It was 86 B.C. when the famous military commander Gaius Marius, uncle of Julius Caesar, died. His son, Marius the Younger, stepped up to lead his father's faction, even though he was only twenty-three years old.
By 82 B.C. young Marius was doing rather well. He was elected as consul, and was eager to win a battle in what he thought would be an easy civil war. Soon, however, he found himself retreating with 7000 troops to a fortress city. While he fought with the rear guard, the people in the city panicked and shut the gates. Then young Marius was ingloriously hauled up over the walls by ropes.
As the siege wore on, food ran out and people starved. Finally the city surrendered and Marius fled to an underground tunnel. Trapped and helpless, he did the only honorable thing a Roman could do - he killed himself. The winning army cut off his head and took it to Rome, where they exposed it to ridicule in the forum. As the triumphant general said of the dead leader's youthfulness, "First learn to row, before you try to steer."
The Greek word for "youthfulness" is neotes (neh OH tace). It was the word used by Paul when he told Timothy, "Let no one despise your youth" (1 Tim 4:12). The word does not mean a specific age, although Hippocrates put it roughly in the range of 21 to 28. The main thing was that a neotes, "a youth," had not yet become "a man."
Untried, untested, still "wet behind the ears," a young man is easily criticized by older folks. It is worse yet for the young man who runs around with even younger folks - the dreaded teenagers! That is why the young man who is a youth minister must "set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." Then the old folks will see his progress and everyone will be edified.