Timothy  -  His Life and Ministry

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 12
Timothy occupies an important and unique place in the early days of the church. He heard the preaching of Paul as a young man and, having been brought up under the sound of the Scriptures, was ready to receive the message of salvation. Some time later, he became associated with Paul in his ministry and continued in this until Paul was martyred. He continued faithful when many others gave up the precious truth Paul taught, and he was the recipient of the final epistle written by Paul. His life and experiences hold many lessons for us today, and especially for those who are younger.
Early Years
We first read of Timothy when Paul visited Derbe and Lystra the second time, along with Silas. At that time he was “well reported of by the brethren” and attracted Paul’s attention. Evidently he had believed when Paul had first visited Lystra some years before, for Paul calls him “my own son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2) and “my beloved son” (1 Cor. 4:17). Several things are noteworthy in his early life.
First of all, Scripture notes that his father was a Greek (Acts 16:11Then came he 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)), and we know that this would have been a disgrace and a shame for his mother, as it was forbidden in the law for a Jew to marry a Gentile. She was evidently a godly woman, and how she came to marry a Greek we are not told. We are not told anything else about his father, and it is quite likely that he had no interest in the things of the Lord. Second, Paul bears testimony to the faith of both his mother and his grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5), and this bore fruit when Timothy heard Paul’s preaching. But he was not merely saved; his life and walk were such as to give him a good report of his local brethren, and Paul felt led to ask him to accompany him in his ministry. John Mark, who had traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their first trip, had turned back from the work, but now the Lord had provided a replacement. It was a great privilege for a young man like Timothy to be in Paul’s company, but his life and testimony were such as to commend him to this work, and his afterlife proved the reality of his faith and his heart for the Lord.
As with other servants of the Lord, Timothy had a gift, and this is spoken of in a definite way, which involved others who were acquainted with him. First of all, we are told in 1 Timothy 4:14 that the gift “was given thee by prophecy.” No doubt this refers to the New Testament prophets of those days, who, being familiar with Timothy’s exemplary conduct and heart for the things of the Lord, were led of the Lord to prophesy concerning a gift that the Lord would give Him. Second, Paul exhorts Timothy to “stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). Paul, as an apostle, was the instrument used of the Lord in the administration of this gift, and he imparted it in a definite act, by the putting on of his hands. Thus Timothy was signally marked out for the work He was to do. Finally, we read that this gift was associated with “the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:14). Those who were elders in the assembly expressed their fellowship with the gift and with the prophecy concerning it.
All this was done, not only to assure Timothy of the gift, but to encourage one who was evidently timid and unwilling to put himself forward. This is, no doubt, an admirable trait in a believer, but, on the other hand, Timothy was not to allow this natural reticence to deter him from using the gift or from acting with authority when necessary.
Throughout the New Testament, Timothy’s name continues to surface in connection with Paul and with the work of the Lord. He evidently formed part of Paul’s company in his missionary journeys and was a constant “partaker of the afflictions of the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8). He is spoken of several times in company with Silas, and it is clear that they two often went together, when Paul was temporarily separated from them. Paul sent Timothy and Erastus together to Macedonia (Acts 19:2222So he sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus; but he himself stayed in Asia for a season. (Acts 19:22)), as being competent men who could work for the Lord on their own without Paul’s being with them. Paul states his intention to send Timothy to other places, such as Philippi and Corinth, in order to know how the believers were getting on. In Romans 16:2121Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you. (Romans 16:21), Paul refers to him as “my workfellow,” and in 1 Corinthians 4:17, he calls him “my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ.” To the Corinthians he could say that Timothy “worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do” (1 Cor. 16:10). What comfort it must have given to Paul to have a young man in whom he could have such confidence and whom he could trust to minister the truth of God faithfully!
His name is also connected with a number of the epistles Paul writes, as one who was well-known to the various assemblies and who supported and taught the same truth as the Apostle. In the salutations in Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians and Philemon, his name is used along with Paul’s and others such as Silas (Silvanus).
Finally, it is clear that he was a prisoner for the Lord’s sake, at least once, for we are told in Hebrews 13:2323Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you. (Hebrews 13:23) that “our brother Timothy is set at liberty.” He might well have been a prisoner at other times, for it appears that he was with Paul in Rome, when Paul wrote some of his epistles from prison there.
In all of this, Timothy displayed a character and outlook that commended him, and when Paul wrote to the Philippians, he could say of him, “I have no one like-minded who will care with genuine feeling how ye get on” (Phil. 2:2020For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. (Philippians 2:20) JND).
First and Second Timothy
Paul’s epistles to Timothy have a special character, for although they were written to him as an individual, and thus give us individual faithfulness and conduct under different circumstances, yet there is much that is applicable to collective testimony too. As one who was in a position of responsibility, the instruction is individual, but the content of the epistles was also intended for Timothy to minister to believers collectively. In 1 Timothy we get instruction for the godly individual when things were relatively in order in the church, so that Paul could equate “the house of God” with “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15). Much practical instruction is given to us in this epistle, covering many different spheres of the believer’s life.
Finally, 2 Timothy gives us instruction for the faithful individual when the church is in disorder. God allowed this state of things to develop before Paul was called home, so that we, in these last days, would have instruction and guidance in such a situation. The church is not mentioned in the whole epistle, while the house of God is called “a great house.” But there is a pathway for faith, and Timothy is encouraged to walk in it, while being careful to avoid special pitfalls that were not present when the church was in order. There was now a need to “depart from iniquity” and to purge one’s self from “vessels to dishonor.” But there would also be those who would “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace,” and “that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
Timothy’s life is a tremendous encouragement to us, and especially to young men. His life is detailed for us to show how a young man can be an overcomer and live for the Lord even under difficult circumstances. A search of the many scriptures which refer to him well repays the effort!
W. J. Prost