Timothy—“A Genuine Child in the Faith”
TIMOTHY was comparatively young when the Christian apostle Paul chose him as a traveling companion. This began a partnership that was to continue for some 15 years. The relationship that developed between the two men was such that Paul could call Timothy “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” and “a genuine child in the faith.”—1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 1:2.
What was there about Timothy’s personality that made Paul so fond of him? How did Timothy come to be such a valuable associate? And what profitable lessons can we learn from the inspired record of Timothy’s activities?
Chosen by Paul
Paul found the young disciple Timothy when the apostle visited Lystra (in modern-day Turkey) on his second missionary journey in about 50 C.E. Likely in his late teens or early 20’s, Timothy was well spoken of by Christians in Lystra and Iconium. (Acts 16:1-3) He lived up to his name, which means “One Who Honors God.” From childhood, Timothy had been taught from the Holy Scriptures by his grandmother Lois and his mother, Eunice. (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15) They had probably embraced Christianity during Paul’s first visit to their city a couple of years earlier. Now, through the operation of holy spirit, a certain prediction indicated what Timothy’s future would be. (1 Timothy 1:18) In harmony with that direction, Paul and the older men of the congregation laid their hands upon the young man, thereby setting him apart for a particular service, and the apostle chose him as a missionary companion.—1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6.
Since his father was an unbelieving Greek, Timothy had not been circumcised. Of course, this was not a Christian requirement. To remove a stumbling block for the Jews they would be visiting, however, Timothy submitted to this painful procedure.—Acts 16:3.
Was Timothy previously considered a Jew? Some scholars argue that according to rabbinic authorities, “the status of the offspring of intermarriage is determined by its mother, not its father.” That is, “a Jewish woman bears Jewish children.” Yet, writer Shaye Cohen questions whether such “rabbinic law of persons was already in existence in the first century C.E.” and whether it was observed by the Jews of Asia Minor. After considering the historic evidence, he concludes that when Gentile men married Israelite women, “the children of these marriages were considered Israelite only if the family lived among the Israelites. Lineage was matrilineal when it was matrilocal. When the Israelite woman moved abroad to join her Gentile husband, her children were considered Gentile.” In any case, Timothy’s mixed parentage must have been an asset in the preaching work. He would have had no problems relating to Jews or to Gentiles, perhaps enabling him to bridge gaps between them.
Paul’s visit to Lystra signaled a turning point in Timothy’s life. The young man’s willingness to follow the guidance of holy spirit and humbly cooperate with Christian elders led to great blessings and privileges of service. Whether he realized it at the time or not, under Paul’s direction Timothy would later be used in important theocratic assignments, taking him as far from home as Rome, the capital of the empire.
Timothy Promoted Kingdom Interests
We possess only a partial record of Timothy’s activities, but he traveled widely to promote Kingdom interests. Timothy’s first journey with Paul and Silas in 50 C.E. took him through Asia Minor and into Europe. There he shared in preaching campaigns in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea. After opposition caused Paul to move on to Athens, Timothy and Silas were left behind in Beroea to look after the group of disciples that had been formed there. (Acts 16:6–17:14) Later, Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to strengthen the new congregation there. Timothy bore good news on its progress when he met Paul in Corinth.—Acts 18:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-7.
The Scriptures do not say how long Timothy stayed with the Corinthians. (2 Corinthians 1:19) Probably in about 55 C.E., however, Paul considered sending him back to them because he had received disturbing news about their situation. (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10) Later, with Erastus, Timothy was sent from Ephesus to Macedonia. And when Paul wrote to the Romans from Corinth, Timothy was with him again.—Acts 19:22; Romans 16:21.
Timothy and others left Corinth with Paul when he set out for Jerusalem, and they accompanied the apostle at least as far as Troas. Whether Timothy continued on to Jerusalem is unknown. But he is named in the introductions of three letters Paul wrote from prison in Rome in about 60-61 C.E.* (Acts 20:4; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1) Paul was planning to send Timothy from Rome to Philippi. (Philippians 2:19) And after Paul’s release from prison, Timothy remained in Ephesus at the apostle’s direction.—1 Timothy 1:3.
