A Minister in the Making
In a recent conversation with one of our associate pastors, I asked the question, "Which Bible character do you most identify with, and who do you aspire to be like?" He asked me the same question. My response was, "I am probably most like Timothy, especially when I was younger, and I hope I am growing into a Barnabas, son of encouragement." I see many similarities between Timothy and me, and I recognize that some of Timothy's propensities have continued to be part of my life.
Let's take an overview of Timothy's life, looking at the elements that enabled him to grow into a person God used.
The Initial Foundation of Timothy's Life
Parents, would-be parents, singles, and those who might disciple or mentor, I think these observations can be helpful to you. Timothy was blessed with a very positive heritage.
A Christian Heritage
Acts 16:1—"He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek."
2 Tim. 1:5—"I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also."
Timothy grew up with the influence of a mother and a grandmother who were both believers and women of faith, a sincere faith—2 Tim. 1:5. The definition of "sincere" is very helpful. It means "not to disguise one's intentions, or to conceal one's true feelings." It also means "to not play a part; i.e., no masks, but sincere." Timothy didn't grow up with a family who talked like Christians, but lived like unbelievers. His mother and grandmother lived before him without masks, were open with their feelings of love and affirmation, and even shared their hurts and trials. They were not phony Christians.
Later you will see the impact of their sincerity on Timothy, as he shares his feelings, weaknesses and concerns with Paul: "Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy" ( 2 Tim.1:4) How many of your friends or family members have rejected the faith because their parents or relatives were phony, maybe legalistic Christians? They reject their faith, not knowing they are rejecting a phony and haven't experienced or been shown the real thing. Have you had to work that through yourself?
Sincere faith breeds more sincere faith. Remember that in your home, as your children, grandchildren, siblings, or young relatives are observing you.
Another foundation stone in Timothy's young life was a love for the Word that was living in his mother and grandmother. "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15] and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."—2 Tim. 3:14-15. What a wonderful heritage!
Notice that he says it's "from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures." This kind of knowledge doesn't happen by osmosis, but is deliberate and consistent (e.g., Bible stories, memorization, Sunday School, bedtime stories, etc.).
Why was all this exposure and training so necessary for Timothy? His household held another example that might have impacted his faith: an unbelieving father—a Greek (Acts 16:1). He could easily have followed his father's example, but he had a contrast to observe, and the mother's and grandmother's example was apparently more attractive to him.
How will our influence affect our children now or in the future? How will they counteract negative influences? We should observe this impact, because Americans don't value extended families as they should! Employment and schooling have more importance than family connection. In fact, we quickly substitute friends, interests, and lifestyle for a family connection when it's convenient for us.
We don't value the wisdom of the older generation as we should, either. Let's take a moment to look at the importance of good parenting and grandparenting for future generations. We affect how our future grandchildren will treat us by our present parenting and by the value we ascribe to parents and grandparents. If we have a living and unmasked faith while teaching the Word of God, and are consistent and loving in our parenting, our children will value us as an example in the future. If we include grandparents and other relatives in our extended families as valuable and important, our children will grow up with that value and, when they have children, will treat us the same way. We have just seen how Timothy's grandmother was still in the picture and having an influence on Timothy.
You may say, "What if my parents aren't a good example, or they live a long ways away?" First, distance shouldn't matter in showing love and respect for older family members on special days (e.g., vacations, phone calls, birthdays, and anniversaries). If they are not believers and exhibit some negative traits, then highlight what is positive and model how to respect and value them as older persons.
Grandparents, parents, and relatives can have a very positive effect on the faith of their grandchildren, nephews, nieces, etc. As we have seen, they give an example of sincere (unmasked, genuine) faith. They can override the negative effects of family members (e.g., Timothy's father). They can model the love and use of the Word, prayer, and teaching. If you would ask my kids which verses are their grandma's favorites, they would say: "Ps. 50:10 —"My father owns . . . the cattle on a thousand hills." Phil. 4:13 —"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." She quoted those verses to them hundreds of times!
I was influenced by
- my great-grandmother's love of children and Sunday school
- my two grandmothers' love for family, Christmas, and winning people to Jesus
- my believing aunts and uncles who were in the church and my four aunts and uncles who are in the ministry
- my mother's love of children, Sunday school, and music
- my father's use of the Word and his faithfulness
- my grandfather's prayers (my daughter's only memory of her great-grandfather is his prayers for us in his front room in Tacoma)
Don't underestimate the positive impact of family. Your faith is usually not enough. Those of you who are single or married without children, don't overlook the positive influence you can have on your extended family. Some of you who are first-generation Christians need to pick up on this, too.
