Profiles of Faith: Timothy - Paul's Son in the Faith

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Timothy - Paul's Son in the Faith

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Timothy was quite young when he first met the apostle Paul. His father was Greek, a gentile. His mother was Jewish, an Israelite. Some think, based on comments in Paul's letters to him, that Timothy was timid. Yet a closer look tells a different story. He encountered persecution, faced it and weathered it well.

Timothy kept company behind bars with Paul. More than once he nearly died. He was a faithful courier for Paul. He served the church at Ephesus, in Asia Minor, where members were predominantly gentile. We can learn much from the young evangelist Timothy, a Greek to gentiles, a Jew to Jews.

Timothy's early years

It is encouraging to read about the faithful parents or grandparents of a saint. Such is the case with Timothy. Scripture contains little direct information about him, but we can catch glimpses through the thoughts and writings of others who knew and worked with him.

Timothy's grandmother was named Lois, his mother Eunice. God doesn't shirk from mentioning the names of people who set themselves against Him (as in Hymenaeus and Philetus, named in 2 Timothy 2:17), so it is encouraging to see how often God mentions the names of some who honored Him, especially when He gives honor to a disciple's parents.

God sometimes works in a physical family, as He did here, establishing Jesus’ faith in one family member so it can be passed along to others. 

Paul speaks highly of both Lois and Eunice. He wrote to Timothy: "I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also" (2 Timothy 1:3-5, emphasis added throughout).

Let's explore Paul's commendation of Timothy's grandmother and mother. Doing so can help us better understand Paul's high regard for Timothy.

Faithful grandmother

Grandmother Lois was a Jewess, married to a Jew. Lois's husband—Timothy's grandfather—is not mentioned, which suggests, according to several commentaries, that he was deceased. God does things with purpose, so there must be some good reason why Lois's husband wasn't named.

God sometimes works in a physical family, as He did here, establishing Jesus' faith in one family member so it can be passed along to others. Sometimes God uses the child in a more obvious way than He uses the parents or grandparents, as happened with Timothy. The faith of God can be nurtured, seasoned and matured as it passes through grandparents and parents to a child. It's not only an honor for a parent to serve in this way but a high calling.

In modern times, awash as they are in the technology of instantaneous communication, nearly everyone strives for his 15 minutes of fame. We know God doesn't look at a saint's worth in this way. He uses people in different settings in different ways.

Every person is important to God. In Timothy's case perhaps God used his grandmother and mother to prepare him for His service. This should be highly encouraging to all of us. God's perspective extends beyond the horizon while we often limit ourselves through tunnel vision.

Faithful examples for Timothy

The crowning characteristic of Timothy was his unfeigned faith, which he shared with Lois and Eunice.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God-"because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (New International Version).

Abraham and Daniel prospered under circumstances that would have defeated lesser men because they had this kind of faith. King Saul's son Jonathan exhibited genuine faith in God, though his father failed in this regard. Faith and love for God go hand in hand. True followers of God can do no better than to love and have faith.

Faithful mother

When Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, introduces Timothy, we read about Paul journeying to Derbe and Lystra.

"And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

"Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily" (Acts 16:1-5).

Consider what these verses tell about the character of Eunice and Timothy. Luke describes Timothy's mother as "a certain Jewish woman who believed" (Acts 16:1). She believed God's Word and obeyed it. She accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.

Consider Luke's and Paul's opinion of Timothy. First, the members of God's Church at Lystra and Iconium, two cities in Asia Minor, spoke highly of Timothy's faith as evidenced by his conduct. They commended Timothy to those who passed their way, including Paul, Luke and his companions. When Paul heard the good words these members said about the young man, he determined to take Timothy with him on his missionary journeys. Since Timothy's father was a gentile and his mother Jewish, and since Paul was aware that many Jews lived in the areas Paul and Timothy would visit, he circumcised young Timothy (Acts 16:3). This helped Timothy function as Paul did within the multicultured world of the day, to be all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). To the gentiles Timothy could identify as a gentile because of his Greek father. To the Jews he could identify as a circumcised Jew.

Serving with Paul

Paul began to train and use Timothy to strengthen the churches in the faith; the congregations increased in number daily (Acts 16:4-5). Timothy soon began to serve not only as a companion to Paul in his travels but as a pastor. After all, he had been personally trained by one of the most zealous of the apostles, Paul himself. Timothy was to suffer along with Paul in many of the apostle's trials.

Timothy was a constant companion of Paul. In Acts 16:12 we read that Paul and Timothy, along with Silvanus and Luke, journeyed to Philippi. Years later, when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian Christians, he offered encouragement by informing them of his intention to send Timothy to see them.

"But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.

But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me" (Philippians 2:19-23).

Was Timothy timid?

Let's pause to discuss the apparent contradiction that Timothy seemed a little timid (2 Timothy 1:6-8) yet was one who was heralded as strong in the faith (2 Timothy 1:5). How can we reconcile the two views?

We can better understand Timothy when we evaluate him through the eyes of God rather than through the eyes of the world.

The world perpetuates the deceptive notion that might makes right, that only the strong should survive. For society to take note of a man he often must project an aggressively virile image, just as a woman must display a sexually appealing, glamorous persona. With God such is not the case. God looks on the heart, not on one's attractiveness or stature (1 Samuel 16:7). God is not impressed by anyone's outward appearance.

