Right when I reached age 13, I started to develop a concern that I carried with me for quite a while. I didn't want to live and think like a child anymore. I wanted to be considered mature, and I started to wrestle with what maturity really looked like for someone at my particular season of life.
Following college, I began pastoring a church, full-time, at the very old age of 21. I kept my age a secret from as many people as I could because I was concerned that if people knew how old I was, they may be less inclined to cooperate with my attempts to lead in the context of the local church.
During my early years of pastoral ministry, I started to notice something fascinating about human nature. As I continued to lead, I was forced to work with all kinds of people, from all different age brackets. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that "age" and "maturity" were not synonyms. I observed that, over time, some people grow old, but not every person becomes mature. I also observed that some people who were rather young displayed a maturity that most would say was beyond their years.
1 Timothy 4 speaks to issues like that. It reveals to us that our social, relational, and spiritual maturity aren't limited by our age. Jesus delights to foster true maturity in His followers regardless of the particular season of life they may currently be in. What are some of the marks of maturity that are demonstrated for us in this passage?
I. Set an example, regardless of your age
This portion of Scripture was written by the Apostle Paul to a young pastor named Timothy. Timothy was someone Paul had invested quite heavily in. I also get the impression that Timothy sought out counsel and advice from Paul quite regularly. It was a mutually beneficial relationship.
Do you have people in your life that have mentored you? I'll never forget the years when I was a new pastor. At the time, it seemed to be the expectation of many people that the pastor do a lot of personal visiting. If you were in the hospital, I would come visit. If you wanted communion brought to your home, I would come visit. And I would try my best to visit quickly once I heard someone had a need.
At the time, I received a call from a woman who was in labor at the hospital. She just wanted to keep me updated about her baby that was on the way, so she called me several times. At one point I thought to myself, "Should I go visit now or should I wait until sometime later." I didn't have kids yet so I wasn't sure what was appropriate. So I called the pastor who mentored me and asked him if I should rush to the hospital. He laughed for a little while then strongly encouraged me to wait until after the baby was born. (Having had four children now, let me say that I'm glad I waited until after the baby arrived to visit).
Timothy's mentor Paul knew quite a few things about him. He knew what his personality was like and he knew what Timothy needed encouragement to do. We're given the impression from Scripture that Timothy may have been somewhat shy or timid. So Paul encouraged him to continually command and teach the truth of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. To not let his personal shyness get in the way of boldly proclaiming the very message humanity needs to hear more than anything.
Paul also knew that Timothy may have felt rather insecure about his age. We don't know exactly how old Timothy was, but the concept of being "young" that's spoken of in this passage could be a reference to someone at any age range up to 40-years-old. And Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him just because he was young. Rather, he was challenged to set an example for others of what it meant to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ in multiple areas. And the counsel Timothy was given fully applies to us as well.
Believers are encouraged in this passage to set an example, first of all, in our speech. The words we say and the way we say them work like a mirror into our soul. We can use our words to build others up or tear them down. We can use our words to communicate the heart of the gospel or we can speak in such a way that we misrepresent Christ. A follower of Christ that wants to demonstrate spiritual maturity will keep a close eye on their speech.
Believers are also called to set an example with our conduct. The idea here is that the way we live will back up the words we speak. If we claim to love Jesus, our life should match that claim.
We're also called to set an example in love, faith, and purity. We could elaborate on each of these at length if we chose to, but the point is that our lives should be empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve as a living example of the presence of Christ within us. That's an example that the Lord can foster through our lives, regardless of our age. It's something He wants us to value and prioritize.
II. Devote yourself to making God's word known
Timothy was also called to devote himself to making the word of God known. Paul gives three related examples of how Timothy could accomplish that in his context, but if we wanted to summarize what's being taught here, it would be fair to say that Timothy was being challenged to preach and teach messages that clearly communicated and conveyed the message of God's word. He was to read the Scriptures publicly, challenge people to live them out, and clarify or explain any aspects that might be difficult to understand.
I find this verse to be rather exciting and reassuring. Sometimes I look at the pressures that are placed upon pastors and other church leaders to be somewhat trendy and clever with the word of God, and I find that troubling. I take comfort in the fact that God's word doesn't need to be dressed up so that it can be more trendy or palatable. It's sufficient as it is. Our goal isn't to make it modern or clever. Our goal is to read it, learn it, understand it, apply it, avoid overcomplicating it, and recognize that the aim of all Scripture is to point our hearts toward Jesus.
If you proclaim the word of God, you can be confident that it will have it's effect. You don't have to dress it up or make it cooler than it's trying to be. Just make it known openly. Help people understand what they're supposed to do with it, and clarify anything that might seem confusing. These are things we can do, regardless of our age.
III. Practice using the gifts God gave you
This past week, during our church's annual Kids' Camp, I had the privilege of leading the games. You get to know a lot about the kids during those sessions. One evening, I played a game with the kids on the hill beside our parking lot. One of the things the kids needed to do was to run down the hill and then run back up without getting tagged. I observed one child who was probably about 5-years-old, roll down that hill instead of running. He did it on purpose and he did it fast. When he got to the end, he landed on his feet then ran back up. Later, I saw him scale some of the playground equipment with the dexterity of a monkey. I was amazed at the physical talent and abilities the Lord had clearly blessed this child with.
Well, just was there are natural talents the Lord blesses us with, there are also spiritual gifts He grants us when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. Every Christian has been blessed with God-given abilities for service toward others. Paul even makes reference to the gift Timothy had been given by God in this passage. He even points out that that it was acknowledged by other church elders as the Lord made it clear to them how Timothy had been gifted.
What was Timothy encouraged to do with the gift God had given him? He was encouraged to make sure he didn't neglect it. He was called to use it, practice it, immerse himself in its application, and to make the kind of progress that would make his growing maturity clear to anyone who observed him.
Let me ask a question, not to pick on anyone, but simply to drive the same kind of point home that Paul was trying to drive home in this passage. Are you using or are you neglecting the gifts God has given you? Do you practice using them, immerse yourself in them, and make visible progress as a testimony to others of God's work in your life?
IV. Keep a close watch on how you live and what you believe
As this portion of Scripture wraps up, an important exhortation is given to Timothy that we would all do well to notice. Timothy was essentially encouraged to keep a close watch on how he lived, what he believed, and what he taught.
Behavior follows belief. Every behavior in my life or your life comes out of what we believe. We will pursue whatever we believe will bring us peace and a sense of worth. In fact, we can quickly see what we believe will bring us a sense of peace or a sense of worth by how our time and our resources are invested. Our hearts crave what we are convinced will ease our pain and bring us joy. This, by the way, is why addictions can be difficult to break. It's hard to give up things that we have relied on to ease our pain or make us feel happy.
But only Jesus can truly satisfy our souls. Only He can bring us lasting peace. Only He can comfort our greatest pains. Only He can forgive our sin. And we don't have to be old to grasp that truth. There are many children in this world that come to faith in Christ long before their parents and grandparents do. And Christ will foster maturity in the heart of anyone who earnestly seeks Him.
Jesus offers perfect peace to anyone who is willing to come to Him with childlike faith.
© John Stange, 2017