From the May/June 2023 Discern issue of Discern Magazine

“Let No One Despise Your Youth”: Six Elements of Earning Respect

Do you ever feel dismissed or looked down upon just because you’re young? This story of a young man and his mentor can help you earn respect.

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Tim had a problem.

How much it bothered him or affected his ability to do his job, we don’t know exactly, but it was enough to gain his supervisor’s attention.

Tim’s problem wasn’t unlike that of many young adults. Simply because of being young, he was not being afforded the respect he deserved by his older colleagues, coworkers or—even more challenging—those he had to supervise.

If you are a teen or young adult, have you ever experienced the feeling that others don’t respect you as much, don’t listen as seriously to your opinion, or may be a bit patronizing toward your input—just because you’re young?

They may be polite and intend no offense, but their behavior still feels condescending. It’s especially frustrating if you know your contributions could be valuable—if only you had their respect.

It seems that’s where Tim had found himself.

A mentor’s words of wisdom

But Tim also had a mentor, a wise older man who had taken him under his wing. He had come to respect and trust Tim, to the point of giving him some very important responsibilities that involved overseeing and guiding a lot of people.

Perhaps that was part of Tim’s problem—living in the shadow of his mentor. It’s natural and easy in such cases for people to negatively compare the younger new guy to the older, well-known, beloved father figure.

Regardless of what had created obstacles to Tim’s success, his mentor knew what Tim needed to do, and the wisdom he shared with him—nearly 2,000 years ago—still stands today as sage advice for any young person.

Youth is an age, but maturity is a way of thinking and behaving. You can do nothing about what age you are, but you can do everything about the way you think and act.“Tim,” you may have guessed by now, is a more casual, familiar term. He is known to readers of the Bible as Timothy, and his mentor, of course, was the apostle Paul. They had a deep bond, akin to a father-son relationship.

Timothy was well aware that Paul spoke from experience—that he had come by his wisdom through many of his own challenges of having to earn people’s trust. So, when Timothy received his mentor’s letter, offering counsel on a number of issues, he undoubtedly sensed the advice would be deeper and more astute than what most people would offer And so it was.

Are you a young person wanting to earn respect? Consider, then, the six steps to success Paul laid out for Timothy.

“Let no one despise your youth”

Paul’s statement might have caught Timothy off guard: “Let no one despise your youth,” or, as it could be read, “look down on your youthfulness.”

It would be easy to react skeptically and say, “That sounds good, but how do you stop someone from doing that?”

Some people seem to think being strongly self-assertive is the answer—establishing social rank and projecting a tough, “no one disrespects me” attitude. Yet, ironically, many others deem that approach as immature in itself.

So how can you stop someone from dismissing you if you want to be respected and thought of as mature?

The answer, Paul said, lies in developing a few core qualities that shift the focus away from one’s age, making it all about character instead. Although not directly stated, Paul’s point was that respect is legitimately earned not by your years but by what you are.

If you’re a young person, applying yourself to developing these six qualities will put you on the fast track to winning the respect of others.

The power of example

Paul’s advice is, thankfully, preserved for us today in 1 Timothy 4:12. “Let no one despise your youth,” he wrote, “but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

He did not elaborate on or define these qualities—presumably he expected Timothy to ponder that himself. Given the importance of character, it’s a mark of maturity in itself when any young person devotes study and thought to these deeper things of life.

The following are a few observations that may serve to stimulate your thinking along those lines.

First, Paul told Timothy to be an example. And an example to the believers in particular, he noted, since that was the group for which Timothy had responsibility. But being an example will impact everyone who comes within your sphere of influence, because most people (even unbelievers) highly esteem these character traits.

Examples can be set in one short instance or over a long stretch of time. But eventually, the most important opinion anybody will ever draw about you will be the one based on your example. You can’t hide your example, and you can’t fake it. Our example lays out what we are really made of—what we are inside—for everyone to see.

Why do you think Paul encouraged Timothy to be conscious of his example? It seems he wanted Timothy to know that character development wasn’t just for his own personal benefit, but that he had a responsibility to show others how they could and should live as well. Timothy’s life was to be a model for others.

By telling him to be example-conscious, Paul was emphasizing to Timothy that when you express love, for instance, others can see it and think, “Ah, that is what love (in its many forms—fairness, kindness, mercy, compassion, etc.) looks like in action.”

