“Command and teach these things. Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:11-12 NET).
Paul the Apostle advised Timothy to set an example that others could follow as he fulfilled his responsibilities within the church at Ephesus. A closer look at the word “example” offers some additional insight into Paul’s counsel and provides us with a personal application for our lives.
In the original language of this passage, the word translated “example” refers to a mark formed by an impact. It might also refer to a pattern or model from which copies are made. (1) So much like the tooling used to make an impression upon a piece of metal or leather, Timothy was responsible to leave an imprint for Christ upon others and serve as a pattern for them.
This timeless piece of Biblical counsel is relevant to every age and culture. You see, one of two things often occurs in our relationships with others: either we are setting the example and influencing others or they are setting the example and influencing us. Paul understood the importance of setting the right example for others to follow, for he urged the members of the church at Corinth to “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 CSB).
In much the same manner, we can say that everyone teaches and influences others by their example. Some teach others what to do and some teach others what not to do. The question is, which of these examples are we setting for our friends, acquaintances, and/or colleagues?
We can further personalize these verses by considering Paul’s mandate from this passage: “Don’t let anyone look down on you…” (CEB). This implies that we are responsible to ensure that our lives do not provide others with a legitimate reason to express disregard, indifference, or disrespect for the beliefs we hold as representatives of Christ.
While it may not be possible to change the opinions of others, we can work to ensure that we serve as good role models. For those who are in Christ, this involves setting an example for the believers as we read here in 1 Timothy 4:12. In addition, we should prayerfully strive to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God…” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV) in our relationships with those outside the Christian community.