It’s easy to get self-absorbed when we’er criticized — or when we think others are criticizing us. Because of our real or imagined defects, we start to believe other people don’t take us seriously. It’s easy to get off course in an attempt to defend ourselves.
As a young leader, Timothy may have dealt with criticism in the Ephesian community because of his age. Paul gives him advice: “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 Tim 4:12).
Paul doesn’t offer defensive solutions. Rather, he calls Timothy to be a living example of his teaching. He reinforces Timothy’s calling by encouraging him to stay focused on his call, speech, and conduct. By being the contrast to the rumors about him, Timothy thwarts criticism.
But Paul isn’t simply giving leadership advice. By reaffirming Timothy’s purpose and calling, he is helping Timothy focus on God’s work instead of his own abilities (or a defense of them). Paul doesn’t want Timothy to be guided by fear of others; he wants him to think about God.
We don’t have to be in a leadership position to experience this type of criticism or to respond in the way that Paul suggests. When feeling defensive or concerned about other peoples opinions, we shouldn’t be concerned about defending ourselves. We’re not intended to reaffirm our own stellar traits or abilities. That flies in the face of the gospel. Instead, we should act in a way that points people to God’s work, shifting both our focus and their focus to the one whose opinion truly matters.