Examples are powerful—often far more powerful than words! We all are influenced by others’ examples, good and bad. So Paul’s instruction about the things Timothy could do was prefaced by telling him to take on the responsibility of showing the right way to others.

Six facets of building respect

Now, let’s briefly consider the six qualities Paul drew attention to.

“In word”—the way we express ourselves. It’s doubtful anyone reading this doesn’t already understand that a crude or critical vocabulary debases others and demeans one’s own reputation as a Christian.

In terms of maturity, not being able to express one’s emotions without resorting to vulgarity reflects an infantile level of emotional intelligence. Conversely, having good words, kind words, uplifting words, spoken from a genuinely caring heart, shows that you are thinking of others, which is a sign of a mature mind.

Even the simple act of stopping to have a word with the elderly or little children, or taking time to write good words to others through social media, notes or cards, tells people you care. And in a world where many seem to care less and less about their fellow man, people will automatically respect someone who has the maturity to rise above that and show care for others with words.

“In conduct”—the way we behave. Good words have to be backed up by good conduct. We’ve all seen people who put on a smiling face and talk nicely when certain others are around, but as soon as they’re gone, the mask comes off and their conduct changes for the worse.

There’s a word for that—hypocrisy. And most people despise hypocrites.

Good character is demonstrated by conduct. It gives evidence to the words we speak and proclaim to live by. Paul’s advice here is simple, but deeply important. Today we might say, “Practice what you preach!”

“In love”—the care and concern that goes out to others. We’re living in a world in which Jesus said we would see love—common care for others—growing cold because of increasing sinfulness (Matthew 24:12).

But practicing the way of love defined in 1 Corinthians 13 not only keeps us from becoming emotionally and spiritually calloused, but helps others profoundly. As Paul said, that type of love never fails, because it is God’s way. A young person who is mature enough to follow God’s way of loving others will experience something surprising—reciprocity. People love and respect in return those who are loving.

“In spirit”—zeal, wholeheartedness. Some versions of the Bible do not include this word, but it is nevertheless a great quality. It has to do with one’s passion and how it is directed. For example, how should one pursue these other five traits? Grudgingly or eagerly? Casually or seriously? Half-heartedly or without reserve? It’s not so common to see a young person passionately pursuing what he or she believes, but when people do, their respect for him or her increases.

“In faith”—loyalty. The original Greek word here refers more to being faithful. Can a teen or young adult look at the way life works and realize that over time everyone experiences good times and bad, trials and blessings alike? Of course. Can he or she also determine to be steadfastly faithful and loyal to God through everything life brings? Of course.

Others will see that too. When we see people slogging through a very difficult time in life, yet never wavering in their faith and faithfulness toward God, such examples are exceedingly encouraging and can help us strengthen our own relationship with God. We respect that.

In purity”—not spiritually contaminated. Sin contaminates people. It alters our thinking and messes up our lives and others’ lives too. Such impurity takes many forms, ranging from anger to adultery, jealousy to injustice, stealing to slandering, and many other sins. No one’s character is pure 24-karat gold, but mature people highly esteem young people they see striving to purify their lives and to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

Maturity—putting away childish things

We could add many other qualities or aspects of godly character, but chances are they would fall under one of these six categories Paul listed. They are not hard to understand, but as core facets of character development, they are worth deeply exploring, not only for how they work in our lives, but for how they are truly the building blocks of respect.

Maybe Timothy had read in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians another perspective on maturing. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child,” Paul had explained. He added, “but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Paul didn’t say, “When I turned 18 (or 21, or 30), I became a man.” No, he knew that he had attained maturity when he put away childish things. And he knew that’s what earns respect.

Sad to say, some people never put away childish things, no matter how old they become! Glad to say, though, that when people rise to such maturity in their youth, they set a powerful example for others—young and old alike.

Likewise, no doubt Timothy heeded Paul’s advice—don’t worry about what people think, just do the right things. If you set the right example, people will change their view of you. That advice is timeless, standing just as true today.

Youth is an age, but maturity is a way of thinking and behaving. You can do nothing about what age you are, but you can do everything about the way you think and act.

In that, you will find the power—and the godly path to character—that will change the mind of anyone who would be inclined to look down on your youthfulness.

About the Author

Clyde Kilough

Clyde Kilough

Clyde Kilough is the Media operation manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, overseeing all of its media outreach programs including Life, Hope & Truth and Discern magazine.

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