When I was growing up, my dad’s stride was much longer then mine. If we were on a brisk walk, his 6′ 2″ frame would carry him swiftly as I scampered along by his side. I caught up to him in my teen years so our stride has been about equal since then … Now my sons are at their full height too. This helped when four of us jogged through the streets of Atlanta in the annual Fourth of July 10 K race this summer. The three generations of sweaty Woodwards each got the prized Peachtree T shirt at the finish line.
The apostle Paul wrote to his spiritual son, Timothy, of the need to walk in such a way as to be a positive example. “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 Tim. 4:12). Although Timothy was the pastoral leader in Ephesus then, this directive applies to us all today–especially to those in positions of leadership. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a supervisor at work, or a ministry director, leadership is primarily a matter of influence. And influence is a matter of attitudes and actions as much as position and teaching. Let’s take a closer look at this verse.
“Let no one despise your youth…” By this time, Timothy wasn’t in his teens or twenties, but in that culture advanced age earned a person respect. This protege of Paul had earned respect because of his relationship with the Lord and with the apostle’s team. Timothy’s ministry experience led to a leadership role in this strategic area.
“Be an example to the believers…” That’s a tall order. How often we’ve heard the motto: “Do what I say, not what I do.” This kind of double standard is void of positive influence. The Greek word for example is “tupos.” We get the English word “type” from this. It means “the mark of a stroke or blow, print; form; an example.” Although none of us has perfect understanding, fully developed potential, or sinless behavior, God calls us to be a positive advertisement for His grace.
God calls His people to a career in modeling–being a testimony of transformational change through God’s Spirit.
You who preach and teach God’s Word know of all the training, study, and preparation that is needed for this ministry. We get weak-kneed when we think that there’s a whole additional realm of communicating this message–our lifestyle. Thankfully, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Even though we cannot model perfection, we can model growth. And in this context, that’s the goal: “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).
What are some of the qualities that leaders are to exemplify?
1. Be an example in your words (1 Tim. 4:12). The term is “logos.” Here it indicates our overall conversation. If we abide in Christ, our speech will be cleansed from profanity, lies and gossip. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).
2. Be an example in conduct. This word connotes one’s manner of life and behavior. This doesn’t mean that we’re saved by good works. (Salvation is by grace through faith apart from our merit–1 Tim. 1:12-16). However, saving faith shows up in a changed life. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
3. Be an example in love. The word here is “agape” –unconditional goodwill. This is the kind of love God has shows to us (John 3:16). Our relationships should be characterized by genuine caring: “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2).
4. Be an example in spirit. The use of spirit (“pneuma”) here seems to be “the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any one.” Our disposition should be Godly and Christ-centered. We are to be motivated by treasures in heaven rather than than materialism. Paul addresses “those who are spiritual…” i.e., those who mature in the faith and allowing the Holy Spirit in their human spirit to direct their priorities (Gal. 6:1).
5. Be an example in faith. Since we “walk by faith, not by sight” this is a key aspect of our testimony (2 Cor. 5:7). Our faith is kept strong as we feed on God’s Word daily. Timothy was blessed with this heritage: “…from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17). In the early church Stephen and Barnabas were models of confident faith (Acts 6:8; 11:24). The Abiding Life is essentially one of of trust in the indwelling Christ (Col. 1:27; Gal. 2;20).
6. Be an example of purity. The word for purity conveys the idea of morality–especially regarding the opposite sex. The only other occurrence of this word in the New Testament is in 1 Timothy 5:2: “[Treat] older women as mothers, younger as sisters, with all purity.” In our technological age, this purity must be protected from porn on the Internet, TV, DVDs, magazines, etc. Yielding to these temptations opens the door to an immoral habit and vulnerability to fornication and adultery. The leader will heed these directives: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). Praise God for the unfailing power of the blood of Christ for our sins (1 John 1:9).
In the Old Testament there are many “types” that foreshadowed the person and work of Christ. In the New Covenant, believers are joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit. As we let Him live His life through us we will also be a “type”–an example–that points to the enabling grace of God.
Part of our example is to admit our failures and growth areas. At first, the idea of claiming to be an example sounds proud, but Paul declared: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Thess. 3:7,9). Paul also conveyed the secret of his good example: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” 1 Cor. 15:10).
So how would you like to be a model? No, not the air-brushed magazine variety. Rather, be a model of growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ in you. Pray to exemplify the virtues prescribed for pastor Timothy. As others are influenced for God’s Kingdom, He will receive the glory as your source of life.
 Although the word “spirit” is not included some of the older Greek manuscripts (therefore not found in the NIV, NASB, etc.), it is in the majority of them.
 The word “tupos” is found in Acts 7:44 and Hebrews 8:5 regarding the pattern for the tabernacle. It is also used of Adam prefiguring Christ (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22). Tupos occurs elsewhere in the sense of being a positive example (Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:7; 2 Thess. 3:9; Titus 2:7 1 Peter 5:3).
 For instance, the Passover lamb was a type that anticipated Christ’s atonement on Calvary (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7).
 It is implicit in the background is that Timothy would have been discipled in the truths of Romans chs. 6-8. The Christian life is more than an imitation; it is a participation in Christ’s very Life (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:17). Yet, this participation is to be expressed in practical, fruitful living.
Greek definitions are from Thayer’s Lexicon.
Copyright 2006 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Please credit GraceNotebook.com. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.