1 Timothy 4:12
I wonder how many of you would be uncomfortable with the thought of leading other people. For some people this is an uncomfortable thought, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. God has gifted us all in different ways and put us all in different positions. God has not given us all a position of authority. However, he has called us all to the task of leadership. Leadership is simply influence. If you are trying to influence someone you are trying to lead them. God has called us all to influence other people. Whether you’re a pastor, a parent, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a fellow church member, God has called you to exert spiritual influence on the people around you.
For many of you this is still an intimidating prospect. The reason leadership is so intimidating is because people don’t always want to follow. There are few situations more frustrating than trying to influence someone who doesn’t want to listen! I am certain that you all can relate. Maybe it is your children at home, or a grown child, or a neighbor, or even someone in the Church. Whoever it is, I am convinced that you all have someone you’re trying to influence but they don’t want to listen. Assuming that we are trying to lead in a biblical direction, what do you do in situations like this? How do you lead when no one wants to follow?
To answer this question, I’d like to turn your attention to 1 Timothy 4:12. In this passage we find an individual in this exact situation. Timothy was a pastor in the city of Ephesus. He had been called to lead this church, but there were some who did not want to follow his leadership. The apostle Paul understood this challenge and wrote the words of 1 Tim 4:12 to show Timothy how he should respond to this challenge. Here is what he said:
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
As we see here Timothy was a young pastor. He was probably around 30 years old at this time and did not have a great deal of pastoral experience. What made this situation even more challenging was the fact that he was pastoring the church in Ephesus. This is the church that had been planted and trained up under the pastoral care of the apostle Paul. There may have been no church in the New Testament era to receive the doctrinal instruction that this church received. The elders of this church were the same men Paul wept and prayed with in Acts 20. This was an influential church with experienced leadership. Apparently this made it difficult for some within the church to submit to Timothy as the pastor. In fact from day one, Timothy had to deal with opponents (1:3). Remember these men were elders with Paul, but even Paul warned that “from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things.” (Acts 20:30) By the time Timothy got to Ephesus, this had happened already and there were influential people who didn’t want to listen to Timothy.
Those who didn’t want to listen to Timothy were using Timothy’s youth as an excuse not to listen to him. But this is just what it was, an excuse. People don’t like being confronted with truth and this is what Paul had left Timothy to do. Look at verse 11, where Paul commands Timothy to:
“Command and teach these things”
People don’t like being commanded and they want to think that they already know everything. They will come up with all kinds of excuses to dismiss this kind of leadership. With pastors it is usually a progression of excuses that starts with “he’s boring”, proceeds to “he’s prideful” and ends up at “he’s unqualified”. The opponents in Ephesus had apparently made it to the last of these, treating Timothy as if he was unqualified to lead because of his age.
The word Paul uses here translated “despise” presents a word picture of setting or throwing Timothy aside. They completely dismissed him and the influence he was trying to have on the church.
You might be wondering how this applies to you. There is only one pastor in his early 30’s here today, at least that I know of. You’re right, the specific circumstances of Timothy’s situation are unique, but the principles involved are exactly the same. My guess is that right now you have a person in mind who is trying to throw aside your influence. A person you’re trying to encourage in the Lord or share the gospel with who just refuses to listen to you. In this regard you’re in the same boat with Timothy. You’re trying to lead someone who doesn’t want to follow.
Because your situation is the same in principle as Timothy’s situation, the counsel that Paul provided Timothy applies in principle to your situation as well. In this passage we learn how to influence people when they don’t want to be influenced.
It all starts with being an example. Paul tells Timothy to set an example. He was to be a pattern for how people in his church were to act, even if they didn’t want to follow him. Christian leadership always requires this. You can’t influence people in a direction that you’re not heading. Parents you can’t encourage your kids in godly patience if you’re impatiently yelling at them. Christian, you can’t persuade someone of the power of the Truth of the Gospel if you’re trying to manipulate them. You can only lead people in the direction that you are going. In other words, if you want to influence people who don’t want to be influenced you must look to your own life first. Specifically, 1 Tim 4:12 unfolds 5 requirements for influencing people who don’t want to be influenced. These are 5 requirements of proven church leadership.
