting to lift them with one finger (Luke 11:46). Preachers can preach without listening to or applying their preaching to themselves. This is no doubt the reason for Paul’s oft-repeated exhortation for those who teach to first take a careful look within. It is possible for evangelists to become skilled word merchants who know how to speak effectively but make no effort to live up to their own message. It is a grave kind of hypocrisy. Even Paul himself with all the devotion with which his life was characterized wrote concernedly, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). {Letters To Young Preachers, published by Spiritbuilding – available on Kindle here.}

“And on the teaching.”

Remember from verse 13, you read Scripture, then exhort and teach based on that heavenly source. How are you living – that’s one question. Now –

What are you teaching?

Are you teaching the whole counsel of God? Are you challenging people to use the Word – apply the Word – grow in the Word. Is there prayer and planning that goes into your work? “Keep a close watch on yourself, and on the teaching.”

“Persist in this, both by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” This is persistence that has purpose. The purpose is for all of us to be saved, and for all who hear us, to be saved.

The ESV uses this word “persist” – and this is directed to the young evangelist, who is charged to deliver the Word to others – as he accepts the delivery himself.

The opposite of persistence is transience. You do something briefly, then pause or quit. You set yourself to a task temporarily. Persistence is the disciplinary choice of heart to start something valuable – AND CONTINUE ON WITH IT.

Calvin Coolidge said:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
- Calvin Coolidge

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 20.4; April 2013