Bill McFarland

February 11, 2007


It is an amazing thing to open the scriptures and watch the way God goes about his work.  If you think about, the way the scriptures unfold the story, here is a God who takes one person and begins a process by which he will offer his loving care to a whole world.  He moves from that one individual to a family, makes of that family a great nation, and then through that nation, brings a blessing to all the nations of the world.  And then he begins the process by which he will let all nations know of what he has done for them.  He goes from having all nations laid out here before him, comes down to more of a group of people, a world-wide people who belong to him that we call the church, and then moves down from that to a congregation and then down from that to one individual again.

Sooner or later it always comes down to an individual responding to God’s will for his life.  And in two of the last three letters of the beloved apostle Paul that individual is Timothy.  Timothy is a man who is much loved and much respected, for good reason.  This morning we are going to prepare ourselves for the rest of our series this year from 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus by beginning a look at this individual known as Timothy.

Timothy, according to Acts 16:1-2, was from the area around Lystra.  Paul had gone to that area on the first missionary journey.  In fact, it was at Lystra where trouble was stirred up against Paul, and he was dragged outside of the city and stoned and left for dead.  He was brought out of that alive, and went back into the city, then continued the work of making the gospel of Christ known.  Apparently Timothy had been able to be witness to some of those sufferings, according to what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:10-11.  He had seen what Paul had been through. 

Timothy was a young man who is estimated by J.W. McGarvey to have been perhaps 15 years old at that time.  He had grown up in a home which was divided religiously.  His mother and his grandmother had been women of great faith and had become believers in the Lord, apparently at Paul’s preaching.  His father, though, was a Greek, and the wording of the New Testament record would indicate that he probably was not a believer and perhaps was not even still present. 

In Paul’s second journey when he came back to Lystra in Acts 16, Timothy’s faith by that time and his service to the Lord had begun to grow.  All the brethren in the entire area spoke well of Timothy.  Paul decided to take Timothy with him on his further journeys in the Lord’s service.  The brethren set him aside for that work according to God’s will.  Timothy started traveling with Paul to make the will of the apostles and the elders known to all the churches in all the cities. 

From that beginning, a tremendous amount of good was done through this young man.  The Bible shows us that his companying with Paul throughout Asia Minor and then into the regions of Achaia and Macedonia.  He was with Paul when he went over into Macedonia as a result of the Macedonian call.  He went with him to Thessalonica and saw the good done there and the suffering that resulted.  He went on with Paul to Berea.  When persecution arose against Paul there, Paul left this young man in Silas at Berea when he went on to Athens.  After a while, Timothy apparently joined Paul at Athens, but when Paul became very concerned about how the young congregation at Thessalonica was doing, he sent Timothy back there to see how that church under persecution might be faring.  He brought Paul good news back, according to I Thes. 3.  He was with Paul at Corinth and saw the good that was done there as well as the opposition that was met in Acts 18.  He was with him again at Ephesus in Acts 19 and saw the tremendous good that was done again along with the persecution that was suffered.  He was sent to Corinth again to deal with trouble, according to I Cor. 4:17.  He made the journey with Paul apparently to Jerusalem to take the contribution to the saints, according to Acts 20:4-5.  When Paul was arrested and imprisoned, Timothy at least was with him part of the time, either in company with him or as a visitor, for when Paul wrote from prison the letters like Colossians and Philippians and Philemon, Timothy was with him and seems even to have carried the letters part of the time.

Then when Paul got near the end of his journey, we find him leaving Timothy at Ephesus and going on.  When Paul ended up being arrested with his life now at its end, according to the second letter, he writes to Timothy and wants Timothy to come and be with him.  What is there about this man that makes him such an important individual in the history of our faith?

His Character

Let’s begin by looking at his character.  It is interesting in considering the kind of person Timothy was to look at the words used in reference to him in all the letters and in the book of Acts.  Not only did the people who knew him well in Acts 16 speak well of him, but those who knew him best began to speak well of him, too.  When Paul mentioned Timothy in Romans 16:21, he spoke of Timothy as “my fellow worker.”  When he made reference to Timothy in I Corinthians 4:17, he spoke of Timothy as “my beloved and faithful child.”  You and I have noticed already that in 1 and 2 Timothy he loved to refer to Timothy as “my child” or “my true child” or “my dear child, Timothy.”   We notice also in 1 Thes. 3:2 that Paul refers to Timothy as “God’s servant.”  Some versions will say “God’s fellow worker.”  That’s quite an honor, isn’t it?  And he will call Timothy “our brother.”  All of those terms speak so well of this good man!

And yet when we look at his character, especially in Paul’s letters here at the end, it is clear that Timothy was like the rest of us – a man.  In fact, he has some qualities that we don’t expect to find in someone of this great standing and of such important service in the Lord’s kingdom.  One of the things I notice when I read 1 and 2 Timothy is that Timothy was still considered relatively young.  His youth was an issue with some people.  If you have ever been an individual who believed you were not allowed to serve because of your youth, or perhaps someone who thinks, “I am still too young.  I will do something later in my life,” then perhaps a look at Timothy will help.

