What character traits do we value? It is a question we might not think about often, but our answer is important. It affects our decision making, which, in turn, impacts our development.
Is physical appearance particularly important to us? If so, we may invest in how we look, perhaps to the point that our spiritual growth is limited because so much of our time and attention is going to our exterior. Valuing looks can also affect our choice of friends — perhaps even who we marry.
The characteristics we value also influence those around us. We share with people what we think is important through our conversation and how we spend our time. The signals our words and actions send can impact others. If a father loves to talk about football and never misses a game, his son will probably come to think football is important too. A brother who loves to share his business exploits and usually greets others at meeting with a question about what is happening at work, might cause some in his ecclesia to question whether they should have the same fervor for their careers that he does. A mother who organizes a summer beach trip instead of getting her family to a Bible school teaches her children to love leisure and the pleasures of this life.
Our words and actions show what characteristics we value. What do they say? Do we act like Isaac at a spiritual low point in his life and overvalue physical attributes and the skills the world prizes? Or are do we care about and seek to cultivate obedience, teachability, humility, self-sacrifice, and a love of God?
“Valued of God”
The life of Timothy is the subject of this series. One of the key lessons that emerges from the narrative of Timothy’s life is the contrast between the characteristics the world values, and those which God values. Timothy’s name is a reminder of that distinction. It means “valued of God.” The traits Timothy developed and the choices he made were valued by God, even though those around him did not always appreciate them. The record of Timothy’s life reminds us that we should always be aware of the difference between what the world values and what God values.
The Bible’s record of Timothy’s life is the story of a young man. But the lessons from it apply equally well to all believers. We should all continue to grow spiritually, like Timothy, “and to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men” (1Thess 3:12), regardless of who we are or our stage in life.
Growing up in Lystra
The society in which Timothy was raised had a vision of what young men were supposed to be like. They were to be athletic, vigorous, and versed in the thinking of the philosophers. Reminders of this vision were everywhere. It was given physical form in the statutes that dotted the cities of the ancient world. It was celebrated in the games, like the Olympics, which were such an important part of public life.
Timothy did not look like the statues that were on display in the cities. He bore little resemblance to the heroes of the games. The Bible suggests he was sickly and somewhat timid. It also indicates that his natural limitations sometimes weighed on him.
Yet Timothy possessed some wonderful traits, which he used to help establish and encourage ecclesias in many lands. People from all walks of life embraced and continued in the faith because of Timothy’s example. He brought people hope. He taught them about the Lord Jesus. He changed lives. His contributions, therefore, were of far greater and lasting value than anything done in the games or commemorated by a statue.
Timothy’s background helped to shape him into the man he ultimately became. He was from Lystra, a frontier outpost in the province of Galatia. Timothy might have grown up in a mud brick house. They were common in that area during Roman times.1
Lystra was situated on a highland plateau with mountains on two sides. The nearby mountain tribes were known for being wild and unruly. The Emperor Augustus placed a Roman garrison in Lystra to try to tame them.2
Timothy’s mother was Jewish. His father was Greek.3 The natives of Lystra spoke Lycaonian (Acts 14:11),4 so Timothy’s father was probably not from there. He may have moved to the city because of the Roman garrison.5
The language of Acts suggests there was tension in Timothy’s family: “Then came he 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” (Acts 16:1). The phrase “but his father was a Greek” indicates there might have been conflict in the home.6 That suggestion is supported by other details provided about Timothy’s upbringing.
Acts also records Timothy was not circumcised as a baby: “Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3). The fact Timothy was not circumcised was probably due to his father’s objections to the practice. Paul observed that Timothy’s mother tried to raise her son in harmony with the Old Testament Scriptures. Towards the end of his life, Paul recalled: “And that 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” (2Tim 3:15). The Greek word rendered “child” means “an infant.”7 The word is rendered “a babe” in the Revised Version. Timothy’s mother instructed her son from the Scriptures from a very early age. She would have wanted him circumcised. Circumcision was an ordinance given to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:11-12) and a command under the Law (Lev 12:3). It was an important part of Jewish identity and symbolized profound spiritual lessons.
Timothy’s mother was named Eunice (2Tim 1:5). It was an appropriate name for her in the context of Timothy’s life because it means “good victory.”8 Timothy’s godly development was a good victory to which Eunice contributed. As with many achievements, however, her work was not always easy. There would have been many difficulties during Timothy’s early years that she had to faithfully overcome.
The Bible’s brief record of Timothy’s upbringing is a reminder of several important lessons.
First, it illustrates the conflict and unhappiness that can arise from marrying outside of the Truth. The Bible does not give the reason that Eunice married an unbeliever. It could have been her choice, or it might have been due to circumstances beyond her control. Either way, being married to someone who did not share her faith brought added challenges to her life and the life of her son.
