Paul said, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Read or listen to this chapter from Work and Rest God’s Way to learn why God would say do not let them despise your youth.
Table of contents
- Set an Example Versus Letting Anyone Look Down on Your Youth
- Don’t Let Anyone Look Down on You Because You Are Young
- Young People Should Set an Example in Five Ways
- Grace and Work
Set an Example Versus Letting Anyone Look Down on Your Youth
Rarely do people with lazy childhoods grow up to be diligent adults, because they’ll bring the habits they developed in their childhood into adulthood; therefore, the best approach is to start training children to have a strong work ethic when they’re young. The work they do depends on their strength and maturity, but even at a young age, they can do jobs around the house, and sometimes even in the surrounding neighborhood.
In the church I pastor, we strive to take care of our needs ourselves as opposed to paying people to do it for us. This means we have a schedule for families to clean the church, instead of hiring a janitor to do it. We have church workdays versus hiring people for maintenance and repairs. When church cleaning and workdays take place, families perform these tasks together. Children work alongside adults. Unfortunately, in some churches, children might be the least likely to serve, but this is the opposite of what should be the case.
In Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20, Paul charged, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” and “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” Performing chores faithfully and with a good attitude is one of the primary ways children obey their parents. Parents can remind their children that 2 Thessalonians 3:10 teaches that people who don’t work shouldn’t eat. Are parents going to starve their children? No, but rare is the child who wouldn’t benefit from the lesson that missing a meal teaches. How many children would work more diligently if they were told the meal wouldn’t be served until all the work is done?
Unfortunately, society makes children think they aren’t adults until they’re twenty-one, but they can behave maturely years earlier. Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). According to this verse, becoming an adult has more to do with putting away childish things than it has to do with age. Some children are mature because of the childish things they’ve put away. Conversely, some older people are immature, because of the childish things they haven’t put away.
According to a 2017 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, 57 percent of today’s children will be obese by the time they’re thirty-five. The Centers for Disease Control found that obesity puts children at risk for many chronic health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, joint pain, and sleep disorders.
That same year, Harvard Health Medical School recommended children be active for at least one hour per day because, along with genetics and diet, the other major factor contributing to health problems is physical inactivity. Long periods of time in front of screens are the most common culprit. A 1995 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that children are 21.5 percent more likely to be overweight if they watch four hours of television per day.1
This bar of one hour of activity per day is so low I’m surprised it must be set. While the activity could be walking, playing outside, or riding a bike, chores and work have the added benefits of teaching responsibility and building character.
When children grow up without learning to work, they become entitled teenagers and young adults. They expect everything to be done for them and given to them. The premier example is youth suing their parents.
In 2014, ABC News reported that Rachel Canning sued her parents to force them to pay for her private college tuition. Her father shared that “she didn’t want to follow our house rules concerning curfew and chores” and felt entitled to “private school, [a] new car, [and] college education.”
In 2016, the CBC reported that Darren Randall sued his parents for posting baby pictures of him on social media. Darren said, “I had no say in my image being on the internet.” When asked why he requested $350,000, he answered, “It’s a small price to pay for a decade of humiliation.”
Ephesians 6:2 commands children to honor their parents, and these individuals have done the opposite.
The LaPierre Household
In our household, we allow our kids to be bored instead of striving to entertain them. We haven’t introduced video games to them, and we limit what and how much they watch because we want to prevent them from developing certain appetites. This causes our children to find things to do, but we only make available what we believe is beneficial for them. We choose activities that foster creativity, such as music, art, reading, writing, and building. We purchase books, musical instruments, art supplies, and toys such as LEGO, DUPLO, and K’NEX. We typically avoid toys that require batteries or electricity. Since we want our kids playing outside, we invest in bikes, skates, scooters, jump ropes, and sidewalk chalk.
While we’re not always able to allow our kids to do what they enjoy—sometimes they must do chores they dislike—we try to see what interests them and help them grow in these areas as early as possible. I’ve told my kids that since Katie and I think it’s important for them to work, we’ll try to support their business efforts as long as they honor the Lord.
Our oldest child, Rhea, is twelve years old. She enjoys art and organizing. Last year she started selling personalized cards and signs with Bible verses. A few months ago, she started selling clothes and other items on eBay. We turned a corner of our basement into her craft room, where she does her work and keeps her supplies.
Our second oldest child, Ricky, is eleven. He enjoys outdoor work, such as landscaping. We encouraged him to walk around the neighborhood and ask people if he could mow their lawns. He ended up with so many jobs we had to tell him he couldn’t accept anymore because he wouldn’t have time to do his schoolwork and chores. We’re moving everything from the shed behind the house into the garage, so the shed can become his utility room with his tools, lawnmower, and weed eater.
Our third child, Johnny, is nine, and he loves animals. He asked neighbors if he could walk their dogs. Recently, he expressed interest in breeding and selling dogs, so we built him a kennel. When he gets older, he’ll probably be Ricky’s first employee for his landscaping business.
