The name Timothy means “valued by God” or “one who honors God.” He is seen in the New Testament as a very busy young minister. His signature is linked with Paul’s in several epistles. He is mentioned in nine New Testament books. Paul views Timothy as a brother and a co-worker. He consistently commends him (I Th. 3:2 & I Cor.16:10-11).
Because Timothy is so active, a strict chronology of his life is challenging. Paul’s “travel notes” in Acts and in his epistles are not exhaustive. An overview of his life can only be ascertained by the various Scriptural references to his ministry in various towns and districts.
Paul first meets Timothy when he is in Lystra. He is not a convert of Paul, for he already has a good reputation among the brethren (Acts 16:1). Timothy’s upbringing is a definitive advantage, for he is blessed with a godly heritage and a knowledge of the Old Testament (II Tim. 1:5 & 3:15). Timothy leaves his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois to minister with Paul and Silas and quickly becomes a trusted co-worker. The young minister labors “as a child serving with his father.” He considers him his “son in the faith” ( Phil. 2:22; I Cor. 4:17 & II Tim 1:2).
Timothy’s mother is a Jewess. Why she marries a Gentile is a mystery (Acts 16:1). But being in a blended family may explain why Timothy is not circumcised as a child. Because his father is a Gentile, Paul feels it necessary to have Timothy circumcised. Although Paul adamantly states circumcision is unnecessary for Christians, it helps quell the bias against Gentile Believers and allows Timothy to enter Jewish synagogues (Acts 16:13). Paul refuses to have Titus circumcised just to please the Jews, but allows it in Timothy’s case in order to free him to preach in non-Gentile areas (Gal 2:3). Because he is part Greek, Timothy can also minister more easily in Gentile towns.
Paul and other elders ordain Timothy for the ministry and we find him often in the company of Silas (I Tim 4:14 & II Tim 1:6). Timothy is variously described by Paul as a brother, a fellow worker, and a beloved, faithful child in the Lord, and is ranked with other apostles (I Th. 1:1 & 2:6). Paul has high regard for Timothy’s faithfulness (I Cor. 4:17) and tells the Corinthians to receive him graciously (I Cor. 16:10).
When Paul writes II Corinthians from Macedonia, Timothy’s name is linked with his own in the salutation. From Corinth, Timothy goes to Troas. It is certain that he joins Paul during his first Roman imprisonment, for Timothy is also in the salutations of Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. He is associated with Paul longer than any other co-worker. From numerous references, it is evident Timothy is with Paul and Silas in Asia Minor and Macedonia. While Timothy and Silas remain in Berea, Paul sets sail for Athens (Acts 17:10). Paul later sends for Timothy and Silas to join him there (17:5 & 18:5). From Athens, Timothy is later sent to encourage the church in Thessalonica and establish them in the faith (I Th. 3:2). Paul expects to receive a good report from Timothy regarding the Believers there (I Th. 3:5).
After Timothy’s ministry in Thessalonica he returns to Paul in Corinth. Timothy’s name is associated with Paul’s in the opening verse of both First and Second Thessalonians, both of which are written from Corinth. Some of the questions Paul answers in these letters may be based on the report Timothy gives Paul concerning their spiritual progress.
Timothy joins Paul at some point on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:22). Disturbed by reports concerning the condition of the Corinthians church, Paul sends Timothy to help them. Paul encourages the Corinthians to equip him with whatever he needs (I Cor. 16:11). Timothy apparently stays in Corinth for several months, and Paul praises Timothy for his efforts there (I Cor. 4:17 & 16:10). Timothy sends greetings to the Romans from Corinth (Rom. 16:21). When Paul leaves Corinth for Jerusalem, he is accompanied by Timothy at least as far as Troas (Acts 20:4). The numerous statements about Timothy throughout the New Testament picture unceasing and effective ministerial activity.
Paul commissions Timothy to pastor the church in Ephesus (I Tim. 1:2-3). There he receives two letters from Paul which are preserved for us as First and Second Timothy. These are the last epistles Paul writes. The first is sent from Macedonia sometime after Paul leaves Ephesus and the second during his final Roman imprisonment.
First Timothy is an instructional letter to a young pastor regarding ministerial qualifications and conduct. A minister’s life is to be above reproach as he cares for his people, refutes error and teaches sound doctrine. Paul provides practical guidelines for the management of a congregation and encourages Timothy to be mature, diligent and faithful in the performance of his pastoral duties.
Second Timothy outlines the attitude and world-view of a servant of Christ in an era of doctrinal declension. Writing in the shadow of his impending death, Paul stresses the importance of godly living and soldierly endurance in preparation for the approaching era of apostasy. Imparting his final words of wisdom and encouragement, he appeals to Timothy to fulfill his pastoral calling by using the Word of God to overcome all spiritual obstacles.
In his letters to Timothy, Paul calls him to develop his gifts for God. His foundational advice to Timothy is to guard his personal walk with God, for then he will be able to transmit these truths to others (I Tim. 4:16). He instructs him to be strong, steadfast, unashamed, watchful, consistent, and to endure unfair treatment (II Tim. 2: 2-4). He must continue his diligent study of God’s Word (II Tim. 2:15). Paul’s final instructions to Timothy include preaching, rebuking heretics, and patiently encouraging Believers (II Tim 4:1-2).
Throughout his lengthy ministerial career Paul entrusts him with challenging tasks and delicate ministry assignments. Timothy never disappoints him (Acts 18:5; 19:22; 20:4; Rom 16:21; I Cor. 16:10; II Cor. 1:19). The skies of persecution quickly darken under Nero’s reign. Knowing his days are numbered, Paul asks Timothy to visit him. As he faces martyrdom in Rome, he is anxious to see his son in the faith (II Tim. 4:9-21). We are not told if Timothy arrives in time or not.
Church tradition indicates Timothy is martyred for his faith while serving as a bishop of Ephesus, the center of Diana worship (Acts 19:28). In an attempt to stop an indecent heathen procession honoring this goddess he is murdered by her followers.
The story of Timothy and Paul is more than an example of epic friendship. Timothy needs Paul’s wisdom and Paul needs to mentor someone he trusts implicitly. All of Paul’s references to Timothy affirm he is of good character and has a teachable spirit. He is exactly the kind of man Paul can train for effective ministry.
At the Church of Saint Paul in Rome is Paul’s tomb. In front of it is a less impressive grave simply inscribed: “TIMOTHY.” Here the great apostle rests beside his son in the faith, united in death as they were in life. May every Believer find a Timothy to mentor and mold for similar useful service in the Kingdom of God.