I. Exemplary Speech – The Instrumentation of a Leader
The first requirement for influencing people who don’t want to be influenced is exemplary speech. You must be an example in the way you speak. This is so important because exemplary speech is the instrumentation of a godly leader. Your words are the primary means by which you will influence other people. You might not be a “talker”. Maybe you like that old quote “share the gospel, use words if necessary”. But frankly that doesn’t cut it.
God has chosen to use words as the primary means of influence. He set this pattern in his own work. What was the first activity of God recorded in the Bible? His creation. And how did God do that? He spoke. How did God chose to reveal himself and the gospel? The words of the Bible. Even Jesus, who is the ultimate revelation of God, is called the Word (JN 1:1-3). God has chosen to work through words. This includes our work. Romans 10:13-16 makes plain the fact that God uses the spoken words of the gospel to save individuals. This means that exemplary speech is critical if we want to influence other people with God’s truth. In fact, scripture also warns that when our speech is not exemplary it will be devastating. (James 3:1-6)
If we want to have a positive influence for the kingdom of God, our speech must be exemplary. But what does exemplary speech look like? There are a number of things that we know it is not:
-It is not gossip
-It is not slander
-It is not complaining and grumbling
-It is not angry
-It is not manipulative
We could find many more examples of the kind of speech that is not godly, but these are some of the most tempting speech patterns when people won’t listen to you. We must resist these patterns of speech and instead seek to speak the truth in love. This is essentially what it means to have exemplary speech. It is conveying what is true in a way that serves the person you’re speaking to. It will do you no good to speak the truth for your own gratification or to obfuscate truth to spare the feelings of someone else.
Speaking the truth in love is the only way that our speech can “build up” (Eph 4:14-16). This is what Christ compelled us to do in Mt 18:15-17 when he commanded us to speak to the person with whom we have a problem.
To say that our speech must be exemplary is to say that we must speak the truth in love. This, however, is not an easy thing to do. By nature we can’t produce exemplary speech (Mk 7:14-23). We must be regenerate to produce speech that builds up, and more than that we must depend upon the wisdom that comes from God (James 3:17). This means that if you want to develop exemplary speech in your own life you must immerse yourself in the Bible. The only way to speak with God’s wisdom is to speak from the Bible. The only way to speak with truth is to know the truth. We have to allow God’s word to sanctify our words so that we can influence those around us toward Christ.
How many times are we tempted to abandon exemplary speech when people won’t listen to us? How many times do we ignore Paul’s command when we’re frustrated? How many times do we speak our opinions into a situation rather than God’s wisdom? It will never work. Paul knew that if Timothy was going to lead the church he would have to use exemplary speech as his primary implement. The same is true for us. Influencing people for God’s kingdom requires exemplary speech. Exemplary speech from God’s word delivered how God has commanded is the only true implement of change.
II. Exemplary Conduct – The Confirmation of a Leader
The second requirement we find in this passage is the requirement of exemplary conduct. Paul tells Timothy to set an example “in conduct”. Exemplary conduct is the confirmation of a leader. The Old Testament is very clear that if you want to be a leader who influences people your conduct is important. Think, for instance, of the qualifications of an elder (1Tim 3:1-7). With the exception of being able to teach every one of the qualifications is related to a man’s conduct. Hebrews 13:7 says that a leader in the church is one whose way of life is worth imitating. On the flip side, false teachers can always be identified by their ungodly conduct. Jesus said you’ll know them by their fruit (Mt 7:16). Whether it is made public or not you can be sure that a false teacher’s life is ungodly because they don’t believe the gospel that transforms lives. The gospel not only saves but also transforms. This again is why it is so important to have exemplary conduct.
If you want to be able to influence someone else with the gospel you must demonstrate the power of the gospel with your conduct. This is how you show that you’ve got wisdom from above (James 3:1-6). Through your conduct you earn the credibility to speak into the life of another person. This is the pattern we find in 1Pt 3:1-2.
