WE ARE NOT TOLD ANYTHING in the Scriptures concerning Timothy’s father beyond the fact that he was a Greek. We may glean from the construction of Acts 16. 3 that he was now dead, but we are told that this young man had the double blessing of a godly mother and grandmother who saw to it that he was shielded from the defilements of pagan religions and that from an early age he was taught the Old Testament Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3. 15. What joy must have been brought to their hearts when the fruit of their patient teaching was seen in Timothy’s consecrated life. This should be an encouragement to parents as they seek day by day to teach the little ones entrusted to them. Progress may often seem to be so slow, but the results for good in future days are incalculable. So excellent was the progress made by this half-Jewish lad, now a devoted Christian, that by the time Paul visited Lystra on his second missionary journey, the young man’s unfeigned personal faith in the Lord Jesus was known over quite a wide area. He was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium, towns some twenty miles apart, Acts 16. 2. So, instead of being content to rest on the experiences and exercises of others, we see the value of feeding upon the Scriptures while we are young, and making them our own, that we may be ‘wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus’. This covers much more than the knowledge of sins forgiven; it embraces the many aspects of truth into the enjoyment of which the Lord Jesus would seek to lead us. Let us, too, not stop short at knowledge of forgiveness, but go on to know this great salvation in all its glorious parts and fulness.
The potentialities of this young life, under God’s hand, were recognized by Paul, and he thought it good to have Timothy join Silas and himself in the work to which they had been called. What a crisis in the life of young Timothy! To leave his family and the testimony which he did so much to uphold in his own neighbourhood and to join himself to these itinerant preachers. How could he be sure that he was suitable for this type of work? How could he know for certain that God was really calling him? These are very real problems for a young man to have to face. He might so easily hold back for fear of hardship, or just as easily go forward in fleshly enthusiasm. God could have spoken to him in a vision or given some outward sign of His will in the matter, but he chose rather to give strong confirmation to His young servant through the great and experienced apostle himself and the elders of the local assembly.
How heartening it must have been to have his older and more mature local brethren wholeheartedly behind him. How gratifying and encouraging it is to young men, when interest is shown and spiritual guidance is given by more experienced brethren. No doubt that interest and guidance would be more general if it were more appreciated and valued. Added to this approval and fellowship of the elderhood was the weight of divinely given prophetic declarations concerning Timothy personally, I Tim. 1. 18; 4. 14. We have no scriptural record of hesitancy on Timothy’s part in accepting the call by God. It was under the tremendous discouragements of later days that he showed slackness and fear.
The fact that he was now journeying with Paul and Silas did not mean that Timothy immediately became a great preacher. Although he was evidently with them at Philippi, we read nothing concerning beatings and imprisonments as far as he was concerned. He was obviously taking the place of one who had much to learn and was hardly noticed by the enraged crowd who dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates. Young men would do well to go on quietly and steadily instead of landing themselves in unnecessary difficulties by rushing ahead without discretion. When writing to the Philippians, Paul urges them: ‘Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample’, Phil. 3. 17. By marking such, we find that we walk in a like pathway and are often saved from mistakes which would be unavoidable if we relied on our own limited under¬standing and spiritual discernment.
Although Timothy’s service was not spectacular, this did not mean that it was not owned and blessed of God. In one of his letters to Corinth, Paul reminds his readers that ‘the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea’, 2 Cor. 1. 19. The preaching, in which Timothy had part, was very evidently pleasing to the Holy Spirit, was accompanied by His power, and was used by God not only to the salvation of souls but also in the establishing of a large assembly in that city, Acts 18. 10, 11. It was during the long periods of service together that the bond of love and affection between Timothy and Paul grew stronger. The latter’s confidence in his younger fellow-worker also grew and so it was that when some special journey was necessary it was often Timothy who undertook it. Throughout the Scriptures we find examples of the Lord’s servants going two by two. It is good when we, too, arc able to enjoy such fellowship with our fellow-believers; there is always something for us to learn from our brethren. In Timothy’s case that which he learned of Paul was worked out practically in his life. When the Corinthians needed encouragement and help, and Paul felt that his own presence might not be best suited at that time, 1 Cor. 4. 17, it was Timothy who was sent to bring them into remembrance of the ways which be in Christ. Perhaps the most striking testimony to Paul’s confidence in his young friend is given in his letter to the Philippians, when he says concerning him: ‘I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel’, Phil. 2. 20-22. What a joy it must have been to Paul, as he knew the time for his departure from this scene to be so very near, to know that there was at least one with a real affection for the companies of believers scattered throughout the then civilized world. However contemptible these companies might have appeared to an outsider, having, as they did, ‘not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble’, to Timothy they were precious because they were Jesus Christ’s, and Jesus Christ was his Lord. It must surely be an encouragement for older brethren today, whenever they see young men similarly growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, taking their share of responsibility in their local fellowships and showing a sincere heart interest in the spiritual welfare of the saints.
