“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Spiritual maturity is discernment in a world of competing ideas. Your thinking determines your values. Your values determine your choices. Your choices determine your actions. Your actions determine your character. And your character determines your destiny. Somewhere along the line, discernment has got to be engaged if the destiny is to be salvaged. The earlier discerning wisdom is engaged, the better!

This is the message of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:13–14: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” He challenges youthful thinking in Ecclesiastes 11:9–12:1: “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh, for childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” These are lessons that only years of living steeped in spiritual thought can distill. Applying spiritual discernment while young is crucial to fullness of eternal joy!

In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul tells his young disciple how to combat the world’s tendency to trivialize the eternal. Youthful Christians are to highly value the lasting significance and real impact they can have on members of any generation. Young people are important if they learn to apply discernment early. They are important, according to our text, because of the great potential of their example, the lasting effect of their decisions, and their cost (to God, their parents, and their mentors).

Paul’s words to Timothy declare that his discernment will affect what he firmly says (word), what he consciously does (conduct), what he charitably gives (love), what he energetically supports (spirit), what he whole-heartedly believes (faith), and what he vigilantly keeps (purity). In all these things Timothy is to remain mindful that he serves as a crucial example, not only to his own generation, but to his elders as well. Such a life cannot be gainsaid by anyone of a pure heart!

Sadly, young adults today are apt to flippantly respond that their example is not important, especially since “no one is watching” and “no one cares.” In so thinking, they are willfully contradicting God’s Word and they are forgetting the greatest example of godliness of all time, our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the supreme example of stalwart, vigilant faithfulness especially when “no one was watching” and “no one cared.” The importance of example is not how many are following you, it is whether God is pleased with you! If the number of those following your example is the measure of success, then you are implying that Lord supremely failed at His crucifixion, for none were following Him then. No believer should entertain the thought that his example is of no merit, no matter what age we are! We are not qualified to pass such a judgment, only God has that privilege. Apply spiritual discernment as early and as often as you can throughout your life and live as though God is your Audience.

There are six aspects to spiritual discernment that are necessary for every age group. Looking at our text, the list Paul gives (word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and purity) can be shuffled about to come up with six dimensions of discernment.

The first dimension is the love dimension (love). Spiritual discernment requires that you love God. Be brutally honest with yourself as you consider whether you really love God. Do you know Him? Do you care what pleases Him? This determination is crucial to guide your thinking.

The second dimension is the values dimension (word). Spiritual discernment requires a sharp focus on your values. Do you highly value God’s approval of your heart and life? Do you thirst after God’s Word? Are you constantly refreshing your core values by His Word? Apply your energy to thinking upon God’s values.

The third dimension is the simplicity dimension (spirit). Spiritual discernment is able to sift through the clutter of life and to focus on God’s revelation of what is important, and to bend every effort to see His will through. Can you identify what is inconsequential to your Lord? Do you strive for excellence because God deserves your best? Do you pursue God’s best with your whole heart? Values determine choices.

The fourth dimension is the faithful dimension (conduct). Spiritual discernment will always lean toward loyalty. God deserves your highest loyalty, even when inconvenient for you. Are you constantly aware that you represent Christ in public and in private? For some, the only view of God they have is the one you present by your conduct. Choices determine actions.

The fifth dimension is the righteous dimension (purity). Spiritual discernment will jealously guard against sin and maintain an impeccable testimony for the Lord’s sake. Are you thirsting after righteousness? Actions determine character.

The final dimension is the missional dimension (faith). Spiritual discernment is always interested in edifying the body of Christ (the church) through personal evangelism, discipling others, and fulfilling the Great Commission. Are you seeking to be a vital part of your local church? Character reaps destiny, both in reputation and in eternal reward!

Trust and obey.