I have long had an affinity for Paul’s companion Timothy.
When I started taking my Christian faith seriously in high school, I began what has become a 25-year wrestling with “older” people in the church. I cannot count the number of times I have been counseled to “calm down” or “stop taking (my) faith so seriously,” or “this is the way it is done, we do not need a younger person suggesting otherwise.”
I am a passionate (vocal?) follower of Jesus, and have been for quite some time. While these “suggestions” do not dampen my faith, they have created roadblocks to my ministry. I am no longer a “young person” by so many of society’s definitions, but due to the general aging nature of our congregations, I continue to be viewed as one in the church.
Last year, when preparing youth for confirmation, as I walked the confirmands, parents and sponsors through the service, an older woman stopped me to ask my age. When I replied that was about to turn 40, she remarked, “Well, I look forward to see what you are like then.” I have no clue if she was implying that I was “young” or that I was acting “above my age or station.” In truth, it doesn’t actually matter what she was thinking; I’ve reached a peace of mind after many years of reflecting upon our friend Timothy.
These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:11-16
Historically, we don’t know a whole lot about Timothy, Titus and Silas beyond the fact that they were traveling companions of Paul. I imagine they assisted Paul in all aspects of his ministry. Many of Paul’s letters in the New Testament are addressed from Paul and one or more of these three companions. Timothy came from the town of Lystra (in modern-day Turkey) and Paul recognized in him a deep Christian faith. We learn in the Acts of the Apostles that as they traveled along together, “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5).
For me, Timothy is not only vital as part of Paul’s ministry, but also as one who takes Paul’s mantle of evangelism and furthers his work. Biblical criticism aside, I see Paul towards the end of his life continue encouraging Timothy to exercise the ministries to which he’s called.
But as for you, man (child) of God, shun all this (love of money); pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12
My greatest hope in helping my children and godchildren in their faith development is that they too will grow into passionate, committed followers of Jesus. I pray that the armor of protection from words and actions by those intimidated by young people will be part of their daily spiritual wardrobe.
Please church, welcome, encourage and support the faith, prophetic voices, and ministries of our young people. We need them now more than ever.
[Photo used with permission by photographer Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.]
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