Setting an Example

Sam Petitfils

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

Often we hear people attributing someone’s mistakes to their “youthfulness” or “immaturity,” and most of us can relate to that. Those of us who have lived for a while can look back at various goofs, and avoid them now that we’ve advanced in age a bit. But God still wants young people, as well as old, to set clear examples before an unbelieving world.

Paul here cautions young Timothy to set an example in his speech, behavior, love, faith and purity. He did not roll his eyes at Timothy’s mistakes and say, “well there goes youthful indiscretions.” He didn’t lower the standards, but raised them to biblical purity. Timothy no doubt faced peer pressure, and battled worldliness in his own church. But Paul expected him to aim high and set a mark others could look up to.

In order to set an example, we cannot afford to blend in, or run with the herd. We must be willing to go counter to the trends of the day and even face ridicule for what we believe. Peter knew his own readers faced such ridicule when they refused to engage in worldly behavior (1 Peter 4:3-5). Erwin Lutzer quotes famous pollster George Gallup speaking of the growing worldliness of our age:

“Addressing a national seminar of Southern Baptist leaders, George Gallup said, ‘We find there is very little difference in ethical behavior between churchgoers and those who are not active religiously...The levels of lying, cheating, and stealing are remarkable similar in both groups. Eight out of ten Americans consider themselves Christians,’ Gallup said, ‘yet only about half of them could identify the person who gave the Sermon on the Mount, and fewer still could recall five of the Ten Commandments. Only two in ten said they would be willing to suffer for their faith.’”

How can we counter the evils of the day and still reach out to people who need a Savior? Here are three steps to setting a clear example:

1) Aim to know God’s Word so you know what pleases Him.
If we fail to learn what pleases the Master, how can we hope to fulfill His will? We should spend time in the Word of God and carefully study God’s will for our lives.

2) Pray that God will make us an example to follow.
We cannot attempt this in our own strength, so we need to ask for God’s power to live as a beacon to others.

3) Learn when to say no.
Some people agree with others to a fault. But remember that living a consistent Christian life can create conflict, even in households (Luke 12:49-53). Take a stand when you need to and politely say “no” when asked to partake in something you know runs counter to God’s will.

Jesus said we could expect tribulation in this world (John 16:33), often because we do not follow the crowd. But Jesus also promised that we, like Him, would overcome the world as we seek to please God.

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