Let No One Despise Covenant Youth

June 7, 2009 / No. 3466

Dear Radio Friends,

The passage of the Word of God that we consider today on our program is I Timothy 4:12: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

These words of the apostle Paul to his spiritual son Timothy are words that are directly applicable, first of all, to parents, Christian parents with pre-teen and teenaged children. That Word of God that I read, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers,” is a word that says to Christian parents with pre-teenaged children, “Don’t have low expectations of the spiritual life and godliness of your children. If you do, you despise them, you set them at naught, you think little of faith within them.”

Perhaps your family is at a time of transition, transition from having little children to having teenagers. The Word of God is saying to you, “Do not think that real spiritual life cannot be evident in a pre-teenaged or teenaged child. Don’t think that only when they are in first or second or third grade can they be interested in spiritual things, and that then, afterwards, they become awkward and uninterested.” If you buy into that kind of thinking, God says that you despise the very purpose that He has for youth, the very purpose that He has for any age, whether that be a little child, a first-grader, a tenth-grader, whatever age it might be. God has one purpose. And that purpose is: godliness. Just because a child is growing up and going through various stages, does not mean that his spiritual life is expected to be dormant at certain times. If you think so and, specifically, if you think that the days of teenage years in the church are days of spiritual dormancy, then the Word of God says that you despise the youth.

Our calling, as parents, is very well defined. In Psalm 71:18 we read: “Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” The Word of God is saying that we have but a short time as parents and that we must take the Word of God personally and show it to the generation that is to follow us. And we tremble that it might ever be said of us as was said in Judges 2:10 that “there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” How did that happen? Well, their parents were just carried away with the world and did not teach their children.

Statistics in the church-world tell us that many children, when they reach the age of 18, are gone from the church. The church tries all types of programs to keep them, all types of rah-rah programs that do not work. Many of the teenagers, when they grow out of their teenaged years into their early twenties, abandon their faith. Now we know that only God’s grace can keep a soul in Christ. But, parents, we must not sow the seed of our children abandoning their faith by intimating or inferring that when they are in their teenage years, or their pre-teenage years, godliness is simply not to be expected of them. To do so is to despise the youth.

This Word of God also applies equally to you as a teenager, to you as a pre-teenager, seventh grade, eighth grade, tenth grade, twelfth grade. Let no one despise your youth.

There is a premise in this Word of God. There is an underlying principle. What is that principle? The principle that underlies the Word of God here is that living for the glory of God does not go on hold from ages twelve to twenty or from twenty to twenty-five until, finally, a person is married. You do not stand around waiting for a spiritual life to begin. You do not conform yourself to the American, popular, teen culture that says that the teenaged years are filled with emptiness. “I play now, and I get serious later on.” The Bible says that the days of youth in the church are not for carelessness, indifference; but they are a time in which we are to grow and be serious about our faith, about Christ, and about God. And if we view it any other way, then we are despising youth.

The attitude of many in the church, unspoken perhaps, but the attitude nonetheless, is that many do not expect the adolescents to understand spiritual truths and life. So there is an effort to “dumb it down” for them. Then, many assume that if the young people do understand, we must not expect them to care about it. And then, if they happen to care about those spiritual things, we must not expect young people actually to show that they are interested in spiritual things. And then, finally, if some young people do show that they are interested in spiritual things, then we should not expect that that interest will continue.

This attitude is heresy. This attitude is to despise the covenant youth of the church. God does not despise the youth. So He says to us, “Do not think that there is any age in the church, in the covenant, that is a dormant age. Every age is an age for vital godliness.”

The passage that I am speaking from (I Tim. 4:12) is plainly the apostle Paul’s words to Timothy, who is the pastor of the church in Ephesus, and Paul’s spiritual son. He is giving to Timothy some personal exhortations for him as he functions as a pastor. He seeks to guide and steer him. And in our text Paul reminds Timothy that, due to his relatively younger age, there would be others in the congregation, older members, who would have low expectations of his spiritual life. “Let no man despise thy youth.” Literally, let no one discredit, set at naught, even scorn you, Timothy, because of your youth. Timothy was young for the weighty position that he occupied as a minister. There were in the congregation older, experienced men who had “been around the block,” so to say. And there were in Ephesus a number of very difficult issues that would put any pastor to the test. And many would say concerning Timothy, “He just doesn’t have the experience. He can’t understand. He will not be able to grasp the situation.”

