rebelling against low expectations

John Piper: Let No One Despise You for Your Youth


This past Sunday, Pastor John Piper kicked off a five-part series on Bethlehem Baptist Church’s vision for a rising generation of young people — a series our father, Gregg Harris, will wrap up on May 18th there in Minneapolis.

The passage of Scripture that he used was 1 Timothy 4:12 — the theme verse of the Rebelution. In fact, the message of “rebellion against low expectations” and “do hard things” features prominently throughout. But that’s not why we share it.

The reason we bring this message to your attention is because it does one of the best jobs we’ve ever seen (and far better than we could do ourselves) of laying out the call of 1 Timothy 4:12 and a biblical portrait of the perils and potential of youth.

This message is a must read (or listen to) sermon for rebelutionary teens, parents, and youth workers. Don’t miss out on the benefit. Get a taste below.

Let No One Despise You for Your Youth
A Vision for the Next Generation

Please turn with me to 1 Timothy 4:12. This is one of Paul’s words to the younger Timothy who needed to be reminded that his expectation for what he could be were too low. I will begin with this verse, make a few comments about it and then step back and try to get the bigger biblical picture. Paul says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

Four brief observations:

1. Youth Can Be Despised

Youth are often looked down on because of attitudes and behaviors that are annoying or immature. Some of the things people often associate with youth are disrespect, rebellion, self-absorption, cliquishness, conformity to peer pressure, indifference to serious issues, and a fixation on fun as the only thing that satisfies. If these are pronounced, people can even despise youth. Paul implies that in saying, “Let no one despise your youth.”

2. Youth Should Not Be Indifferent to What Adults Think

Paul is telling Timothy to do what he can as a young man to keep that despising from happening. Don’t be indifferent to what older people think. Care about it. Take steps to win their approval. “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

3. Youth Should Not See Adult Opinions As Supreme

But the way he tells Timothy to overcome being despised is not to adjust to their attitudes. He does not say, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but find out what they want and act that way.” Peaceful relationships between older and younger is not of supreme value. Adaptation to older people is not the point. He does not absolutize adult expectations. He does something very different.

4. Youth Should Look to Ultimately God’s Standards

Paul says, The way I want youth to pursue not being despised is look to God’s standards of love and faith and purity. In that way, even young people can become examples to older people. “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

The point is not: Find out what older people want and give it to them so they don’t despise you. The point is: Find out what kind of words and conduct God wants and do that. He gives love and faith and purity as examples of what we should do in our words and conduct. Let all your words and actions come from faith in Christ. Let them be loving. And keep yourselves sexually pure.

Now that may make some adults despise you. If you stand up at school for the way of sexual abstinence before marriage, there will be adults that despise you. But you will be right, as well as the adults who really matter, and God himself will not despise you.

So Paul’s main point is that Timothy should not have low expectations of the impact of his life toward those who are older. He should look to God, believe in the gospel, do what God calls him to do, and in that way become an example to the rest… Now step back with me to get a larger biblical picture of the perils and possibilities of youth. Let’s move in order from original sin to a bold life of God-centered gospel-obedience beyond all low expectations.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Great post!!

    I have only been coming to this website for a few weeks now, and I can already feel God changing my heart. The things about your posts are: they really hit where it hurts. I being a human (particularly a young human) find myself struggling with rebellion constantly, it is easy for me to tune out what my parents have to say, it’s easy for me to slack and not bother to please my parents any more than I have to, and it’s easy for me to think that I’m the wiser one. But guess what just hit me? It’s not about doing easy things, its’ about doing hard things.

    Besides poking me a little, this post has also been a great encouragement to me. Striving for God’s standards will put me far beyond what other adults expect of me, and I like the thought of being and example to adults. At the NC conference the two of you suggested John Piper’s book “Don’t Waste Your Life” it has been a huge inspiration to me and I am already a fan of his. I don’t have time to listen to or read is sermon right now, but when I get the chance I will definitely do that.

