by David McAllister, Ireland
It may well be that many readers saw the title of this book, opened it and started reading it, fully expecting it to be all about those who enter into what is often called ‘full-time service’: that is, those who, convinced of God’s call, leave ‘secular employment’, and, commended by their home assemblies, engage in the work to which God has called them.
Now that we have reached the final chapter, it should be clear that the focus of the book is much wider than that. It is our desire that each reader would see that every Christian is called to serve God. The persons covered in the book include some who would not be called ‘full-time’ as defined in the paragraph above, but who believed that they were where God wanted them to be, doing what He wanted them to do, and who faithfully served Him in the sphere of service that He had for them. We trust that it has also been evident that the areas of service were many and varied, as they are today. Every moment, and whatever we are doing: whether in the assembly, or in the home, or in the workplace, or in the neighbourhood, or wherever, we are all called to serve God, and the examples we have considered from the Scriptures are worthy of our emulation. Indeed, the reader will have observed that any time the term ‘full-time’ has been used in this book, it has been in single quotation marks, not only because it is not found in the Scriptures, but also
because it is not strictly accurate, for all believers are in the service of
God, for all their lives. In reality, we are all ‘full-time servants’, and the searching question each needs to ponder is: am I a faithful or an unfaithful servant?
However, that is in no way to detract from the recognition that ‘full-time service’, as outlined in the opening paragraph, is according to a pattern established in the New Testament Scriptures, in which we read of God calling certain believers, in a definite, specific, unmistakeable way, to go out, with the fellowship of their brethren, into a specific avenue of service for Himself. And one who is exercised concerning such a course would expect to find help in a book like this one. There are perhaps two main ways in which such aid should be obtained:
Firstly, in every chapter there should be principles that are helpful. For example, there have been many exhortations in this book bringing to our attention how that, throughout our Christian life, we ought to be diligent in taking whatever opportunity for service the Lord brings to our hands. This is sound advice for us all, and is vital counsel for anyone who believes that the Lord may be leading him towards ‘full-time’ service.
Secondly, it would be anticipated that certain individual chapters in the book are more closely related to the area of ‘full-time’ service in this present Church age than others, and in such there should be material relating specifically to it. It is here that this final chapter of the book comes in, for in the New Testament record of Timothy we have many details of someone in Scripture commended to ‘full-time service’ in this current dispensation, and to whose circumstances we can relate in many ways. Hence, while many lessons could be drawn from Timothy from a variety of standpoints, the main emphasis in this chapter will be that of one called to serve the Lord ‘full-time’. We will consider the subject in five areas:
- Timothy’s Childhood
- Timothy’s Conversion
- Timothy’s Character
- Timothy’s Commendation
- Timothy’s Course
Three Scriptures allude to Timothy’s childhood: “Then came he [Paul] to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek” Acts 16.1; “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also” 2Tim.1.5; “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” 2Tim.3.15.
Thus there was a negative side to Timothy’s background: he was the son of a ‘mixed marriage’, between a Gentile father and a Jewish mother. By the time Timothy was a young man, his mother, Eunice, was a believer in the Lord Jesus, and since Luke states this of his mother, but omits to say so of his father, it is reasonable to infer that he was an unbeliever. We are not told how this situation came to be, and speculation is pointless; however, in two ways it was not ideal: a Jew being joined in marriage to a Gentile, and a believer in the Lord Jesus married to an unbeliever. Of course, in the latter case, Eunice might not have been culpable, for she may have been saved after her marriage, and the Scriptures acknowledge the difficulties faced by those in such a case, and give counsel for them, 1Cor.7.12-16; 1Pet.3.1-6.
Whatever the precise circumstances, we can be encouraged by the fact that, while a Godly home background is an unspeakable blessing, nevertheless it is possible for one brought up in a problematic family situation to rise to great heights spiritually, to be called into the work of God, and to be mightily used by Him. Let no one reading these words be discouraged from a pathway of service for God because of any perceived lack of ‘pedigree’. Other examples in this book have drawn to our attention the variety of backgrounds of those called of God, and this is further illustrated in the case of Timothy.
