By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul gave Timothy – a young pastor of the church in Ephesus – an instruction. This is what he said:
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Reading this verse caused me to become introspective and think about the type of example I am setting. As believers we are supposed to be models or reflections of Jesus Christ, ultimately pointing people to him. One of the ways we do that is by how we live.
As you continue reading, I would like you to join with me and take a few moments to be a little introspective as well. To begin, I want you to consider these two questions for a moment:
1. When people look at you, what Jesus do they see?
2. What Christ are you pointing the world to?
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Who Are We Examples for?
I know in this verse Paul is encouraging Timothy to be an example to the believers. It is no coincidence that he does not hide the fact that Timothy is young. While we should be examples to the other believers around us, we are called to be examples to the unbelievers around us as well. Let me refresh your memory from these words of Jesus.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).
In these verses, we are called to be examples for the world around us. Jesus calls us salt and light. Salt preserves the way and light points the way, which leads me back to one of my questions, which Christ are you pointing the world to?
Our responsibility is to be an example to the believer and the unbeliever. This is a high calling because whether we like it or not, people are forming their opinions about who Jesus is based on those who carry his name. Once you publicly profess to be a follower of Jesus, then your life becomes a representation of who Jesus is, whether that is for the good or for the bad. Which again leads me back to this: which Jesus are you pointing the world to?
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5 Areas to Reflect on the Type of Example You Are Setting
Looking back to Paul’s instruction, he encouraged young Timothy to be an example in five areas. Let’s look at each one.
1. In Speech
The first thing Paul mentions is speech. Are you paying attention to the words that are coming out of your mouth? People can quickly form an opinion about Jesus based on what you say. The reason this is vital is because your words reflect what is inside your heart. Remember this verse.
“Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).
For this reason, we cannot take the words that we say lightly, because they are evidence of what is inside you. Since this is true, when people hear the words coming out of your mouth, what Jesus do they point to? To add more to think about, it is not just the words that come out of your mouth, but the words you put on social media, because these are an extension of your mouth and a reflection of your heart. When you add those words into the mix, what Jesus do people see?
2. In Love
Jesus said it best about how powerful the demonstration of love can be in the life of a believer.
I find it ironic that we talk so much about a God who loves, yet so often we are people who don’t love. Is there any wonder why people in the world are confused? True love is not seen when you are surrounded by people who all agree with you. True love is seen when you can love people who don’t.
By the way I am not just talking about unbelievers, I am talking about fellow believers as well. Can you sincerely love the one who doesn’t look like you or who has a different opinion than you? Sometimes in our quest to be right, we forget about the command to love each other. Unconditional love does not mean unconditional acceptance, but it also doesn’t mean win at all costs or by any means necessary either. If we are going to represent Christ well, then we who carry his name have got to figure out how to love each other, because the world is watching.
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3. In Conduct
If we are going to be followers of Christ, then how we live matters. In Galatians, Paul makes a stark contrast between conduct that reflects the world and conduct that reflects Christ.
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
When was the last time you evaluated your conduct considering how it reflects who Jesus is? I was renting a car once and there were all kinds of issues with the car, including that it was dirty and had damage on it when I got it. Because of the problem with the car, I went to a different airport to switch the car out. When I got there, they wanted to blame the condition of the car on me. At that moment, I got upset and let’s just say I did not speak so kindly to the rental agent.
A few weeks later I was renting again, and a gentleman came to the counter and was angry at the agent and made a big fuss, the scene was not nice. At that point I realized, that is what I looked like a few weeks earlier. I quickly realized how ugly that scene was. I don’t know how many people were paying attention to me when I was fussing with the rental agent, but if they did, I certainly was not pointing them to the right Jesus in that moment.
We must never forget our conduct matters, and let’s make sure we live in such a way that people see the true Jesus in us.
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4. In Faith
There are different ways you can be an example in faith, but here is one I want you to focus on – being confident and convinced in what you believe. As Christians, we have a living faith and a living hope, but there are many in the world who will challenge that faith. It is imperative that we know what we believe and why we believe it. This is not so that we can argue and debate, but that we can be ready to stand up for the truth and authenticity of our faith.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
5. In Purity
The last area I want to talk about is purity. This word really points to one thing – holiness. There was a day when the church talked about and practiced holiness. I will admit that in some areas they may have gone too far, but there was a sincere desire for holiness, even if it wasn’t expressed in the right manner.
It seems as if the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction. In some circles it almost seems like anything goes. In case you are not aware, to be holy means to be set apart, which means there should be some distinction between the way you live and the way people who do not know Christ live. This does not mean that you are not part of this world, but it does mean your life and lifestyle should look a little bit different than people in the world who are unbelievers. If you cannot tell the difference, then it makes me wonder what Jesus we are pointing the world to.
Be the Salt and Light
The main reason why this all matters is simply for the sake of the gospel. Is it worth changing your speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity for the sake of the gospel? Is making those changes worth possibly winning one soul for the kingdom? You must decide the answers to these questions. I challenge you today to figure out which Jesus is your life pointing people to. If you don’t like where your life is pointing people, then it is time to make a change. You are still salt and light, so preserve the way and point people to the true Jesus who really is our only hope of salvation.
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