    Thanks so much for your insight. Sorry for posting such a long comment, but when something gets me exited…..well you see what happens 🙂

    Also one quick note, you might not want to say “adults who really matter” I know what you mean but something along the lines of “adults whose opinions really matter” might be a little better phrased.
    Thanks again,

  • I love how he points out that no matter how old you are you can still have a mature attitude and serve God to your full potential.

    An example of a teenager who ‘Did Hard Things’ is John Quincy Adams, at the age of 14, he accompanied Francis Dana, as a secretary on a mission to St. Petersburg, Russia.

  • A lot of people misconstrue this message and say that it comes from a “youth group mentality,” but the most important part isn’t “not letting people look down on you,” but making yourself someone that they wouldn’t want to look down on!

    Piper is such a great preacher. 😉


  • Leandrie: I’m so glad the blog has been an encouragement to you! Just to clarify, the part about “adults who really matter” was from Pastor Piper’s sermon — who, in his sixties, is allowed to say that. 🙂

  • Very interesting and thought-provoking. Reading the part about the Gospel not just beginning our Christian lives, but empowering them and shaping them and sustaining them reminds me of something I was thinking after reading “Do Hard Things.”
    I’m thinking that perhaps we too often have low expectations of ourselves or others (or have low expectations laid on us) because we all too often expect too little of God. Perhaps we limit ourselves through complacency and lack of zeal to complete what is set before us (sometimes because of others’ uninspiring low expectations for us) and have limited perceptions of what others can do because we put limits on God (and what He can do through and for us) by our lack of faith.
    For example, my mom and I were praying and praying for someone who was really struggling spiritually, that they would be transformed and eventually healed (they have epilepsy which God has used in their life as a form of protection against drinking and other harmful influences — so it’s been for their good, ultimately, but it’s also an obstacle in other areas of their life), and we were really, really, really doubting that this person could really be changed and could really turn out to be someone who would do good things for God’s glory. But during this time of doubt, God led us to the verse in one of the gospels where the disciples couldn’t heal a boy with epilepsy because they didn’t have faith — and then Jesus healed the boy. We were really convicted and realized our failure — that our limited expectations of this person changing for good was actually limited faith in God’s Transforming Power.
    Perhaps that is how our generation is treated… I’m thinking… but perhaps, more importantly, that is how we fail, too.

    What do you all think? Feel free to respond — anybody. I’d like to hear some thoughts on this (and more thoughts on the sermon).

    Also, did the parts about “treasuring” Christ also remind anybody of the parable in the Bible about the man who found a treasure in a field and so sold all he had and bought the field? How did that word resonate with you? How do you think we begin to treasure God (as in, truly and honestly see Him as the greatest treasure ever)? What are steps we can take in obtaining that kind of heart for Him (or turning others’ hearts to Him in that way)?

  • Alex,

    Thank you for clarifying.
    My apologies and thanks to Mr. Piper, he is a wonderful teacher of God’s word.


  • That sounds really good, I will check it out. By the way, I checked the two bookstores in Sioux City, IA and both of them had “Do Hard Things”. I am not sure it conformed to the ideas taught in your book, but I was relieved to not have to ask them to order it:-)

  • I have a question for Alex or Brett. Do you think you guys could make a poster of the list of five hard things that’s in your book? I would love to put is up on my wall as a constant reminder!

  • Very encouraging message. We are ultimately responsible to God for our actions. However, we need to be submissive to our parents who are our God given authority. The point about not regarding adult’s opinions as supreme, is very good. It is often unbeneficial to listen too carefully to an adult when the ideas they are expressing run counter to your families (biblical) worldview. (It has the potential to create major disruptions in the family!)

    Thank you for sharing this sermon with us. 🙂

  • I just read the thing and I thought about how often I use the excuse that I’m only 15 and that someone older or more experienced should do it. I need to step up to the plate more often and as you (and I) like to say, “Do Hard Things!”

