In the previous article in this series, we considered an episode in Timothy’s life that is a reminder of the importance of following our absent leader and role model, the Lord Jesus Christ. While Paul was away from Lystra, Timothy’s hometown, between the First and Second Missionary Journeys, Timothy faithfully followed Paul’s example even though Paul was not physically present with him. After Paul returned to Lystra at the beginning of the Second Missionary Journey, he was pleased with how Timothy had acted, and he invited the young man to travel with him and Silas.
Paul’s response to Timothy when he came back is a small foreshadowing of what will occur with us at the return of Christ.
If we labor without excuse despite the obstacles that are before us,
If we look past our natural limitations and place our trust in God,
If we are aware of the spiritual needs of those around us and work to do our part to address them,
If we follow in the footsteps of Christ, our absent leader, and put the needs of our brothers and sisters above our own,
If we do as Timothy did:
We will then be pleasing to the Lord at his return, and we will be given greater opportunity to serve in the Kingdom.
In these last days, as we await the return of the Lord, it is important that we develop the mind-set Timothy had when he was in Lystra. Those early years in his life were foundational to his later work.
Perspectives on Timothy’s early role
Timothy accepted Paul’s offer to accompany him on the Second Missionary Journey. The year was approximately AD 51. Timothy was probably about 20.1
Paul and Barnabas had previously had a young brother travel with them on the First Missionary Journey. His name was John Mark, but he had abandoned Paul and Barnabas. It appears that Timothy was selected to fill the role on the Second Missionary Journey that John Mark had once had on the First Missionary Journey.
Why did Paul want a young person to accompany him on his missionary journeys? There were probably a number of reasons, and it can be instructive to think about them.
Although it is not recorded in the Bible, there was probably a need for routine tasks, like getting supplies, arranging meetings, and delivering messages, to be done faithfully. Those would be ideal jobs for a reliable young brother to perform.
As we consider our own service in the Truth, it is important to remember the need for mundane, sometimes thankless tasks — like printing fliers, washing dishes at the hall, and setting up equipment — to be done well. We need to keep our eye out for those kinds of jobs, make ourselves available for them, and give them our best effort. They can be so important to a well-functioning ecclesial event.
Also, a young person could have been particularly useful for reaching out to other young people that the missionaries met. Outreach efforts benefit from having people from a wide range of backgrounds involved. Even if we feel that we do not have the ideal aptitudes for preaching efforts, we should still try to involve ourselves in them. We might end up encountering someone who is very similar to us and turn out to be the exact person who is best suited to connect with that particular individual. People sometimes shy away from participation in outreach efforts because of who they are. “I’m short and shy,” they might reason. But who better to engage with a short and shy person than another short and shy person! Everyone’s participation is needed in Gospel proclamation efforts.
Finally, bringing a young person along gave Paul the opportunity to provide tremendously valuable on-the-job training to a future leader of the ecclesia. Paul was probably in his mid-40s during the Second Missionary Journey. He was in one of the most active stages of his work in the Truth. Yet he was already preparing the next generation to continue the work when he would no longer be around. It is important that we follow his example. We should strive to share whatever talents we possess with people who are younger than us so that they can continue the work that we are doing should age, illness, or death stop our labors before the Lord’s return.
Acts 16 records that Paul circumcised Timothy before they left Lystra: “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).
Paul and Timothy knew that preaching the Gospel in synagogues was challenging. Doing so with an uncircumcised person who had a Greek father would have been even harder. Paul circumcised Timothy to avoid that obstacle to their preaching work. But the fact he did so was remarkable, given what was occurring in the ecclesial world at the time.
The previous chapter, Acts 15, describes events that took place at a conference in Jerusalem prior to the Second Missionary Journey. Certain brethren from Judea had been teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Paul and Barnabas had opposed them, and they decided to take the matter before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem:
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15: 1-2).
Acts 15 records that at the conference in Jerusalem that followed, the apostles and elders declared circumcision was not necessary for salvation. They then asked Paul, Barnabas, and certain other brethren to carry decrees with that message to the ecclesias (Acts 15:22-29). One of Paul’s activities during the Second Missionary Journey was delivering those decrees. In fact, Paul, Timothy, and Silas shared those decrees — about circumcision not being necessary for salvation — with the other ecclesias of Galatia just after he circumcised Timothy. The very next verse after Timothy’s circumcision is recorded describes the missionaries’ work delivering the decrees about circumcision not being necessary for salvation: “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4).
