Young People: Our Role Models?

May 15, 2008

I was listening to a John Piper sermon this morning on my drive into church. He was preaching a message titled, “Let No One Despise You for Your Youth” from the Scripture passage of 1 Timothy 4:11-16. I thought this would be a good sermon to listen to since I am both young and despised (only joking…I think?)

But, as is the case with Piper sometimes, what I expected to hear from this sermon was not what I ended up hearing. 1 Timothy 4:11 says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

Piper’s main audience in this message seemed to be children and youth/college age students…not 29 year old married fathers like me. From this verse, Piper notes several things:

1. Young people (children and youth especially) will be despised. Why? Arrogance, self-absorption, perpetually fun-loving, idealism, etc. But Piper challenges his audience of young people to not let their elders despise them…as if they could do something about it. We all know that adults are to set the example for young people. But, in this passage, young people are called to set the example for adults.

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example…”

2. Young people can set the example for their elders

Paul charges young people to set an example for their elders. Do we encourage our children and young people to do this? Not usually. Why? Because our society has low expectations for our youth. When you set the bar low your young people will jump low. If you set the bar high and charge them to set an example for not only their peers but for their elders, perhaps they will jump high and not be despised for being children or “just teenagers” anymore. We don’t start acting like Christians at age 24, or 30, or 35, or 50. When we’re 7 years old we should act like 7 year old Christians. When we are 14 years old we should act like 14 year old Christians. When we are 20 years old we should act like 20 year old Christians. Do our young people have this as an expectation?

Paul calls them (and us) to set an example in five ways:

“an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

a. Set an example in speech

Young people can be an example to their elders in their speech. One of the largest gripes I hear from parents of teenagers is that they complain a lot. Challenge your teenager not to. Challenge him or her to set the example for the entire church and community at how a Christian is to speak.

b. Set an example in conduct

Paul also calls young people to set an example in conduct. Most of the time we hear people complain about young people as they say, “that’s just their age” when they do sinful things. It’s not their age. They are sinners who are going to sin – especially if we expect them to. Challenge them to be upright in conduct.

c. Set an example in love

Paul calls young people to love others. That means that they are to deny the self-gratifying nature of themselves as well as that of the culture and put others by letting the Spirit empower them.

d. Set an example in faith

Paul also calls young people to set an example in their faith. Whenever I see a high school or a college student who displays great faith, it is always a refreshing reminder and motivator to me. Challenge them to display their faith.

e. Set an example in purity

Finally, Scripture calls young people to set an example in their purity. Purity is probably problem numero uno in most youth and college ministries. Challenge them that the road to purity does not start in their 20’s or 30’s (in fact, it may get worse then) – the road to purity is now.

The next time a young person you know makes you want to despise them. Challenge them to heed’s Scripture charge to set an example, not only to their peers, but to you as well.

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