In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul tells Timothy, “Don’t let anybody despise your youth.”  In 2 Timothy 2:22, he has to tell him to “flee youthful passions” or lusts.  He was a man.  In 1 Timothy 5:1-2 he tells Timothy to “treat younger men as brothers.”  He was one of them you see.  How old was Timothy at this time?  If he was somewhere around 15 as McGarvey suggests when the missionary journeys started, then there is at least a 15-year period of service between that time and the writing of 1 Timothy and then there is at least another couple of years between there and 2 Timothy, so Timothy would be somewhere toward his mid-30s by this time and he still has his youth as an issue.  If you are that old, to a lot of us you are still young.  Think of what this young man has done.  Think of how he has been used for God.  Think of the difference he has made.  Think of the responsibility he has been willing to accept and still is accepting though he is young.

A second thing about Timothy’s character that stands out in these three letters is that he is a man who may be a bit more shy by natural disposition.  I know our attitudes are that the bolder a person is, the more outgoing, the more enthusiastic someone is, then the more of a difference he is going to make, the more use he can be.  The picture of Timothy, though, is of someone that we might think of as a bit more diffident, someone a bit more of an introvert, somebody perhaps a bit more of a follower than a leader, someone who was quieter and more timid by nature.  Does that surprise you about him? 

Notice if you think about Timothy’s conduct and behavior, you may notice that in 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul speaks to Timothy and tells him that God gave us “not a spirit of fear.”  That word is translated “timidity” in some of the versions.  He is not talking here about cowards, but of someone who does tend to stand back and someone who does need reassuring and encouraging sometimes in his life.  Notice in verse 8 Paul tells Timothy “not to be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”  What do you mean “not be ashamed?”  He has already been all over Asia Minor and Macedonia.  He has been through it with Paul already.  He has been sent on difficult journeys.  In I Cor. 16:10, Paul says to the Corinthians, “When Timothy comes, put him at ease because he is my fellow worker.”  He is the kind of man of whom that might need to be said.  Are you an individual who at times is a little more quite and retiring?  Are you somebody who doesn’t naturally just step out in the forefront and take the lead?  Are you somebody who doesn’t necessarily want to be the center of all the attention?  I want to tell you that God has used people like you before, too.  There is nothing wrong with being who you are if you are still willing to be a servant of the Lord when he calls on you.

A third thing about Timothy’s character that I think is interesting is that his health apparently was not always the very best.  In I Thes. 5:23, Paul advises him, “No longer drink only water but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”  Notice the mention there is frequent ailments and apparently some of them were stomach problems that plagued him from time to time.  Whether those were caused by some sort of a disease-type ailment, or whether they were caused by the travel and the stress of all of that or some other problem, we are not told.  But we are told that there were frequent ailments.  So many people would have found in that problem a reason to be excused from serving like this – at least a reason to go back home to Lystra and to settle down in something a little more conducive to physical weakness.  But Timothy has kept on and is still serving and God is still using him.  Are you somebody who has health problems?  Do you think it is time for responsibility in the Lord’s service to be assumed by somebody else and that someone else is waiting to do it for you?  Maybe in light of Timothy’s example we should take another look at that view of things.

His Charge

Here is somebody whose youth, his natural temperament and his health are issues.  Nevertheless, think of the charge which is laid on this young man in 1 and 2 Timothy.  Paul charges him in 1 Timothy 1:3 to stay at Ephesus to charge certain men not to teach any different doctrine.  In verse 18 he says, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”  And then at the end of this letter, 1 Timothy 6:20-21 Paul says, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.  Grace be with you.” 

The charge given to Timothy is to stay in a place like Ephesus where the temple of Diana was and where there was a background of persecution and where there were so many problems and challenges, and to help those people.  In particular, the charge laid on him, the order given to him, was that he is to deal with those who are trying to teach a different doctrine, who are troubling the church in that way, who are hurting the cause of Christ by teaching things that should not have been taught.  He is to deal, in other words, not only with the moral problems of these people but with the doctrinal falsehoods which undergirded those problems.  This young, shy, physically weak man was to do that.

Secondly, Paul shows in 1 Timothy that Timothy is left there to help the church be prepared to worship as it should.  In chapter 2 he deals with questions about worship and then all of the issues that came from that then and still do now.  Can a young man like this be the answer in these types of questions?

Thirdly, notice that Timothy is called upon to work with leadership in the church to try to help see to it that there are elders and deacons and women who are prepared to fill their place in the Lord’s service and to do the good, to meet the needs, to fulfill the purposes of God’s cause in that region around Ephesus.

His Confidence

Now if you are thinking with me, here is what’s before us.  How can a person with this kind of character fulfill that heavy a responsibility and that crucial a charge in his life?  Let’s think about the resources that Timothy could call upon to fulfill his place in God’s service.  If it does come down to one individual, and it always does, what turns that one person into one that can be the man of the hour?  With Timothy you can see some of the resources that are there just in the charges that I read to you. 

