Debbie Bearden is a beautiful example of a Christian lady. Have you seen her at work? Correcting gently, encouraging the faint-hearted, patiently answering questions. As I rode with her on the way to my first speech tournament, I asked, “So, um, Mrs. Bearden, how exactly do we start these things?” She took a deep breath, and plunged in. As I continued to compete, Debbie always encouraged me, “Abigail, be an example to the other kids. You already are an example—be a good one.”
I hope I haven’t disappointed Debbie—a good example encourages the same in others. But even more importantly, I hope I haven’t disappointed the Lord, who asked the same thing of me.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, a young man who was trying to clean up a messy church, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
My dad is really good at exhibiting Biblical truth by pointing out what the Bible does not say. He told me, “Don’t let people look down on you because you are young. But how do you keep that from happening? Are you supposed to punch them in the nose if they don’t treat you right?”
And the catechized response? “No! I’m supposed to earn their respect!”
Paul gives us five areas to work on earning respect, and let me tell you, it is hard work! We’re supposed to be examples of believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. That is hard-core Christianity for a young person to practice—but that is what we are challenged to do—and most young people like a challenge.
As “public speakers”, we hear the word “speech” and think we know what it means. And it’s pretty simple to be a good example in the content of our speeches. “Oh sure, my speeches honor God. My parents helped me make sure they were appropriate.” But Debbie Bearden pointed out to me that any time you are talking to another person, you are public speaking. At first I wanted to argue with that definition, but her words make sense. As long as you keep your thoughts to yourself, they are private. But the minute you share them with another person, they become free game to be repeated publicly.
Colossians 4:6 says “Let your speech always be seasoned with grace.” It doesn’t warn us to make sure our speeches are gracious, but to be careful in everything we say. Why do we season our speech? “So that you may know how to respond to each person.”
If our words in the halls contradict the words in our presentations, either directly or simply by attitude, we have proven ourselves to be hypocrites, and poor examples.
In the same way our conduct is important to gaining respect, and it demonstrates our respect for others. If you want to be respected, what’s the golden key? “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”
Have you ever been giving a speech while other competitors were noisily chatting and laughing outside the door? Pretty distracting, isn’t it? Of course, I’m sure none of us here would ever be caught goofing off in the halls, right? I’ll admit that I’ve had to be “shushed” a few times. And what is your reaction when you’re asked to be quieter? Is it humility, ashamed that you hadn’t been thinking about the other speakers or contempt for the person who “hushed” you?
Recently I judged a tournament where a mother came up to me righteously complaining about the conduct of a couple of young men whom she had asked to tone down their fun. One of them replied saucily and several of the alumni judges laughed. That lady was justified in her frustration—she was an adult trying to correct inconsiderate conduct and she had been rudely ignored and disrespected.
The whole issue of conduct will become a lot clearer if you act from a love motivation. Unfortunately, there are so many garbled views of love theses days that we’re often not sure what a good example of love looks like. Which means that it’s time to stop leaning on our own understanding, and go back to the authority. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us exactly what love does and doesn’t look like, and why it’s important. Since this is a pretty familiar passage, I am going to share my personalized version, from my own competition years.
“If I speak with the talent of a tournament sweepstakes award winner, and can imitate any accent, have perfect inflection, rate, fluency and pronunciation, if I have a powerful stage presence and smile graciously at appropriate times, even appear concerned or interested when someone is speaking to me, and do everything else necessary to be generally popular, but I am only interested in making myself look good, in winning a trophy, and do not genuinely care about the people with whom I rub shoulders, except that they adore me, I am just a loud, obnoxious noise!
“Love listens when others talk, and patiently answers questions, helps others get oriented and encourages them to do their best, it notices younger children, thanks judges, helps adults, shifts credit. It is not jealous when others receive more recognition, nor does it brag about how many events it broke in or prominently displays its medals. Love is modest, not flirty or loud or rude, it doesn’t take every opportunity to show off its talent, it doesn’t get angry or hurt if someone corrects it, nor does it remember if someone else is not loving. Love doesn’t laugh at disrespect or crude humor, but tries to gently correct and compliment good behavior. It is willing to be used, it gives advice eagerly, shares information, compliments, and helps without expecting thanks. It gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, it hopes for the best in others, rejoices when they do well, and it is satisfied in knowing that it has loved. Love never, ever falls out of character.”
We should also be good examples of our love for our Lord—our faith. One of the ways that I chose to do this was by giving only speeches of eternal value. If the goal of speaking is to sharpen our skills to give an account of the hope within us, it seems only logical that our topics should reflect that. Why would we portray the life of a scoundrel, or put hours of practice time into a piece that makes fun of someone?
But even making sure our speeches mirror our convictions is not enough. We should be ready to speak about our Savior at every opportunity. When someone says, “You are such a talented speaker! I love watching you!” You have the perfect opportunity to give credit to God. “Thank you. It is one way the Lord has blessed me, and I hope to bless Him by my speaking.”
In the NCFCA league, we have it pretty easy. Everyone has pretty similar goals and beliefs, and most of the judges are not only believers, but also homeschooling parents. But that doesn’t mean that we should cease to be examples. We are to “spur one another on to love and good deeds”, “encourage one another, and build each other up” and if we are doing this and an unbeliever enters, “he will fall on his face, declaring that God is truly among you.”
Lastly, Paul brings our attention to the topic of purity. It seems like a pretty simple subject, doesn’t it? But purity is as intricate as our emotions, and I could go on forever discussing it.
When I first started competing, one of the things that I appreciated the most was the lack of flirtatiousness. All of the competitors were good friends, but they treated each other like brothers and sisters in Christ. As time went on, and the Kansas league grew, the focus seemed to shift from friendship to flirtation. Girls and guys would banter in the halls, kids would discuss who was “hot”, and some harmful relationships resulted.
Paul told Timothy that his relationship to young women should be brother to sister, in all purity. Purity means that you’re not doing things to get reactions, saying things to stir up emotions, or wearing things to get attention. When a lot of young guys and girls are thrown into a building for several long days, there’s bound to be emotions flowing strongly. That’s why it’s so important not to feed those impure emotions, to control them and to make a point of turning the focus to the Lord, instead of to ourselves. When this happens, lasting, edifying relationships result.
Paul was a wise man. He knew he couldn’t tell a young man “don’t” and expect him not to. So he didn’t just say “Don’t throw spitballs, don’t tease the girls”. That would be an unending list of don’ts, and Timothy wouldn’t have known what he could do. So he followed up his command, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young” with some positive actions that would help to earn respect.
Debbie Bearden has also learned this valuable lesson, and that’s one of the reasons why she’s such a godly example. She didn’t tell me, “Don’t” she told me “Be an example” and her actions added “like me.” She earned my respect by her actions so that she could say, with Paul, “Follow me, as I follow Christ!” He is the perfect example.
I want to challenge you today, follow Christ, and lead others to do the same. Be an example—a good example of believers.