Paul says, “Timothy, don’t let that happen.” And how? Well, not by having Timothy become a bragging person, or develop a ministerial swagger, or become somebody that he was not, trying to fill a preconceived role, or by mimicking the apostle Paul. And not by resenting those who carried that attitude toward him. But the apostle says, “Timothy, the way you confront this is by being an example, an example of believers, in word and conversation, in spirit, and so on.” In other words, Paul says, “Timothy, be a godly man. Take heed to yourself. Walk a consistent, humble, sincere walk of life. Show what it means to be a believer. Do not buy into the thought that because you are young you cannot have any spiritual substance, any understanding of spiritual issues and godliness. But rather, Timothy, take heed to yourself.” He says that in verse 16 of the chapter. “And be an example.”

The point, then, that we may draw from the passage is that the time of youth in the church must not be looked down upon or discredited and viewed as something that really cannot have any kind of spiritual worth and maturity. Do not have low expectations for the spiritual life of the young people in the church. Paul admits that there can be this despising of youth. But youth must not be despised within the church. In the world, youth is simply associated with attitudes and behaviors that are annoying and immature.

Here are some things that are simply assumed that a young person will have: disrespect, rebellion, self-absorption, cliquishness, conformity to peer pressure, indifference to spiritual issues, fixation on fun-fun-fun, playing video games. That is what the youth is according to the world. And also in the church this attitude comes in, this heresy, that all that you can expect of the young people (and, again, this is often unspoken) is that they will have very little interest in spiritual issues and very little evidence of spiritual life. Yes, we say, young people should have their personal devotions and their prayers, and they must make the Word of God sweet to their taste, and they must be taught spiritual things and spiritual truths and all the rest. But there is an underlying current in the church that they really will not do it. And why will they not do it? Well, because they are young, we say. And, pastor, you must get in touch with the youth. You cannot expect them to be any otherwise.

But God says that if that is our attitude, we despise the youth. You discredit them. You dumb them down, you lower the bar, you scorn the covenant grace of God operative within them. This is to conform to the world. This is to take our thinking from the world, not from the Word of God. David, when he was thirteen or fourteen or younger, fought the giant Goliath. We read in I John 2 these words of John: “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” The principle here is this, that there is no age in the covenant of God that God’s grace does not claim. There is no age where the scepter of Christ does not rule supreme and work within the heart so that we cherish Him personally and in a godly life.

Now, notice what Paul is saying to Timothy. He says to Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth.” He is talking to Timothy. In other words, “Timothy, as a young person, there is something that you can do about this.” It is rather interesting that he does not talk to the older men or to the people who would be guilty of this attitude. He does not say to them, “Now you quit putting your pastor down because of his being young in years.” But he says rather, “Timothy, there is a way to deal with this, and the way has to do with you.” He says, first of all, “Timothy, don’t be indifferent. Don’t just get mad. But care about what the adults will think about you. Then there is something you can do. Be thou an example of the believers in word, conversation, charity, spirit, faith, purity. Don’t simply look at the adults and say, ‘OK, what do you want me to do?’ and become man-pleasing. But look to the Word of God and act and speak in godliness.”

Paul says that the way of overcoming this despising of youth is to be found in God’s grace working within you as a young person. Your own godliness will be the answer to this despising of you. Now it is true that young people in Jesus Christ may also still be despised in the world. And sometimes even in the church you will still be discredited if you stand up for purity. If you are going to a college, perhaps you are in a sociology class, and the professor says, “Well, let’s have a survey. How many of you young people still believe and practice abstinence? How many of you still believe that sexual activity is only for marriage? How many of you are still sexually pure?” And your hand goes up. And maybe one other hand. And the instructor looks upon you with intellectual scorn, as if you are a relic of an ignorant and bygone era. You are not enlightened. You will be despised. But not all despising of young people by the older is bad. Not all despising brought upon you by an adult is a bad thing. Sometimes it can be a very good thing.

So the meaning is, “Timothy, many are going to assume, also in the church, that youth cannot have a spiritual substance. They will set very low expectations. If you think that you cannot do anything about this attitude, you are wrong. You must have high expectations of yourself. You must be godly, and this despising will go away. Bind yourself to the Word. Act out the Word and show charity and purity. Set an example for others to follow.”

