Timothy was Paul’s close friend, and an associate in the ministry. Paul was a born leader; Timothy was a willing follower—perhaps not yet quite twenty years old. Paul burned with zeal for spreading the Gospel message. Timothy seemed frail in health, and was timid by nature—but he was an indispensable traveling companion who accompanied Paul.
Paul had been at Lystra on his First Missionary Journey a few years earlier. At that time Paul was accompanied by Barnabas, and at Lystra there was a man who had been crippled from birth who was miraculously healed through the ministry of the Apostles (Acts 14:8-10). That miracle of healing caused lots of excitement in Lystra, and Paul used the occasion to preach the Gospel.
Undoubtedly there were a number of conversions—but there was also much opposition to Paul’s preaching. Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city, left for dead. He later revived, and then went on to the next city.
The converts on that first missionary endeavor (described in Acts 14) likely included Timothy, and his mother, and his grandmother. Timothy, however, is first named in the Scripture only at the time when Paul and Silas came to Lystra on the Second Missionary Journey.
Timothy was highly regarded, not only by the Christians in his home-town of Lystra, but also by those who lived in Iconium, nearly 20 miles away (Acts 16:2). He impressed the early church leaders as an unusually dedicated young man. Paul apparently saw that Timothy could be a valued helper in the ministry of the Gospel, and so Timothy was invited to join Paul while he and Silas were at Lystra on their Second Missionary Journey.
Christians are impressed by the fact that almost immediately Timothy left the pleasant home of his loving mother and his grandmother to share in Paul’s labors and sufferings.
Timothy was the son of a Gentile father and a Jewish-Christian mother. His mother’s name was Eunice, and his grandmother was named Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). The New Testament makes it clear that Timothy had a godly heritage. His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, doubtless spent many hours reading to the boy Timothy from the Old Testament Scriptures.
Timothy’s father was a Gentile—likely not a believer in the Gospel message—but he apparently didn’t object to the Jewish training Eunice was giving to their son.
Our lesson is taken from four brief portions of Scripture, and each passage lifts up a different aspect of Timothy’s life and work:
- 1) Timothy was a helpful team mate (Acts 16:1-5)
- 2) Timothy was a caring servant (Philippians 2:19-24)
- 3) Timothy was a trusted teacher (1 Timothy 1:1-3)
- 4) Timothy was a faithful leader (2 Timothy 1:3-6)
1. Timothy Was A Helpful Team Mate (Acts 16:1-5)
Timothy had been growing in the faith ever since Paul’s first visit to Lystra—and since Timothy had a growing and excellent reputation in his home town, and was well spoken of by the believers there, Paul invited him to serve on the ministry team. But the fact that he had a Greek father meant that he had not met the Jewish expectation of circumcision.
Paul did not make a practice of yielding to the demands of the Jewish leaders who insisted that Gentile believers must be circumcised to be saved, but he did arrange for Timothy to undergo the procedure (Acts 16:3).
Paul was concerned that Timothy would not meet unnecessary opposition from local Jewish leaders as they traveled from place to place proclaiming the Gospel. His mixed Greek and Jewish background could have created problems on their evangelistic visits to churches.
Timothy already had good Jewish training in the Scriptures from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 3:14-15). By the time of Paul’s second visit, Timothy was a respected disciple of Jesus.
Timothy did not hesitate to join Paul and Silas, and he accompanied them on the rest of the Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:3). They delivered the decrees from the Jerusalem Conference (described in Acts 15), and the churches which had been established grew in faith and in number (verses 4-5).
Through the years Timothy became an increasingly valuable team helper. Timothy stayed with Paul through the end of the Second Missionary Journey, and through the start of the Third Journey—until they reached Ephesus. It was at Ephesus that Paul learned of serious problems at Corinth, and so he sent Timothy back to Corinth to help settle issues that had arisen there (1 Corinthians 4:17).
One of the special things about Timothy was that time and time again we read that Paul had sent him somewhere. In fact, Timothy spent most of his life going on expeditions on which Paul had sent him.
2. Timothy Was A Caring Servant (Philippians 2:19-24)
A number of years had now passed since Paul and Timothy first began traveling together in the Lord’s work. Timothy had been with Paul when the church at Philippi was founded, and the people there had come to love Timothy because they knew that he was genuinely concerned about their welfare.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, saying that he hoped to send Timothy to them once more (verse 19), they were filled with joy and expectation. Paul was anxious to learn of their current condition. Since Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter to the church at Philippi, it was his desire to send Timothy to bring encouragement to the people there.
