Timotheus, or Timothy, was a young man from Derbe whom Paul calls "my own son in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2) and to whom Paul addressed two pastoral epistles. He was a companion of the apostle Paul from a young age, accompanying him on many journeys. As a delegate of the apostle, Timothy was either left by Paul in, or dispatched to: Berea (Acts 17:14), Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:2), Macedonia (Acts 19:22), Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17), Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3), and finally to Rome (2 Tim. 4:9). Timothy served with Paul until his martyrdom around AD 67. He was a servant of Christ much used by the Lord in the early church. Even toward the end of Paul's life, he referred to Timothy's "youth" (1 Tim. 4:12), making Timothy a remarkable example for young Christians.
Background. Timothy is the slightly shortened form of the Greek name Timotheus, meaning ‘honored of’ (temo) ‘God’ (theos). Originally from Derbe in Asia Minor, Timothy may have been from a home with parents of mixed faith. We know very little about Timothy’s father, except that he was a Greek. His mother by contrast was a Jewess named Eunice, and she (along with Timothy’s grandmother Lois) was characterized by “unfeigned faith”, and is credited for teaching Timothy the holy scriptures “from a child” (2 Tim. 3:15). If Timothy’s father had been a believer, most likely he would be mentioned along with Eunice and Lois. It is a tremendous testament to Eunice that she was able to raise Timothy with faith and an understanding of the scriptures, in spite of having a father who was likely an unbeliever.
The Second Journey. Timothy first appeared on the scene in Acts 16, on Paul’s second missionary journey. This took place shortly after Barnabas had departed from Paul in ch.15, where the contention was very sharp. Perhaps the Lord brought Timothy into Paul’s life at just a time when he would have been feeling the loss of Barnabas’ companionship. Earlier on Paul’s first journey, Timothy had witnessed Paul as he endured great persecution in Iconium and Lystra, and this apparently made a deep impression on the young man (2 Tim. 3:10-13). It was perhaps at that time that Timothy was converted, as “begotten” by Paul in the gospel, although we are not told for certain. We know that Timothy was a disciples at the time of the second journey. Because one of his parents was Jewish, Paul had Timothy circumcised before bringing him on the journey, as it would otherwise raise distracting questions about his ethnicity. On his journeys Paul would sometimes leave Timothy behind in different places to strengthen believers in a certain area, while Paul himself would forge ahead with the gospel, keeping ahead of the persecutors. Timothy was with Paul on the second journey beginning Lystra, and he accompanied Paul into Macedonia (Acts 16-17). Paul left Timothy and Silas behind at Berea, then send for them again at Athens. Then having just got them back, Paul sent Timothy north again, this time to Thessalonica, to see how the young converts there were getting on. Timothy brought his good report to Paul at Corinth (1 Thess. 3:1-2), and this prompted the writing of 1 Thessalonians, sent from Paul, along with Timothy and Silas, followed shortly by the second epistle.
The Third Journey. Timothy seems to have remained with Paul through the conclusion of his second journey, and then the third journey up through his stay in Ephesus, but was sent from there to Macedonia with another servant, Erastus (Acts 19:22). Timothy may have labored in Greece for some time, because Paul also send the first epistle to the Corinthians from Ephesus, and said “I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord,” and “if Timotheus come, etc.” (1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Cor. 16:10), indicating that Timothy might arrive after the letter. It would seem that Timothy was back up in Macedonia when Paul arrived from Asia (Acts 20:1), because 2 Corinthians was written from Macedonia by Paul (2 Cor. 9:4), in fellowship with Timothy who was with him (2 Cor. 1:1). By the end of this time, the saints in Philippi well knew the character of Timothy (Phil. 2:22). Paul then made good on his promise to come to Corinth, and when Romans was written from Corinth, Timothy was with him at that time (Rom. 16:21). On the second half of the third missionary journey, Paul sent Timothy ahead with a few others who waited in Troas, and there Paul rejoined them before returning into Asia Minor (Acts 20:3-5).