The main point of God’s Word, then, is: Don’t have within the covenant low expectations of the spiritual life of young people. If you do, you will get what you expect. We must expect what of young people in the church? We must expect an exemplary life of godliness, according to this Word of God.

From where do we get our expectations as parents? How is our view of teenagers different from the world’s? The Word of God says that young people in the church are to be an example to the believers. The life of the youth, then, is to influence the adult believers unto godliness. How many of the young people of the church think this way? How many parents think that way? How many young people think that at the age of 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 I am called to set the example for others in the church? As parents, what do we expect of the spiritual life of our young people? Do we think that spiritual life begins or becomes vibrant when finally we hit the age of 23 or somewhere thereabout? Or when a person gets married then suddenly there is a transformation?

What does society expect? Well, society expects that young people will be non-responsive to adults, that they will not be able to communicate, that they will only be interested in playing video games, that they will go to rock concerts, that they will wear cool clothes, that they will be sexually active, that they will party, that they will drink, that they will play-play-play. That is what it means to be young according to the world.

Is that the conception also of the church? Is this what we expect? God says that if we expect that, we despise the youth. God says, then, that we concede to the world. But God does not concede anything to the world. God does not concede any age to whore mongers, or to the devil, or to sin. Is there anything too great for the grace of God? Do not say to the devil, “You can have the youth.” God says, “Every age in the covenant is mine.” God gives us children so that we might nurture them in every age in godliness.

Understanding of the covenant of grace is not, “Well, I was immature as a teenager and I did all of those things, so that’s reason then for me to expect that they’ll do the same thing.” If in the days of your youth you were unfaithful, your life is not the standard for the spiritual life of God’s young people. God sets the standard Himself in His Word. God says, “Set the bar where God sets it, not where the world expects it to be. Not upon your own experience, either. But set it upon the Word of God.”

This application, then, of the Word of God is very practical and very pointed to every one of us. There is an application, first of all, to the young people. Once again, do not let your youth be despised. Do not let it be said that your youth cannot have any real, vibrant, personal faith and loving attachment to Jesus Christ. Do not have low expectations. Is the time of your youth simply a time for emptiness and vanity, for folly and uselessness and self—to live only for yourself? The world would say, Yes! That is exactly what we expect. They glamorize it. But in all of this glamorizing they are despising the youth. They are not extolling the youth. They are despising it as being something that is worthless, worthless to God. Do not let anyone do that to you. The days of your youth now are to be spent in the service of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Do not say, “I’m only young once. It’s ‘time-out’ in spiritual things. When I grow older, I’ll get back into the spiritual life.” No, says the Word of God, let your youth be a time of humble and faithful service to Christ.

The application, again, is to parents: do not despise your youth. Do not think that now, when they get into the teenage years, that everything is different. Do not talk that way. Do not think that way. As a parent, you must have your mind guided by the Word of God. Do not say that when they become teenagers it is all about nylons and high heels and hair and generation gap and arguments and clashes; and that, when they enter into those years, they go to the land where you cannot communicate with them and hopefully they will emerge well on the other side. Do not think that way. Think biblically. Think of the grace of God that knows no dormant age, but lives as a power within the heart of a little child and a teenager and an adult. Love the young people. Teach them and talk to them about spiritual things. Walk with them in godliness. Encourage them by great examples of godliness before you tell them that God calls them, as young people, to be an example.

A rich young ruler once said to Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments from his youth up. He said to Jesus, “Master, I have observed the commandments since my youth.” Jesus said that there was something missing. He said to the rich young ruler: “Yet one thing thou lackest. Go, sell all that thou hast, give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. And take up your cross and follow Me.” What did that young person, that young ruler, lack? He had done all that his parents had told him. He was a good rule keeper. Jesus said that the one thing that was missing was that he did not treasure Jesus Christ personally. He had no heart for Christ. He did not love Christ above all. This is the call for youth. This is spiritual life in the covenant: treasuring Jesus Christ personally and His truth above all things, and walking with Him experientially in your heart.

And this type of life is for young people in the church.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word, and we pray for its blessing today upon our hearts, that that Word truly may be the light in the darkness; that we may not conform ourselves unwittingly and ignorantly to the world, but that our expectations may be taken from the Word of God. So bless us and our young people, that we may walk in all godliness and truth before Thee to the glory of Thy name. In Jesus Christ do we pray, Amen.