In verse 20, Paul said that Timothy possessed a genuine sense of care for the Christians at Philippi. There was no other helper who was so well suited for the task at hand. Paul, in writing to the church at Philippi, says in essence, “I have no one else like Timothy, who really genuinely cares about your welfare” (Philippians 2:20).
In verse 21, we are told that the other believers there were too self-centered, too involved in their own lives, too wrapped up in their own pursuits—and thus they were not of much help to Paul. The general run of Christians (even in the early church), were putting themselves first, and Jesus next! The same thing is often true today. Many who attend the church service on Sunday morning are people who from Monday through Saturday seek after their own interests. Their lives do not revolve around Jesus, and their energies are not given to sharing the Gospel and the great principles of Christian living. All of us are tempted to put our own desires, our own ambitions, and our own plans—ahead of God.
In verse 22, we learn that one of the marks of Timothy’s character was his willing acceptance of second place—as a son with a father. Paul says, “He served with me in the gospel.” Paul and Timothy were like a father and son working together.
The thought in verses 23-24 is that Paul’s hope was to send Timothy to Philippi very soon—desiring also that he himself might be released from prison and able to re-visit the church there. The words “I trust in the Lord” (verse 24) express Paul’s doctrinal belief that the sovereign God rules all things—even things such as freedom, imprisonment, comfort, discomfort, sickness, or health. He was willing to accept what the Lord ordained—but his hope was that he would be released from prison, and that he would be able to make the visit again to Philippi.
3. Timothy Was A Trusted Teacher (1 Timothy 1:1-3)
In the first verse of the First Letter to Timothy, Paul describes himself as an Apostle, given authority by God the Father and His Son, Christ Jesus. Paul had the God-given right to speak words of authority to the young preacher Timothy.
The words, the “Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope” (verse 1b) are significant. The Lord Jesus Christ is our hope! Some think that money is our hope for a better future. Others look to armed power and military preparation as our hope for a more peaceful world. Some believe in science, culture, and improved education. But the Bible says that Jesus is coming back, and when He returns, wrongs will be righted, a kingdom of peace will be established, and righteousness will finally prevail on earth. So Jesus is our hope!
Timothy is addressed (verse 2) as “my own son in the faith”—indicating that Timothy was converted under the influence of Paul’s preaching.
The words “grace, mercy, and peace” (verse 2b) convey Paul’s good wishes for Timothy’s well-being. Grace, mercy, and peace are the triple blessings of the Christian life, just as faith, hope, and love are the triple fruits of Christian character.
Verse 3 names one of the reasons why Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to minister there. Timothy was to “charge” certain persons that they teach “no other doctrine.” Paul was convinced that what a person believed was as important as what he did. What a person believes determines how he behaves.
The heresy prevalent at Ephesus was the Gnostic teaching that they had a deeper insight into truth than the average Christian. They claimed that the bridge between a holy God and sinful humanity was attained by a large company of angels, and not by faith in Jesus the Son of God. Timothy was to teach the truth about Jesus being “the only Mediator between God and man” (1 Timothy 2:5).
The words, “I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus”—reveal that Timothy was itching to leave Ephesus and try and find greener grass at some other place. Ephesus was a large and wicked city, marked by the worship of pagan idols, and preaching there surely was not easy. Paul was pressed to say to Timothy, “Stay where you are.”
There are many occasions in life when it is far easier to move on, than it is to remain in a difficult situation. And there are times when it is proper to go to another area—but Satan is good at disguising a situation so that it appears to be the will of God that we move on. Many times we must learn to persevere faithfully where we are!
As Timothy matured in the Christian ministry, he became more of a trusted teacher in the churches of Asia Minor. Timothy had become more than a mere assistant to the Apostle Paul. Timothy himself was called upon to teach the truth and defend the faith in many places—including the great city of Ephesus.
Ephesus, you may remember, was the home of the goddess Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. She was the mother of gods, an ugly repulsive statue of a woman with 22 breasts. It is believed that the Apostle John, after his exile on the isle of Patmos, also lived in Ephesus. Portions of the 35-foot wide main street in ancient Ephesus are still clearly visible. The church at Ephesus was the church which in the Book of Revelation had left its first love (Revelation 2:1-7).
4. Timothy Was A Faithful Leader (2 Timothy 1:3-6)
Paul begins the last section of the lesson in this article (verse 3), by telling Timothy that he often offered prayers of thanksgiving to the God of his fathers, grateful for Timothy’s ministry.
