The last letters written by the apostle Paul were to Timothy and Titus, the socalled Pastoral Epistles. In them the apostle referred to some twenty-seven people by name ranging from those whom we often hear of elsewhere in the New Testament – such as the Gospel writers Luke and Mark – to those who are named only once, such as Carpus. They were all, for one reason or another, on the mind of the apostle in these last years of his life and studying them should prove helpful to us in assessing our lives and the contribution that we are making to the work of God. This large number of people can be usefully arranged into four groups, as follows (sometimes in conjunction with others, as appropriate):
Those who were a delight to Paul
Timothy, Eunice, Lois
Aquila and Priscilla (Prisca)
Those who were devoted, dutiful and dear to Paul
Apollos, Zenas, Mark
Artemas, Tychicus, Crescens
Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia
Those who were a disappointment to Paul
Phygellus and Hermogenes
Those who were a despair to Paul
Those who were a delight to Paul:
For details of Timothy’s early life, see the section on Lois and Eunice.
Timothy was converted through the witness of the apostle Paul on his visit, with Barnabas, to Timothy’s home district.1 A few years later the apostle Paul, during his so-called second missionary journey, arrived in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra with his new co-worker Silas , with the purpose of seeing how the believers were faring spiritually, see Acts 15. 36. In the thriving assembly that they found, there was one young man who especially came to Paul’s notice. He was Timothy, who was described as ‘a certain disciple … well reported of by the brethren at Lystra and [the nearby town of] Iconium’, Acts 16. 2. Obviously, Timothy was active locally and was beginning to move in wider geographical circles. Paul was very impressed with him, as were the local believers. The prophets in the assembly had pointed out his gift;2 the elders in the assembly commended him, 1 Tim. 4. 14, and Paul was sure that it was him particularly that he wanted to go with him, Acts 16. 3, presumably for the same ministry that young John Mark had fulfilled, at least at the beginning of the previous missionary journey, Acts 13. 5.
However, there was a problem, for although his mother Eunice was a Jewess, and Timothy was technically a Jew, he had never been circumcised. For pragmatic reasons, therefore, given that they would have to work among Jews, Paul circumcised him. This must be carefully contrasted with the case of Titus, since, for doctrinal reasons, Paul insisted that he should not be circumcised. A careful study of the two situations will show that there was no contradiction in Paul’s behaviour in these cases. Paul was only correcting an earlier fault, probably given that Timothy’s father was a Greek, and all the Jews of the district knew this, Acts 16. 3. There was no deep spiritual significance involved, apart from the fact that Timothy was prepared to undergo discomfort for the sake of others, while adding nothing to his personal spiritual standing.
Timothy’s first efforts with the apostle Paul and Silas were involved with visiting assemblies in his own general district of Galatia and Phrygia to deliver the judgement of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem concerning circumcision and the suggested Gentile behaviour that would not upset their Jewish neighbours, 15. 29. He had the joy of seeing the assemblies established spiritually and growing numerically, 16. 4-5. When the work in the districts of Phrygia and Galatia was completed, they moved west. However, the Holy Ghost forbade them to preach in Asia, then, after they arrived in Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but once again they were forbidden, v. 7. Timothy learned that seeing a real need does not necessarily constitute a call to meet that particular need oneself. So, leaving the district, Paul, Timothyb and Silas moved further west to the seaport of Troas. There, all became clear when Paul had a vision in which he saw a Macedonian who asked for help, ‘Immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them’, v. 10. They had a new vision and a new companion – Luke. The four set off for Macedonia, which represented Paul’s first venture into Europe. They headed for Philippi, the regional capital, v. 12. There they saw blessing in the gospel and as Paul commented later – in writing to the assembly that was eventually formed – the evangelistic activity of Timothy was well known, ‘Ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel’, Phil. 2. 22. Later, Paul and Silas were arrested and imprisoned, Acts 16. 19- 40, but they were eventually released because they were both Roman citizens. However, they had to leave the city immediately. Paul and Silas moved on to Thessalonica where there was remarkable and swift progress in the gospel, but, as at Philippi, Paul was forced to leave the city. Timothy is not mentioned with them, so possibly he stayed behind in Philippi, maybe with Luke, who is also not mentioned as moving on. It would have given Timothy good experience and the opportunity for the Philippians to know him better and for him to learn to move independently. While Paul and Silas were active in the gospel in Thessalonica and saw much blessing, there is no mention of Timothy or Luke. Paul and Silas moved on to Berea, but opposition followed and Paul is taken from Berea south to Athens for his own safety. Now Timothy comes back into the picture, for we are told that he and Silas stayed on in Berea.
When Paul arrived at Athens, he immediately sent a message back to Silas and Timothy to meet him as soon as possible in Athens. This they did and they found Paul very concerned about the spiritual state of the believers at Thessalonica. He had tried twice to go himself to Thessalonica, but Satan had hindered him, 1 Thess. 2. 18. Paul then sent Timothy up to Thessalonica, either alone or with Silas.3 In the letter that Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica that Timothy delivered, Timothy was once again well commended. Paul said that not only was he a brother, but a ‘minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ’, and he went well instructed ‘to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: that no man should be moved by these afflictions’, 1 Thess. 3. 2-3. Paul had warned them about the tribulation that they would inevitably experience, v. 4, but he wanted to know the state of their faith, v. 5. The devil was active and if he was victorious, Paul knew that his hard labour would have been in vain.
When Timothy returned from Thessalonica and arrived at Corinth – whither Paul had now moved – Silas came with him, Acts 18. 5. They brought good news of the Thessalonian assembly’s faith and love and their constant happy memories of Paul and his companions when they had laboured among them. The great relief enjoyed by Paul then stimulated his preaching, Acts 18. 5. The gifts brought from Macedonia also helped practically and relieved Paul from the need to work as a tent maker, 2 Cor. 1. 8-9. During Paul’s time at Corinth, both Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) were active in gospel preaching with him, 2 Cor. 1. 19.4
Timothy worked with Paul during the latter’s three-year stay in Ephesus. At the end of that period Paul sent a number of people on errands. Titus and another brother were sent directly to Corinth to deliver Paul’s letter to the assembly there. Timothy and Erastus were sent to Macedonia, Acts 19. 21- 22, with the possibility of Timothy later going down to Corinth in Achaia. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions Timothy twice. First, he tells them that his reason for sending Timothy with the possibility of visiting Corinth was that he might remind them of Paul’s universal teachings – ‘as I teach every where in every church’, 1 Cor. 4. 17 – and commends Timothy as ‘my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord’. However, towards the end of the letter Paul wrote, ‘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. Let no man therefore despise him: but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren’, 1 Cor. 16. 10-11. This tells us a number of things. First, Timothy might not actually come down from Macedonia – ‘if he come’. Then, we get an insight into Timothy’s character, that there was the possibility that, given a hostile reaction, Timothy would be upset. Paul tells them that Timothy worked the work of the Lord as he did, and hence he was not to be despised. All their dealings with him were to be towards him leaving in peace. Paul seems to have expected Timothy to meet him on leaving Corinth, in all probability with Titus and the other brother who would bring news of the reaction of the assembly to the letter. Paul planned to go to Macedonia himself – via Troas where he expected to meet up with Titus and the others – and then travel south to Corinth.