It’s hard sometimes to be young. We want to prove ourselves, be respected, seen and heard, believed in, and taken seriously. And yet there still exists today a remnant of the old belief that youth are good for little and need to do a lot of growing up before they will amount to much or be able to teach others anything valuable.
What if I were to tell you, however, that such a belief is not biblical? Now, don’t get me wrong, we as people on the younger end of the spectrum (I’m 26, so I think I can still fit into that group!) do need to learn from those older and wiser than ourselves. We do need to be humble and teachable, understanding that we don’t know it all (and never will!).
That does not mean, however, that you as a high school or college student or I as a woman in her mid-twenties don’t have something to offer. It doesn’t mean that we can’t have a positive impact for good on the world around us. And it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t inspire the church to greatness and thereby further the kingdom of God.
How do I know this? Because the Bible says so!
The Quintessential Verse of Encouragement for Young People
If you have a burning desire in your heart to inspire and encourage others but have been led to believe you can’t do so until you are older, then you are going to love what Paul said to young Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12,
“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.”
Let’s unpack this powerful verse for a moment!
“Let no one despise your youth…”
Sadly, some older folks will despise younger ones for their youth no matter what they do. But sometimes we younger people allow others to despise our youth by giving them a reason. We need to stop buying into the cultural lies that we need to “sow our wild oats” while we’re young or live out the stereotypes that teenagers are just trouble or that college students do nothing but party. We have a choice to make. We can choose instead to live our lives in such a way that we give others no room or reason to despise our youth.
“…but be an example to the believers…”
It’s amazing to me that Paul encourages young people to live as examples to other believers. We are so accustomed to assuming that our elders are the ones who are to be an example to us that we forget that here Paul says we are called to be an example to them, as well! That’s amazing!
“in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
These are the areas in which we are to be examples to the believers and thereby not allow anyone a reason to despise our youth.
First, we are to be an example in word. Our words are to be gracious (Colossians 4:6), honorable (Colossians 3:8-9), loving (Ephesians 4:15), and not corrupt (Ephesians 4:29), words that encourage and build others up in the truth (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Second, we are to be an example in conduct, the way we live our everyday lives. This means we walk wisely (Ephesians 5:15), redeem the time well (Ephesians 5:16), and walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18) so that we can live lives which produce the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Third, we are to be an example in love. Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that out of faith, hope, and love, love is the most important and crucial characteristic to have. God Himself is love (1 John 4:8), and we are to therefore love others as we do ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Everything we do is to be done out of a heart of love for others – the world will know we are Christ’s disciples specifically by the way we love each other.
Fourth, we are to be an example in spirit. When we are saved, the Holy Spirit immediately takes up residence within us. If we do not walk by the Spirit, however, and instead choose to give into the flesh, we can never hope to see those desired fruits of the Spirit pour forth from our lives. In order to be an example in spirit, we must walk by the Spirit, daily being in communion with God and following His guidance.
Fifth, we are to be an example in faith. In order to have a strong faith, we have to know Who God is and why He is trustworthy. If you want to be an example in faith, immerse yourself in God’s Word. Get to know Who He is and what He has done. Keep a journal of how you have seen Him work in your own life and in the lives of those around you. This will go a long way towards building up your faith!
Sixth, we are to be an example in purity. I find this so beautiful to think about. Teenagers and college students are often looked down upon by their elders because there is an assumption that they will live promiscuous lifestyles. But this does not have to be the case. In fact, Paul is encouraging us with the exact opposite expectation – he is calling us to be an example to others of how to live pure lives! And this, just as with our faith, spirit, love, and all the rest, will only come about as we walk by the Spirit.
God Uses Young People
How about some real-life examples of all this? Throughout the Word we see story after story of God choosing to use young people to advance His Kingdom.
He called teenaged Jeremiah to be His prophet (Jeremiah 1:6-7). He raised up Josiah to rule Judah at the age of 8, and Josiah was known for seeking God when he was 16 (2 Chronicles 34.3). As a young boy, David bravely trusted in God and fought the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17.33). Twelve-year-old Jesus astonished the synagogue’s teachers with His wisdom (Luke 2:47). He went on to feed a group of more than 5,000 because a young boy was willing to offer up his lunch in faith and service. Esther was a young girl when she became queen and bravely saved her people from imminent death. Scholars say Daniel was a teenager when he purposed in his heart to obey God rather than the King. Mary was a young teen when she surrendered to God’s will for her life and became the mother of Jesus. The historian Josephus says Samuel was about 12 when he ministered to the Lord before the priest and was called by God (1 Samuel 3).
As we can see, it has always been God’s way to raise up and use young people to teach, encourage, help, grow, serve, and save those around them. And He is still doing the same thing today! The question is not “Can you make a difference as a young person?”, but rather “How will you make a difference?” Ponder on that today and see what God reveals to you as to how He wants to use you in this season!