Paul had come from a long line of God-fearing people—people whose piety had helped set the stage for his own conversion. And even though his parents had not taught him to be a Christian, they had brought him up in the ancestral faith which revered the true God of Israel. Paul’s Jewish parents worshipped God according to the light that they had, and Paul was still serving the same God. Paul had not really introduced a new religion; he was simply called to preach the fulfillment of God’s plan which was begun in Old Testament times.
Serving God “with a pure conscience” (verse 3) does not mean that Paul was perfect, but he was sincere in his service for the Lord. “Conscience” is the faculty within, which refers our conduct to a moral standard. By an act of the will, each of us chooses what shall be the basis for deciding what is right and what is wrong. When we once choose the standard, conscience demands that we do the right and shun the wrong, but conscience does not give us the proper concepts of right and wrong. For the Christian, the Bible is our standard of right and wrong. Our conscience will let us know if we don’t live up to that standard.
Timothy was the overseer in the church at Ephesus (on the west coast of Turkey). Paul was in prison in Rome. When Paul had left the elders at Ephesus (on a visit not too many years earlier), they all wept much and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him (Acts 20:37). Paul and Timothy had labored together in the Gospel; they had rejoiced together, and wept together, and prayed together. Their affection for each other was warm and tender, and when the two had parted, there were tears of sorrow. Paul remembered those tears, and now, as the hymn writer says, “Often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.” In verse 4 (of 2 Timothy 1), Paul says, “I remember those tears; and I’d love to see you again.”
In verse 5, Paul remembered not only Timothy’s affection, and the emotional parting they had sometime before—but also he remembered Timothy’s “unfeigned (sincere) faith.” Timothy had a genuine, honest, wholehearted trust in God. And the major source of that genuine faith came from his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Paul was grateful for the disciplined teaching that Grandma Lois and mother Eunice had passed on to Timothy. And it is interesting to note that Paul commends Timothy for the fact that his faith was the same as his grandmother’s!
In verse 6, Timothy was instructed to “stir up” the special gift that was affirmed to him through the laying on of the hands of the elders (1 Timothy 4:14). The “gift” was not the gift of gab, or the ability to get along well with people. It was the gift of clearly communicating the Word of God—the gift for preaching and teaching the Word of God. That gift was bestowed by the Holy Spirit, recognized by the church, and consecrated to the Lord by the laying on of hands.
Timothy stuck with the Apostle Paul down through the years. Paul wrote what are called “the Prison Epistles” late in his ministry, and in at least three of those letters, Timothy is still listed as being with him (Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, and Philemon, verse 1).
When Paul was in his final imprisonment—in the last letter that he ever wrote (the letter known as 2 Timothy)—he encouraged Timothy to come and be with him before the cold of winter arrived (2 Timothy 4:9-13,21). Timothy was to bring a warm coat, some books, and the parchments—and within a short time he was most certainly on his way! Whether the two ever saw each other again is not recorded in the Bible. It may be that on the way to see Paul, Timothy himself may have been thrown into jail, and this would explain the reference to Timothy’s imprisonment mentioned in Hebrews 13:23.
There are some practical lessons for us to remember:
1. Grandparents can have a great impact on the lives of their grandchildren.
Leslie Flynn tells of a boy whose parents never darkened the door of a church, but during his childhood he spent several summers on the farm with his godly grandparents—who not only took him along to church services, but explained the Gospel to him at opportune times.
In his early years of adulthood, he testified (in the church where he had become a member)—that it was the witness of his grandparents that led him to Christ.
2. The gift of communicating God’s Word needs to be nurtured and developed and stirred up:
- by studying much and adding the fuel of new information
- by getting inspiration from fellowship with other Christian workers
- by repeatedly and thoughtfully reading the Word of God
Teachers and ministers of the Word are to from time to time “stir up” the gift. The Greek word translated “stir up” is taken from the figure of a fire. No matter how well a fire is established or how high the flames rise up—the fire will die down and become mere glowing embers—unless it is stirred up and new fuel is added from time to time.
3. Character is more important for God’s servant than physical stamina.
Timothy was a faithful laborer in the Lord’s vineyard, and a close companion of the Apostle Paul. His strongest traits centered upon his genuine care for others, and his loyalty in helping Paul. There is some evidence from the New Testament references that Timothy had a naturally timid character, and had to deal with nervousness (1 Corinthians 16:10) and an over-concern about his youthfulness (1 Timothy 4:12).
Yet Paul commended Timothy to the Philippians as a man of proven character. He was faithful to Paul—like a son to a father (Philippians 2:22). He followed Paul’s teachings and manner of life (2 Timothy 3:10).
It is my prayer that the Lord will help each of us to have the same genuine care for others—and the same loyalty to God’s Word as Timothy had.