My first job in the church was as a youth minister intern in the summer of 1970 when I was 19 years old. At the end of that summer I went back to college and became the part time youth minister at a church in Cincinnati.
During those years as a youth minister I often quoted the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” I Timothy 4:12 (NIV). Because I was so young myself, I not only shared the instruction with our youth, I took it to heart as well.
I am now 66 and took a new church job this summer as Pastor to Senior Adults. This past Saturday evening at our ENCORE senior adult ministry kick off banquet I again quoted I Timothy 4:12. But I flipped the reason Paul gave to Timothy from “because you are young” to “because you are older.”
I don’t think it was a word when Paul wrote Timothy, but what he was talking about is what is known today as ageism. The pure definition of ageism is “prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age.” And while today it usually is associated with those who are older, depending upon who is doing the looking down upon, it can be any age group—including young people (as it was with Timothy).
I’ve thought a lot about Paul’s instruction “don’t let anyone look down on you because of your age” (younger or older). And the reality is that we cannot stop it, can we? I’m thinking a better rendering might be “don’t accept anyone looking down on you because of your age.” (I’m not saying don’t accept them, but rather don’t accept their looking down on you.) We can’t stop them, but we don’t have to accept it.
I really like some of the other translations of Paul’s words about ageism: don’t accept it when others “think less of you because you are young/old” (NLT), “treat you as if you are unimportant because you are young/old” NCV), “make fun of you, just because you are young/old” (CEV), “put you down because you are young/old” (The Message), “disregard you because you are young/old” (JB), and “slight you because you are young/old” (JB).
Readers who are familiar with I Timothy 4:12 probably remember the second part of Paul’s instruction, “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.” My take on what Paul was calling Timothy to do was not to go down to the level of those who thought less of him because of his age, but to set and be an example for them.
In my new ministry I’m doing the same thing I did in my first ministries, except with a different age group. Then I was challenging young people not to accept people looking down on them because they were young, but to be an example to them. Now I am challenging senior adults not to accept people looking down on them because they are older, but to be an example to them.
Here’s my challenge to those who read this post: don’t look down on anyone because of their age, and don’t accept it when it happens to you or someone else!
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