An affirmation from his church and other Christians in the area
Acts 16:2—"The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him." Timothy had additional examples—surrogate family members, so to speak—in the church to be an example to and to affirm him. When there is no positive example in a child's family (or even when there is), a church family is essential for children and young singles. Children from two-parent and single parent families, as well as young singles, need many positive examples besides their families!
I don't think young parents and singles know the value of multiple examples in their own lives and the lives of their children. We need the church for many reasons, such as to give us more examples of
- faith at work
- how other members of the Body live out their faith
- gifts and calling
- especially for more encouragement
The brothers (another way of describing the church in Timothy's day) provided him with a recommendation for Paul. That's all Timothy had going for him before he met Paul, before he came to Timothy's city.
The Instruction and Ministry from a Mentor/Discipler
1 Tim. 1:18—"Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19a] holding on to faith and a good conscience."
Timothy is given very special instructions in keeping with who he is and his giftedness—v. 18. Notice how Paul adds to Timothy's heritage, that which is already laid.
2 Tim. 3:14—"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15] and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 3:16] All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17] so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 4:1] In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2] Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction."
Notice Paul's example. A good mentor and discipler doesn't tear down good foundations, but acknowledges and builds upon them.
Then Paul adds a new area to Timothy's foundation. He makes clear the importance of continued acknowledgment and use of spiritual gifts. Timothy not only had the affirmation of his local church and those in the surrounding area, but somewhere on his journey with Paul, something very special happened to him; he had the affirmation of spiritual leaders/elders.
I Tim. 1:18—"Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight..." Apparently these elders recognized, by the Spirit, what spiritual gifts were given to Timothy and affirmed them by the laying on of hands. Remember, they didn't impart any gifts; they were simply the human instruments to announce what was already given.
These gifts were not only essential for Timothy's ministry, but Paul makes it clear in the next verse that these gifts would help in fighting the good fight—1 Tim 1:18-19a. Later on in 2 Timothy we see he came back and instructed Timothy further, that he needed to fan into flame gifts that were giving off only a spark. 2 Tim. 1:6—"For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands."
What does all this have to say to us today?
First, there is a need to be related to spiritual leaders who will confirm and encourage our gifting; we can't always tell.
Second, the laying on of hands is not a one-time event, i.e., it implies a continuing relationship and training. The prime example is that of the disciples and the original seven deacons (e.g. Stephen) in Acts 6. The disciples were overwhelmed by the need to wait on tables, so they asked for seven men, full of the Holy Spirit, to be recognized to help them so they could give their attention to the prayer and study of the Word. When they were selected, the disciples laid their hands on them.
What does this mean? It implies something more than a physical touch. This is why Timothy is told in I Tim 5:22, "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands..." Laying on of hands implies:
- an identification and relationship with spiritual leaders—Acts 6:6; I Tim. 5:22
- a means to communicate and confirm by the Spirit, God's intention for a person—I Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6; Acts 8:17-19
- initiating the filling of the Spirit; it can be a means to release God's healing power in ministry
New belivers should understand this symbol. They are to be in relationship to their spiritual leaders, and to initially solicit prayers and insight from them regarding their walk with the Lord and the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit might have for them. They also need to know that the best and highest use of spiritual gifts is in the serving of others (1 Peter 4:7ff).
Timothy had received wonderful instruction in First and Second Timothy, but Paul also addressed some of Timothy's personal problems.
The Impact of Potential Weaknesses
We'll not look at all of these potential weaknesses, but a few might be helpful to show us the need for accountability, mentors and disciples in our lives. As we read between the lines, it seems that Timothy is vulnerable.
When he's alone, or even with other people, he needs emotional support.
2 Tim 1:4—"Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy." The solution for Timothy and for us when loneliness is obvious, is to admit/show pain to significant friends and ask for help. This comfort can happen through visits, letters, e-mail, etc. I think the words of Paul represent the spirit of a needed friend when you're down and need some support: "I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy."
He may also be ashamed to testify, ashamed of Paul, and afraid he might have to suffer.
2 Tim. 1:8—"So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God 9] who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time 10] but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." What would help Timothy's fear?
- Be willing to join others who suffer with God's power—2 Tim 1:8b. (We don't suffer alone, we have His power to help us.)
- Be reminded of the grace of God that has been given to us—2 Tim 1:9. (We live by grace, not by works—draw upon it!)
- Be reminded that Jesus has destroyed death and brought life and immortality—2 Tim 1:10 (Have an eternal, heavenly perspective!)
Timothy is timid at times and thus doesn't use his gifts as he should.
Thus Paul reminded him in 2 Tim. 1:6: "...to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7] For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." We too need the same reminder—to fan into flame our gifts and not give way to "...a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." When I used to speak at youth camps, I would often give a "shyness altar call." Realizing that I wasn't the only one who shied away from using his gifts because of shyness, I called the shy people to a safe place, and together we dedicated our shyness to God. We recognized it as a gift of sensitivity, with the danger that we use it on ourselves, and not on others as it was intended by God.
Paul reminds Timothy he needs to make spiritual training a priority, but not to neglect physical training.
I Tim 4:7—"Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8] For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." A paraphrase of what Paul said might be, "Timothy, don't focus on godless solutions to life and happiness. You can take care of the physical side of your life, it has some value... but Timothy, you need to make it a priority to train yourself to be godly." We need to do the same thing; we need spiritual and physical training, but the priority is on training ourselves to be godly! Do you have a program to train yourself to be godly? How about physical training?
He had frequent illness and stomach problems.
I Tim. 5:23—"Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses." Apparently Timothy was sick often, maybe from drinking polluted water. Sounds like a modern problem, doesn't it? What was the cure for stomach problems, bad water and frequent illnesses in Timothy's day? Paul didn't pray for him; he had him drink some wine instead. Wine wasn't polluted!
Obviously this isn't a blanket treatment for every sickness; it is unique to this time and Timothy's condition. Some people use this verse as an encouragement to have any alcoholic beverage they like and drink it as much as they want. Obviously that isn't being encouraged here. A better application might be that illness can be cured by doctors, home remedies, operations, and medicines. There is nothing unspiritual with that!
It is interesting that Paul traveled with a doctor. Illnesses can actually be helpful to us, if we take them to God and ask for healing. I have preached many messages on God's supernatural healing, and I still believe in healing. But having made that clear, I think it's important to point out that:
- sickness, on occasion, can lead us to ministry opportunities.Gal. 4:13-14—"As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14] Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself."
- affliction can also lead us to the Word, for our solution and strength. Ps. 119:71—"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."
- sickness and affliction can bring us back to God, when we've been astray from Him. Ps. 119:6—"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word."
- sickness and affliction can teach us to be patient. Rom. 12:12— "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Out of great healing comes great ministry. That may mean from various sources of healing, or if not, from the comfort and strength we receive in the illness—remember Paul's thorn in the flesh.
Timothy's life has a lot to say to us about how childhood foundations impact us; about the importance of the church (especially mentor/disciplers); and even the impact of potential weaknesses. We can all learn from his impressive example, and how God grew him in his ministry. As parents, we can be encouraged by the fruit of his mother and grandmother's faithful training and example. Finally, the influence of the church and its members on his life cannot be underestimated. We have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to encourage and teach others as they grow in ministry. Even taking into account potential weaknesses and vulnerabilities, each of us has the potential to be used of God as Timothy was.
- What kind of spiritual heritage (if any) do you have? Do you recall specific examples of parents or grandparents living out their faith before you?
- Who have you known that has exhibited sincere faith (i.e., talking and living like Christians)?
- How do you think your influence will affect your children, grandchildren, or those children you know and interact with?
- Why do we need the church?
- What is the role of a good mentor/discipler?
- What does laying on of hands signify? Can you recall a time when other believers laid hands on you and prayed?
- What are three of your potential weaknesses? Do you have any Scripture to help you with them? If not, use your concordance to find some passages, or ask the members of your group for ideas.
- Has sickness or affliction ever been a positive force in your spiritual life?
- Solomon: How the Mighty Have Fallen
- Samson: The Man Who Brought the House Down on Himself
- Timothy: A Minister in the Making
- Daniel: Another Look at the Lions' Den
- Judas: A Person God Could Not Use
- Paul: Becoming a Basket Case
- Nebuchadnezzar: Grass-Eating 101
- Cain, Abel, Eve and God
- The Book of Jonah
- Jacob: Made Weak to Win
- Moses—The Law of God