It is an interesting fact of the Bible that some of its greatest characters were teenagers when they were called into service for God. Jeremiah was commissioned to prophesy not only to Israel and Judah but also to other nations when he was a youth of probably nineteen. Joseph, after refusing to commit adultery, was wrongly imprisoned in Egypt when he was about seventeen. Esther was probably just a teenager when she won a contest to become a queen and offered her life to save her people. Mary was probably sixteen when she was visited by an angel with a proclamation that no other woman had ever heard or would ever hear again, and Daniel was sixteen when he was wrenched from his home and taken into captivity to Babylon, where there was no parental supervision and temptation abounded. King David's ardor for God began when he was just a youngster, tending the family's flocks of sheep, and Samuel officiated at the altar as a pre-teen. These and others were all young when they committed their lives fully to serving God, as also did a young man named Timothy.
The Ministry of Timothy
One of the great men of God we find in the New Testament is Timothy. He was the Apostle Paul's "right hand man," and we read the following about him:
"But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel." Philippians 2:19-22 (NKJV)
Perhaps it would be hard to find a greater compliment for a Christian than the one quoted above. Timothy was of such fine character that his accolades are etched for eternity in Scripture – an honor no one but God can bestow. He was one of the few who cared more about others than himself – a quality that was apparently rare among Christians of the first century, even as it is exceedingly scarce today. And yet, Timothy is even more impressive when we consider that he was a very young man, and perhaps even a teenager of eighteen or nineteen years old!
What then was the reason for Timothy's spiritual success? Was he blessed with a wonderful home life and a social milieu that encouraged and favored him? Did this motivate him to become, at a very young age, a solid man of God? Let us analyze the smattering of things written about him, to determine if this was the case.
Not in the "In Crowd"
We know that Timothy's mother was Jewish but his father was Greek (Acts 16:1). Today this might mean little to us, but in his era it meant constant prejudice, probably from every corner of society. To the Jews, a person who married outside the race (religion) was anathema. The half-Jewish Samaritans were intensely hated by the Jews, which is the reason the Samaritan woman at the well was surprised when Jesus asked her for a drink. Timothy's mother would have been marked as a social pariah from the outset. And Timothy, as her progeny, would most likely have been shunned, and considered cursed. Moreover, anyone who would befriend Timothy would also have been socially excluded.
However, this was not Timothy’s only problem – he was also sickly (see 1Timothy 5:23). Since he had infirmities one might conclude that he was also not the type who excelled in sports, and may even have been a weakling. In Timothy's time, Roman culture had been infected with a sports-maniacal spirit, and the heroes of the day were all large, brutish men. Raw physical strength was exalted above all else, and the most popular entertainment was the spectacle of men fighting to the death in the "games." Against this backdrop, non-athletic males were generally held in low esteem.
One might also surmise that Timothy lacked the presence of his father, since we read that his godly mother and grandmother (Eunice and Lois) raised him. If this was the case, it would have been hard for him in a society in which the father was expected to teach his son a trade.
Every Reason for Juvenile Delinquency
What a blueprint for producing a troubled youth who would seethe with anger and fail in life! What a classic set of circumstances to spawn a renegade, who would be constantly railing against all authority because he had been given such a rotten deal in life! Yes, we can certainly understand why Timothy would have gotten in trouble as a young man. Psychiatrists today would say that he must have lacked self-esteem, which would give him every excuse to rebel against the society that treated him as a persona non grata.
He would be self-hating because he was only half-Jewish and could do nothing to change his heritage, discouraged because he could not compete physically with other young men, and depressed because his father was not there for him. Surely this anger would ultimately turn Timothy bitter against his fellow man, possibly leading to a life of crime that would eventually land him in prison.
How then would most of us have felt about Timothy? Would we have dismissed him and described him in today’s vernacular as a "nerd?" Would we have considered him a "loser" because he was sick so often? Would we have thought that he had no future, and that it was better to stay away from such a young man? Would we have been embarrassed to be seen with him, because he was half-Jewish and not accepted by the Greeks or the Jews?