That brings us to the positive side: Eunice did not allow her domestic difficulties to deter her from seeing that her son was brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” Eph.6.4. We are not told whether her husband gave her freedom in this area, or whether she faced a constant battle, but, however home conditions were, we know that Timothy was, from his earliest days, taught “the holy scriptures”, which were able to make him “wise unto salvation”. Eunice did not know what the years ahead would hold for her boy, but her labours, and doubtless her prayers, were abundantly used of God in this man’s life, and in the lives of many others. What an encouragement this ought to be to young Christian mothers! In society today, people are being conditioned to belittle ‘stay at home mums’, and to disparage their sterling work. At the same time, in the religious world, women are pushing forward into roles, such as preaching and leadership, which the Bible says are for men only. Let all be persuaded of this: it is a most noble service, of inestimable value, to bring up children for God in this present, evil world; to teach them, by word and action, the Scriptures of truth; to guard them from the evils all around; and yet, at the same time, to prepare them for living in it. It is not easy, but it never was. It was not easy for Susanna Wesley, but the work she did with her children led to the mighty revival under her sons John and Charles, the fruit of which still remains, notwithstanding the passing of four hundred years and the current grievous spiritual climate. It was not easy for Eunice, but she faithfully discharged the responsibility entrusted to her.
Paul’s reference to Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and her faith, would also strongly imply that she was involved with the spiritual education of young Timothy, and we pause to note that there is a role for Godly grandparents in the upbringing of children. Obviously, every case will vary, for example, for grandparents living far away the opportunity for contact and influence is limited, but, where possible, it is good for parents to involve grandparents in the care of the children. If, for instance, there are times when a mother needs to be away from her children, who better to entrust them to than a Godly grandmother? There have been cases where parents are unsaved, but believing grandparents or other close relatives have been used of the Lord in bringing the children under the influence of the gospel, and them being saved. What a blessed service for God!
The faithful work of Eunice and Lois made known to Timothy the Scriptures, which were able to make him “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” 2Tim.3.15. However, while they told
him what he needed to know, they could not save him: he personally had the responsibility to receive salvation, through putting his faith in Christ Jesus. At this point, it should be stressed that parents who have brought up their children faithfully, yet who have not had the joy of seeing
them saved, should not feel themselves to be ‘failures’. Whether or not to be saved is an individual choice, which each one makes for himself or herself.
Happily, Timothy made the right choice, as a young man. Although we are not told when or how this took place, Paul addresses him as “Timothy, my own son in the faith” 1Tim.1.2; “son Timothy” 1Tim.1.18; and “Timothy, my dearly beloved son” 2Tim.1.2. In each of these Scriptures, the word translated “son” is teknon, of which Vine writes: “teknon, ‘a child’ (akin to tikto, ‘to beget, bear’), is used in both the natural and the figurative senses. In contrast to huios, ‘son’, it gives prominence to the fact of birth, whereas huios stresses the dignity and character of the relationship.”1 Thus it is a reasonable conclusion that Timothy was saved under Paul’s preaching.
- 1 Vine, W.E. “An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words” . Multiple publishers.
Timothy (or “Timotheus”) first appears in the opening verses of Acts chapter 16, where we read that Paul met him on what is called the ‘second missionary journey’. Evidently at that point Timothy was already a believer of standing, so he must have been saved some time before that. In these verses he is identified with two cities: Lystra, vv.1,2, and Iconium, v.2, both of which Paul visited twice on his ‘first missionary journey’, Acts 14.1,6,8,21. The record in Acts chapter 14 shows that he faced persecution in both cities, which is probably what he refers to when he writes to Timothy many years later, “But thou hast fully known my … persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra” 2Tim.3.10,11. Thus, while it cannot be proven conclusively, it is a plausible deduction that Paul knew Timothy from that time, and that he was saved through those labours of Paul and Barnabas.
Thus, that all-important experience took place in the life of young Timothy, without which it is impossible to be of service for God: he was saved, and his life of fruitful service for God began.
