If you're anything like me, you've heard the words of 1 Timothy 4:12 countless times before:
"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."
But have you ever stopped to wonder exactly how it is that we, as young people, can do that? It seems to me that the verse is less about ensuring equality between the young and the old ("I'm young, I have as much say as you do!") as it is a call to be something that's far greater than we already are. And in order to set an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity, we need to start with a proper understanding of who God is.
While sitting waiting for my delayed plane in Dulles Airport, Washington, I was reading backwards through Job. This may well sound like a strange way to do it, but I was alerted to one particular verse in God's speech, which happens to be at the end. For whatever reason, it made sense to me to read the sections backwards, for reasons I still can't entirely comprehend.
Bear with me. I read through God's speech to Job, which left me in total awe of His power and majesty - if you haven't read it, turn to Job chapters 38-41 (It has dragons in it, which automatically makes it awesome).
Here's why it was so important that I read backwards. My read started with the majesty and holiness of God (the only place we can start with ANY Bible reading, really). Then it progressed (in chapters 34-37) to how hopeless we humans are in comparison (the natural conclusion following the realisation of the majesty and holiness of God).
The beginning of Job 33 details the absolute futility of trying to bring God down to our level, and perhaps more importantly, how doomed and futile a life without God is. Take verse 21-22 as a small example: "His flesh wastes away to nothing, and his bones, once hidden, now stick out. His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to the messengers of death." Not exactly the most encouraging words out there.
Then I read further backwards to the next section, and for the first time in quite a while, I could honestly relate with Job 37:1 - "At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place." I literally stopped in my place, reading this one small section over and over again. Have a read of Job 33:23-28:
"Yet if there is an angel on his side
as a mediator, one out of a thousand,
to tell a man what is right for him,
to be gracious to him and say,
'Spare him from going down to the pit;
I have found a ransom for him'-
then his flesh is renewed like a child's;
it is restored as in the days of his youth.
He prays to God and finds favor with him,
he sees God's face and shouts for joy;
he is restored by God to his righteous state.
Then he comes to men and says,
'I sinned, and perverted what was right,
but I did not get what I deserved.
He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit,
and I will live to enjoy the light.'"
This guy understood our need for Christ thousands of years before He came, and God had it all planned out. More than anyone else in his time, he had an understanding of who God was (holy), who we were in comparison (worthless), what our good works would amount to (nothing) and our need for a Saviour (Christ). "Wow," I'm thinking as I re-read it for the tenth time, "about time Job gets some good advice! This guy must be the old priest guy or something."
I read back to the next chapter.
Elihu is the youngest guy there.
Now I'm quite literally in shock. How on earth have I been in youth groups since I was 12, read almost every Christian youth book there is, and not once have I heard of this guy?!? I quickly grabbed the nearest bit of paper on my person and wrote down that this passage needs to get out there.
"But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty that gives him understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, nor only the aged who understand what's right." (Job 32:8-9)
How do we make sure we're not looked down upon because we are young? How do we set an example in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity? By following the example of Elihu - focusing on the truth of who God is, the rubbish that we are in comparison, and the incredible love and grace found in His sacrifice.
If we as a youth can understand that, then I think we're on to something.