They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Timothy, the Unlikely Disciple: Conclusion

Rembrandt's Timothy and his grandmother

In our first two lessons on Timothy we did a biographical sketch of his life and background to try to determine what made Paul pick him as one of his disciples. Although Timothy was an unlikely candidate to be a disciple because of his heritage and the surroundings he was brought up in, he nevertheless became not only a disciple of Paul, but one of the great pillars of the Christian faith. Once Timothy left his home and family in Lystra to follow Paul, what happened to him? Where did he go and what did he do in the succeeding years? The New Testament Scriptures give us some fascinating snapshots as to what life was like for this young man from nowhere as he followed his rabbi, Paul to the ends of the earth, making disciples in the name of his Messiah, Jesus.

Immediately after leaving his hometown of Lystra and the province of Galatia in which he grew up, Timothy went with Paul to Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 17: 14-15 and Acts 18:5). From what we can tell from Scripture he was with Paul for all of his second missionary journey as they went on to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus (Acts 17 and 18). When Paul took his third missionary journey, Timothy went with him as his aide. He stayed for most of the two and one half years that Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19:22). Timothy then traveled again with Paul to Corinth, back to Macedonia, Philippi, and back to Asia Minor (Acts 20:1-6).

When Paul was first imprisoned in Rome, Timothy was there as his friend (Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, and Philemon 1:1). These epistles written to these cities were all penned while Paul was in prison in Rome. After Paul was released from prison, Timothy again traveled with Paul. At Paul’s request, he stayed in Ephesus to lead the church there (1 Timothy 1:3). Church tradition says Timothy later became the bishop of the church in Ephesus.

Timothy was the co-sender of six of Paul’s letters to the New Testament churches. Listen to the admiration of Paul for Timothy in Philippians 2:19-22:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.

Paul often calls him, “my beloved son” and “my true son in the faith”. Based on the above quote, Timothy was certainly Paul’s adopted son in the faith.

At the end of his life Paul asks Timothy to join him in Rome (2 Timothy 4:9 and 2 Timothy 4:21) because he wants to see him before he dies. Like his rabbi, Timothy is also put into prison for his beliefs and his association with Paul (Hebrew 13:23). All this is not a bad resume for a backwoods boy from Lystra who was dealt a bad hand early in life. He was told that he was a “momzer”, an outcast, and that he had no chance to do anything in life. But, he had a belief in Jesus as the Messiah and God chose him to be one of his disciples. If God can use Timothy, he can use each one of us. We are all without excuse. All it takes is a fire in the chest and a willingness to try to be like our rabbi.

If not now, when?

Timothy, The Unlikely Disciple: Part Two

From the study in our first lesson, we learned that Timothy’s mother, Eunice, was a Jewess and a believer, but Timothy’s father was a Greek. We will never know the story behind this relationship. Why did Eunice marry a Greek? Why did this devout Jewish woman get involved with a non-believer? From a twenty-first century perspective that doesn’t sound like anything that would be a real problem. We tend to think of it more like marrying someone from a different faith or maybe a mixed racial marriage, both of which are fairly common to us today. But, in first century Judaism, the consequences of a Jewish woman having a child by a Greek man were enormous. Deuteronomy 23:2 says, “No one born of a forbidden marriage, or his descendants, may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation”. Timothy was a product of a forbidden marriage! As a Jewish baby he should have been circumcised on the eight day, but Acts 16:3 says that he was still uncircumcised. Because of the Deuteronomy passage, his rabbi would not have been able to circumcise him. Timothy would have definitely been different than his Jewish playmates. He would have been ostracized and singled out by other Jewish families – cut off from God’s covenant family. In fact, he would have been called a “momzer”, which is a Jewish slang word for a bastard. Jews weren’t even supposed to eat with a Gentile, enter their home, or engage in commerce with them. Through no fault of his own, Timothy would have been an outcast and made fun of by the people of his village. He would not have been educated at synagogue school with the other Jewish boys. He would not have been able to read Torah with them or participate with them during any of the Jewish festivals. When it was time for him to marry, he would not have been able to marry a Jewish girl, only another momzer or a Greek. Because of his mother’s sin, Timothy was seemingly destined to be on the outside, looking in, for the rest of his life. Somehow, though, Timothy was able to rise above this label of an outcast as we will see from other references. He must have had a fire in his chest, a difference that let him overcome his handicaps in life.

Paul, when he wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5 said, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother, Eunice, and I am persuaded now lives in you also”, and in 2 Timothy 3:14-15, said, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from who you have learned it, and how from infancy you learned the Holy Scriptures…” How did he learn and receive this strong faith that Paul saw? The father was always the head of the Jewish home and was responsible for teaching the children Torah (See Deuteronomy 6:1-8). Unfortunately, Timothy’s father would have never filled that role. Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice must have been awesome teachers and must have had great knowledge of the Holy Scriptures that they were able to pass on to Timothy. Since he probably didn’t have access to scrolls, he must have memorized huge portions of the Text from his mother and grandmother. He must have been a quick learner and very smart. Acts 16:2 says that Timothy was well thought of by the brothers in both Lystra and the neighboring town of Iconium. Somehow, with all the cards stacked against him, he had risen above the obstacles of his early childhood.

Every Jewish boy’s dream was to be able to study under a famous rabbi. By the age of 15, most boys were relegated to learning the family trade. Only a few of the best and brightest were able to continue their studies with a rabbi. With Timothy’s background, it was only a pipe dream to think that he would have a chance to be asked to study with a rabbi. Then rabbi Paul comes back through Lystra again! Why? Is it possible that he was thinking about that young boy with a fire in his chest that he met a couple of years ago? Can you imagine the expression on Timothy’s face when Paul asked him, ”Come follow me. I think you can be like me.” Can’t you see Timothy running to tell his mother and grandmother? “I’ve been picked by rabbi Paul! He wants me to follow him!” Never in Timothy’s wildest imagination did he think that he would get to be a disciple of a rabbi like Paul! He was a “momzer”, an outcast! Timothy was an unlikely candidate for a disciple. He wasn’t supposedly qualified for a leadership role. Yet, Paul saw something in Timothy, a perseverance, a “never quit” attitude in the face of unfavorable obstacles, that made him think that Timothy could be what it took to be a disciple of Rabbi Jesus. Timothy not only became a follower of Paul and Rabbi Jesus, but he became one of the key figures in all of Christianity. To see what heights Timothy rose to, part three of our study will next look at Timothy’s life as he attempted to be like his father in the faith, Paul.