The Apostle Paul certainly experienced his share of criticism.
Most leaders do.
The person out front is always the easiest to criticize.
He had a way of dealing with criticism that he passed along to his protégé Timothy.
1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)
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.
One of the difficulties Timothy had to overcome was his youth. The church usually liked its leaders to be people of maturity. And Timothy was certainly younger than Paul and many would watch him with a critical eye. The advice offered to Timothy was that the only way to silence criticism was by his conduct. Hard to follow and yet, the only possible way. Timothy (and all of us) is challenged to be an example. I am not sure that fighting with our critics accomplishes much, so let’s just be committed to being an example.
In what ways?
In speech. Words are powerful. The apostle James tells us that in many ways our words set the course of our life. What words are coming out of your mouth? In the heat of the moment what words are you uttering? Do they honor God? Are they building faith in the hearers?
In conduct. How are you behaving? Would you want someone imitating your behavior? Are you leading a disciplined life? Or is there an area that is a bit out of control? Are you kind? Hospitable? Gracious? Forgiving? Do you demand your own way? Are you willing to take second place? Or do you need to be in front? Are you serving anyone or anywhere? WWJD? Really.
In love. This word is agape. One of the definitions is unconquerable benevolence. If we have agape, no matter what anyone does to us or says about us we will seek nothing but their good. Ordinarily love comes from the heart, but this kind of love comes from the will. This is the kind of love that refuses to get bitter, never hates, always forgives and cares for others no matter what is done to them. In silencing our critics, we will need to love like this. So how are you doing in loving like this?
In faith. This word in the Greek is pistis and implies an absolute conviction that God is creator and Jesus is Messiah. This word also means loyalty. A loyalty that defies circumstances. Can you trust God when things aren’t going the way you planned? Are you really trusting God with your life? Your money? Your relationships?
In purity. As Christians we have committed to a life of purity. Regardless of how bad our past was, once we begin to walk with Jesus, we are committing to a different way of life. Now we have to walk that out. We have to have a different standard of behavior, of self-control and discipline. Pure lives. Pure motives. Pure hearts.
The prophet Jeremiah put it this way:
Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Mark well the path by which you came. Jeremiah 31:21 (NLT)
People are watching as you live your life. They are watching how you handle challenges, how you handle blessing, how you handle your marriage. I think I have a responsibility to set up road signs. So many people will be following on the path behind me, I have a responsibility to live my life in such a way that others will know what to do. Yes, there is pressure in this. But maybe this is a pressure we all need. If we realized that there really is a generation coming up behind us who will need to see how to navigate the challenges of life, then maybe we will be more committed to handling them with strength and grace. Not perfectly…just honestly.