Timothy's Secret of Success
Is it not truly wonderful that "…the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1Samuel 16:7 (NKJV)? God was not looking for a young man who had all the worldly advantages, but rather one who desired to put others before himself. Let us remember that God "has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty." (1Corinthians 1:27) So the first thing we realize is that Timothy must have relied fully on Jesus Christ for his strength. Even so, since we all have free will, there had to be something that Timothy did to nurture his spiritual success. Must it not have been that he did not worry about his own life, but was truly concerned about others? Perhaps this is the reason it is said of him:
"For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state." Philippians 2:20 (NKJV)
Timothy was too busy encouraging others, many of whom must have been much older than himself, to feel bad about himself, for we read:
"…and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this." 1Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NKJV)
Timothy's secret was simply a selflessness that brings a joy that nothing can impede, and which kept him "above the fray." The peace he had is not given by the world, even as Christ tells us in John 14:27 (NKJV): "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
Timothy Is Instructed by Paul
If Eunice and Lois prayed for a godly man to shepherd Timothy they got the very best in the Apostle Paul. Paul, now aged, becomes Timothy's mentor and writes advice to him. Paul does not tailor his words to appeal to Timothy's youth, nor does he craft a special Bible study on Timothy's "level" because of Timothy's age. Paul does not tell Timothy that if he only has enough faith there will be no trials. He does not tell Timothy that God has a wonderful plan for his life, but forget to mention that it may also mean imprisonment and beatings. As a matter of fact, Paul does not treat Timothy as a "younger person" but rather as a peer. There are only a few instances when he refers to his age:
"Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." 2Timothy 2:22 (NKJV)
"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." 1Timothy 4:12 (NKJV)
How, we may wonder, can someone stop others from despising his or her youth? The answer is simply by not acting like an immature person, but through love, faith, and purity proving that youth does not have to equal frivolity. Charles Spurgeon began preaching as a teenager, and was soon invited to pastor what became the largest church in England. His youth was not despised, because it was clear from his preaching that he had a spiritual maturity that superseded his physical age. This rendered his age irrelevant. One cannot find fault with a person's youth when they live a pure life. But a pure life also requires humility and obedience. Pride in anyone is repugnant, but in youth who are given responsibilities early it is despicable – for when it exists in youth is manifests itself against those who are older, upsetting God's chain of command. It does not matter if those in authority are less godly – they deserve respect because they hold the God-given position. David understood this when he refrained from killing the maniacal King Saul.
Timothy did not rail against Paul and say that his methods were "old fashioned." He did not believe that he had a better way because he was younger and more "with it." In the church there should be no division due to age, for no "generation gap" should exist among those who are seeking to serve God. It is only when pride and selfishness come into the church that division occurs. The elders in the church are to be honored by those who are younger, for God specifically says:
"You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord." Leviticus 19:32 (NKJV)
Young people who get angry at these words, just like women who are irate at the command that wives must submit to their husbands, and men who chafe at obeying God's commandments, will never have a legacy like Timothy. Our human nature rebels against submitting to anyone, and it is this very disobedience that caused sin to come into the world, and which perpetuates it. Those who crave stardom and attention in the kingdom of God are apt have problems with submission. It is God who promotes, and rarely does He do so until one has proven that he is humble enough to receive advancement without becoming arrogant. God wishes to keep his servants from falling into the sin of pride that Satan is infamous for, so He tests them to see if they will submit or rebel against those he has placed in authority.
Not Footloose and Fancy-free
Some think that sticking with sound doctrine and adhering to the fundamentals of the faith is only for fuddy-duddies. They think that spiritual people should not be concerned with the mundane matters of life, therefore they are always seeking new spiritual experiences which they can "feel." They are also constantly on the lookout for the newest wave of religious thinking, even as those in the fashion world are closely watching the latest clothing so that they can stay chic. But the great men of God were never of this ilk. They were original, but that originality came from the fresh anointing they received from God because of their devotion to Bible study, prayer, and service for Christ.
Paul warned Timothy about those who were looking for understanding outside of orthodoxy, when he said:
"O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen." 1Timothy 6:20-21 (NKJV)
Instead, he instructs Timothy in this manner.
"Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." 1Timothy 4:13 (NKJV)
And not only does he tell Timothy to give attention to doctrine, but he tells him to be careful that the church has proper doctrine.
"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia – remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine." 1Timothy 1:3 (NKJV)
Timothy Ends Up in Prison After all
No, Timothy does not get arrested for committing a crime against humanity, as some might have assumed he would, given his underprivileged upbringing. He is rather arrested for preaching the Word of Life to those who are blind to the truth and perishing. He is incarcerated for his faith, as a martyr for Jesus Christ.
