Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:1-2)
Paul’s first letter to Timothy was written to encourage him in his role of Christian leadership. The challenges before him and Paul’s instructions will become evident as our study unfolds. For now, we must begin with a profile of Timothy.
Timothy was a follower of Jesus from the city of Lystra. His mother was a Jewish Christian and his father was Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke very highly of Timothy, so Paul decided it would be good to take him with him on his mission (Acts 16:2).
In preparation, Paul circumcised Timothy. This has been a matter of some discussion since Paul often wrote about the irrelevance of circumcision compared to salvation by grace. Why would Paul ask Timothy to do something that was unnecessary? Wasn’t he setting a bad example?
The rationale for Paul’s actions can be found in his 1st letter to the Corinthians. There he wrote, “Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Circumcision was not necessary, but since a lot of people would have been aware that Timothy’s father was Greek, the fact he was not circumcised could have become an issue.
Therefore, Timothy was circumcised (which is a testimony to his commitment to the work), and he and Paul began their journey together, along with Silas. Later, when they were in Berea, some Jewish enemies stirred up trouble, and Paul left for Athens. But he left Timothy and Silas behind to finish up some ministry.
In our passage today, Paul calls Timothy his “true son in the faith.” This would suggest Paul was the one who led him to Christ, although we are not told this for certain. We do know Timothy’s grandmother Lois was a believer and we have already noted his mother (Eunice) was as well (2 Timothy 1:5). Whether or not Paul was the one who led Timothy to Christ, he certainly was his chief mentor. None of Paul’s relationships in his ministry were more important than the one he shared with Timothy.
With this history in mind, we could only expect any letter from Paul to Timothy would be filled with important instructions and heart-felt encouragement. And we would be right.
The work of ministry in the first century church was hard, and young men like Timothy needed to know they weren’t alone. They also needed a little boost when they were called on to take some risks.
But then…don’t we all?
Dear God, thank You for those who encourage us in our work for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.