“As a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel”
In getting acquainted with Paul’s fellow-workers, his close companions in the work of the Lord, we certainly cannot omit the one who was perhaps nearer and dearer to him than all others, his own son in the faith, the beloved Timothy. The first mention of him is in Acts 16 where we read: “Then came he (Paul) to Derbe and Lystra; and, behold, a certain disciple was there, Timotheus, the son of a certain woman which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek; which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.”
On their first missionary journey Paul and Barnabas had come to Derbe and Lystra. There they preached the gospel and were well received, and the people were even ready to worship them as gods after seeing a miracle of healing. But shortly thereafter they were turned against them and stoned Paul, dragging him out of the city for dead. We see here the fickleness of man. It reminds us of those who cried “Hosanna” when Christ rode into the city and a few days later they were crying “Crucify.” Man cannot be depended upon. The Scripture says, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8). It was at this time of Paul’s first visit that Timothy, at a very young age, was converted. He was doubtless impressed by Paul’s message, the glorious gospel of God’s grace, and also by the courage and heroic manner in which Paul stood in defense of his message. Timothy may have witnessed the stoning of the apostle. Paul later wrote to him: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured; but out of them all the Lord delivered me” (II Timothy 3:10-11).
There seems little doubt that this young man was impressed by the conduct and character of Paul, but he was also influenced greatly by his godly mother and grandmother. Timothy had the blessed privilege of being brought up from infancy under the sound of God’s Word. We read concerning him: “And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15). The Scriptures here referred to were the Old Testament Scriptures. His mother and grandmother were godly women familiar with the Hebrew writings but they also needed to be made wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. In II Timothy 1:5 is written: “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” It would seem that on Paul’s first visit to their region these two women, hearing of the crucified and risen Redeemer, put their faith and trust in Him. Then they did not rest until the young boy entrusted to their care had also believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. Fortunate indeed was Timothy to have such a heritage. Parents should be aware of the importance of the early training of their children if they want to see them living for Christ.
In Acts 16 we read of Paul’s return to Derbe and Lystra and in the few years since his first visit young Timothy had shown much growth and potential in his Christian life. He was not a shirker but an active Christian worker and was favorably reported of by all the brethren. Further, voices of prophecy had already indicated that Timothy was destined for special service. In I Timothy 1:18 Paul wrote: “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare.” At this time the sign gifts were still in evidence and there were those who had these gifts. One of these was the gift of prophecy (I Corinthians 12:10). God used this means to reveal His will to His people, but these gifts have been retired since we now have the completed Word of God to guide and direct us. Brother Stam writes: “The gift of prophecy has since been ‘done away’ but even so it often happens that older brethren will take note of a promising young Christian and say, ‘This is a true man of God. He will be greatly used in the ministry.'” It had also been revealed that Timothy was the recipient of a special spiritual gift (See I Timothy 4:14 and II Timothy 1:6). What was that gift? We might reply the gift was that of teaching and preaching the Word. That is true, but in what sphere? Let us consider the following:
Regarding Timothy’s background we do not read anything about his father except that he was a Greek. It may be noted there was a certain gentleness about Timothy that made him all the more loveable, and this was perhaps due to being reared by his mother. Dean Howson says, “We can trace something of a feminine softness in Timothy, as though his mother’s gentle influence had passed into his mind and disposition.” Writing to the Corinthians Paul said, “Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear; for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do” (I Corinthians 16:10). This would seem to indicate that Timothy was prone to be fearful and intimidated. We refer to Timothy and Titus as pastors but in some ways Timothy was not temperamentally suited, as was Titus, to deal with the problems of a settled ministry. It would seem, therefore, that his special gift was that of an evangelist, and Paul’s last instruction to him was to do the work of an evangelist. It was here on Paul’s second visit to Lystra that he chose Timothy to be his traveling companion, and to the end of his life there was none closer to the apostle than his dearly beloved son Timothy. In six of the epistles Timothy’s name is associated in the salutation with that of Paul, showing that Timothy was with the apostle at that time. Also, Paul wrote two personal letters to Timothy. He was certainly an apt choice to be Paul’s successor. We have already noted that Timothy was born of mixed parentage, his mother was a Jewess and his father a Greek. In the Old Testament Elijah’s mantle fell on Elisha. Here in the New Testament Paul’s mantle falls on Timothy, part Jew and part Gentile, a fitting picture of the Pauline truth that Jew and Gentile are one in the Body of Christ.
