Timothy was a young man when the apostle Paul wrote to him the following exhortation. 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.” Just as Timothy was to be an example to other believers, you and I are to be examples to other believers. People watch you to see how you live your life. They look to see if you are sincere, to see if you are hypocritical, to see if you have integrity, and to see if you are following the spiritual principles laid out in the Bible. People discover what kind of Christian you are by how you live your life. The new believers typically look to those who have been Christians for a longer time to learn how they should act or react in the different situations of life. I remember Christians that I have looked up to and have taken as examples. I learned from them how to walk in faith; I learned how to react to trials and temptation; I learned from them how to preach and teach; I learned from them how to pray; I learned from them how to love my fellow brother and sister in Christ. Many things I have learned from the example of other Christians.
Timothy was instructed to be an example to the believers in six areas. These same six areas apply to you today. The first area is “in word”; I understand this to be the words that you use – your speech. People judge you by what you say and how you say it. Are you often critical of other people? Do you use sarcasm? Are you frequently telling jokes with some being in bad taste? Do you swear or curse? Do you tell lies? Psalms 34:12-13 “Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” James 1:26 “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.” Instead, be an example to others by edifying with your words and by being thankful and praising God.
The next area is “in conduct”. Jesus showed his apostles how to be servants when he washed their feet. Jesus was an example to us in other ways. 1 Peter 2:21-24 “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” As Jesus is your example, you must be an example to other believers with the conduct of your life. Cheerfully be a servant to those about you. Show joy in your life. Freely give to those in need. Demonstrate self-control when tempted or tried. There are many areas in your life where you can be an example to others in your conduct.
The next area is “in love”. Again, God and Christ are our examples of love. Ephesians 5:1-2 “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” From 1 Corinthians 13 we learn the characteristics of true love. One of the most important characteristics of love is that it “does not seek its own”. When you truly love others, you show that you are not selfish but that you seek their good and want the best for them. Are you being an example of love by demonstrating your care and concern for others?
The next area is “in spirit”. You are an example in this area by your manner of living – by your disposition and attitude. You should show with your spirit that the Holy Spirit is living within you. Galatians 5:22-25 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” You are an example in spirit when you show love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in your life.
The next area is “in faith”. The apostle Paul told the Romans in Romans 1:8 “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” Your faith may not be spoken of throughout the world, but others will see your faith by how you live. You show your faith by your obvious trust in God and His promises. You demonstrate your faith when you put yourself into God’s hands in the time of trial and by being a prayerful person. You are an example in faith when you walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
The last area is “in purity”. Perhaps this was especially important for Timothy as a young unmarried man. He needed to be an example in sexual purity. Whether you are unmarried or married, you also should be an example in sexual purity. But sexuality is not the only area where you should demonstrate purity. You should have a pure heart towards God in all areas of your life and not be partly good and partly sinful in any area. Be an example of a pure, genuine follower of Jesus Christ.
When the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to be an example in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith and in purity, I do not believe that Paul wanted Timothy to be a hypocrite and pretend to be good in all these areas. No, he wanted Timothy to be careful in his actions and not do anything that might be misinterpreted as unrighteous. Jesus taught us in Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Live your life so that you will be the example that causes others to glorify your Father in heaven.