When we are introduced to Timothy in Acts chapter 16, we read only two things about the period between his conversion and his commendation, but both are significant:
Firstly, he is called “a certain disciple” v.1. This is a word with which we are familiar, and it is used of quite a number of people in Acts, but we should not allow familiarity to make us miss its significance: “‘a learner’ … hence it denotes ‘one who follows one’s teaching’ … A ‘disciple’ was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher.”2 Thus, Timothy was not one who merely professed faith in the Lord Jesus, but one who was taught in the faith, and who followed the example of those who taught him, and, supremely, followed the Lord Himself. This continued throughout his life, so that in Paul’s last letter to him he instructed Timothy as follows: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them” 2Tim.3.14. Such is vital for any who would be entrusted with public service for God.
- 2 Ibid.
Secondly, we read that he “was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium” Acts 16.2. Spiritual saints, who had first-hand knowledge of him, were impressed by his character, and spoke well of him. This too is essential. If there is someone who has a desire to be commended to ‘full-time service’, or indeed, desires any place of responsibility among the people of God, such as being an overseer, there is something wrong, and a sure sign of trouble ahead, if he does not have a good reputation among his brethren who know him best. “Well reported of” here is the passive form of the verb usually translated “to bear witness”, or “to testify”, and we can undoubtedly say that Timothy had a good testimony, and that his brethren were happy to testify to that.
Although no specific details concerning Timothy’s character are given at this point in Acts, we know what some of them were from the record of him in Scripture. Admittedly, generally these are things recorded of him after he was commended, rather than before. However, it is legitimate to consider them here, for, as has often been said, and is true, commendation does not change one’s character. A man who is unreliable does not suddenly become reliable just because he has been commended; an honest man remains honest after his commendation. We can be confident that the features of Timothy that we will now ponder were true of him before he went out ‘full-time’ into the work of the Lord, and that they provide a worthy pattern for us.
It is not difficult to see that Timothy was faithful, in every sense of the word. He was faithful to the Lord and to His truth, whether in holding it, in practising it, or in teaching it. One of the best-known verses in Paul’s letters to Timothy is 2Tim.2.2: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Since Timothy was to pass on what he had learned from Paul to “faithful men”, that shows Paul must have regarded him as a faithful man when giving him the truth: he would hold it tenaciously himself, and he would pass it on intact to others. Timothy had been “nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine” 1Tim.4.6; hence Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning him, “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” 1Cor.4.16,17.
Timothy was also faithful in the sense of being personally trustworthy. If he had a responsibility he could be depended upon to carry it out. For example, he could be entrusted to carry information and to state things as they actually were, so Paul could confidently send him to Thessalonica, with the twofold purpose of strengthening the believers there, and finding out how they were doing spiritually, 1Thess.3.2,5. He knew that Timothy would do as he requested, and when Timothy brought back a good report, 1Thess.3.6-8, he knew it was accurate, and hence he was comforted. He expressed the same confidence in Timothy in writing to the Philippians of a similar proposed visit by him, Phil.2.19,20. One engaged in the work of the Lord will have a multiplicity of responsibilities, and will also have to deal with difficult and sensitive information. It is crucial that he can be relied upon to be faithful to his trust, and to maintain confidentiality.
It is also evident that Timothy was characterised by humility. He was involved in most of the action in Acts from chapter 16 to the end, but we read his name very little, and when we do it is usually to show his support of others, especially Paul. When we read of his commendation, although we can be sure that he was convinced that it was the right step to take (as we will discuss later), we find no hint of him ‘pushing himself forward’; nor is there any indication that, before that time, he was a young ‘know-all’, who boasted of his abilities and activities. On the contrary, if there is any evidence that he had any slight weakness in this area, it would be in the opposite direction, for years later, when he was well established in the work, Paul had to admonish him as follows: “Let no man despise thy youth” 1Tim.4.12. Here was no ‘young upstart’!
Timothy also had a heart for people, which of course went hand in hand with his humility. It was so for the Lord Jesus, Who, as expounded by Paul in Philippians chapter 2, did not look to “His own things” but to “the things of others”, and Who “humbled Himself” Phil.2.4-8. Timothy was a true “disciple” of his Lord, for later in the same chapter Paul 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” Phil.2.20,21. As Paul thought of who could go and care for the Philippians, there was no doubt as to whom he would choose: Timothy, with his care for the interests of others, rather than his own self.
Paul was “mindful of [Timothy’s] tears” 2Tim.1.4. We are not told the background, but, given that this detail is in Paul’s final Epistle, along with the words “greatly desiring to see thee”, it is possible that they were shed when Paul and Timothy were parted, at or about the time of Paul’s final arrest. There is much hardness in the world today. It ought not to be so among believers, and without doubt there is no place for it in any who would seek to be used of God in helping His people and in reaching the lost with the gospel.
On that point, we have evidence of Timothy’s care for unbelievers, as well as for believers. The first recorded event in his ‘full-time service’ is that Paul “took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek” Acts 16.3. Timothy would have known that, as Paul wrote, “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” Gal.6.15, and he would have been within his rights to refuse it. However, he knew that remaining uncircumcised would have been a stumblingblock to Jews whom they were trying to reach, and would have unnecessarily restricted the places they could have gone with the message. Timothy, in his humility and his care for others, happily submitted to forgo his rights for the gospel’s sake.
That incident highlights another trait of Timothy that is valuable in anyone pondering ‘full-time service’: adaptability. We hasten to add that by this we most definitely do not mean that he was prepared to compromise on the truth of God. Far from it; indeed, he remained faithful to the truth, right to the end of the record of Scripture. However, his agreement to be circumcised shows that, when faced with a decision, he was able to discern whether Scriptural principles were involved, and if so, what they were, and to act accordingly. Doubtless this was of great benefit to him as he and his fellow-workers moved around vast areas of the Roman Empire, where he would have met people from different cultures and backgrounds, and needed to fit in with the customs of those among whom he worked, as far as it was consistent with the Word of God. In personal conduct, as well as in preaching and teaching, like Paul, he sought to “give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” 1Cor.10.32.
If he was adaptable where it was necessary culturally, he was also so in terms of his work. From various references, particularly in the two Epistles written to him, it could perhaps be inferred that his gift lay more in teaching the Word than in preaching the gospel. Alternatively, it may be that, since his main reason for being in Ephesus at that time was to seek to build up the saints, this is why teaching is emphasised in those letters. Either way, he was not to neglect the preaching of the gospel, and Paul exhorted him to “do the work of an evangelist” 2Tim.4.5. As we shall see, Timothy was involved in a variety of work, according to the need where he was at that time, and he was prepared to do it, even if it was not work for which he may have felt particularly fitted.
Before moving on, there is an important lesson for us all here. These days in many parts there is great weakness in the testimony, both numerically and spiritually, and often, in order to maintain it, brethren may be doing work for which they do not feel well qualified, and which they would not be doing if there were others gifted and willing to do it. The Lord understands these circumstances, and He will honour those who show adaptability in terms of endeavouring as best they can to meet the need. Thus, on the one hand, if there is a work to be done, and the choice is between it being undertaken by one who feels inadequate for it, or not being done at all, no-one should shirk responsibility, hiding behind a statement such as ‘I am not fitted for that’. Equally, brethren who are doing their best, where there is no-one else to do it, should be commended, supported and encouraged by the saints, not belittled or made to feel their inadequacy.
Timothy was also marked by his tender conscience. Paul writes to him that in order to “war a good warfare” he needs to be “holding faith, and a good conscience” 1Tim.1.18,19. Paul frequently refers to a good conscience in the two Epistles to Timothy, speaking of those who have it, and those who do not. Certainly Timothy sought to have it. A measure of his sensitive conscience is seen in Paul’s assurance to him that it is legitimate to him to “use a little wine” for medicinal purposes, 1Tim.5.23. A few verses later, Paul gives him good reason for seeking to have a good conscience: “I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus” 1Tim.6.13. Timothy knew the solemn reality that everything he did was “in the sight of God”, and this regulated his life. This is, of course, an important principle for all believers, and those in ‘full-time service’ are no less in need of heeding it than anyone else. Much of what they do is unseen by human eyes, and many spend more time away from home than most other believers. There are also all sorts of pressures to compromise on principles, or to be less than honest in one’s words and actions. Paul could write to Timothy concerning himself, “I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience” 2Tim.1.3, and we do not doubt that this was also true of Timothy in his service for God.