I’ve been reading the manuscript for Work and Rest God’s Way with my kids, and I told them I’d give them a dollar for every grammar mistake they find. We all benefit. My kids are reading a Christian book and improving their grammar, and I’m getting a book (hopefully) without spelling errors.
Addressing One of My Weaknesses as a Father
The summer after eighth grade I flew from California to upstate New York to work on my uncle’s dairy farm. This was when I realized I wanted to work in a nice, air-conditioned building, versus outside. As my sons have gotten older, it’s become apparent that they’re the opposite of me: they want to work outside.
Growing up I focused on athletics and academics. I went to school, practiced for a sport, came home, did homework, went to bed, and did the same thing the next day. This prepared me for college, but the downside is that I lack the automotive, mechanical, and hands-on skills many fathers have to pass along to their children.
Even if you’re more prepared to teach your children than I was, no parents can teach their children everything. For those areas of inexperience, we have a few choices.
First, we can learn alongside our children. This allows us to acquire a new skill and, even more importantly, spend quality time with them.
Second, we can find knowledgeable people for our children to learn from. Recently, one of our church deacons built shelves in our garage. My sons were with him to learn woodworking. I asked one of the men in our church to let me know the next time he was going to the range with his sons. I brought my boys, and they learned how to shoot guns.
The third possibility is self-directed learning. We can purchase books for our kids to read and have them watch instructional videos on the internet. Rhea regularly watches art videos. Since Ricky was given the shed for his tools, he’s been watching videos about organizing a workbench. Johnny’s been watching videos about dog breeding.
The Journey to a Family Business
Growing up, I wanted to go to college, graduate, and then become a teacher and coach. The idea of having my own business wasn’t attractive or unattractive because it simply wasn’t on my radar. When I began pastoring at Woodland Christian Church, I noticed men had their own businesses that involved their children, such as a dairy farm and machine shop. Another father built his house with his kids. Since I lacked these men’s skills, I had to figure out what I could do that would involve my children.
As an author and speaker, my children package and mail my books, and sell them at my engagements. They set up my booth and run it before, during, and after conferences. I stop by to check in, but they handle things well enough that I’m able to spend my time ministering to attendees.
My kids used to have their products at my booth, but now they have their own booths to sell their flowers, artworks, signs, and offer face painting. This allows them to make money, develop communication skills, and build relationships.
With my experience as an author, I can help them publish their own books in the future. Recently, I started working with my oldest children on their own websites.
They learn songs to sing at conferences and our church. While they haven’t always enjoyed this, we challenge them that it’s a way to serve God and others. They’ve been taking music lessons for years, and recently they started using instruments, such as the piano and ukulele, in their performances. As the kids get older, more instruments will be introduced, and perhaps there will be a LaPierre Family Band.
Don’t Let Anyone Look Down on You Because You Are Young
Accounts in Scripture demonstrate that God uses youths. Unfortunately, when we think of the twelve disciples, we probably think they were in their thirties or forties. According to Luke 3:23, “Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age.” Disciples were generally younger than their teacher; therefore, it’s likely the disciples were in their twenties. In Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, and John 13:33, Jesus referred to them as “little children” and “babes,” probably indicating they were several years younger than Him. The article, “How Old Were Christ’s Disciples?” in the journal, The Biblical World, states they were, “not far from sixteen or seventeen.”2 John, who wrote the Book of Revelation in his nineties, was probably a teenager when he became Jesus’ disciple.
There’s at least one account that indicates all of them were under twenty, except Peter, which explains why he was the leader of the group and the only one married (Matthew 8:14). Matthew 17:24-27 records Jesus and Peter paid the temple tax, which according to Exodus 30:13–14, was required of everyone twenty years and older. All the disciples were present, but Jesus only provided money for Peter and Himself, because the other eleven weren’t old enough to have to pay it yet.
A few of the disciples had established jobs. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen. This might make them look older, but Jewish schooling ended around twelve years old, which gave them time to begin work at young ages.
Why might Jesus have wanted the disciples to be young? They had so much ahead of them, such as laying the “foundation of the church” (Ephesians 2:20). They were just getting started when Jesus’ earthly ministry ended.
When the prophet Jeremiah was young, he wrote:
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Then said I: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
But the Lord said to me: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 1:4–8).
Jeremiah thought he was too young to serve God and speak for Him, so he responded poorly when God asked him to be a prophet. God did not reply to his objection by saying something like, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you were so young. Don’t worry about serving Me yet. Spend the next decade goofing off, playing video games, watching movies, and then you can become a prophet when you’re older.” Instead, God expected Jeremiah to preach to nations as a youth.
Even though young people today aren’t called to be prophets or one of the twelve apostles, they should still see themselves as Jesus’ disciples. He gives them gifts to minister to the body of Christ. They shouldn’t believe the notion that they’re too young to serve God or others. He has special purposes for them to fulfill.
Young People Should Set an Example in Five Ways
Sometimes when people are in their teens or twenties, they don’t see themselves as examples. They think nobody looks up to them until they’re older, perhaps in their thirties, forties, or even fifties. Older Christians worsen the perception when they make youths feel like they don’t have anything to offer.
