Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. —1 Timothy 4:12 NKJV
In this third installment of a six-part series, Paul instructs Timothy to be an example to other believers in how he loves.
In the world of pan dulce, the delectable Mexican sweet bread that has been a staple of family gatherings for more than a century, there are two types: those made at the small, neighborhood bakery that garners a faithful following; and those produced en masse in a supermarket bakery. It was at an after-church gathering at which the latter variety were served. A young man picked up a pastry, took a bite, frowned and declared “No love,” as he set it down.
We’ve all been on the receiving end of something done with a half-hearted effort. Whether it’s making a batch of cookies, washing windows or writing a detailed report, it’s easy to tell when someone didn’t give his or her best effort.
Paul reminds Timothy to have an exemplary kind of love, the kind that stands out in a mass-produced world characterized by doing only what is required.
We humans are reciprocal creatures. If someone does something kind for us, we respond by doing something kind in return. If someone doesn’t meet our expectations, or worse, deliberately does something against us, we quickly voice our complaints to our friends or family, or air our dissatisfaction on social media outlets. The lack of fairness frustrates, even angers us, and we want to be compensated.
Contrast this sense of injustice with Christ’s counsel on how we are to treat those who wrong us:
For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? —Matthew 5:46-47, NKJV
True love, the kind Paul encourages Timothy to possess, and the kind that characterized Jesus’ life and ministry, extends far beyond quid pro quo, where acts of service are exchanged like commodities. No, Jesus commands us to step into the uncomfortable, inconvenient territory of loving our enemies, blessing those who curse use, doing good to those who hate use and praying for those who spitefully use and persecute us. (Matt. 5:45, NKJV)
Displaying a love for God by loving one another should be the guiding principle for each thought and action. And when we do this, we set the example for other believers, and let the world know that we are disciples of Christ.