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Paul’s Partners (3): Timothy (1)

David Williamson, Newtownabbey

It was young Timothy of whom Paul wrote, "I have no man likeminded" (Phil 2.20). Paul treated Timothy as his own son, and Timothy treated Paul as his own father.

The relationship enjoyed between Paul and Timothy puts to death the idea that the young and old cannot mix together. These two servants of God were perfectly happy in each other’s company. Paul states in Philippians 2.22 that "as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel", and most of our meditations on Timothy will be in chronological order through the Scriptural record of his life.

His Relations

Timothy is introduced to us in Acts 16.1. Paul "came...to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek". The first point to notice is that there was a division in Timothy’s home. His mother was a believing Jew and his father was an unbelieving Gentile. So, within Timothy’s family circle there were mixed influences, socially, religiously and morally.

Paul sheds further light on Timothy’s home-life in 2 Timothy 1.5. There he could "call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also". Behind the believing mother, there was also a believing grandmother.

What is really delightful to see is that the faith that characterised these two women became characteristic of Timothy. They used their influence for good! They possessed "unfeigned faith" – it was sincere and genuine. As Timothy watched his mother and grandmother he knew that they were not living a sham life. They were genuine.

Is it not true that our children soon detect our character? Our lives can quickly become superficial. We can live to please our brethren. Generally speaking, however, at home we are what we are! One lesson from these two godly sisters is the impact that we might have upon our families if (by divine grace) our lives are real and genuine!

His Instruction

How did Timothy’s mother and grandmother preserve him and instruct him in the things of God? The secret is in 2 Timothy 3.15: "from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus".

When was Timothy instructed? The answer is, "from a child". The word for "child" means literally an infant or baby. It is stressed that, from a very young age, Timothy was instructed by his mother and grandmother. As soon as he had any capacity to learn, he was taught.

What was Timothy instructed in? He was taught "the holy scriptures". These sacred writings were divinely inspired. Paul goes on to write that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable" (2 Tim 3.16). Timothy, from his earliest days, was instructed in the Scriptures. In fact, some have concluded from these verses that "Timothy was taught the letters of the alphabet from the Scriptures and learned to read from the Bible" (Hiebert).

What was the benefit of this instruction? The Scriptures are "able to make...wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus". The Scriptures contain the message of salvation. They also contain inherent power. A mind saturated in the Word of God is a mind ready for illumination in respect of salvation. Such salvation is of course "through faith which is in Christ Jesus".

As parents we ask ourselves – What is the best I can do for my child to encourage his/her salvation? These Scriptures teach that I can live a genuine Christian life before them, and I can give to them the Word of God. Parents and grandparents looking after children have a tremendously important role. From the first moments of reason, young minds can be imbibed with the Scriptures of truth. Though we cannot save our children, we are responsible to give to them the Scriptures!

His Salvation

Having been instructed in the Scriptures, Timothy was receptive to the truth. Paul and Barnabas arrived in Lystra and preached the gospel (Acts 14.6-7) and a young man in the crowd heard the truth of God and trusted in Christ! The sowers had done their work, and the reapers appeared to reap the harvest. In 1 Timothy 1.2 Paul refers to Timothy as "my own son in the faith". This is rendered by the ESV as "my true child in the faith". In other words, Paul was convinced of the reality of Timothy’s conversion. Many professed faith in Christ, but Paul calls Timothy a "genuine child". Timothy manifested his reality in his life!

Many of us sow but do not reap as much as we would like. Let us not forget that sowing is a crucial work. There will be no reaping if there is no sowing! Those who do reap sheaves and see souls saved should not forget the years of sowing on the part of parents, grandparents and Sunday-school teachers.

His Commendation

Timothy was "well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium" (Acts 16.2). Those who were close to him and knew him best were convinced of his Christian character. JND renders it as "who had a good testimony of the brethren in Lystra and Iconium". We sometimes speak of our "testimony" as our personal record of conversion. It is a wonderful thing to have a story to tell. However, there is something perhaps more satisfying – the witness of others who acknowledge that our life has been completely changed.

Timothy was a young man. Some place him at about eighteen; others suggest that he was in his early twenties. Whatever his exact age it is important to notice that he had already set his sails for life! Please remember, young people, that how you spend your late-teens and early twenties will have a tremendous impact on your life. Some of us wish we had been saved at an earlier age and had our teenage years to study the Bible. Do not waste the years God has given you when you have most free time.

His Circumcision

Paul wanted Timothy to "go forth with him". Just as Barnabas had encouraged and guided Paul, so now Paul recognises the potential in young Timothy. However, it is then recorded that Paul "took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters" (Acts 16.3). In Galatians we learn that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (Gal 2.3); yet in Acts 16 Timothy was circumcised! Why does Paul circumcise Timothy and not Titus? Is he acting inconsistently? We must always read Scripture in its context. There is always a good reason for any seeming discrepancy in the teaching of our Bible.

Titus was a Gentile and the rite of circumcision had nothing whatsoever to do with him. Some Jews however were insisting that any Gentile who professed salvation should be circumcised to bring him onto the same ground as the Jews. They claimed that Gentiles could only truly be saved by becoming Jews. Paul would never bow to such a perversion of the truth of the gospel! Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and no rite or ritual performed by man can add anything to our acceptance with God.

Timothy on the other hand was raised as a Jew in a mixed home but, possibly due to the resistance of his father, he had never been circumcised. Paul intended to bring him with him in service and he knew that if Timothy was not circumcised the Jews would not listen to his ministry. This would cause a hindrance to their gospel work, so Paul decided to remove the problem. Timothy’s circumcision did not make him any more of a Christian; it only made him more useful as a servant of God.

There is a very clear principle contained in this act of Paul. He perceived a barrier in the minds of the Jews and he set himself to remove it. Sometimes we have a similar responsibility. Is there anything I do which appears to be of no spiritual consequence but constitutes an unnecessary hindrance to people listening to the gospel? Let me be willing to remove that barrier. Let our aim be the progress of the gospel.

To be continued.


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