Monday, June 18, 2012

Who was Timothy?

Who was Timothy?

The Book of 1 Timothy: Introduction

The Holy Bible includes two letters written by Paul the Apostle to Timothy the Pastor. With this post today we will begin to look closely at the first of these two letters.

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." 1 Timothy 1:1-2 (ESV)

TIMOTHY: Timotheos (dear to God); from time (pronounced "tee-MAY", meaning a value, money, to esteem, dignity) and theos (a deity, a magistrate, by Hebraism very); from tino (to pay a price, as a penalty)

Timothy's name literally means "dear to God" or "very dear". The name grew out of a word meaning something valuable, something to be paid.

It seems not merely coincidental that the root of Timothy's name and the English word for divisions of day and night appear the same: time. Our word "time" grew out of the Germanic words "tidiz" (a division of time) and "timon" (an appropriate time to do something).

The decisions and events that pass sequentially through our days and nights might be our most valuable earthly possession.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what way is time valuable? Is time temporary, only for life here on earth? What will replace time for us in Christ, in heaven?

Timothy was a disciple in Lystra when he and Paul met.

"Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." Acts 16:1-3 (ESV)

Modern-day Lystra is in Turkey. Lystra (A), Derbe (B) and Iconium (C) were all less than 50 miles or so apart.

Timothy was a believer, a disciple of Jesus, as was his Jewish mother, but his father was a Greek non-believer.

Timothy must have been an outgoing believer, committed to traveling at least 50 miles often, maintaining Christian fellowship with believers in Iconium. Timothy's mother probably came to Christ before Timothy was born and did not submit Timothy to the synagogue for circumcision as an infant because of her faith in Christ alone. Or perhaps Timothy's father, as an unbeliever, forbade the rite.

Paul was committed to preaching to fellow Jews, and he required Timothy to become circumcised to avoid as many closed doors as possible. Circumcision was a sacred rite for Jews. Neglecting to be circumcised was immediate grounds for rejection by devout Jews. Being circumcised would have made it easier for Paul and Timothy to meet with the religious rulers.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What other outward rites or customs, whether social or Christian, seem neccessary for your comfort, fellowship or faith? In what way could Paul's insistence upon circumcision be seen as hypocrisy or compromise?

Paul loved Timothy as the son he'd never had.

"I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church." 1 Corinthians 4:17 (ESV)

Implied in this verse is the admiration and respect held by Timothy for Paul. Timothy developed a ministry built upon the foundation of Paul's preaching of Christ.

"When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers." 1 Corinthians 16:10-11 (ESV)

We can sense Paul's concern for Timothy. Circumcision was meant to please the Jews, but Paul saw the possibility that Christians would also resist Timothy's preaching, perhaps even to the point of despising the young missionary.

AT EASE: aphobos (fearlessly); from a (not) and phobos (alarm or fright)

DESPISE: exoutheneo (to make utterly nothing of); from ek (origin, from, out of) and oudeis (not even one, none, nobody, nothing)

For some reason Paul expected that Timothy, on his own merits, would be dismissed out of hand by Christians not acquainted with him. Paul tried to support Timothy, adding his endorsement and recommendation on his behalf. Perhaps Timothy lacked confidence and experience, and Paul expected that to be a hindrance, both to Timothy himself and to those to whom he preached.

The strongest suggestion of the reason for Paul's concern comes later in Paul's first letter to Timothy:

"Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV)

DESPISE: kataphroneo (to think against, to disesteem); from kata (down) and phroneo (to exercise the mind, to entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; to be disposed in a certain direction, to interest oneself)

"Despise" here is translated from a Greek word that differs from that in 1 Corinthians 16:11. Paul warned Timothy to expect, and confront, Christians who might negatively presuppose or discriminate against Timothy because of his young age. Paul did consider Timothy to be young, and he knew that many people prejudge all those younger to generally be inconsequential and less capable.

We've all experienced firsthand the sweeping dismissal and discrimination shown by elders to youngsters. The prejudice begins early. Middle school students ignore elementary grade children, senior high school students mock the middle school ones. College students distance themselves from high schoolers.

It carries on into adulthood. Interns must "pay their dues", youth leaders given much responsibility with little authority, apprentices made to sweep floors. Senior citizens bemoan "today's generation" and long for days long gone.

The discrimination is unfair, but it has at its root a germ of foundational truth. Paul himself warned churches to select leaders with experience.

"He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil." 1 Timothy 3:6 (ESV)

Paul did connect youth with weakness, but the weakness was in terms of experience in walking after Jesus, not merely youth. A person newly converted usually has faced few challenges and tribulations as a Christian in which to exercise spiritual muscles. Without fighting through difficulties involving sin, disappointment, truth and victory, a young believer is vulnerable to conceit, leading even to demonic pride.

However, the issue here seems to be the immediate rejection of a young leader based wholly upon the superficial appearance of youth.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What examples of discrimination have you experienced, whether that of age or any other outward appearance? What safeguards or checks against unfair discrimination can a church use to avoid falsely dismissing or denigrating other people? Does Paul's attempt to support Timothy seem a reasonable precaution?

Image of Roman coin provided by Portable Antiquities Scheme,, Creative Commons License.

Image of clock provided by Lee J Haywood,, Creative Commons License.

Images modified by the author using GIMP.