“Let no man despise your youth; but be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Tim. 4:12)

I ran across a good tidbit in a book I am reading, A Resilient Life, by Gordon MacDonald. He mentioned that the literal translation of the phrase “be an example to those who believe” found in 1 Timothy 4:12 is “stamp yourself on people’s lives.” (A Resilient Life, p.17) What an amazing image! Even more, what a daunting challenge.

These days, not many people want the burden of being someone worth emulating. We think it admirable to assume a posture of humility that asserts that we are not worthy of being followed. Paul, on the other hand, had no problem telling those he wrote, “imitate me.” (1 Cor. 4:16) Then, taking it a step further, he challenges Timothy to live such a life that warrants that people stamp him on their lives. He called him to become a human tattoo. This challenges me beyond description. Is my life worthy of becoming a tattoo for others? Was I to be tattooed on someone’s life right now, what would that tattoo look like?

Paul gets even more specific. He challenges Timothy to be an example (tattoo) in word, in his way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity. He left no wiggle room for Timothy. This charge is for all who follow Christ.

  • In word – Words have power, power to heal and power to destroy, power to judge and power to extend grace. Our words leave an indelible impression, a tattoo, on those we speak.
  • In way of life – Paul calls us “ambassadors for Christ.” We are His representatives. How we live is seen by those around us and speak volumes about the God we worship, for good or for bad.
  • In love – Do we have the bandwidth to love those around us, or are we always too tired and distracted? 
  • In spirit – How might someone describe our spirit?
  • In faith – Is our faith evident to those around us even when we don’t speak overt words of faith? 
  • In purity – In the unseen places are we growing in purity?

Which of these areas needs the most attention in your life?

I am sure that Timothy heard this charge from Paul as unattainable. I imagine he thought that no one can live up to these standards. Perhaps part of Paul’s admonition is “don’t settle for halfway faith and don’t make excuses.” “Fight the good fight.” Never stop growing and never stop striving. 

Late in Paul’s life, while in prison awaiting his inevitable execution, he wrote, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14) Whether we are young or old, timid or bold, equipped or feeling inadequate, we press on. We accept the challenge of Paul to the Phillippians, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Phil. 1:27)