Content of Character
How often do we evaluate someone based off of superficial characteristics, instead of one's speech, conduct, and character? Let us reflect on characteristics by which people are often judged and look at a relevant section of Scripture applicable to believers in such situations.
How often do we see people stereotyped based on characteristics beyond their control? Here are some common ones: Anyone younger than you is a baby, and anyone older than you is either “not old”, lest you be old once you reach that age, or “old” and perhaps disconnected from the subject of discussion. Someone’s opinion is invalid as you think they’re lacking experience in the subject under discussion. An older pastor’s preaching speed is slow due to his age (even though his style has remained consistent over many decades) and a younger pastor’s speed is fast due to his inexperience (even though he actually has many years of experience which you aren’t aware of). Perhaps you’ve been on the giving or receiving end of such stereotyped explanations.
It appears Timothy may have dealt with various assumptions of his person or ability based on his age. Paul stated in 1 Timothy.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12
One of the usages for the Greek work translated “youth” in contemporaneous Greek literature was to refer to anyone under thirty years of age. Timothy was Paul’s liaison at the church at Ephesus and was estimated to be in his late 20s to mid 30s at the time. Seemingly, he may faced stereotypes from others in the congregation due to his age. How did Paul exhort Timothy? He told him to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
Speech and conduct are perhaps the most readily visible to us. Is our speech reflective of God’s standard for our speech. Does our speech exhibit the qualities described in Ephesians?
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29
Is our speech edifying, timely, and grace-giving, or does it tear others down and is spoken at improper times? How about our conduct; does it reflect Christ-likeness? Does it ooze love and humility, or is it overtly self-serving?
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4
What we say and how we conduct ourselves are some of the most obvious reflections of our character.
The next three categories Paul challenges Timothy to set an example in are love, faith, and purity. The manifestations of these latter three categories are typically reflected in the first two – speech and conduct. Are we characterized by love as described in 1 Corinthians 13 (quoted above). Do the realities of our faith reflect itself in our lives; in how we spend our time and what we prioritize? Are we faithful in laboring for the Kingdom and serving in ministry? The word translated “purity” referred to moral purity. It is the same word group used in 1 John (emphasis mine):
“Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” – 1 John 3:2-3
The standard to which believers aim to “purify” themselves is ultimately God himself. Is our character being more and more conformed to Christ’s character?
I bring up these five categories mentioned in 1 Timothy 4 as an implicit challenge to us. When we are looked down upon for an unchangeable characteristic such as age or background, do we just verbally fire back, or do we aim to set an example through the content of our speech and conduct? Do we unfairly evaluate others by immutable characteristics, or do we strive to evaluate them by the basis of their speech, conduct, and character? I often tell people that age isn’t a guarantor of experience but a measure of the opportunity one has had for it. A forty-year-old who has lived in the same town, doing the same thing, and talking to the same people for his whole life may not have as great a quality and variety of experience as the twenty-year-old who grew up in the projects, always struggled to make ends meet, and has worked many jobs and learned from many people. Let us never judge someone based on superficial characteristics, but rather evaluate others based on their speech, conduct, and character. As Paul states in 1 Timothy 4, let us aim to set an example in such areas.