Timothy was willing to work with others. That is clear from the record of his labours with Paul and other labourers in Acts and the Epistles. Never in any mention of him is there the slightest allusion to any lack of harmony in his relations with his fellow-workers. Thus Paul could call him “Timotheus my workfellow” Rom.16.21, and affirm that “he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do” 1Cor.16.10. However, working with a likeminded fellow-servant of God is one thing; what may have been a more difficult assignment was to work with assemblies that he visited, where the Christians might not always have treated him as they ought. For example, Paul tells the Corinthians, “Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear … Let no man therefore despise him” 1Cor.16.10,11, and in Ephesus there was the possibility of there being those who would despise his youth, 1Tim.4.12. Yet it is evident that Timothy went into such situations, and worked with the believers, seeking to ground them in the truth of God.
There is one specific aspect of this general ability to work with others that should be highlighted: his respect for his ‘senior fellow-servant’, Paul. It has already been noted that at the outset he submitted to Paul’s judgement that he should be circumcised, Acts 16.3. Later, we read of him responding to a commandment from Paul to come to him, Acts 17.15, and of Paul sending him to Macedonia, Acts 19.22, and he was obedient. Later still, when Paul “besought” him to abide at Ephesus, 1Tim.1.3, he responded as Paul desired. Well could Paul write of him that “as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel” Phil.2.22. This is a good example to follow. The younger brother may be as knowledgeable in the Word as the older (and perhaps more so), but the older has experience, which should be valued highly. It does not mean that an older worker should be a dictator, and treat the younger one like a slave; nor should the older think that he is always right, and that the younger must follow blindly. In all things, what the Scriptures teach must be followed.
What sort of training did Timothy go through between his conversion and his commendation? Did he go to seminary, or Bible school or another academic institution? The answer, of course, is no. The New Testament knows nothing of such. The local assembly is the place where believers worship together, serve together and learn together, both in the doctrines of the Word of God and in the practicalities of growing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in reaching out to the lost. There is food for all, work for all, and practical experience for all: old, young, and in between. If you are reading this, with an exercise concerning the Lord’s will for you, and you desire to serve Him (as we all should), then please do not be drawn in by the pressure from those who would try to tell you that academic study in an institution (whether secular or ‘Christian’) is the way to ‘train for ministry’. It is not; the assembly is the pattern given in the New Testament, and it is in the fellowship and service associated with it that you will receive the training you need. Put your best into it, and like Timothy, you will be fitted for whatever service God has for you.
In closing this section, it is worth repeating what was stated at its start: while the traits discussed above are taken from the record of Timothy after his commendation, he already had them before it, hence he was “well reported of by the brethren” Acts 16.2.
In the brief record in Acts chapter 16 of when Timothy went to work with Paul, we see a threefold involvement: “Timotheus” v.1, “the brethren” v.2, and “Paul” v.3. This correlates with two verses from the Epistles to Timothy that are pertinent here: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” 1Tim.4.14, and “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” 2Tim.1.6. We are not told the time and circumstances of these references from the two Epistles, or whether they refer to the same event or to separate occasions; however, even if they did not occur at the time of Timothy’s commendation, they are relevant to it, and confirm the involvement of Timothy, Paul, and the brethren (specifically, the elders of the assembly in Lystra, as indicated in the word “presbytery”, which is a transliteration of presbuterion, from presbuteros, “elder”, and denotes the body of elders. In 1Tim.4.14, Darby translates it as “the elderhood”; the New King James Version has “the eldership”, while several versions simply translate as “the elders”).