    For His Son’s Glory,

    P.S. I love the verse from Job that his friend says to him!

  • 1 Timothy 4:12 is the staff verse this year at the camp I will be working at for 13 weeks this summer, so for the past few weeks it has been on my mind. I read Mr. Piper’s wonderful sermon on the verse last night, then opened up a book to read this morning (“A Chance to Die” by Elizabeth Elliot about Amy Carmichael) and found in the back a note I had made about 1 Timothy 4:12.

    All that is to say: it is an amazing verse, and one that teens do need to take seriously. I decided to memorize not only verse 12, but also the verses surrounding it, because they are so rich!

    Verses 7 – 8 say “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily disciple is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
    When I first read these verses 2 weeks ago, I had been really focused on getting ready for the summer at camp by getting into shape 🙂 and working on the skills that I will using this summer (I teach horsemanship, but I’ve also been working on my roping). This verse hit me pretty hard!

    I remember back when I was a camper at this camp, looking up with awe at the “wranglers” (the term for the cowboys & cowgirls who work with the horses) and how they were my heroes/heroines. So I had decided that this summer I would be authentic – “do hard things” – in order to make sure that I could deserve kids looking up at me.

    I still believe that that is important – being prepared and good at my job – but even more important is BEING AN EXAMPLE of a CHRISTIAN in “speech, conduct, love, taith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). And all the discipline I was putting myself through physically is nowhere near as important as spiritual discipline and godliness.

    Verse 10 reminds us that we labor and strive (i.e. “do hard things”) because “we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men”.

    Then, verse 15 is an especially meaningful goal for me, since last summer working at this camp was a lesson in conviction and repentance, and my heart has been drastically changed since then: “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all”.

    Just a few thoughts (although rather long – sorry)… I would just encourage everyone to make this verse their theme verse this summer as well! Imagine if a host of teens everywhere strove with all their might to be an example of Christians this summer!

  • Our pastor preached on the same verse yesterday, only he preached on a Chirstian testimony for all believers.

  • Brynne: Thanks for writing in about your convictions and what God is teaching you. It was very inspiring for me. I’ve been getting discouraged about some things lately, but I’ll definitely take what you said to heart and push through with my hope fixed on God. Thank you. =)

  • This sermon was great. I watched it with my whole family and we all agreed that their are alot of teens out there that need to hear this message. If you haven’t heard, read or watched it I definitely recommend it.



  • Wow! Thanks for posting this sermon. I really enjoyed it. My aunt and uncle just gave me a book by John Piper and I have just started reading it and then I saw this post and I had to check it out. It is very helpful! Keep up doing hard things for God’s glory!

  • This was such an uplifting and challenging sermon! I’ll have to go watch it again soon to try to remember everything John Piper said. Thank you so much for posting it!!
    I pray God will continue to be glorified in the work you do!

  • 1 Timothy 4:12 is a great verse, I think of it alot. My best friend and i have stared teaching a class for 2-3 yr olds, many of the older people in our church now see me in new eyes .not just think i am weird just because i am in the age range of 13-18.

  • My daddy downloaded that sermon from the Internet about 6 months ago. It is awesome!

    PS:That is also how I learned about the Rebelution.

  • I love how John Piper emphasized the gospel, because we are legalists to the max. But thank God for the gospel gospel gospel! :D.

    Children are called to set an example for adults.

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  • Just read a book called “STAND”, downloaded if from desiring God web, it’s full of testimonies of people who have done hard things, all for God’s glory. I was challenged to understand that to do hard things, i have to become comfortable being unpopular because if the world didn’t treat Christ our master well, we shouldn’t expect to be treated any better.

  • This is a great message, especially for young people in church settings. It can be tough to feel respected when you’re new to the faith or haven’t been around as long as others. The emphasis on living a life that exemplifies our faith is a powerful one, regardless of age. I wonder if there are any resources out there for young adults specifically on how to grow in their faith and contribute meaningfully to the church community?

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →