Thursday, February 13, 2020

An Example

Never let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for them. These are the words that Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Timothy 4), and they are the part of the passage we are most readily able to quote back. But have you looked at the things that Paul tells Timothy to set an example in? It's not just set an example. It's set an example in these five things:

Set an example in speech. These are the things that you say, the words that come out of your mouth. There has been much talk over the past half-century about words a Christian should or should not say, but we're not just talking about whether we, as Christians, should use curse words or not use curse words or which four-letter words are okay to use and under what circumstances. We're also talking about what we talk about and how we talk about it. In our culture today, we're prone to confuse meanness and humor. We think it's cool to "roast" someone or take jabs at them, all in "playfulness." I even heard one brother get up in front of his congregation and jokingly say something about another brother's intelligence (or lack thereof) and then laugh it off. The congregation laughed, too. But if you listen to the words, they're mean words. They're insulting words. Should our humor look the way the world's humor looks? Should we make fun of each other for fun? Just because "everybody understands it's a joke"? Or should we speak gracious words of one another instead? This is the kind of thing we have to think about when Paul tells us to set an example in speech.

Set an example in conduct. These are the things that you do, the actions that you take. In this category, we're looking at a lot of things, but here is just one: are you a person who takes the shopping cart back to the corral or do you just leave it in the middle of the parking lot somewhere? It's such a little thing, but it makes a big statement about the kind of person that you are. Returning the shopping cart says you're a person who doesn't put your own convenience over others. If you leave it in the middle of the lot, you cause problems for persons who want to park there, persons who are already parked there, persons who might want to use that cart (that may become affected by weather by being left out), persons who want to use a cart but can't find one in the store (because they're all out in the parking lot), the person who has to collect the carts and bring them back into the store...and so on, all because you wanted to save yourself the thirty seconds or so that it would have taken to return it somewhere proper.

Set an example in love. The Bible says something about this. It says that if you only do something for someone who can return the favor, are you really that good of a person? Even heathens do that. True love comes from doing for those who cannot pay you back for it. And we can extend that to say that we ought to be a people who love those who have a different opinion than we do, even on things we deeply care about. It's okay to love someone - actively love them by doing good for them - who is pro-choice even if you're staunchly pro-life. It's okay to love a Republican even if you're a Democrat. How we treat persons around us - with love or with less - makes a bold statement about who we are.

Set an example in faith. This doesn't mean that you don't ever have questions about God or that you pretend that everything's cool all the time. That's not what true faith is. It means that you keep believing that God is who He says He is even when you don't think you're seeing it. It means that what you believe doesn't change based on whether it's getting you what you want today or not. The world is watching too many Christians walk away from the faith because God didn't turn out to be the magic genie they hoped for and life in this broken world is tough. Setting an example in faith means showing what it's like to hold on even when things are falling apart. Not in some naive sense of the word that paints over everything or pretends it's not happening, but in the depth of the soul where it's possible to grieve and to hope at the same time, to believe and to question in the same breath.

Set an example in purity. In other words, don't get yourself dirtied up. Don't let your life get tied to things that it doesn't need tied to. That's the problem with sex outside of marriage - it bonds us forever, at the soul level, to the person we've slept with but not committed to. And that's true of all kinds of things outside of sex, too. We can let our lives get intertwined with things that they don't need to be with, and it bonds us to this stuff and sullies our souls. Paul was most likely talking about marital purity here, especially in the Greek and Roman cultures of the time that used sex as a statement of power and social status, but it's fair, in our culture that doesn't quite do this in the same way, to expand that out and talk about the things that corrupt us, that make us less than pure. After all, what does the world say of the church? That it's full of hypocrites. We haven't got our purity right, in our marriages or in a lot of else.

Most of us can easily quote the first part of this verse - don't let anyone look down on you - but how many of us have taken the time to study these five things that Paul tells Timothy to set an example in? How many of us even know them? Paul chose these five for a reason, and they say a lot about who we are.

Who are you? 

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