Before looking at some practical lessons from Timothy’s commendation, we must, as always, be careful to pay due heed to the context and circumstances of this event. We note firstly, that Paul was an apostle, and secondly, that at that time the prophetic gift was still operational. We believe without reservation that there are no apostles alive today and that the gift of prophecy is no longer with us. To make this case from the Scriptures here would be to go outside the scope of the subject of this book, as well as to go well beyond the word count for this chapter! However, it must be borne in mind that, in his role in Timothy’s commendation, and in his subsequent actions, Paul had an authority that no man on earth presently has, and that the use of prophetic utterance to identify Timothy as being marked out by God for service, and fitted for it, is not something that we will see today. Hence, for example, in seeking to ascertain if a certain brother should be commended, assembly elders should not take the view that it can only happen if a ‘senior’ worker ‘chooses’ this brother; nor should they pay any heed to anyone who claims to have received a prophetic directive on the matter!
Another pitfall that we need to avoid is to read into these passages something that is not there, namely a ceremonial procedure. Down through the years, in Christendom, many have taken the references to the laying on of hands as denoting something mystical and formal, and this has resulted in an abundance of elaborate ‘ordination rituals’, which take place when a person is being commissioned into an avenue of service in relation to the system to which he belongs. Such a practice is absent from the New Testament, and is one of many ways in which ‘Christian’ religious systems hark back to the Old Testament rites that have been done away with in our Lord Jesus Christ. By laying their hands on Timothy, Paul and the elders were acknowledging that God had marked him out for service, and had gifted him for it; and they were showing that they identified with him, and were in fellowship with him, as he embarked on the work to which God had called him.
Having said all that, it is nonetheless true that these Scriptures have principles that are relevant to us today in the case of the commendation of a brother to the work of the Lord, and we will briefly consider some of those now.
The fact that Timothy himself, his brethren, who knew him well, and the one with whom he would be working, Paul, were all involved in this step is highly instructive. It was not a question of one or two being happy as to the rightness of Timothy embarking on this service, while others were not. Clearly all parties were before the Lord in this matter, and all were convinced that it was His mind. There is something wrong somewhere if, for example, a brother is sure that the Lord’s will is for him to ‘go out into the work’ but the elders of the assembly are not. If there is not a meeting of minds, then all concerned need to be before the Lord, earnestly seeking His face to know His will, and being open to whatever He reveals. For example, if the elders’ refusal to commend is because they have good reason not to have confidence in the brother, they are right in their decision; if, however, it is the opposite problem, and they think so highly of him that they do not want to lose him, that is understandable, but it does not justify refusal to commend, if the Lord has called him. However, a word of caution is needed: just because everyone may be of the same mind about a course of action does not in itself mean that it is the Lord’s mind. In every case, there needs to be careful, prayerful waiting upon Him.
Hence we see that there was no question of Timothy setting off ‘into the work’ on his own initiative, without consulting with anyone, or without the fellowship of his brethren. The Scripture knows nothing of the ‘lone ranger’, who neither seeks nor values the fellowship of his fellow-saints, or, if he fails to get it, ploughs on ahead, regardless of their views. We can be sure that Timothy would never have countenanced such an action, and that Paul would never have encouraged it.
That Paul and the elders are both recorded as laying hands on Timothy shows not only that they were united in their confidence in him, and in their recognition that he had been fitted by God for the work; it also demonstrates that they were expressing fellowship with him in the step that he was taking, and this in turn denoted that they were implying that they were going to continue to be in fellowship with him, and to seek his well-being in the days ahead, in the will of the Lord. It would have been totally incongruous for such a gesture of solidarity to have been shown, and then for the assembly at Lystra to effectively say to Timothy, ‘Now you are on your own’, and never to pray for him, or to show any regard for his spiritual and practical welfare. Nor would it have been in order for Paul to express such a desire to have Timothy go with him, and then, once they had gone off, to give no help or guidance to him. By their actions, they were showing that they had a care for this young man, which would continue wherever he went in his service for the Lord.
Here we see a lovely example of an older and a younger man working together. Paul taking Timothy, and other cases too, show that he had a real burden to encourage and help younger brethren in the work. This pattern has been followed by many down through the years, and has proven its worth. The older man can teach so much to the younger man, both in the Scriptures and in guiding him. The years of experience he has had, in which He has proved the faithfulness of God, can be of benefit to the younger. On the other hand, the zeal and physical energy of the younger brother, and his greater capacity to deal with a range of practical matters (most of which are generally less burdensome to a younger person than to an older), can be not only a help, but a big encouragement to the older. Of course, this is not always possible, not least when a brother is pioneering in an area where there are no other workers, and we know that the Lord is able to grant special grace and help in such circumstances.
Finally, it is worth noting that, while Paul knew that Timothy was called of God and fitted for the work, he did not know all the details of how things would unfold in the years ahead, or how their relationship would develop. We read Acts chapter 16, knowing 2Timothy chapter 4, and we have the whole picture, but Paul did not know just how close a companion Timothy would become, or how he would be able to trust him so fully with many responsibilities, or how he would long for his presence during his last days on earth. In short, he did not know how Timothy would ‘turn out’, but he acted on the basis of what he knew, and moved in light of that. It is good to remember that an older worker taking a younger one ‘under his wing’ should not be expected to foresee how the matter will end up. He will have disappointments, as well as encouragements. However, if, before the Lord, with the knowledge he possesses, has done all he can, in all sincerity, then he has discharged his responsibility. In Timothy’s case, it was a very happy outcome indeed!
It could be argued that the course of Timothy’s subsequent service lies outside the scope of the subject of his call, being consequent to it; yet it has much material that is helpful for one contemplating stepping out in service for the Lord. We can only touch upon it briefly.
Timothy’s life illustrates the variety of circumstances in which a servant of the Lord is likely to be found. He had to travel many miles, in many different types of terrain, facing dangers of many kinds. He was sometimes in company, and sometimes alone. His diverse activities included preaching the gospel, Phil.2.22; 2Tim.4.5; visiting assemblies, to encourage them and to carry news to and from them for Paul, Phil.2.19,20; 1Thess.3.1-7; teaching believers, 1Cor.4.17; 1Tim.4.11; and confronting error, 1Tim.1.3. He was a valued companion of Paul in his first Roman imprisonment, Phil.1.1; Col.1.1; Philemon 1.1, and Paul desired that he would be with him in his last one, 2Tim.4.9. Timothy himself was imprisoned, Heb.13.23. He faced not just the persecution of a hostile world: there are indications that he may have been unappreciated and despised by some fellow-believers, 1Cor.16.10,11; 1Tim.4.12.
Many more things could be stated, but what is indicated in the paragraph above is sufficient to illustrate that, when he was called of God, Timothy did not know where all he would go, or the variety of work he would need to do, or the difficulties he would face. However, God knew them all, and Timothy could depend on Him. Yet to be able to go forth in confidence, he would have needed to be sure of his call. It needs to be stressed that it is vital for anyone pondering ‘full-time service’ to know that he has been called by God. Most, if not all, would testify that, when setting out, if they had known all that would be entailed, they could never have contemplated it, unless they had the assurance that God had called them to the work and would grant them the enablement. They would also bear witness that there are times (many times) when the only thing that (humanly speaking) kept them going was the knowledge that God had called them. It was doubtless this assurance that enabled Timothy to continue in the work in which he was engaged.
Another instructive feature of Timothy’s service is how Paul reminds him of his own responsibility for seeing that he personally would be preserved in a good spiritual condition; for example, he is to continue to be “nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine” 1Tim.4.6; Paul emphasises to him the great profitability of “godliness”, in contrast to “bodily exercise” 1Tim.4.8; he is told, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” 1Tim.4.14; and he is instructed, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” 1Tim.4.16. If ‘full-time servants’ are to be effective in their service with all its responsibilities and pressures, it is essential that they do not neglect their own spiritual well-being. Unless they are exceedingly careful, those responsibilities and pressures can easily cause them to slip in their devotion to the Lord, in their prayer life, and in the reading of God’s Word and being fed by it. Paul’s exhortations to Timothy in this regard should instil into those in public service, and into all of us, the resolve to give due attention to our spiritual health.