After his release from prison, Heb. 13. 23, Timothy must have received great comfort from Paul’s letters to him. We can see from these letters some of the difficulties which he had to face. There were some who sought to belittle him because he seemed so young to be taking such an active part in church affairs and he was counselled, ‘let no man despise thy youth’, 1 Tim. 4. 12. This he was to make sure of, not by means of a show of authority (though he possessed such authority) but by showing himself an example of the believers in every way and at all times, v. 12. We remember that taunt of David’s oldest brother concerning ‘those few sheep’, yet it was through the youthful David that God delivered Israel from Goliath. On another occasion it was the young prince Jonathan and his equally young armour-bearer who put the Philistines to flight while Saul ‘tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah’, 1 Sam. 14. 2. Also in Timothy’s day there were those who sought to bring in destructive heresies. To such teachers he was not to yield ground, but rather by positive ministry of Christ to reveal their doctrines to be but ‘fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith’, 1 Tim. 1. 4. This he could only do in so far as he was spiritually strengthened himself. John gives us the source of such strength when he says, ‘I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one’, 1 John 2. 14. The teaching of his mother and grandmother was still bearing fruit in that the words they had taught him were abiding in him.
Paul’s second letter seems to have found Timothy in rather a low state, and while we ought not to follow his example in this respect, it docs help to realize, when we find ourselves in such a condition, tJiat others have been there before us and have been graciously raised up again by the Lord Jesus. During such times it is easy to imagine that no one else can possibly have had such an experience, and there seems to be no way out. Timothy’s spiritual gifts were not in evidence. They needed to be stirred up. He was apparently not so fearless as before in his witness and needed to be reminded: ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind’. Was it possible also that he had settled down and become ‘respectable’, so that he was rather ashamed to be known as a former colleague of that ‘firebrand’, Paul? For he was exhorted, ‘be not thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner’. Any spiritual gift which we may have will only be productive for God as we exercise it. This it is our personal responsibility to do before the Lord. Any fear in our hearts can only be removed by a deeper consciousness of the grace and love of the Lord Jesus, for ‘perfect love casteth out fear’, 1 John 4. 18. As for ‘respectability’, there are few things which bring coldness and deadness into our hearts so quickly. The apostles were certainly not considered ‘respectable’ by those around. ‘We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day’, 1 Cor. 4. 13. The true and truly great heroes of faith of the Old Testament would hardly have been classed as respectable. ‘They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy’, Heb. 11. 37, 38. What was the jibe of the eminently ‘respectable’ Pharisees concerning the Lord Jesus? - ‘A friend of publicans and sinners’. There is a vast difference between being respected and being considered ‘respectable’. We should covet the former, but the latter is a prize with which the believer ought not to be concerned.
We must not, however, be too hard on Timothy. He had brilliant testimonials from the apostle. ‘Thou hast confessed a good confession before many witnesses’, 1 Tim. 6. 12. And, as we have already noticed, ‘I have no man likeminded who will naturally care for your state … for all seek their own’, and in the same letter, ‘Ye know the proof of him that as a child with a father he hath served (in bond service) with me in the gospel’, Phil. 2. 22. Again, ‘Timothy, my genuine child in the faith’, 1 Tim. 1.2, and ‘My dearly beloved child’, 2 Tim. 1. 2. Then, further, we know that Timothy suffered imprisonment, Heb. 13. 23. We know not when this was except that it was previous to the writing of Hebrews but doubtless it was due to faithful witness borne. Also allowance must be made for a gentle and timid disposition. This, Timothy could not change. It had tended to mould him into a wonderful servant under his loved leader but not, temperamentally, into a leader himself. He did not love or seek the white light of prominence: he rather shunned it. Yet he was thrust, though still a young man, into a position of the gravest responsibility and into the highest prominence amongst the Christians, and that in days when Christian leaders were in imminent danger of persecu¬tion, torture, the dungeon and death under the fiendish tyrant Nero. But although Timothy could never change a timid make-up for a bold one, he could know and make full use of all the divine resources which were available for him. It is in the light of such facts that we should read the apostle’s urgings and encouragements.
Of all the encouraging thoughts with which Paul sought to help Timothy in his need, perhaps the greatest was this. ‘Remember that Christ Jesus, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel’. This was a fresh reminder of already known Gospel truth, simple, fundamental and practical. To have an awareness of the living reality of the Lord Jesus in our lives day by day is a sure answer to all of our needs. But more still, it was Jesus Christ of the seed of David who was to be remembered – and as risen from among the dead. So nothing was lost. Nothing could be lost. Not even the glorious promises of the coming Davidic kingdom! For all was everlastingly secured in resurrection. ‘I will give unto you the sure mercies of David’. What could make them surer? (see 2 Cor. 1. 20). And all this was part of the Gospel which Paul had preached and Timothy was now himself to continue to preach. What light and colour such a telling truth must have brought, especially to Jewish audiences. No wonder Paul speaks of ‘the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory’. So Timothy was enabled with fresh vigour to continue his spiritual warfare and could doubtless at the time of his own later home-call echo the words of the beloved friend with whom he was about to be reunited in the Lord’s presence; ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith’, 2 Tim. 4. 7. May we seek grace so to walk and so to live that these words may be ours also, in that glorious day when we shall see our Saviour face to face.