Is my prayer life such that I can hear what God might want to say through me? Have I spent enough time in His Word to carry the responsibility of teaching it? Am I in tune with the Holy Spirit in such a way that He can use me as an instrument in His hands, or are my own ideas going to come tumbling out when given a platform to speak?
I know it’s not about me, it’s not by my strength, but it will be done in my strength if my influence surpasses my intimacy with Him. A friend of mine recently posted this on his Instagram account, “The most influential person in history didn't pursue influence, He pursued intimacy.”
And it is this intimacy with God that creates the substance needed to stand strong in the storms we face when fighting the good fight, or carrying a role of influence and responsibility.
When I see 13-year-old influencers with millions of followers on Instagram, it makes me wonder what goes through their minds, the stress and worry of what their followers will think of each post, the pressure to keep up with the demand of new images and information every day. That amount of influence at such a young age and often based on so little substance is unprecedented.
Paul encouraged Timothy as a young leader. But he also challenged Timothy to realize that with the influence he was given came great responsibility. He knew that if Timothy didn’t have deep roots, solid ground, and the right focus, the pressure would be overwhelming.
Timothy needed substance to carry his responsibilities. And his substance came from intimacy with God. In verse 6 of chapter 4, Paul tells Timothy that he will do a good job in his role if he is “nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.” Timothy was surrounded by all kinds of ideas and false doctrines, so he had to stand strong in the teaching he had received. He needed to be a good student of scripture, and to faithfully teach it. Our intimacy with God and time in His Word is essential if we’re to stand on a platform of influence.
As he was nourished on the truths of the faith, Timothy then needed to put that into practice, for “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (v8) Godliness in this context means not only knowing the truth but living the values, grace, and love we read of in the Gospel in our daily lives. What Timothy did day-to-day was as important as what he taught the community. What we do off stage and offline is as important as what we say on stage and online.
Paul then reminds Timothy of the purpose of all this. Paul and Timothy risked their lives together and gave all they had because they wanted others to find hope in God and to be saved. So Paul encourages Timothy to continue labouring and striving for this purpose (v10). Focus on our mission is key. The sea of online influence is treacherous if we forget what really matters and the purpose we live for. If we join the fashion of churning out content without much thought or message, we will quickly drown.
Because Timothy had solid grounding in good teaching, godliness, and a clear mission to strive for, Paul knew he could propel him forward into bold leadership and influence, even being unusually young. He encourages Timothy to not “let anyone look down on you because you are young” (v12), but to set an example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (v12), to publicly teach and speak, and let people see his progress (v15).
Paul encourages Timothy as a young leader to be unafraid to set an example and show his progress. In one sense, this is not far from the social media culture of self-promotion, but the drastic difference is the substance Timothy had developed.
Timothy’s substance was based on his faithfulness to that good teaching, but also on a calling. Timothy was where he was because he was called and gifted for this role, confirmed by prophecy and the laying on of hands by older leaders (v14).
If my first question when given an opportunity to speak or influence is about the health of my intimacy with God and His Word, my second question is, “God, have you called me to this?” Knowing my gifting and calling is key to positioning myself in a place where my influence will bring genuine fruitfulness.
Paul’s last challenge to Timothy is for diligence (v15), watchfulness, and perseverance (v16) in these things. Young leaders can easily get discouraged when facing challenges or becoming aware of the size of the task ahead. But if we could be reminded by those who have gone before us, that diligence and persistence pay off and produce way more in the long run than the superficial results high-speed, mass influence seems to offer now, then we can be an unstoppable force and a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Church. If we prioritise substance over influence we can be the next generation of leaders God has called us to be.