Who Was Timothy?

Five Characteristics of the Young Disciple

by R. Kent Hughes, contributed by our Friends at Crossway
| Time: 4 Minutes

Timothy came from a mixed (Jew/Gentile) marriage. His godly mother Eunice was Jewish and his pagan father a Greek. They lived in the pagan town of Lystra (cf. Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5). Most think that Timothy was converted while a boy during Paul’s first missionary journey, when the apostle was almost stoned to death in Lystra (Acts 14:8–23; cf. 2 Timothy 3:11).

1. Missional

Paul was delighted with young Timothy and added him to his entourage, possibly as a replacement for John Mark. It was a good choice, apparently confirmed through prophetic utterances by Paul’s associates. Timothy was gifted for ministry through the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 1:18; 4:14) and was circumcised, so as not to hinder ministry among Jews, thus becoming a lifelong member of the missionary task force.

2. Young

When this first letter was written to him, he was still young because Paul advised him, “Let no one despise you for your youth” (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV), and in 2 Timothy he warned him, “Flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22 ESV). John Stott calculates that he was in his mid-thirties. Not only was Timothy young, he was also timid. So Paul says to him, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV). Earlier he had encouraged the Corinthians, “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am” (1 Corinthians 16:10 ESV). “Timid Timothy” needed encouragement.

3. Fragile

Timothy also appears to have had a fragile constitution and nagging stomach problems, for which Paul advised, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23 ESV). So we conclude that Timothy, by nature, was not a missionary commando—a C. T. Studd or a “Dr. Livingston, I presume.” And this is probably why we find him so endearing. He is one of us. He does not intimidate anyone. He is so un-Paul!

4. Beloved

Yet Paul loved him affectionately. The appellation “Timothy, my true child in the faith” appears to contain a double balm, gently assuaging the fact that Timothy was regarded as illegitimate by Jewish law, while also affirming the spiritual legitimacy of Timothy’s own faith—“my true child in the faith.” The church was meant to recognize in Paul’s affection the stamp of approval, particularly in light of the difficulties Timothy was facing. Paul’s other letters also reflect the beautiful depth of his affection for his shy, sometimes frail disciple. To the Corinthians he wrote, “I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:17 ESV). And to the Philippians he said of Timothy, “As a son with his father he has served with me in the gospel” (Philippians 2:22 ESV). And to Timothy himself he would poignantly write at the beginning of his next letter, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4 ESV). How heartening Paul’s words were to his reluctant successor.

5. Faithful

And Timothy did well. We do not know exactly how it all worked out in Ephesus, but we can be sure he faithfully carried out his duties. We know he was Paul’s faithful cohort to the end, through thick and thin. We also know that Timothy himself became a prisoner for a time (cf. Hebrews 13:23). And we know he was mightily used by God. Oswald Chambers could well have had Timothy in mind when he wrote:

God can achieve his purpose either through the absence of human power and resources, or the abandonment of reliance on them. All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.[1]

. . .


[1] “Man’s Weakness—God’s Strength,” Missionary Crusader (December 1964), p. 7.

Content adapted from 1-2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit © 2012 by R. Kent Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
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