Monday, September 21, 2020

Paul's Spiritual Son, Timothy

If the apostle Paul had ever been married, the New Testament tells us nothing about it. Nor does it say anything about any natural children Paul may have fathered. But Acts and the Epistles are filled with references to Paul’s spiritual children: men and women who had been brought to a saving knowledge of Christ through Paul’s ministry. Paul reminds the Corinthians: “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15).

The most prominent of Paul’s many spiritual children was Timothy. The apostle wrote two letters to him and mentions him twelve other times in his letters (Timothy also appears in six verses in Acts and once in Hebrews). Three times Paul calls him “my son” (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; and note the comparison in Philippians 2:22), indicating not only their close relationship but also Paul’s role in Timothy’s conversion. We can assume that it was on Paul’s first missionary journey through southern Asia Minor (modern Turkey) that Timothy, from the city of Lystra, became a Christian (see Acts 14:8–20). Paul’s preaching of the crucified Messiah found fertile soil in Timothy’s heart because his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice had taught him the Scriptures from his birth (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). This grounding in the Word could come only through Timothy’s mother because his parents’ marriage was a mixed one. While his mother was a Jewess, his father was a Greek. Timothy’s mixed parentage created a problem when Paul recruited him for his missions team about three years later (Acts 16:1–3). Timothy, though reared with an understanding of the Old Testament and by Jewish law considered a Jew because of his mother, had not been circumcised. Paul therefore circumcised him “because of the Jews who lived in that area” (Acts 16:3).

Timothy quickly became an important member of Paul’s missions team. He helped Paul plant churches in the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16:16–17:15; see 17:14–15). He was separated from Paul while the latter went to Athens to escape persecution, but caught up with him in Corinth (Acts 18:5), bringing information from Thessalonica that led Paul to write to that church (1 Thessalonians 3:1–6). Indicative of Timothy’s importance and close relationship to the Thessalonians is Paul’s inclusion of him (along with Silas) in the letter’s opening (1 Thessalonians 1:1; see also 2 Thessalonians 1:1). Paul spent much of his third journey in Ephesus, using the city as a center from which to reach the surrounding area. When problems with the church at Corinth began to surface, Timothy’s close relationship with the Corinthians qualified him to act as Paul’s emissary to them (Acts 19:22; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10; see 2 Corinthians 1:1, 19). After the riot in Ephesus forced Paul to leave the city, he traveled through Philippi again, and Timothy was probably left to minister there as Paul moved on to Corinth (Acts 20:1–2). Paul then picked up Timothy there on his return trip to Palestine (Acts 20:3–4).

Paul’s evangelizing of Gentiles had made him a controversial figure, and upon his arrival back in Jerusalem, he was imprisoned by the Romans because of disturbances over him among the Jews. This imprisonment dragged on for two years (Acts 24:27). We know nothing about Timothy’s movements or activities during this time, but when Paul’s appeal to Caesar led to his being sent to Rome, Timothy probably accompanied him. At least we know that Timothy was with Paul during some of his two-year Roman imprisonment, for he is mentioned in letters written during that time (Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1; Philippians 1:1; 2:19). Timothy again worked with Paul after the latter’s release from confinement in Rome; he was left in charge of the church at Ephesus for a time (1 Timothy 1:3) and was probably still in that area (though not in Ephesus) when Paul wrote his last letter to him (2 Timothy 4:9–13). Significant of their relationship is the fact that Paul, in the shadow of martyrdom, sent this last letter to Timothy, his “dear son” (2 Timothy 1:2).

What made Timothy so dear to Paul and so valued a co-worker? The texts suggest three traits: solid training, availability, and love for others. Timothy’s early life was molded by his training in the Scriptures, and we are reminded that parental teaching can be one of the strongest foundations for a lifetime of ministry. But all the training in the world will not help if a person is unwilling to go where the Lord calls. Timothy was willing. He left his home and family to spend fifteen years traveling all over the Mediterranean world—sometimes with Paul and sometimes at Paul’s request. A conservative estimate of Timothy’s mileage during his journeys with Paul and the side trips Paul sent him on is 10,000 miles. Some of those miles came in the bowels of uncomfortable sailing vessels; most came on foot or on horseback. But what finally made Timothy so valued an associate in ministry was his genuine concern for others. Paul tells the Philippians that he is planning to send Timothy to them, because “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare” (2:20). Putting others first was something Timothy did in imitation of his Lord (Philippians 2:5–11). He is a model for us who seek to serve the risen Lord and His church.