What does exemplary conduct look like? It looks like renewed life in Christ through the Spirit. (Eph 4:22-24) It is not conforming to human standards; it is conforming to the image of Christ. We are too quick to judge others or ourselves based on our own standards. Things like the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the choices our family makes on matters of preference. This is not what Paul had in mind. The reason we do this is because we can live up to those standards and make ourselves feel holy. The good conduct Paul is speaking about, however, is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. Gal 5:22-23 gives us a snapshot of what we are to be pursuing. Notice there are no rules or external standards. Why? Because if you’re submitting to the Spirit in these areas you don’t have to worry about breaking rules. This is the point. If you want to be an example in your conduct, don’t develop rules, develop godly character. If you’re looking for someone to follow that’s the person you want it be. If you’re following someone with lots of rules you’re following them. If you’re following someone with the fruit of the Spirit, you’re following the Spirit.
At the same time, if you want people to follow your influence this is the conduct that confirms you’re worth following. Exemplary conduct is what confirms you as a leader in God’s economy.
If Timothy wanted to prove that he wasn’t too young and inexperienced, he didn’t need to defend himself or argue the case with his detractors. He needed to keep living like a mature man. That’s how he would earn credibility. The same is true in your situation. You can’t argue someone into the kingdom or manipulate them into sanctification. But you can confirm yourself by your exemplary conduct.
III. Exemplary Love – The Motivation of a Leader
The third requirement for influencing others is exemplary love. Love is the motivation for true godly leadership. So often we are motivated by personal prominence, or self-satisfaction, but godly leadership is motivated by the good of others. This is what love is. Biblical love is seeking the good of another before your own good. We know this because Jesus’ work on the cross is the ultimate example of true love (1John 3:16).
Gospel love is the gold standard for Christian leadership. God wants people who are looking out for the good of his sheep to be influencing them. This is why love is so important for a leader. For that matter, it is important for all Christians in every context. Colossians 3:14 says:
“above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
If we are not influencing others in love then it is of no value. 1 Cor 13:1-3 says:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, ESV)
It then goes on to describe what love practically looks like:
“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, ESV)
When Paul told Timothy to be an example in love this is what he meant, and this is what it means for us to influence others with exemplary love.
Let me ask you, that person you’re trying to influence, why are you trying to influence them? Do you want them to accept Christ because it will validate your faith? Do you want them to benefit from your counsel so that you’ll gain a good reputation in the church? Or, parents, do you want your kids to listen so you won’t be embarrassed? Be honest with yourself – I’ve had to all week. We are all tempted to lead for selfish reasons. Don’t ignore that temptation; repent of it.
If you want to influence people in a godly way you must cultivate a love for God and for your neighbor (Mt 22:36-40). That is what will make you useful to the Lord. A perfect example is a man by the name of R.C. Chapman. Chapman was a pastor in Britain many years ago. His influence was profound. Spurgeon called him the most godly man he knew. What is interesting about Chapman is that he was not a very good preacher, nor was he a dynamic leader. His congregation was never large, and he ministered most of his lfe in obscurity. But, he determined if he could do one thing well, it would be to love others. So that’s what he did. He was reviled, mocked, spit upon, and deserted by friends. And yet, finally, after 60 years he wore people down through love. In his words, “Do we meet with unkindness from brethren? Instead of shooting our bitter words at them, let us judge ourselves; and endeavor, in love and wisdom, to overcome evil with good.” This is how Jesus led, it’s how Chapman led, and it is what we see here in this message. We should follow the pattern of Rom 12:9-21 and seek to outdo one another in love.
This is exactly what Timothy needed to hear. If he had been motivated by his own good, he would have given up. The same is true for us when we are dealing with that difficult person. We must be motivated by exemplary love if we want to be used.
IV. Exemplary Faith – The Foundation of a Leader
The fourth requirement for influencing others is exemplary faith. If you want to lead others you must be an example of the faith you want to see in the person with whom you are dealing. Your faith must be your foundation as a leader.
Faith is the foundation of everything we do as Christians.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)
We are saved by faith and continue to walk by faith.
“for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV)
This means that the way we interact with other people must equally demonstrate our faith. This means that we use God’s means for influence, the Bible. It means we trust the gifts God has given us to serve others. It also means – and this is the hardest – that we must trust God’s timing. If you try to manipulate someone to change and act like your faith will be shaken if they don’t change do you think they will be compelled to faith?
