A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 4:11-5:2. 2) The commendation of true teaching.
This section begins with a dramatic contrast between verse 11 and verse 12, which sums up the problem Timothy faced as a young leader. On the one hand, he had been put into a position of considerable responsibility as the apostle Paul’s representative in Ephesus. *Command and teach these things* (11), Paul wrote. ‘These things’ (*tauta*) is an expression which occurs eight times in this letter (1 Tim.3:14; 4:6, 11, 15;5:7, 21;6:2, 17), it sums up the instructions and orders which Paul had given Timothy and which he was to keep passing on (both verbs are present imperatives) to the churches of Ephesus. On the other hand, he was still a relatively young man, probably in his thirties, so that Paul had to add: *Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young* (12a). So then, putting verses 11 and 12 together, Timothy had been called to Christian leadership beyond his years. His responsibility to ‘command and teach’ was in danger of being undermined by his youthfulness, and by the signs that his ministry was being rejected. Paul is not concerned now with error (and how it could be detected and rejected) but with truth (and how it could be commended and so accepted).
Perhaps some people were jealous of Timothy; they resented his having been promoted over their heads. Others simply looked down their noses at this pretentious youth, much as Goliath despised young David (1 Sam.17:42). It is a perennial problem. Older people have always found it difficult to accept young people as responsible adults in their own right, let alone as leaders. And young people are understandably irritated when their elders keep reminding them of their immaturity and inexperience, and treat them with contempt.
How then should young Christian leaders react in this situation, so that their youth is not despised and their ministry is not rejected? Not by boastful, assertive or aggressive behaviour. Not by throwing their weight about and trying to impose their will. *But* (notice the strong adversative *alla* in the middle of verse 12) by different means altogether. ‘Don’t let people look down on you because you are young; see that they look up to you because…’ (JBP). The apostle goes on to give Timothy six ways in which he should commend his ministry and gain acceptance for it.
a). Timothy must watch his example.
Paul was careful about the example he set. He was never shy of inviting his readers to imitate him (E.g. 1 Thess.1:6; 2 Thess.3:7, 9; 1 Cor.4:6; 11:1; Phil.3:17). Timothy must do the same. *Don’t let anyone look down on you…but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity* (12b). People would not despise his youth if they could admire his example. The apostle Peter gave the same instruction to church elders, urging them to serve humbly, ‘not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (1 Pet.5:3; cf. Heb.13:7). And in writing these things, Paul and Peter were only echoing the teaching of Jesus, who introduced into the world a new style of servant-leadership.
The great temptation, whenever our leadership is questioned, threatened or resisted, is to assert it all the more strongly and to become autocratic, even tyrannical. But leadership and lordship are two quite different concepts. The Christian leads by example, not force, and is to be a model who invites a following, not a boss who compels one. Moreover, Timothy’s example was to be comprehensive, *in speech* and *in life*, that is, in word and deed, in the way he spoke and in the way he behaved. And in those two spheres he was to be a model of Christian virtue, especially *in love*, the pre-eminent Christian grace, to be shown to the neighbour and to all humankind; *in faith*, which could mean either trust in God and in Christ, or trustworthiness, a fundamental Christian fidelity, or both; and *in purity*, which is Christian self-control.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 4:11-5:2). b). Timothy must identify his authority.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.