“You always need three types of people in your life: people ahead of you to guide you, people beside you to walk with you, and people behind to bring along.” That is the statement I have been expanding on over the past two posts as we have talked about “Friends Ahead” from the story of Ruth and Naomi; and “Friends Beside” from the story of David and Jonathan.
This time, we get to the final group of friends we should cultivate in our lives: Friends Behind. This category might be the most difficult to maintain because as you get older, life tends to get more complicated. Work and family pressure increases, while energy and capacity generally decrease. However, the clear biblical pattern has always been those who are mature investing in the next generation who will carry on faithfulness to Christ. The entire trajectory of the Christian life is to move from receiving to giving. Look at Ephesians 4:28:
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, to do honest work with his own hands, so he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
In God’s design for our lives, salvation in Christ is never about getting in the door then getting comfortable. We must repent of sin, get to work knowing and enjoying God, then share what God has given us with others. So, having younger friends whom you are bringing along in the Lord is part of Christian maturity and necessary for a healthy church family.
As our biblical example, I want to look at the example of Paul and Timothy to guide our discussion. The books of 1 and 2 Timothy were written from the older Apostle Paul to the younger Pastor Timothy in order to encourage him, instruct him, and guide him on his following Christ. Let’s look at five tips Paul models for us in leading younger people toward God.
1) Treat them like family
Paul treats Timothy as if he were his own son. 1 Timothy 1:1-2,
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul is not Timothy’s father. We don’t know who Timothy’s father was. The evidence from 2 Timothy 1:5 and Acts 16:1 is that his father was not a believer, so Paul is taking responsibility and care for Timothy because of his love for God and Timothy’s need for discipleship.
These types of friends can be from within your own family. Parents and Grandparents have a great responsibility to see their children and children’s children follow in the inheritance of the faith. It might be a younger sibling or cousin as well. But if we limit this to only our own families, we will end up with anemic churches and many people left with no older Christians to help them grow as disciples of Jesus.
Nurturing these friendships will take intentional effort. It might be working at a summer camp for a week each summer, serving in Sunday School, Youth Group, or Awana, or coaching a youth sports team. Whatever it may be, the goal is to build a close relationship that models the family bond. A never-giving-up, always-there, I’m-stuck-with-you-and-you’re-stuck-with-me kind of care, for better or worse.
Secondly, older friends have the unique opportunity in the lives of younger people to,
2) Gently show them their blind spots
2 Timothy 2:22 says,
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
Paul knows that there are some temptations and sins that are more common in young minds and bodies. Timothy can’t see those things in their proper place unless Paul coaches him on them, having already walked through that himself. Paul uses his experience to try to help Timothy see himself and the world more clearly.
The clarity of maturity can be a gift for younger people if you find a way to share it with love and grace. In 1 Timothy, four different times Paul urges Timothy to avoid conversations he describes as “quarrelsome”, “speculative”, “irreverent”, “silly”, and “babble”. Why so repetitive? I think Paul recognized that this kind of confrontational conversation was one Timothy as a young man would gravitate to. Yet, Paul had learned from experience that those conversations usually go nowhere and bear bad fruit. As an older man who had been there, Paul urges Timothy to avoid those particular conversations.
But of course, this doesn’t mean you get to walk around bossing and bullying everyone younger than you. Your task is to seek God first, then lovingly and patiently show those younger what you have learned as you are given the opportunity.
3) Point out God’s grace
Paul’s letters to Timothy aren’t just a bunch of dos and don’ts. Paul also points out how amazing God has been to Timothy. 2 Timothy 1:5-6,
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you.”
Paul says to Timothy that God was blessing him and showing him grace before he ever knew it because of his Christian heritage. Timothy might not have eyes to see that gift; he might even get annoyed with his mom once in a while. But Paul reminds him that, because his grandma loved Jesus and taught his mom, who then taught him, Timothy got to meet Jesus at a young age and avoided a lot of potential heartache and sin.
Our culture does a terrible job of teaching people to be thankful. Everything is “mine” and I “deserve” it because I “earned” it. Encourage younger people to see God’s hand in their life and give Him the glory for their strength and achievements. As you get older and walk with God you will have better eyes to see those things, and practice makes perfect in noticing God’s grace in our lives and the lives of others. A good older friend will point out where they see God working in a younger friend’s life.
Fourthly, and probably most critically,
4) Model the Christian life
We can’t be just “word” people; we need to match those words with actions. Otherwise, those younger than we will see our hypocrisy and ignore us. Paul calls Timothy to imitate his life as he follows Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:10-11,14,
“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it."
Your life example is the most important advice you can give to a younger person. And regardless if that example is good or bad, your life will preach to those who look up to you. It will make either God look good or the world look good. This is the number one thing you should be working on if you want to live a life of friendship with people of all ages.
Not only is it important to model proper Christian living, but modelling a humble Christian heart means being vulnerable in your weaknesses as well. 1 Timothy1:12-15,
"I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost."
Not only does our experience in righteousness point to God's work in our lives, but our humble acknowledgement as sinners in need of a Saviour models the repentant heart that friends of all ages need to learn. It is the reason Paul encourages Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12,
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
We want to be godly in what we do, think, wear, and say; not just for our own sake, not just because God has told us to, but because we are part of a larger family who depends on and influences one another.
Finally, we need to encourage younger friends by,
5) Pointing them in the right direction
We can be honest that if our younger friends have only us to look up to, then we’re out of luck. We are in need of someone beyond us to sustain and empower our friendships when we inevitably fail our friends or let them down. We need Christ himself to be the object and destination of our friendships. 1 Timothy 6:13,15-16,
“I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus… he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
Ultimately, Paul points Timothy to Christ as the supreme example and friend. God is on a whole other level, and if we can get those behind us to look past us and see Him, we have accomplished something. The most freeing thing about being a friend is it’s not about you. It’s about the God you serve.
It is Jesus who died so that we could be adopted into his family (Romans 8:15). It is Jesus who, through the Holy Spirit, convicts us of sin (John 16:8). It is Jesus who displays the grace, love and character of God to us (John 1:14) and models exactly what a life submitted to and empowered by God looks like (Philippians 2:5-9). Through Jesus, we are brought to the Father and he calls us friends (John 15:15).
When we point younger friends to Jesus, we are replicating the work Jesus has already done for us.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
– Proverbs 17:17
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
- Proverbs 18:1
The first moral problem in all creation was, “It is not good that the man should be alone (Gen 2:18).” This means our friendships create a divine necessity in each others’ lives. And our friends should not be all the same type of people. We need friends ahead of us to seek godly advice from and gain a perspective beyond our own. We need friends beside us to celebrate and sorrow together in the same stage of life and complement each other’s gifts and talents. And we need friends behind us to pass on the wisdom of life and point toward the glories of the Saviour, Jesus Christ.