One thing is that he is a young man with a reservoir of memories about his relationships with people like Paul that meant everything to him.  Paul suggests in 2 Timothy 3 that Timothy had been witness to his sufferings.  Maybe Timothy had been there that day when Paul had been stoned and left for dead.  In 2 Timothy 1 Paul mentions Timothy’s tears.  Maybe that had come that day when he suffered like that or maybe it had been when he and Timothy had been parted.  But Timothy was a young man who remembered what he had been through with Paul and what Paul had done in the Lord’s service.  There is also the faith of his mother and his grandmother always in the background.  I don’t know if we have ever given Timothy’s mother and grandmother the credit they deserve for their faith.  Not only were they believers in Christ, but if you had been them and if you had seen what Paul had gone through at Lystra on that first journey, being stoned and left for dead, what would you have done when Paul came to you on the second journey and said, “Eunice, your son is so well spoken of and such a promising young man, I would like to take him with me so that he can engage in the kind of work I have been doing in the Lord’s cause.”  Do you realize what was being asked of that dear woman?  Would you have had that kind of faith?  That is the kind of faith in Timothy’s background that is the resource for him now.

Secondly, Timothy has what Paul calls here “the faith.”  He has the words the apostle has written to him.  He can read them for a place to stand and for guidance in the work he has to do.  Paul tells him in 1 Timothy 4:11, “Command and teach these things.”  We need to be reminded of what a blessing we are given in the Lord’s word through his apostles.  It is a resource for us always to turn to, to draw on and to use in our lives.  One interesting thing I haven’t pointed out to you is that there at the end of 1 Timothy 6 when Paul ends the letter, when he says, “Grace be with you,” that you is plural.  He writes to Timothy but he means for these words to be a blessing to everybody else, too.  Drawing on the Lord’s word means that when we are young, when we are weak, when we are shy, we have an authoritative word and a place to stand.

Thirdly, Timothy had a conscience.  He was a young man of good conscience according to 1 Timothy 1:19.  A good conscience means that if he knows that people need him, if he knows that people are counting on him, that matters to him.  This young man of good conscience is the kind of person of whom Paul can say in Philippians 2, verse 19 and following, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.  For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.  They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.”  So many people when they get to the place where they could be in such meaningful service to the Lord begin then to look to their own interests.  William Barclay made the point that no one is ever chosen to be a Christian purely for his own benefit.  That is an important statement.  Timothy is a young man who could see that he was needed and he cared about that.

Then, Timothy was a young man who was responsible for a gift entrusted to him.  Paul mentions in 1 Timothy 1:18 the prophecies previously made about you.  In 1 Timothy 4:14 he makes reference to the gift that is in him by the laying on of the hands of the elders.  And then in 2 Timothy 1:6 he mentions the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  Long story short, this suggests to us that there first of all is a gift that has come by the laying on of the hands of an apostle which is a special spiritual gift – what we might call a miraculous spiritual gift.  On the other hand, there is the setting apart by the laying on of the hands of the elders which dedicated Timothy to this work.  The one kind of gift could come only through the laying on of an apostle’s hand, according to Acts 8.  The other setting apart came through the church and its leaders.  Timothy had a gift.  He was responsible for using it for the one who gave it to him – in this case the Lord.  He couldn’t forget that.  That gift needed to be kept fanned into flame.

And then in the fifth place, Timothy served like he did because of the problems that existed if he didn’t.  If Timothy didn’t act and if Paul was going to be imprisoned and his life ended, then that meant that people who had made shipwreck of the faith, men like Hymenaeus and Alexander, were going to be allowed to have unfettered influence in the world.  Having already invested so many years of his life in the kingdom of Christ, Timothy couldn’t give that up right at the crucial hour.  So when it was necessary that some one man step forward, even if it wasn’t his natural inclination, Timothy would do it.  He was the man, someone said, that Paul could trust.  He was the man that even when Paul was facing the end, he could write to him and say, “Do your best to come before winter,” knowing that Timothy would try.

This past week I visited a lady in the hospital who is 94.  The first question she asked me was about the church.  I visited a lady who is 90 who is going to have to go to a nursing home for a while.  She said to me, “At least maybe I can still ride the bus to church.”  You folks who are in my generation or younger, where are the people going to come from who care like that at that age?  It has got to be us.  At some point we have got to quit going to somebody else’s church.  North National has to quit being the church where we go, the church that some older people built.  It has got to become us.  We have got to be the people who are the elders, the teachers, the missionaries, the leaders.  Where are the Timothys going to come from?

You and I need to make that choice today.  If you are here today and you would like to come to this Jesus to whom Timothy was so dedicated, if you need to obey the gospel of Christ, decide to do it today.  If you are someone who needs to come home and make the Lord first in your life, make that commitment today.  If we can help you, do it while we stand and sing.