We read: “Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters; for they knew all that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3). Beside his other attributes Paul found in Timothy a kindred spirit. He wrote concerning him, “For I have no man likeminded.” He discerned Timothy’s earnestness and sincerity, and the absence of any hypocrisy. He could see in this young man a willingness to persevere and never give up. Though timid by nature he would not flee in the face of danger. Timothy had seen firsthand the opposition and persecution faced by Paul and his companions but he was willing to take his place with them.
But what about Timothy’s circumcision? It would seem that his mother, though a godly woman and familiar with the Scriptures, was not too strict in observing the Mosaic law. She married a Gentile, which was forbidden by the law, and neglected to have Timothy circumcised, which was commanded by the law. Paul now took care of the latter and had Timothy circumcised. Because of this Paul has been criticized as being inconsistent and guilty of compromising the truth. There is this question to be faced: How could Paul, who had taken such a strong stand at the Council in Jerusalem, and who had shown the inefficacy of the law and had refused to circumcise Titus, now submit Timothy to this rite? If any had insisted that Timothy needed to be circumcised before he could be saved, as was the case with Titus, Paul would not have done it. But this was never suggested. Paul did this for the sake of expediency. The message was still to the Jew first and in every city Paul began his ministry with the Jews in their synagogue. He had chosen Timothy to be a help in the work and if he was not circumcised he would have been a hindrance rather than a help. There was later a riot at Jerusalem when the Jews thought Paul had brought an uncircumcised Gentile into the temple. Paul was a man of deep conviction and would never knowingly compromise the truth. But Paul was also a practical man, and a man who would use every legitimate means to further the gospel and to reach people for Christ.
If we would rightly divide the Word and fully understand the Scripture we must keep ever before us the fact that during the transition there was a twofold program and the old order was fading out and the new was being ushered in. Some things were done legitimately during the transition which if done later would have been out of order. During this transition Paul baptized some, circumcised Timothy, spoke with tongues more than they all, performed miracles of healing, shaved his head and took a vow, etc., etc. If he did any of these things after the transition he would have been in the wrong and out of the will of the Lord. During this time Paul had a ministry of confirmation to Israel and its purpose was to render that nation without excuse. Paul’s arrival at Rome marked the end of the transition and the close of God’s dealings with Israel. For two thousand years they had been the God-favored nation, but for the next two thousand years they would be the God-forsaken nation. During this dispensation of grace, while Israel is set aside, God is not dealing with nations but with individuals regardless of race. With the close of Acts we move out of the shadows and into the full-orbed sunlight of God’s superabounding grace. We are into a signless and religionless age and we are not to be looking for overt signs nor to be observing fleshly ordinances.
But getting back to Timothy, we read what Paul had to say of this young minister in Philippians 2:20-22. First of all he says, “For I have no man likeminded.” This whole chapter is informing us that we are to have the mind of Christ: a humble and self-effacing attitude. Timothy was likeminded with Christ, not looking on his own things but on the things of others. Timothy was also likeminded with Paul. In the context Paul is telling the Philippians that his desire was to pay them a visit, but this being impossible at the time he was sending Timothy in his stead, and that Timothy was likeminded with him and had just as deep an interest in their spiritual welfare as did he.