Richard Wurmbrand, a Jewish believer who was imprisoned by the Communists multiple times in Romania for his faith in Jesus, relates in one of his books an incident that occurred when he was hauled off to prison for preaching the gospel. A young woman who knew him was also in the same guarded bus. She told him later that she felt convicted because he was suffering for his faith in Christ, whereas she had been arrested for stealing. His arrest prompted her to repent and serve God.
Today Christians all over the world are in prison for their faith and millions risk arrest for their beliefs. In fact, the message you are now reading goes out to people living in countries where they may be arrested for their faith. How then do Christian leaders in these countries disciple youthful believers? Do they explain to them that the suffering they may encounter will also be a witness to the world – even as Pastor Wurmbrand's arrest was a witness for Christ? Do they tell them that standing out as unpopular and different is of great value, because in contrasting with non-believers they become salt and light in a dark and perverse world? How then would this advice compare to what leaders are teaching youth in the West?
Imagine Timothy with Us Today
Can we imagine for a moment how Timothy would act if he were with us today? Would he attend an ear-splitting "Christian" rock concert, or instead stay up all night praying? Would he be angry with his mother if she did not want him to pierce his ears and wear earrings? If she pointed out that body piercing was practiced by pagan religions and is forbidden in the Bible (Deuteronomy 14:1), would he have stormed out of her presence and declared her to be legalistic? Would he call up all the relatives and church members he knew and beg them for money so that he might travel on an exotic cruise to witness by using mime and dramatic skits, while not bothering to evangelize his neighbors and friends? Would he watch movies with nudity which is forbidden by Leviticus 18 and other verses, or watch the same violence for which God destroyed the earth as recorded in Genesis 6:13, and then declare that he had done nothing wrong?
Would Timothy make his service seeker-friendly for the youth by trying to mimic the entertainment of the world to bring them to church? Would he ask them to "accept" Jesus but conveniently forget to tell them to "count the cost"? Would he attempt to find new parishioners so that the numbers in the church would grow, or would he instead narrow down the crowd by passing on the same advice the Apostle Paul gave him, when he said:
"You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier." 2Timothy 2:3
How the church underestimates the young people with a resolve to serve God! For adolescents who have no yearning to live for Christ, all the fun and games in the world will not motivate them. But for those youth who are seeking to change the world for Jesus, let us make no mistake that there exists a wellspring of fortitude and self-sacrifice that can be tapped for Christ's glory. In the Middle East, Arabs who are blinded by a false religion brainwash their children into believing that they are doing a wonderful work for God by killing innocent Jews in a marketplace. In actuality they are only causing more misery in the world and sending themselves to hell – doing the opposite of God's will. But if their youth can be motivated to suicide for their false cause, why do Christians in the West find it so difficult to inspire teenagers to give up immature habits and proclivities to live for Jesus Christ?
Could it be because there is a scarcity of adults who model true Christian piety and restraint? Is it that too many of us are superficial and lazy in our beliefs? Are we found glued to the latest off-color television show because we are more desirous of being titillated by the world than being set aside as holy for God? Has Christ's command to take up the cross and deny ourselves become a foreign concept? Do we say we know that many around us are facing an eternity of misery in hell, and yet do nothing about it because apathy and selfishness have eclipsed our desire to care? Do young people see us sacrificing pleasures to obey God, or do entertainment, food and sex rule our lives? If the youth who aspire to Timothy's office are to be nurtured, the church must realize that their zeal is often impeded and quenched by adults who are lukewarm in their faith. The newest trends talk about radical and extreme youth, but just let a truly radical or extreme young believer fast and pray and try to wake up a lazy church by adhering literally and meticulously to the Word, and tension will build.
Set Timothy Free!
"Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly." Hebrews 13:23 (NKJV)
Timothy, where are you, younger brother? We know you cannot come back, but where are your replacements? Of course, the Scripture quoted above is actually referring to Timothy being released from prison, but perhaps it has a dual application. For surely Timothy is living in many young people today, just waiting to be set free when they decide to give up the nonsense of this world and truly buckle down to serve God. Indeed, only when they decide to disdain the lust of the world and its enticements, and serve others instead of worrying so much about themselves will it be that "Timothy" will "come shortly." And might we not then see the world "turned upside down" for Christ, as the first apostles did?