While some of the “minor characters” we have studied may appear in just a passage or two, Timothy is mentioned all over Acts and Paul’s epistles.
We first meet him in Acts 16:1-3,
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Right off the bat, Timothy proves his willingness to endure hardship for the sake of the gospel, submitting to circumcision. This had nothing to do with salvation; in fact, being circumcised to be saved separates one from Christ (Galatians 5:2-4)! Paul had refused to allow Titus to be circumcised for this very reason (Galatians 2:1-10). But Paul circumcised Timothy so that he would not be a stumbling block to the Jews they would encounter together (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The purpose of a thing is sometimes as important as the thing itself in determining its lawfulness.
Timothy must have been quite a young man, since Paul mentions Timothy’s “youthfulness” some 15 years later (1 Timothy 4:12). The second missionary journey proved to be broader in scope than Paul envisioned. The Spirit called Paul to cross the sea and evangelize Greece. Though Timothy’s name is not mentioned for a while, we assume he was along for all the experiences, good and bad. Finally, in Berea, persecution was so intense that Paul was escorted out of the city, but he left Timothy and Silas to strengthen the new church there (Acts 17:14-15). It seems that Paul later redirected Timothy to nearby Thessalonica.
We thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3).
Timothy soon caught up to Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5), bringing “good news of your faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 3:6) as well as financial support from the brethren to Paul (Philippians 4:18).
Wow! If this was Timothy’s pace throughout Paul’s ministry, we can only imagine that he was constantly hustling and bustling from one church to the next, bringing joy and good news and truth and rebuke in Paul’s stead. On the third journey, Paul sent him to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17, 16:10) and later to Macedonia with Erastus (Acts 19:22). He traveled with Paul on his fateful trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4) and during his Roman imprisonment (Romans 16:21). He was a cosigner of many of Paul’s letters, including the ones written from prison (Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1). Certainly, he experienced his own imprisonments too (Hebrews 13:23). He was a busy and dedicated evangelist, a “good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3)!
This proves that people are capable of mighty things for the Lord, no matter the limitations others may attempt to impose, or they may impose on themselves. Some must have scoffed at Timothy’s youthfulness (1 Timothy 4:12). Some must have scoffed at his half-Gentile ancestry (Acts 16:3). I suspect some in Lystra may have wished to prevent him from leaving, hoping to keep him all to themselves. I also suspect Timothy may have been a bit shy (2 Timothy 1:7). Nevermind; Paul expected much of this young man!
We learn a lot about the role of a preacher from 1 Timothy. I have known preachers who spent the first few minutes in the office every Monday morning rereading 1 Timothy – not a bad idea for one determined to evangelize effectively. Paul charged Timothy with teaching “how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God” (3:15). This included opposing men who taught strange doctrines (1:3-20, 4:1-5, 6:3-6, 6:20-21), organizing worship (2:1-8, 4:13) and the care of widows (5:3-16), giving instruction on women (2:9-15) and the rich (6:6-10, 17-19), and appointing elders and deacons (3:1-13, 5:17-22). Though experience helps, obviously a preacher’s ability to teach comes more from his knowledge of the truth than having walked in others’ shoes—Timothy had never been a woman, a widow, an elder, or a rich man. Let today’s evangelists strive to know the Bible thoroughly, and then teach it boldly!
On a personal level, Paul told Timothy to “fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience” (1:18-19), to get his nourishment from “sound doctrine” (4:6), to discipline himself for godliness (4:7, 16), to be so absorbed in his duties that others noticed him growing (4:15), to avoid partiality (5:21), to flee from the love of money (6:11), and to live out his good confession of Jesus (6:12-16). Above all, Paul repeatedly charged Timothy to guard “what has been entrusted to you” (1:18, 6:20). Paul’s other letter to Timothy covers many of the same themes and more. But, being Paul’s last recorded letter before his execution, it is also Paul’s charge to Timothy to keep soldiering on in his absence, without wavering. It is so appropriate that Paul’s last letter be addressed to his faithful child in the faith, with great affection and expectation that he will “continue in the things you have learned” (2 Timothy 3:14). –John Guzzetta