Next, Paul states that Timothy was concerned for others. He writes: “Who will naturally care for your state.” Timothy had the heart of a true shepherd, unmindful of self and solicitous of the welfare of the sheep. Jacob of old did not have much to commend him, but in one respect he was to be praised. He was a good shepherd in the literal sense. He said to his father-in-law, “Thus I was: in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house.” His concern was for the sheep. Timothy was like that, he had a genuine interest and a deep regard for the people of God, the flock over which he had been made overseer.
Further, Paul says that though Timothy had a concern for the saints he had a far greater concern for Christ. He wrote: “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” It is sad but true that with many of us, even in our Christian service, we are prone to seek our own. Not so with Timothy, he put Christ first. It has been said that Christ is present in all believers, He is prominent in some believers, and He is preeminent in a few. Timothy was one of the few in whom Christ was truly preeminent and he could say with the apostle, “For to me to live is Christ.”
Finally, Paul says that Timothy was one who could work harmoniously with others. We read: “But ye know the proof of him, that as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.” So many are independent. They want to serve the Lord, but it must be their work and all done according to their idea of things. Notice that Paul did not say, “He hath served me in the gospel.” He added a word and said, “He hath served with me in the gospel.” The youthful minister and the aged apostle were laborers together. Here the generation gap was bridged and this is a gap that needs to be bridged in many places today. We need the enthusiasm and vision of the youth, and also the wisdom and knowledge gained by the elders through the years. We are partners in the cause of Christ.
The last letter that came from the inspired pen of the great apostle was addressed to “Timothy, my dearly beloved son.” In this letter Paul is passing the baton on to Timothy. Paul has run the race well and has now finished his allotted course and he is exhorting Timothy to run equally well. He counsels him not to be fearful, nor to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, and to diligently guard the precious deposit of truth committed to him. The truth he had received from Paul he is to pass on to faithful men, so they in turn can become teachers of others. He is to study to be approved unto God, a workman unashamed and rightly dividing the Word of truth. He is commissioned to preach the Word, and even if men will not receive it and turn away their ears from the truth, he is still to preach it.
The faithful old warrior, now the prisoner of the Lord, requests that when Timothy comes he should bring with him the cloak which had been left at Troas. Winter would soon be coming and the cloak would be needed in the damp prison cell. Dr. Clarence Macartney has written most touchingly concerning this and we quote him herewith:
“The visitor who knocks on the door hard by the church under the brow of the Capitoline Hill at Rome, finds himself admitted into a narrow, dark stairway. Descending that winding stone stairway, he comes at length to the dismal low arched chamber where it is not improbable the great prisoner of Christ lay bound, waiting to be offered up. Even on an August day, the visitor will feel the dampness of the dungeon and will not wonder that Paul besought Timothy to fetch the cloak which he had left behind him at Troas. What a cloak the Church of Christ today would weave for her great apostle! But then, that was the only cloak which Paul could hope to have. He had woven it with his own hands. It had been wet with the brine of the Aegean, yellow with the dust of the Egnatian Way, white with the snows of Galatia and Pamphylia, and crimson with the blood of his own wounds.”
All have heard the expression, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” However, this old soldier Paul did not fade away. He stands in the forefront in the battle for truth today, urging on the troops, telling them to be good soldiers of Christ, giving the marching orders, and commanding them as to how they are to fight the beautiful fight of the faith. Sad to say, his voice is not heeded by many in the ranks and it is little wonder there is defeat instead of victory.
The last instruction to Timothy was “Do thy diligence to come before winter.” If Timothy waited too long it would not be possible to travel before spring, and Paul had a premonition that he would not see another spring. We feel confident that Timothy wasted no time; that he immediately started out, stopping at Troas for the cloak, taking ship to Italy and arriving at Rome in time to be with his spiritual father during his closing days on earth. And when the summons came we like to think that Timothy on one side and Luke on the other accompanied Paul to the place of execution and there received his final benediction. There we leave God’s chosen vessel, his great apostle of grace to the Gentiles, and now forever with the Lord he served so faithfully and valiantly.