Second, the information we have about Timothy’s early years illustrates that believers can move past a challenge in their background, even if it is a major one. Eunice was faced with a real difficulty when Timothy was born, and she and his father had different views about how he was to be raised. But she was persistent. She was determined to do right in God’s sight to the best of her ability despite the obstacles that confronted her. Eunice did not allow a challenge from her past — marrying an unbeliever — to ruin her future or the future of her son. She was still faithful. She still managed to raise a young man who loved God and who wanted to dedicate his life to serving Him. (It is worth noting that although certain aspects of Timothy’s personality created challenges for him as an adult, lack of persistence was not one of them. Timothy had a determination to follow God’s commands. He also possessed a resiliency in the face of dogged opposition from opponents of the Truth. Those are traits he may have developed from observing his mother and learning from her example as she raised him.)
Third, the Bible’s record of Timothy’s upbringing is a reminder of the impact we can have on our children by teaching them from the Bible in our homes starting at an early age. It is worth noting that Timothy’s spiritual instruction during his early years occurred primarily in his home.
There is no record of Paul preaching in the synagogue in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra, even though that was the Apostle’s usual practice. That suggests that there was no synagogue in the city, which is a conjecture supported by secular history. Even if there had been a synagogue in Lystra, Timothy would probably not have been permitted to participate in its activities because he was uncircumcised. Acts 16:3 records that the Jews in the area were well aware that Timothy had not undergone circumcision. Consequently, they probably would have discouraged other Jewish young people from mixing with him.9 Thus, the wonderful foundation in godliness Timothy received as a boy, which he was able to draw on for the rest of his life, was probably due in large measure to the loving instruction from the Scriptures he received in his home. Timothy’s spiritual development is a wonderful illustration of the principle that is so important to remember as we decide how to allocate our time and energy in our homes: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6).
Fourth, Timothy’s grandmother played an important role in helping him to develop into a godly young man. Paul mentioned her by name: “When I 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” (2Tim 1:5).10 Lois followed the guidance of Scripture and recognized that her role in child rearing did not end when her own children were grown. She knew she had a Scriptural obligation to help instruct and guide her grandson in the ways of God: “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons” (Deut 4:9). The wonderful influence Timothy’s grandmother had on him is an illustration of the important role God has given to grandparents.
The details provided about Timothy’s background suggest he would not have “fit in” very well in Lystra as a young person:
First, Lystra was a military frontier town in the Roman Empire. Its people would probably have prized strength and athleticism. Timothy, however, was not physically robust.
Second, the conflicts in Timothy’s home, especially those related to how he was to be raised, were probably unsettling to him. They could have contributed to his shyness.11
Third, Timothy had a Jewish heritage and Jewish training in a town without many Jews. Plus, the few Jews that might have been there, probably would have avoided him.
Fourth, Timothy’s father could have been an immigrant to the area, which might have made Timothy feel like even more of an outsider.
Fifth, Timothy’s relationship with his father was probably not close. It appears Timothy’s father was not supportive of Judaism, so he probably would not have appreciated the spiritual qualities Timothy had developed based on the Scriptures. He might have wished Timothy had chosen his way of life instead of his mother’s. Timothy was also emotional and given to shedding tears (2Tim 1:4). Consequently, his father might have viewed him as somewhat of a disappointment.
But Timothy’s Heavenly Father saw much that was of great value in the young man. One day an event occurred that had a lasting impact on Timothy’s life. It ended up giving Timothy a tremendous sense of purpose, a wonderful community to truly belong to, and the opportunity to harness the guidance he had received and the spiritual traits he had begun to develop to change many lives and bring glory to the Father. That event was the arrival of two missionaries in Lystra.
Ryan Mutter (Baltimore, MD)
To Be Continued…
1. “Derbe and Lystra.” Bible Places. www.bibleplaces.com/derbelystra.htm, accessed March 6, 2012.
2. D. Hagner. 1986. “Lystra.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans), p. 193.
3. The Greek word used to describe him is Hellen, which is Strong’s number G1672. It can be used to describe a Greek national or in a wider sense for a non-Jew. J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. e-Sword 9.9.0.
4. Commentators disagree on what this language was. Some claim it was a corruption of Greek, perhaps with Syriac influences. The events of Acts 14:11-15 and some historical sources indicate Lycaonian was not easily understandable to Greek speakers. A. Clarke, Commentary on the Bible. e-Sword 9.9.0.
5. T. Benson. “’Let No Man Despise Thy Youth’ — A Study of the Life of Timothy (1) Early Life and Conversion.” The Testimony, 1969, p. 339.
6. S. Kingsbury. Teenagers of the Bible: Growing Examples of Godliness. (Findon, South Australia: Logos), p. 425.
7. The Greek word is brephos. It is Strong’s number G1025. See D. Smith. “Young People Who Put God First.” The Testimony, vol. 61, p. 316.
8. J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. e-Sword 9.9.0. “Eunice” is Strong’s number G2131. It comes from the Greek words eu, which is Strong’s number G2095, and means “good” and nike, which is Strong’s number G3529 and means “victory.”
9. T. Benson. Op. Cit.
10. Lois’ husband is not mentioned. Does that suggest that she, like her daughter, also married an unbeliever? Was a mistake she made repeated in her daughter’s life? We are not told, and the two women ultimately became exemplary believers.
11. H.P. Mansfield. 2006. The Story of the Bible, vol. 8. (Findon, South Australia: Logos),