Later Years. We read nothing more about Timothy until Paul came to Rome as a prisoner around AD 60. Then we find that Timothy joined Paul in sending the epistles to the Colossians, Philemon, and to the Philippians. Timothy himself was imprisoned at some point, and the writer of Hebrews (likely Paul), speaks of his release (Heb. 13:23). Paul took Timothy with him on a fourth missionary journey after the two years of house arrest, but besought Timothy to remain at Ephesus to warn the saints (1 Tim. 1:3), and set things in order. Paul wrote the first epistle to Timothy from Macedonia to strengthen and instruct Timothy in that work, which would have certainly been a great burden. Timothy was still a young man at this time (1 Tim. 4:12). It is likely that Timothy was also sent to Philippi during these years as well (Phil. 2:19). Timothy continued to be used of the Lord abroad until Paul’s second arrest. Then Paul sent for Timothy (the second epistle), begging him to come quickly to himself in Rome, and to bring Mark also, and the cloak he had left at Troas, with the books and the parchments (2 Tim. 4:13, 21).
Timothy’s character. Naturally Timothy appears to have been rather timid. He was reticent to use his gift (1 Tim. 4:14). We say this because Paul had to warn the Corinthians, “Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear” (1 Cor. 16:10). Timothy had to be reminded to stir up his gift, to not be ashamed, and that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). But in spite of his timidity, this young man was greatly used of the Lord.
We see Timothy beginning small. He started out simple, as “a disciple”. This is where we all must begin; deciding to follow the Lord. Very early, Timothy’s conduct was commendable to the brethren in his local area; “which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). This made Timothy a good choice for Paul to take with him on his journeys with the gospel. Frequently, Timothy could be trusted to be left behind in one place, or sent to another, or to have his name included as a sender of Paul’s epistles. Timothy was a gifted brother, and that gift was confirmed by: (1) “prophecy” meaning that others predicted he would have the gift, (2) “with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” meaning he had the fellowship of his older brethren, and (3) “by the putting on of my hands” meaning he had the approval of Paul to use his gift. In the first epistle, Paul told Timothy to “neglect not” his gift perhaps because he was bashful, and in the second epistle to “stir up” his gift because he was discouraged (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).
Timothy sat under the sound of Paul’s teaching, and took it in. Paul exhorted Timothy to have “a form” or “an outline” of the doctrine Paul had given him, so that he could “keep” it, and pass it on to others (2 Tim. 1:13-14). In fact, passing on the truth to “faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” was an important part of Timothy’s role (2 Tim. 2:2). Naturally, others might be disposed to discount Timothy because of his age, but Paul could say to him; “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). His life was to be practically such that his youth gave no reason for others to discount his ministry. Timothy did have some sort of medical problem, and Paul told him to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Tim. 5:23). Perhaps these “often infirmities” were on account of his labors and travels in the service of Christ. He was imprisoned at one point, and then released (Heb. 13:23). He knew the reality of suffering with Christ, and could look forward to reigning with Him as well (2 Tim. 2:12).
The life of Timothy is a powerful example to us of what a believer should be in his character and conduct, especially for young believers.
- Unfeigned Faith. Paul was confident that the same “unfeigned faith” that was in his mother and grandmother was also in the young Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5). He truly believed God, not only the gospel for salvation, but the Word of God as the final authority in his life!
- Familiarity with the Scriptures. Even though the faith of Timothy’s father was uncertain, his mother had taught him the scriptures; “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:15). This was a wonderful foundation in the life of Timothy, and he built on that by learning New Testament doctrine.
- Trustworthy. Timothy seems to have been the most trusted of Paul’s fellow servants, right through to the end of his life. He could be trusted with big things, such as being left at Ephesus with an apostolic charge (1 Tim. 1:3), and also with small things, such as bringing Paul’s cloak or books to Rome (2 Tim. 4:13).
- Care for the Saints. Paul could say to the Philippians about Timothy; “I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state” (Phil. 2:20). Timothy had a heart for the saints, and this suited him well to be sent by Paul to many different assemblies.
- Companionship with Paul. As he traveled with Paul, Timothy was a steadfast companion. “But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22). Timothy learned from Paul’s personal conduct. “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience” (2 Tim. 3:10).