1Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
Adolescence comes from the Latin word ‘adolescere’, meaning “to grow up”. It refers to a stage in young peoples’ lives from ages 13-19 where they develop biologically, emotionally and mentally from a child to an adult. In the 1940’s, another word for adolescent was invented: ‘teenager’. Alex and Brett Harris explain in their book ‘Do Hard Things’ that our culture thinks of a teenager as a young person who has most of the desires and abilities of an adult but very few of the expectations or responsibilities.
After all, teenagers are not fully developed enough to really contribute to anything we would think of as impactful. But if this is true, it is odd that Marketing departments in American businesses target teens as the most important consumer group to capture. Notice I used the words ‘consumer group’. Is it ok to get their money but not expect any contribution to society because they are, after all, ‘developing’ into adults?
Listen again to Alex and Brett: “With all this money and attention focused on teens, the teen years are viewed as some sort of vacation. Society doesn’t expect much of anything from young people during their teen years – except trouble. And it certainly doesn’t expect competence, maturity or productivity. The saddest part is that, as the culture around them has come to expect less and less, young people have dropped to meet those lower expectations.”
So what do we make of one of my teenage friend’s recent Facebook post after the tragic death of his friend, Emma Aronson: “If you would claim to be a believer in Jesus Christ and the Word of God, why should you continue to ‘straddle the fence’? Truthfully, there is no fence; you are either living your life in a way that pleases God or you are not… How do you know if you are pleasing God or not?? Get in the Word and see what He says about you!! ‘Belief’ without any life change isn’t true belief at all. There should be something peculiar and refreshing about the way you live your life. The standard for how life should be lived is found in the life of Jesus Christ. Put your belief into action, even if you have to start doing so in the smallest way possible, and you will be blessed and God will be pleased because of it! How will you ever know if your “belief” is true or not if you never take time to test it or investigate it? Let’s stop deceiving ourselves and let go of the ugly and meaningless things in our pasts and begin to live for things that matter. We never know when we will take our last breath. We can do this!! Why not fully give yourself over to a life worth living and dying for? God loves you so much that he sent His Son to this earth to die the death you deserved (John 3:16). How could you not be excited about knowing and living your life like the Creator of the Universe? You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with ALL your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). #EmmaLives.”
Doesn’t sound like the stereotypical picture our culture has painted for us of what a teenager is supposed to be. The problem we have in American culture, and that includes our churches, is our modern understanding of teenagers that encourages and even trains teens to be stay childish much longer than they should. We are holding teenagers back from what they could do, from what God made teens to do, because we have such low expectations of them.
Emma Aronson didn’t fit the culture’s mold of your typical 17-year old teen. I think the most tragic thing about her death is so many people this side of eternity never got the blessing of being around her. When my friend talks about living your life centered in the life of Jesus Christ, it’s Emma in spades. Emma’s focus in life was worshipping Jesus Christ and showing everyone else she met how He was working in her life.
Emma’s life is what Paul means in our verse this week, when he admonishes Timothy to not let anyone despise him because he’s so young. Instead, Timothy is to have a character and conduct that radiates Jesus Christ to everyone around him. Paul says that kind of life will draw people to him, regardless of his age. When we see the modern-day Timothys, the Emma Aronsons of our culture, in action before our eyes, it gives tremendous hope that Jesus Christ is indeed not just alive but thriving in America.
It is time for us to expect greater things from teens. We need many, many more Emma Aronsons… maybe when we see her one day in heaven, we can tell her all the amazing things she inspired us to do because, as Paul said, of the example she set for us in her brief time with us here. #EmmaLives.