It says a great deal about Timothy’s character that he was willing to undergo circumcision. He could have offered a shallow argument about doctrinal correctness and refused to undergo the procedure. If he had done so, he would have saved himself the considerable physical pain associated with adult circumcision. But instead he humbled himself and willingly endured the pain so that the Gospel message could be furthered.
Timothy was willing to sacrifice of himself so that other people could more easily learn the Truth and bring glory to God. His choice illustrates the mind-set we need to have. The Truth must always come before our own pride and comfort.
In the years following Timothy’s circumcision, it appears that Judaizing elements in the Galatian ecclesias used Paul’s circumcision of Timothy to erroneously claim that Paul taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation. (Remember that Timothy was Galatian.) Paul addressed the issue in his Epistle to the Galatians: “And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased” (Gal 5:11). Paul reasoned that the persecution he suffered from those who stressed the importance of circumcision was proof that he was not preaching the same message that they were.
“Before many witnesses”
There is evidence that there was a gathering of Timothy’s ecclesia to commend him on his journey before he left Lystra. Paul later made reference to it: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1Tim 6:12).
Paul wrote 1 Timothy to help Timothy at a spiritual low point in his life. Although it is not obvious from the text what the exact purpose of the gathering Paul referred to was, it is clear that it was something that had positive associations in Timothy’s mind. Paul later mentioned it to strengthen and encourage Timothy when he was down.
It appears that whatever isolation Timothy may have experienced in Lystra prior to learning the Truth had become a thing of his past. The ecclesia in Lystra clearly meant a great deal to Timothy. They had embraced him, and he loved and labored for them. But Timothy was willing to leave them behind, along with his faithful mother and grandmother and whatever career he had embarked upon, for the rigors of missionary work with the Apostle Paul.
Timothy knew full well the trials and dangers that travelling with Paul could entail. But he embraced the wonderful opportunity for service to God that it offered.
“Servants of the most high God”
Accompanied by Paul and Silas, Timothy left Lystra. One of their first major stops was Philippi. An ecclesia was formed there as a result of their preaching efforts.
One day Paul healed a mentally ill slave girl in Philippi who made her masters a lot of money by fortune telling.
“And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour” (Acts 16:16-18).
The events that followed reveal a great deal about Timothy’s character. After she was healed, the girl’s masters were enraged because they could no longer make money off her. They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities (Acts 16:19, ESV). What followed was a scene of intense violence:
“The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16:22-24, ESV).
That night, while they were in prison, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God: “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (Acts 16:25). It is interesting to consider the Scriptural evidence about why they might have done that.
They might have been “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame” for the Lord’s name (Acts 6:41). It might also have been that they were doing what they usually did at night. Perhaps they sang hymns every evening.
It is certainly evident from Paul’s writings — and in his writings to Timothy in particular — that singing hymns was a very important part of their spiritual life. Both of Paul’s epistles to Timothy contain what many commentators agree must be excerpts from hymns. The following passage is believed to be from a hymn of praise:
“Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (1Tim 6:15-16).2
One of the “faithful sayings” in 2 Timothy is in metrical Greek, which suggests it was also an extract from a hymn: “For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us. If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful” (2Tim 2:11-13).3
Paul wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to help Timothy, his “son in the faith” (1Tim 1:2), during times when Timothy was struggling. The fact that Paul quoted from hymns in each of his epistles to Timothy indicates that Timothy must have loved and been greatly encouraged by spiritual music. Perhaps there were many nights where Paul, Timothy, and other faithful brothers and sisters concluded the day’s activities and prepared for the next day’s events by singing hymns together and offering prayers to God.
As we look for ways to improve our service to God, strengthen our families, and provide godly alternatives to this world’s entertainment and distractions, we might wish to consider dedicating time every night to singing listening to, and being encouraged by, hymns and spiritual music.
Timothy was not with Paul and Silas the night they were imprisoned. But he was a faithful servant to the Lord in Philippi and in the cities he went to thereafter. We will consider the form his service in Philippi took in the next article in the series.
Ryan Mutter (Baltimore, MD)
Notes: 1. D. Smith. “Young People Who Put God First: Timothy — Role Model for the Believer.” The Testimony, p. 316. 2. A. Nicholls. 1991. Letters to Timothy and Titus. (Birmingham, United Kingdom: The Christadelphian), pp. 215-219. 3. Brother A. Nicholls provides a fascinating discussion of the connection between this passage and the Epistle to the Romans. He suggests that someone in the Roman ecclesia (or perhaps Paul himself) turned the exposition into a hymn. See A. Nicholls. 1991. Letters to Timothy and Titus. (Birmingham, United Kingdom: The Christadelphian), pp.