Abstract: On a recent podcast, Carl Trueman, the Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, posited that 1 Timothy 4:12 may be the most incomprehensible verse in all of Scripture amidst our contemporary context. He states that within a culture that is so enamored with youth culture, it would be inconceivable for the church, let alone society-at-large, to despise those who actually are young. Broadly speaking, culture within the United States has an obsession with youth. Within this youth culture is the intrinsic need to rebel, especially against basic authorities. Phenomena such as extended adolescence and the juvenilization of American Christianity (Bergler, 2012) bring these problems immediately to the church’s doorstep, if not inside. Yet, in our ministry to families, and youth in particular, we often herald 1 Timothy 4:12 as our ministerial mantra. We encourage youth to “let no one despise them,” assuming a division and rebellion between youth and the rest of culture.
While we rightfully encourage youth to be prepared for possible coming derision, we must hold this exhortation in accordance to Paul’s full teaching. That is to say, we must hold 1 Timothy 4:12 in tandem with the varied statements in 1 Timothy 5. It is the aim of this article to place 1 Timothy 4:12 in its correct context of Paul’s admonition. In doing so, it will hold a biblical understanding of 1 Timothy 4:12 up and against a prevailing cultural interpretation of the text. Further, the article will explore how to keep our youth and family ministries from cultural syncretism by balancing ministries between an appreciation for youth and a respect for elder authority. This will conclude with the practical implications found therein.
Keywords: 1 Timothy, Authority, Elder, Ministry, Rebellion, Youth
Chris Talbot is the Program Coordinator for Youth and Family Ministry at Welch College in Nashville, Tennessee.