In Christ We Progress

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Tim 4: 12 – 16

This letter was sent to Timothy when he remained behind in the church at Ephesus. Although much of the letter is about the church as a whole. Here at the end of Chapter 4 Paul advises Timothy on how to shepherd the flock at Ephesus.

In these verses, we are told to be an example to others, and everyone must be able to see our progress. This aspect might make us feel uneasy because there are times when we can’t even see our own progress!


Paul gives us a list of things where we should be exemplary, such as our speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. It reminds me of high school when I was a high jumper. Someone would set the bar, and I would have to clear it. The closer I got to the bar, the higher it seemed. Similarly, the closer I get to God, the more of my ungodliness I see. There are many days when I don’t think I’m progressing at all. This can lead us to ask ‘how can I be an example to anyone?’


As I read these verses, the first line in verse 12 caught my attention: “Let no one despise you for your youth.” As a young pastor, it would have been easy for older Christians to look down on Timothy because of his youth. Youth generally denotes a lack of maturity and experience. I remember when my old dentist retired, and my first appointment with his replacement was almost shocking – I swear the guy looked like he was 16-years-old, and I wasn’t feeling good about him working on my teeth. I even considered finding another dentist. Sure enough, there were times when I longed for my old experienced dentist, but fairly quickly, I noticed that this new guy was improving, doing things differently and quite frankly better than my old dentist.

Progress is about movement – where we are going, not where we are. (Direction vs perfection.) In the high jump, it’s about raising the bar in small increments to ultimately reach the goal. I think that for Paul – saying “setting an example” doesn’t necessarily mean getting everything right the first time.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Philippians 3:12 & 17

Paul said of himself in Phil 3:12 & 17, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own… imitate me, follow my example.”

Paul knew that Timothy was “progressing,” and like Paul, Timothy was not already perfect either. The first sentence in verse 12 was meant as an encouragement to Timothy. I think Paul was saying to Timothy, “live so others can see Christ in you.” So, like Paul, we can set an example without being perfect.

Kevin DeYoung wrote in his book – The Hole in Our Holiness; “God not only expects me to progress, but in His Grace, he allows me to progress.” Because of God’s Grace in Christ, we get more than one attempt at the bar, and so we can grow. We can mature. Our speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity can improve as we ‘press on.’


Verse 16 lays out our responsibility: “Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”