“Command and teach these things. 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 4:11-12 (ESV)
Growing up, my dad always reminded me that anybody can be mediocre. I would often get lectured because I did not want to go practice basketball or baseball or whatever sport I was currently involved in. I vividly remember being told that if I didn’t go practice free throws I would never be good at basketball. My dad was relentless in reminding me that those who don’t practice don’t excel. My dad had extremely high hopes and expectations for me in the world of athletics (on a side note, I’m extremely glad that he did). We all probably had this experience in some aspect from a coach, parent or friend group. The expectations set on us in athletics, or vocationally, or as parents, or as students can often be negative. However, many of the most elite athletes in the world attribute much of their success to the high expectations set by those around them. High expectation can often be a catalyst that drives us to meet the potential that God has designed for us. We know this to be true in athletics, but how often do we take that same idea and apply it to our growth in holiness?
In first Timothy 4:11–12, Paul reminds young Timothy of the expectations he has for him. If you know anything about Paul and Timothy’s relationship, it’s a beautiful picture of what happens when an older man takes a younger man under his wing and disciples him well. Timothy followed Paul on much of his second missionary journey, and Paul asked him to stay in Ephesus as the lead pastor and leader of the church at Ephesus.
The church at Ephesus was one of the fastest-growing churches in the New Testament as it sat smack in the middle of one of the most traveled and highly populated cities in Asia Minor. Paul challenges Timothy in Chapter 4 to not fall victim to the low expectations his church, the culture and the people around him would have of him because he is young. Timothy is both a young believer and a young man. The expectations that he would excel and lead in a mature fashion were not very high. We see this all over the place today in our expectations of the youth of our world. We are far more surprised to see young people act maturely and lead well than we are to see them be disrespectful and immature. Those same expectations sat on Timothy has a pastor.
Literally, Paul tells Timothy not to let people look down on him because of his youth. This implies that the natural inclination of the people around him would be to look down on him and have low expectations of him because he was young. Paul told him to beat that expectation with higher expectations for himself and to lead those around him, regardless of their age, in example through his faith. Paul had extremely high expectations of a young church leader regardless of what the culture said about him. Paul knew the Gospel would drive Timothy to a greater faith and maturity than the culture ever thought possible.
This was pretty standard operating procedure for Paul. In his letter the church at Ephesus he ask them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they’ve been called.” (Ephesians 4:1, ESV) In Romans 12, Paul commands the church at Rome to not conform to the expectations and low demands of the world, but through the transformation of the Gospel to live to a higher standard. (Romans 12:2, paraphrase)
Paul knows that the world has low, small expectations of our integrity, character and ideals. The Gospel says otherwise. The Gospel says that Christ came to take our place in our death that we might live a life free from those low expectations. The Gospel frees us to a life of excellence and achievement, free from sin and free from cultural limitations.
Paul knows this truth and never lets Timothy or any of the New Testament churches slide into a cultural, low belief of what they’re capable of. He expects that the Gospel will drive them to excel.
Are you allowing the low expectations and the cultural presumptions set the standard for your life? Or does the Gospel drive you to something higher? We don’t accept mediocrity in any other area of our lives; why would the Gospel allow for it spiritually?