Let no one despise you for your youth but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. ~ 1 Timothy 4:12
There are two ways that a young person could read Paul’s words to Timothy.
First, it could be read, “don’t let anyone despise you because you are young, you are equal with your elders in spiritual matters”.
Secondly, It could be read as Paul intended it, “don’t let anyone despise your youth, and this is the way to accomplish that: be an example of true Christianity in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
There is a vast difference in these two approaches.
Being an example to the believers of true Christianity includes obeying everything which Paul told Timothy in this epistle. Not long after Paul tells Timothy to be an example, Paul says the following:
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. ~ 1 Timothy 5:1
If young people in their late teens and early to mid 20’s want to be respected as mature believers, they must learn how to relate with respect to their elders in the faith, and how to conduct themselves with all purity towards their their contemporaries.
When you are 18, 21, 25 years old, etc., you can have a lot of zeal, but no matter how much zeal you have, you still lack the life experience of those who have been walking with Christ for 25, 30, 40 years or more.
Many of those who are you elders have lived through the “zeal” you experience in your youth, and while zeal is a good thing to have, it won’t carry you for the long haul. When you are young, there are simply some things you do not know because you have not lived it yet. There is absolutely no substitute for life experience.
Next April, I will mark 40 years as a Christian in my life. I don’t have all wisdom or knowledge, but I have stumbled over a few things in those 40 years.
When I see a young Christian person who is respectful towards their elders, I see maturity and a young person who is on the right path.
If you are a young Christian and you do not properly respect your elders, you are going to struggle in your Christian faith.
You are not required to agree with everything an older Christian believes (being an elder does not mean they’ve got it all right) but you do need to have a respectful disposition towards those who have been in the faith much longer than you.
Paul did not instruct Timothy to not allow anyone to despise his youth by taking charge even over the old folks. Instead, Paul instructed Timothy to show the proper respect towards his elders as part of his being an example of the believers.
Not allowing anyone to despise your youth is not a stand alone statement. It is a statement that is qualified by how you live as an example, and one of the components of being a godly example is how you treat your elders, and conduct yourself towards your peers.