Timothy fit the mold of other notable Bible personalities. Moses, for example, didn't want to be God's spokesman and even begged God to choose someone else (Exodus 4:1: Exodus 4:10; Exodus 4:13), yet God powerfully used him. The prophet Jonah ran from God's calling to warn ancient Nineveh (Jonah 1:3). Even Jeremiah tried to explain to God why he was not the man for the job (Jeremiah 1:6).

It should be no surprise that Timothy might hesitate at times. He was expected to be strong in the face of persecution and death. One could scarcely spend much time around Paul without also receiving threats of physical violence.

God tells us, again through Paul, that when He calls someone to represent Him He often passes over the apparently strong of the world for those the world might consider as weak. Notice Paul's revelation about God's methods: "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are" (1 Corinthians 1:26-28, NIV).

What purpose could God's choice of the weak of the world accomplish? The next verse tells us why God typically uses the physically unimpressive to accomplish His purpose. It is "so that no one may boast before him" (1 Corinthians 1:29, NIV). Don't miss this key to understanding how God works through human beings. If God used vain, egotistical people to do His work, a work of humility and service, how far would He get? It's a contradiction of terms to utter "godly service" and "arrogance" in the same breath. They can't fit together. Reconciling them is an impossible task.

For God to really be able to use a person, that person must come to a recognition and acknowledgment of his human weakness. God can use human beings who know they are weak. When someone knows he is nothing to speak of physically, who knows he can't save himself, God can teach and lead that person to serve Him and mankind. Such a person knows the credit belongs to God, not to himself.

Such was the case of young Timothy. Ultimately he proved to be stronger than any robust, masculine character, for he would rely on God for his strength. Timothy's faith in God made him strong. This is why God could use a young man who, to others, might have seemed timid.

Paul and Timothy in Ephesus

Paul speaks of Timothy's service with him in Ephesus. "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope, to Timothy, a true son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I urged you when I went into Macedonia-remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Timothy 1:1-4).

Paul called Timothy his true son in the faith. When Paul said these words, he was offering a compliment. He urged Timothy to remain in Ephesus to oversee the congregation there. That duty included insisting that others not deviate from God's truth in any way.

Paul also charged Timothy with instructing others not to listen to lies or myths about God and His truth, not to waste time in unproductive, distracting issues. Paul wanted Timothy to teach others the matters of faith that would build the congregations of God and encourage them to avoid endless debates that would detract from their spiritual growth.

Paul moved on to Macedonia, leaving Timothy to care for the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). He instructed his protégé on how to care for the congregation and proper worship (1 Timothy 1:1-20 and 1 Timothy 2:1-15), qualifications of elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-16), teaching sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1-16) and dealing with people (1 Timothy 5:1-25 and 1 Timothy 6:1-21). Paul urged Timothy: "If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed ... Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity ... Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:6-16).

These are but vignettes from the remarkable life of a young evangelist. Space doesn't allow for more in this article about Timothy's early years. Finally, let's turn our attention to his later years.

Timothy late in life

Timothy apparently visited Paul in Rome when Paul was incarcerated. In two of Paul's epistles from prison, to the Philippians and Colossians, he sent greetings from himself and Timothy (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1).

It appears that Timothy was also imprisoned at one point, since Hebrews 13:23 refers to his being released. As He led Paul, God was seasoning Timothy in the ways of a persecuted saint and minister of Christ. We see no suggestion that he deviated from what Paul had taught him. The Bible's silence speaks eloquently. Legend has it that Timothy continued to minister to the congregation in Ephesus and was martyred under the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96) or Nerva (96-98) (Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1964, p. 1100). If this is true it would not be out of character for Timothy to continue to work with the church in Ephesus as a servant for another 20 or 30 years. Perhaps he also served as an overseer for other congregations in Asia Minor and Greece.

A positive conclusion

Paul chose young Timothy to serve with him based on the recommendations of members of several congregations. Timothy traveled with Paul, along with Luke, Silvanus and others. As an evangelist, Timothy helped bring God's truth to gentiles and Jews in a galvanizing way.

Let's end where we started, in the book of 2 Timothy. Paul wrote this second letter from prison in Rome shortly before he died. As he drew his letter to a close, Paul wrote: "... The time has come for my departure.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NIV).

These words make Paul's opening comments that much more poignant. He had begun by writing to his "beloved son": "I thank God ... as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also" (2 Timothy 1:3-5).

Paul encouraged Timothy to hold fast, to remain faithful, to keep his calling in sight and to inspire others to do the same. Paul "greatly desired" to see his beloved friend and longtime companion one last time. "Do your best to come to me quickly," he urged (2 Timothy 4:9, NIV). Other long-standing companions had deserted him (verses 10, 16). Time was running out for Paul and he knew it.

We don't know whether Paul and Timothy saw each other again, but we do know that Paul and his son in the faith will be reunited under the most positive circumstances. "I can tell you this directly from the Lord: that we who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves," wrote Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:15, Living Bible). When Christ returns He will set up the Kingdom of God at Jerusalem. "And in that day His [the Messiah's] feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east" (Zechariah 14:4). Timothy, along with Paul, will be with the returning Christ, as will all God's faithful servants through the ages. "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven ... And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

One of the great lessons we learn from Timothy is to practice genuine faith. In this he followed the example of our Savior. You can find Jesus' faith in His example and apply it by following His advice: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-40).

The young evangelist Timothy will always be remembered for his genuine faith. May you be remembered likewise.