Since first-century travel was neither easy nor comfortable, Timothy’s willingness to undertake many journeys for the sake of the congregations was truly commendable. (See The Watchtower, August 15, 1996, page 29, box.) Consider just one of his prospective trips and what this tells us about Timothy.
Light on Timothy’s Personality
Timothy was with Paul in Rome when the imprisoned apostle wrote to persecuted Christians in Philippi and said: “I am hoping in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I may be a cheerful soul when I get to know about the things pertaining to you. For I have no one else of a disposition like his who will genuinely care for the things pertaining to you. For all the others are seeking their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know the proof he gave of himself, that like a child with a father he slaved with me in furtherance of the good news.”—Philippians 1:1, 13, 28-30; 2:19-22.
Those words emphasized Timothy’s concern for fellow believers. Unless he went by boat, such a trip called for a 40-day journey on foot from Rome to Philippi, with a short crossing of the Adriatic Sea, and then another 40 days to return to Rome. Timothy was ready to do all of that to serve his brothers and sisters.
Although Timothy traveled extensively, at times he was not in good health. He evidently had some kind of stomach trouble and experienced “frequent cases of sickness.” (1 Timothy 5:23) Yet he exerted himself for the sake of the good news. No wonder Paul had such a close relationship with him!
Under the apostle’s tutelage and through their experiences together, Timothy apparently came to reflect Paul’s personality. Thus, Paul could tell him: “You have closely followed my teaching, my course of life, my purpose, my faith, my long-suffering, my love, my endurance, my persecutions, my sufferings, the sort of things that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, in Lystra, the sort of persecutions I have borne.” Timothy shed tears with Paul, was in his prayers, and slaved by his side to promote Kingdom interests.—2 Timothy 1:3, 4; 3:10, 11.
Paul encouraged Timothy to ‘let no man ever look down on his youth.’ This may indicate that Timothy was somewhat shy, hesitant in asserting his authority. (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Corinthians 16:10, 11) However, he could stand alone, and Paul could confidently send him on responsible missions. (1 Thessalonians 3:1, 2) When Paul recognized the need for strong theocratic oversight in the congregation in Ephesus, he urged Timothy to remain there to “command certain ones not to teach different doctrine.” (1 Timothy 1:3) Though entrusted with many responsibilities, however, Timothy was modest. And despite any shyness he may have had, he was courageous. For instance, he went to Rome to assist Paul, who was on trial because of his faith. In fact, Timothy himself suffered a period of imprisonment, likely for the same reason.—Hebrews 13:23.
Undoubtedly, Timothy learned much from Paul. The esteem that the apostle had for his fellow worker is amply testified to by the fact that he wrote him two divinely inspired letters found in the Christian Greek Scriptures. In about 65 C.E., when Paul realized that his own martyrdom was imminent, he once again summoned Timothy. (2 Timothy 4:6, 9) Whether Timothy managed to see Paul before the apostle was executed, the Scriptures do not reveal.
Make Yourself Available!
Much can be learned from Timothy’s fine example. He benefited greatly from associating with Paul, growing from a shy youth into an overseer. Young Christian men and women can gain much from similar association today. And if they make Jehovah’s service their career, they will have plenty of worthwhile work to do. (1 Corinthians 15:58) They may become pioneers, or full-time preachers, in their home congregation, or they may be able to serve where the need for Kingdom proclaimers is greater. Among the many possibilities are missionary work in another land or service at the world headquarters of the Watch Tower Society or at one of its branches. And, of course, all Christians can manifest the same spirit as the one Timothy displayed, by rendering whole-souled service to Jehovah.
Do you desire to continue growing spiritually, to be useful to Jehovah’s organization in whatever capacity he may consider appropriate? Then do as Timothy did. To the extent possible, make yourself available. Who knows what future privileges of service may be opened up to you?
[Picture on page 31]
“I have no one else of a disposition like his”