2. The Strengthening of the Churches of Syria and Anatolia: Choosing Timothy for Service (Acts 16:1-5)
1 He came to Derbe and Lystra: and behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewess who believed; but his father was a Greek. 2 The brothers who were at Lystra and Iconium gave a good testimony about him. 3 Paul wanted to have him go out with him, and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts; for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered the decrees to them to keep which had been ordained by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. 5 So the assemblies were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Paul went up from Tarsus, a dazzling city with its stadiums and universities, to the high, wild mountains of Taurus. He crossed long distances on foot into the high, hot, dry plains of Anatolia. After great pains he arrived at Derbe, a city of Lycaonia. We see what an overwhelming longing this preacher had for his churches. During the journey he had not provided for his own security against the various dangers. His longing and design had been to see his beloved ones. How, too, Christ desires to be with His beloved, having redeemed them on the cross? The Lord longs for us, and is coming for us soon.
In Derbe Paul and Silas strengthened the believers, and told them about the church in Antioch that prayed for them. They confirmed to them their freedom from the law, which the mother church at Jerusalem had agreed to. Silas was a delegated member of that church, and therefore their statement was official. He was also a prophet of the Holy Spirit, who declared openly that Gentiles are converted apart from the keeping of the law. When they believe in Christ they freely receive the dwelling and power of the Holy Spirit, without the works of man. This declaration was so great, radical, and vital that all the hearers opened their hearts to the spirit of grace, which was flowing freely from the New Covenant.
When the two preachers arrived in Lystra they met a young man named Timothy, who had become a believer during Paul’s previous journey, when he had been stoned in the town. The young man had a Greek father and a Jewish mother, and was distinguished for his warmth, love, and kind wisdom. He had strengthened, encouraged, united, and edified the churches without any previous authorization from the apostles. He also traveled to Iconium and visited the brothers there. Thus he was known by all the Christians, and recognized as a faithful servant of Christ.
Paul, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, felt that this young man could help him. He called him his partner in his long, dangerous journeys. In fact, not one of those who accompanied the suffering apostle was as faithful as Timothy. Paul called him his faithful son in the Lord, who edified the souls in the new churches at Philippi, Corinth, and other places. Where the apostle could not stay long, Timothy completed Paul’s work (Philippi 2:20; 1 Corinthians 4:17). After Paul’s death Timothy most likely became the apostle’s successor in the great church at Ephesus. He practiced there what the apostle had written to him in his epistles. These epistles have become the principle guide for the edification of churches even until today.
An abstract problem had come to a head as a result of inviting this active young man to be Paul’s traveling companion; his mother was a Jewess, and his father a Greek. Such marriage was regarded as illegitimate according to Jewish law at that time, and as such the young man, too, was regarded as illegitimate. Paul circumcised Timothy not for his justification or sanctification but as an act of expediency, so that the Jews might not be made to stumble by criticizing him. Thus the young man was Judaized, and granted the citizenship of his mother. He became able to participate with the Jews in their social life. At the same time he was a Greek serving the Greeks through his preaching. Paul circumcised Timothy not to retreat into the bondage of the law, but to enhance the way of love. He did not circumcise his disciple to win the Gentiles, but the Jews. Preaching is not limited to a solid mold, but keeps pace within the freedom of a sacrificial love, a love dedicated to service with heart and soul.
PRAYER: O Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You that You gave Timothy a second birth, made him a spiritual son, and filled him with the gifts of Your Holy Spirit. You equipped him to edify your churches and be ready to serve in hard missionary travel. Help us too, to follow You, that we might participate in faithfully edifying your church, and to gain souls in Your name.
- Was Timothy’s circumcision necessary or not? Why?