If we want to call others to faith, we must model faith, which requires constant attention. Sometimes we take our faith for granted, but we all struggle with our faith. We are all like the father in Mark 9:24. We believe and we need help with our unbelief. Don’t believe me! When is the last time you struggled with anxiety? When is the last time you failed to pray about something? When is the last time you chose sin over obedience? All of these are symptoms of weak faith and we all have them. This, by the way, is why God commands us to go to church and listen to preaching. When we submissively do that it increases our faith. Remember, faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17). Our faith is also increased when we go through trials (James 1:2-4) with the right attitude. God is using these means, and others, to grow our faith and increase our effectiveness in his church.
I should mention that Paul’s command to Timothy could be translated with a command to be faithful. It is probably not, but even if it was, it wouldn’t make much difference. Faith is required to be faithful (James 2:16). If you want to be faithful to the Lord and to those around you, then you must increase your faith. That’s really the point here. It is a point that far too many miss. I think it’s pride, but too many falter because they were so busy trying to influence others that they didn’t take their faith serious anymore. This is key, if you want to shepherd other people you must shepherd your own heart. The deeper your faith, the more influence you can have on others.
Timothy needed to be reminded that exemplary faith is foundational for influencing others. And something tells me we all need this reminder.
V. Exemplary Purity – The Realization of a Leader
The fifth requirement for influencing others that we find in 1 Tim 4:12 is purity. Paul commanded Timothy to be an example in purity. Really this is the realization of a leader. Purity is what he is caring for in his own life and it is what he is praying for in the life of those whom he is influencing.
At this point, we need to take a minute and think about what purity really is. We must begin by noting that biblical purity begins internally (Prov 22:11). So often we think of purity as making rules and then keeping them. True biblical purity is a change in heart that makes external rules unnecessary. You can’t legislate purity with your rules. If it didn’t work with God’s law then what makes you think it will work with your rules? Purity starts internally by thinking rightly about God (Titus 2:7) and devoting yourself fully to Christ (2 Cor 11:3). It is only then that purity manifests itself externally. A pure heart is the only source of right deeds. A heart like this comes only through the power of the gospel in regeneration. You can always tell a pure heart because it conforms to scripture (Ps 12:6). It produces holy speech (Prov 15:26). And it treats others well (James 1:27).
Purity is the absence of anything that would prevent heartfelt devotion to God. Purity is what leads to practice holiness.
Purity is what you’re after in your own heart and in the hearts of those around you. Especially as you seek to help others be pure and remember a few truths:
- Unbelievers cannot be pure (including children). So you must point to Christ not purity as the goal.
- Purity is conformity to God’s standards not your standards.
- Purity is a life-long process; be patient.
- Purity is best learned by example, not legislation
This is what Timothy needed to hear. As the pastor, Timothy could have tried to force those dismissing him to be pure, but that wouldn’t have worked. He had to become an example of purity so that the people could see the realization of the truths he was commanding and teaching. He had to preach purity with his sermons and his life to be an effective leader.
You’ve probably heard the saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But, if you give him some salt, there is a much better chance that he will take a drink. You can do everything possible to influence a person, but you can’t make them respond. God is sovereign over that, not you. But, like salt for the horse, you can make your influence far more appealing by being an example. The fact of the matter is that this is really the only thing that you’re responsible for. You can’t control the heart of another person, but you can be faithful, which is the only thing you’re responsible for.
As you think through this, maybe you’ve realized that you haven’t lived up to these requirements in your interaction with others. Can I provide a few words of encouragement to you?
- Jesus is the only one who does it perfectly. Have others follow you s you follow Christ (2 Cor 11:1)
- Grace is available for all sin.
- Seek forgiveness if you’ve sinned against the people you’re trying to influence
- Rejoice that ultimately God is sovereign and your imperfections won’t keep anyone out of heaven
- Pray for those you’re leading an pray to be an example.
Timothy was in a challenging situation and I’m sure many of you are as well. Isn’t it encouraging to know that we have God’s help and that the results are ultimately in the hands of our sovereign God.