Sermon for Sunday Evening, April 2nd, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 16:1-5 ESV] 1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Occasionally you’ll find people arguing that Protestantism went too far when they left Rome and reformed the church. Now, certainly the Protestant Reformers did necessary corrective work on many subjects. Especially those big ones like the authority of the Bible over the pope, and the truth of salvation by God’s grace apart from works.
On a few certain minors points, however, it is not totally wrong to see a protestant overreaction. One of those you find today is the opposition among many protestant to using the name “Saint.” We’ll say Peter, Paul, John, etc. But it is perfectly fine say St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John. And this is what they’ve been called throughout church history.
And calling them saint in no ways buys into the Roman Catholic practice of select people earning sainthood. Rather, it matches the protestant (and Biblical) view that all Christians are saints.
St. Paul was a saint.
St. Peter was a saint.
St. John was a saint.
And each one of us here is a saint. Though you might raise eyebrows if you go around called yourself “Saint so-and-so.”
So today we look at St. Timothy, and do not apologize for calling him by that name.
I. Timothy’s Background
Our passage this evening contains the first mention of St. Timothy in the early church history.
He, of course, is mentioned in Paul’s epistles as well. His name appears in Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st Thessalonians, 2nd Thessalonians, Philemon, Hebrews, and of course 1st and 2nd Timothy, the letters written to him.
So who is this fella, Timothy?
When he shows up here in the text in Acts, he is already a believer. He is called a disciple.
He has a Jewish mother who is a believer, and a Greek father. It doesn’t say whether his father is a believer. Presumably he was not, as the mother was positively identified as such and the father isn’t.
Then, it says Timothy was “well spoken of.” Not only in one place, but two: Lystra and Iconium.
So he’s not leading a double life, as a Christian in one place and a heathen in another. He is, like elders are to be, “above reproach.”
If you said something bad about him, people probably wouldn’t be it. His reputation is solid.
It is thought that Timothy is quite young in the Biblical accounts. In 1st Corinthians Paul calls him “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord.” That is, a spiritual child, or a student of Paul. Timothy might have known of Jesus before even meeting Paul, but he is learning much from being with Paul.
Possibly, or even more likely, Timothy first heard of Christ through Paul and Barnabas. Timothy is from either Derbe or Lystra. (More likely Lystra as there is he well spoken of). And Paul and Barnabas had come through there with the Gospel. When Paul now returns, he finds Timothy as well as his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois as believers. (This may also give indication that Timothy is young as both his mother and grandmother are still alive)
Though Paul was 100% Jewish and Timothy was 50% Jewish and 50% Greek, they had much in common in both being in divided worlds. They could bridge the gap between cultures. Paul had been trained a Pharisee but had lived in away from Israel in Tarsus and was a Roman citizen. Timothy knew both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures. Paul and Timothy alike probably spoke multiple languages, Hebrew (or Aramaic), Greek, and perhaps Latin.
II. Timothy in the NT
So Timothy will travel with Paul on his 2nd missionary journey, and remain in touch in the years afterwards.
His name TIMOTHEOS means “honoured of God.”
Now, it is said that St. Augustine “extols Timothy’s zeal in immediately forsaking his country, his house, and his parents to follow the apostle, to share in his poverty and sufferings.” Timothy “didn’t bat an eye.” This reminds us of Christ’s own words
[Mat 10:37 ESV] 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
So Timothy is called, and becomes, an evangelist. He now works for the Lord.
And he becomes a loyal companion of Paul, having his name listed as co-author of a number of Paul’s epistles.
As we continue through the books of Acts we’ll read more about Timothy.
But in the text today we find a perhaps surprising episode: Timothy is circumcised.
III. The Circumcision of Timothy
This circumcision comes at an interesting time. A time planned, no doubt, by God.
We had just had the Jerusalem council, and they concluded that circumcision was not necessary.
Now Timothy is being circumcised.
And you might say “what gives?”
But this displays an important truth in the Christian faith. A truth that is hard for many to grasp. And that truth is the freedom of a Christian. Timothy was not obligated to be circumcised, but he was free to do so.
And there is good reason for Timothy to do so; to keep in good relation with the Jews.
This is the principle of being “All things to all people.”
[1Co 9:19-23 ESV] 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
There are core Biblical doctrinal ideas that we cannot depart from. The Ten Commandments always apply. The negative conclusions of the Jerusalem council always apply: abstain from things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
But there are freedoms in the cultural realm that Christians must wisely consider and have freedom in their choice. It is not “anything goes.” But it is a situation that must be wisely considered, and the result discerned for the glory of Christ.
Paul is not being two-faced when he is a Jew to the Jews and outside the law to those outside the law. Rather, he is relating to them.
You don’t talk football with your wife.
You don’t jump int politics with the person you’ve just met.
You wisely consider your ground and seek to bring glory to God.
There are two simply principles of evangelism I’d like to mention. Two things that I do anyways, and perhaps these are so simple that they are obvious. You might say “duh.”
1. Ask people questions about themselves.
2. Find something relatable; something you have in common.
There is an epidemic in our world of noise. Everyone talks and nobody listens. Let us be the one who listens. Ask a question and then listen. I know many people who have few friends to listen to them. Similarly, hikers have sometimes been in the woods for days. They come to us full of things to say. Just a simple question and they talk and talk. “Tell me about yourself” is what I ask.
Why do I ask? Because I care about them, and especially I care that they will hear the Gospel. Perhaps my listening to them will encourage them to listen to me when that important moment comes.
Then, find something in common. This is not to say that there is “common ground” between Christianity and all other religions. What I’m saying is that almost any two people will have SOMETHING in common. An interest, a hobby, etc. Again, for us and the hikers, the common ground is usually hiking. Funny enough not all hikers like hiking. But at times I don’t like it either. So our common ground might be a dislike for hiking. At least a dislike for walking up hills.
Why find common ground with someone? Again, because you care. But also as a way to look for an opportunity to invite them to church or to a church event. Maybe they’ll want to come to our church clean up day, or to a hike, or a garage sale, or a cemetery clean up I hope we might do this year.
So we are to be “all things to all people.”
On this principle Timothy is circumcised, so as not to scare off the Jews. Perhaps in time they (like Peter, James, and Paul) will come to conclude that circumcision is not necessary and that a door to the gentiles should not be closed. But in the meanwhile, don’t let that be the issue between the evangelists and the Jews. Paul is saying in effect “preach christ,” “don’t preach anti-circumcision” at least not right away.
It is much more valuable to preach what we believe than to preach against what we don’t believe.
This is a hallmark of Ligionier ministries. Preaching a positive message.
I know many other Christian ministries who preach the critique of non-Christian thought. That is valuable too and has its time and place. But here in the pulpit I seek to preach the Bible and its message. Occasionally that means a sermon against Islam or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or some other cult or false-religion.
But let us preach Christ above all things.
That was Paul’s approach, and that was the approach of St. Timothy. All things to all people, but always about Christ.