Formations 09.20.2015: The Example We Need

1 Timothy 4:7b-16

A graffiti artist painted this image of Toni Morrison on a neighborhood wall in Vitoria-Gastiez, Spain. It remained for about three years before being removed in 2014.

A graffiti artist painted this image of Toni Morrison on a neighborhood wall in Vitoria-Gastiez, Spain. It remained for about three years before being removed in 2014.

I usually have no idea what I’m doing. This was especially true during my first year as a teacher. Since I didn’t know how to be a teacher, I went out of my way to pass by other teachers with their students, just so I could hear the way they talked and gestured. I listened to the phrases they used and looked at the ways their classrooms were set up. Their procedures and class routines and their library organization methods—I stole everything I could from the examples around me.

But as I grew into my teacher self, I started needing more and more from my examples. As I got to know my students and our collective personality as a class, I wanted routines that fit us uniquely. Sometimes, even the most effective teacher was doing something that wouldn’t work in my classroom because we had different personalities, class values, resources, class sizes, or schedules. I needed to figure out how to be the teacher my students needed so that we could grow in ways that were important to us. It was no longer a matter of trying out a new bulletin board activity, but a constant practice in being the best person for the job.

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

These words, attributed to Toni Morrison, were encouraging to me as a teacher. They are still inspiring now. Morrison, whose body of work has earned several awards including the Nobel Prize for Literature, reminds us that sometimes the world can’t fulfill our needs for us. We might have to do it ourselves, especially when the examples we see aren’t a good fit for us. In an interview with The Guardian, Morrison explains that her inspiration for her first novel, The Bluest Eye, came from her frustration with popular sentiments about African-American identity during the early sixties. They were not enough for her. She both disagreed and expected more from the world around her, so she decided to do things differently. When the world around her was not meeting the standards she believed in, she rose up to meet them herself. Her ongoing work has been inspirational and continues to motivate literary conversations surrounding peace and progress throughout the world.

Like Morrison, Paul and Timothy believe in a new standard of living that the world isn’t meeting yet. I can’t help but sympathize with Timothy, however, and imagine that he probably feels like he has no idea what he’s doing, even though he knows the world needs Christ’s teaching. Paul has told Timothy how to be a good teacher, and last week’s lesson emphasized the reasons why a good teacher needs to be an upstanding model character. But Timothy is younger and more inexperienced in Christianity than Paul, since he is a new convert. How can he possibly be an authority on Christian life? How can he become the best person for the job?

In this lesson, we can reflect on Paul’s words that encourage everyone who expects more from the world and wants their actions to make a difference.

“Toni Morrison: ‘I want to feel what I feel. Even if it’s not happiness’,” The Guardian, 13 Apr 2012


• Have you ever been in a position where you were expected to set an example for others? How did that make you feel?
• Aside from Scripture, where do you look for examples of Christian living?
• Paul encourages Timothy to look within himself to make progress in his life of holiness. What unique spiritual gifts do you possess that will help you in your journey?

Reference Shelf


Perhaps Timothy’s most difficult and least successful mission was to the church at Corinth where he went as Paul’s representative. Paul had to beg the Corinthians not to despise Timothy’s youth (1 Cor 16:10-11). Whatever Timothy achieved there, it appears that he was eventually replaced by Titus who was better equipped to deal with the specific problems of that difficult church.

NT references to Timothy, though quite numerous, do not allow for a precise reconstruction of his work. The Letters, 1 and 2 Timothy, do not provide much information regarding their supposed recipient. The Pastoral Epistles are almost certainly pseudonymous, written by a church leader who knew of Paul’s veneration for Timothy. It is quite conceivable that the Letters to Timothy were products of the postapostolic age when Paul and Timothy (and possibly Titus) were regarded as perfect spiritual guides for a church in the process of formulating its teaching and of defining the credentials of its leaders. Timothy became the model of Christian leadership, and his name remains prominent in the history of the early church.

Edwin K. Broadhead, “Timothy,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 920.

The Charge to Timothy

As Timothy teaches and commands these things, he must also set an example that fleshes out his message for all to see. Talk is cheap until realized and modeled concretely. All of this may be made problematic by Timothy’s age. While we have no way of knowing his age, he was certainly younger than Paul and probably younger than many in his charge. In his first-century culture, youth deferred to the wisdom of age, which was revered. It would not be surprising to find some who would “despise” (kataphroneitø, a verb that can mean “to scorn, look down on, treat with contempt, make fun of”) his youth. Paul challenges Timothy to disregard these naysayers and “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” “Example (typos) comes from a word that referred to a stamp or a scar, and can also refer to a shape or statue. Gradually it came to mean a resemblance or model. Timothy is to be a model for believers just as Paul’s life and proclamation has been a model and patter for the community of faith (1 Tim 1:16; 2 Tim 1:13).

W. Hulitt Gloer, 1 & 2 Timothy–Titus, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2010), 173.

Michelle Meredith is a graduate of Mercer University, where she was the editor for literary and arts magazine The Dulcimer. She taught third and fourth grade in Mississippi for two years with Teach for America and became even more obsessed with live music and southern food (don’t even get her started on Delta tamales). She loves comedy, board games, roller derby, and hanging out with her dog. She is happy to be back in Macon, Georgia as the associate editor of Formations.


For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email