Scripture commands the opposite of this: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12). Since no age is specified, it seems youths should be an example to people of any age in five ways.
First, Young People Should Set an Example in Word
The way youths speak should set an example. When Jesus was twelve years old, His parents found Him “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (Luke 2:46–47).
Yes, Jesus was God in the flesh, but youths can still learn from His example. First, they can listen well and ask good questions. Second, they can speak well by demonstrating understanding and sharing wisdom.
Second, Young People Should Set an Example in Conduct
The way youths behave and carry themselves should set an example, and I’ll use my children to illustrate why this is so important. My greatest desire for them is to see them love and serve Christ. First Corinthians 11:1 says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (See also 1 Corinthians 4:16, Philippians 3:17, 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, and 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9). Having good examples is so important Paul told his readers to imitate him.
The examples I follow in my life are typically men in the church who are about ten years older than I am, or another way to say it is they’re experiencing the next season of life. Do you think my children look up to the same people that I do? No. They look up to the people a few years older than them, or in their next season of life. Since my oldest of eight is twelve, all my children are looking up to youths!
I’ve told the young men in my church who, through their conduct, are setting good examples for my boys, and the other boys in the church, how much I appreciate them. They treat the young ladies around them with respect, and they serve and act with maturity for their age. They also set good examples in working hard: they have jobs, and they look for ways to serve the church.
I’ve told the young ladies in the church who, through their conduct, are setting good examples for my girls, and the other girls in the church, how much I appreciate them. They carry themselves with respect, dress modestly, embrace biblical femininity, and reject the world’s feminism. Youths should see themselves as important examples in conduct, especially to those younger than them.
Third, Young People Should Set an Example in Love
The way youths treat others should set an example. The world thinks love is a feeling or emotion, but Scripture says it is actions. First Corinthians 13, “The Love Chapter,” is filled with verbs (action words), versus adjectives (describing words). We show love by what we do for others.
Paul said, “The unmarried man and woman are anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32, 34). The verses describe single adults, but because youths are typically single, they have application for them too. Without the responsibilities married people have, such as caring for a spouse and possibly children, youths have more time and energy to love others. They can serve in the church, help families, engage in evangelism, and visit the elderly.
Fourth, Young People Should Set an Example in Faith
Youths should have a zeal for God that sets an example for others. Few things can encourage senior saints more than seeing young people with passionate hearts for the Lord.
Fifth, Young People Should Set an Example in Purity
Let me back up and get a little momentum into this fifth word, by asking you to consider why Paul said youths should set an example? Isn’t this a little counterintuitive? Don’t we expect older people to set an example? Let me answer this by sharing two things that happen as I get older.
First, I gain credibility because as I age, people think I have more wisdom and knowledge. This is biblical: “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding [with] length of days” (Job 12:12).
Second, I lose credibility, at least when I talk about certain things, because the older I am, the more conservative people expect me to become. When people speak conservatively in their sixties, seventies, or eighties, listeners think, “Well, of course, you’re going to say that, because you’re old!” This is part of why, as long as I’m still young (at least to some people), I try to preach as boldly as I can on conservative topics.
Paul said, “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:7 NIV). Impurity and holiness are opposites, so purity and holiness are synonyms.
This brings us to the reason youths should set an example “in purity” and holiness. They have the most credibility! It’s one thing when older people are pure and holy, but few things are as powerful as youths leading pure and holy lives.
Grace and Work
Let me be perfectly clear as we come to the end of this chapter. Children must be rooted in the enabling grace of God to work—or do anything for that matter—that pleases Him. Do not come away from this chapter, thinking that if you simply organize your family a certain way, that all will go well with your children. Believe the high and foundational truth that the gospel working in your children’s hearts is the work they need more than anything else.
With that said, second only to pointing your children to Jesus, teaching them to work is necessary to be faithful Christian parents. This will help prevent your children from developing entitlement mentalities, prepare them for marriage and families, and give them the tools they need to serve the Lord and others as they get older.
As I wrote in the Introduction, my dad made us work hard when we were growing up. I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I used to wish I had a “normal” father who would let us spend weekends and summers playing. Now I couldn’t be more thankful. Most children and youth don’t appreciate having to work hard when they’re young, but few things will make them more thankful toward their parents when they become adults.
What about working too much, whether men, women, or children? Is that possible? Can a good (moral) thing, such as work, become a bad thing? If so, how do we know when we are no longer working God’s way, but instead have developed a sinful relationship toward work? In the next chapter, we’ll explore the answers to these questions.
- T. J. Horton, et al, “Fat and Carbohydrate Overfeeding in Humans: Different Effects on Energy Storage,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1995) 62 (1): 19–29.
- Cary, Otis, and Frank Cary. “How Old Were Christ’s Disciples?” The Biblical World, vol. 50, no. 1, 1917, pp. 3–12. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3136128. Accessed 28 May 2020.