In addition, Paul stresses to Timothy the need for him to be an example for others to follow: “be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” 1Tim.4.12. In chapter 5 of 1Timothy he gives specific details on how he is to treat different groups, such as older and younger men, older and younger women, and widows, 1Tim.5.1-3. This is another area for which one considering God’s call needs to be prepared: he will be looked to as an example, and this places a heavy responsibility on him. It has potentially positive and negative sides: if his behaviour is as Paul exhorted Timothy, he will be an influence for good; however, there is huge potential for harm if he does not live up to the standard. Indeed, there could be those who, in trying to excuse their own questionable activity, will happily cite the case of a ‘full-time worker’ who is doing the same himself, or who has given verbal assent to it. Scripture instructs all believers to avoid doing things that might not necessarily be ‘wrong’ in themselves, but which can stumble others, and for anyone minded towards going out into ‘full-time service’ this must be taken very seriously indeed.
Finally, we see that Timothy needed encouragement, which Paul gave. An example is 2Tim.1.7,8: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God”. Paul is not implying that Timothy is failing in this regard; rather, he is exhorting and encouraging him. It is good for one contemplating embarking on that course, to remember that there will be discouragements, which could tend to make him flag in zeal and activity. We all, including ‘full-time servants’, need encouragement, and all Christians should seek to encourage one another in our service for the Lord.
In closing this chapter, and the book, we can reflect on what is sometimes called Paul’s ‘handing the torch of testimony’ to his younger fellow-worker in 2Timothy. The apostle’s words are sometimes compared to Moses’ final words to Joshua, and rightly so. The beautiful parallel is also drawn with Elijah’s ‘mantle falling upon Elisha’. Yet, while this is true, there are two observations to make in this regard, which we can apply to ourselves.
The first observation is that Timothy should not be regarded as Paul’s ‘successor’ in an exclusive sense. It is likely that the bond of affection with Timothy was the warmest that Paul had with anyone else on earth, and unquestionably we read more of Paul’s closing words and entrusting of responsibility to Timothy than to any other. Yet, doubtless, there were others whom Paul also exhorted to faithfully carry on the work after he had gone. The message to the elders at Ephesus in Acts chapter 20, spoken many years before he died, has a strong element of this; and we should not think that the words to Timothy in 2Tim.2.1,2 (“Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also”) were applicable to Timothy alone. In his final chapter Paul wrote, “Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus” 2Tim.4.12, and it is inconceivable that any instructions that he gave to him would have differed significantly from those he had given to Timothy. Surely also, he would have entrusted like responsibilities to Luke, who was with him, 2Tim.4.11. Paul had many with whom he worked, and about whom we know very little, but, unless they had predeceased him, they were all his ‘successors’: noble names such as Silas, Epaphras and Epaphroditus. Even John Mark, who had disappointed Paul in earlier days, was now “profitable to [him] for the ministry” 2Tim.4.11. Paul told Timothy to commit the truth to “faithful men [plural]”, who were to “teach others [plural] also”, and he had practised the same himself, in committing it to a plurality of men.
The second observation is that, while Timothy in a very definite way carried on Paul’s work, he was not a ‘carbon copy’ of Paul. Each was a unique individual, with his own qualities and his own distinct service to perform. Paul had a work to do that Timothy did not do (for example, Timothy was not an apostle, and he was not given the responsibility to write inspired Scripture). Although we do not know the details of Timothy’s service after Paul departed, we can be sure that he did work that Paul had not done. Paul laboured faithfully, as God had directed him, and Timothy was responsible to do so too, in his own sphere, as God gave him to do.
Why do we take time to make these two observations? For the reason that it would be good to finish the book by impressing on the heart of every believer (not only those in ‘full-time work’, but each one of us), the application to ourselves of these two observations. Firstly, we are all ‘successors’ of Paul, and of all those servants of God in those early days: men and women, old and young, slaves and free, well known and obscure. We are all His servants, for all of our lives as believers. May we, like Timothy, be true to our privileges and responsibilities. Secondly, each of us is unique, called and fitted by God for the unique sphere of service that He has given to us, in the place where He has put us. No two of us have exactly the same work to do, and each of us can do a work that no-one else can do. Let each of us take to ourselves, and act upon, Paul’s words in 1Tim.6.20,21: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.”